Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 13
Chapter 13: Demonic PortentsThe companions gathered back in the Mayor’s room. It was starting to get light out and the sun could just be seen rising on the eastern horizon. Andrella had gone to see if any of the servants were up yet so that they could get some breakfast and maybe even a hot bath. The young lady had really changed in these last few weeks Glorfindel thought to himself. If they were still back in Restenford she would have demanded that one of them go get her servants instead of doing it herself.
Meanwhile, Elvisda, Donatello and Seth had finished examining the treasure from the chest in the altar room. The bard reported, “We found 5400 total in gold and jewels. I believe that this is the town treasury.” Glorfindel nodded. “That goes along with everything else we thought about the Mayor. She wouldn’t trust anyone else to guard that money.”
“Well then,” Aksel said, “Hopefully we can assume that we have now uncovered all of the Mayor’s secrets.” He surveyed the group and noted that some of them, most notably Seth, still looked skeptical. “Anyway,” the cleric continued, “be that as it may, I think we need to start thinking about our next steps, now that we have the Baron’s heart that is.”
But before they got very far, they were interrupted by the return of the Lady Andrella. Along with her came both Captain Ascue and the kobald Balmarrow. “Breakfast is on its way up,” the young lady announced. “Afterwards, Torvil and Rota have offered to guide us to the castle baths. Some of us,” she looked pointedly at Lloyd, “are in dire need of washing.”
The big warblade feigned a hurt look on his face. But Seth sitting next to the big man added, “Don’t argue with her Lloyd. For once Andrella and I agree on something. You stink!” Andrella looked at the ninja and said, “Why thank you Seth!” The Halfling looked up at the young woman and shot back, “Don’t get used to it.”
“Ahem,” Captain Ascue interrupted in the nick of time, “I wanted to report that we’ve finished an entire sweep of the castle and it is clear.” Glorfindel nodded, “Good work Captain.” Ascue nodded and continued, “And the two prisoners you sent for arrived last night and are being held in the dungeon. Also, we have boarded up the entrance under the castle as you suggested,” he finished nodding towards Elvisda.
“Very good Captain,” the bard replied. “We will be down shortly to interrogate the prisoners.” Lloyd’s stomach suddenly growled loudly once again. Everyone looked at the warblade and then laughed. “That is, once we have all had breakfast,” Elvisda added. “AND taken baths!” Andrella insisted.
Ascue chuckled. “I’ll be waiting for you in my office.” He turned and left the room. Then Balmarrow stepped forward and said, “Well friends, the Assassin’s guild is broken thanks to you. However, that leaves a vacuum in power in this town. It needs to be filled, and soon, or undesirable elements might begin to drift in once again.”
“What do you propose?” Aksel asked softly. Balmarrow shuffled his small feet uncomfortable and then replied, “Well, I’m no good to anyone in this form. So…I need to change back. Therefore, I intend to go see the Druids in Bendenwood.”
“If you do that,” Glorfindel asked, “can you talk to them about what has been going on in Restenford?” Donnie interjected, “They already know about the Baron. I had spoken with the town Druid, Almax, before we left Restenford. He was going to Bendenwood to report to the Druidic council.” Glo nodded, “But they may not be aware yet of the Dunwynn population of the town. And if things escalate, it would be good to have the Druids on our side.” Balmarrow nodded, “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Speaking of Restenford,” Aksel said, “now that we have the Baron’s heart, we need to get to his body so we can resurrect him.” Elvisda, softly strumming his lute, looked up and spoke, “That’s no problem. Give Glo a day or two to study and he should be able to teleport us in and out of Restenford without anyone the wiser.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Donatello interrupted. Everyone turned to look at the elf. “And why’s that?” Elvisda asked. “Does it have something to do with your disappearance these last few weeks?” Glorfindel added.
“Yes,” Donnie replied, “as a matter of fact, it does.” The swashbuckler paused for a moment and looked over at Kara. The warrior woman nodded and the elf took a deep breath and continued. “You remember how we all entered the teleportation rings in Gaither’s tower together? Well I assume you all ended up nice and safe in Restenford.”
“Safe’s a relative term,” Elvisda interrupted. “We ended up in the middle of a vampire hunt, which was anything but safe.” Donnie raised an eyebrow and replied, “Well that’s a story I’m going to want to hear. But for now please hear me out. It is imperative that you heed my warning about teleportation.” The swashbuckler looked around, but everyone had fallen silent and all eyes were now on him.“Very well,” Donnie continued, “As I was saying, while you all ended up in Restenford, I, on the other hand, ended up someplace else entirely.” Elvisda burst out, “It was that damn monkey paw!” Donatello shot the bard a look. “Sorry,” Elvisda said as he fell silent once more.
Donnie waited a moment then cleared his throat and began once again. “I found myself in a magical cage of some sort. The walls were of some kind of opaque material. Except for one side where the material was drawn back. There, staring at me where two demons.”
Donatello paused and waited for that to sink in. Glo and Elvisda exchanged glances, as did Aksel and Seth. Andrella, holding onto Lloyd’s arm, seemed to grip the big man even tighter. Lloyd, however, seemed excited by this news. Donnie could see the warblade mentally measuring himself up against this new enemy.
The swashbuckler looked quickly over to Kara, but she was not looking back. She was smiling and nodding her head approvingly. The elf followed her gaze and saw that she was watching Lloyd closely. The swashbuckler shrugged his shoulders mentally. He knew that Kara was a warrior first and that she would be quick to appreciate the strongest man in the room. He looked quickly back at the warblade. Lloyd was in for a very interesting time ahead Donnie thought, but it might be good for him. Andrella was getting far too comfortable with her hold over the young man. If he knew Kara, and he knew her very well by now, that would quickly change.
“So then,” Seth interrupted his train of thought, “how did you manage to escape?” Donnie realized he had paused a bit too long. “Oh, yes,” he tried to recover. “Well, the demons must have known what cell I would appear in. I don’t speak demonic exactly, but from what I could piece together, they were capturing teleporters and rerouting them to that place. The cell must have been equipped with some kind of paralysis spell, but my gloves immediately disabled it,” the swashbuckler continued. “But I pretended to be immobilized. After a little while, my captors closed the covering over the cage and left me alone. Once I was sure they were gone, I snuck out of the cage and began searching the place. I soon realized I was in a large room and there were other cages in there besides mine: a LOT of other cages. I could only see shapes in these cages since they were also covered in the same opaque material as my cage had been, but I would guess there were creatures from almost every race in those cells.”
“That is when he found me,” Kara interjected. Everyone turned to look at the female warrior. “Yes, I was there too,” she quickly added before anyone could pose the question. “The demons must have left me to check out their next prisoner,” Donnie continued. “As I snuck up on them I could see them standing in front of another cage. However, this one had the one side open, just like mine had been when they first caught me. I looked passed them and saw Kara, immobilized in that cage.”
“Lucky for me they were so intent on their latest catch that they did not realize I was there until it was too late. I quickly dispatched the two of them,” the swashbuckler made same quick fencing like gestures with his arm, “and then entered the cell. I used my gloves once again and freed Kara from her paralysis. After some brief introductions, Kara told me that the tower was full of many more demons and we needed to get of there and get help before going back.”
“And just how did you know all that?” Glorfindel interrupted looking at the warrior woman. Kara returned the wizard’s gaze and replied, “I have been tracking those demons for the last couple of months.”
“That sounds like a noble quest,” Lloyd said enthusiastically. “Thank you,” Kara responded brightly. “I knew a true warrior would understand.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great and all,” Seth interjected, “but who exactly are you then and as Glo said, how did you know about the demons?”
Kara drew herself up and looked at them all. Then she explained in a regal tone, “I am Karathalla Brightwing, of the Order of Thul Danin, from the Kingdom of Isandor. The magic users in our kingdom have disappearing recently at an increasing rate.”
“That sounds like a familiar story,” Elvisda noted. “Yes,” Glo acknowledged, “we had noticed the same thing here in Thac.” Kara nodded and continued, “The wizards of our Order had detected disturbances in the Astral Plane. They determined that these traps were rerouting teleporters to a location in the western islands.”
“So that’s it!” Glo cried. “They’re capturing wizards using traps in the astral plane!” He looked at Aksel who concurred, “Very clever.” Donnie added, “Yes, devilishly clever.” The companions half snickered and half groaned at that.
Kara continued, “I, along with other members of my order, was dispatched to the various islands to track down the source of these traps. I had tracked it down to the mountains, and was within a few miles of the tower, when I was caught in one of their traps in that happened to be in this plane. The next thing I know, I was trapped in a cell as Donatello had described to you. The rest you know.”
“So where exactly is this tower then?” Glorfindel asked. “Somewhere in the Lamdusel mountains,” Donatello replied. “It is north of where the Darkwoods Monolith stood, and due west of twin oaks,” he added. “Can you be a little more exact than that?” Aksel asked.
“Well, we didn’t exactly have time to draw a map,” Donnie replied sardonically. “When we left the tower the demons were in hot pursuit,” he continued. “We wound our way through a lot of canyons and ridges in an effort to lose them. But in doing so, we kind of lost our bearings,” he admitted mournfully.
“But I could lead you back to within a few miles of it,” Kara announced. “All I would need is a few good warriors of true heart,” she looked pointedly at Lloyd, “and I am sure we could take the place.” Lloyd sprang to his feet, drew both his blades and declared, “You can count on me!” Kara smiled brightly at the warblade and drew her own blade. “I knew I could!” she declared jubilantly.
“Wait a second,” Seth interrupted their revelry. Kara turned and looked at the ninja. “So let me get this straight. Here you are, this great warrior of the Order of Thul Danin. You manage to track these demons down to the isle of Thac, even to the very mountains where they are located. You know they are using traps in the Astral plane, but even with that information, you still get caught in one of their traps they have scattered around their tower. Is that right?”
“Seth!” Lloyd said turning to look at the little ninja. “What?” the halfling replied defensively. “That was rude!” the big man declared, towering over the little ninja. Seth put up his hands and said, “Calm down Lloyd. I’m just trying to clarify a few points here.” Lloyd backed off a bit and said, “Well, fine. But do it without questioning this fine warrior’s honor. She has stood beside us in battle and proved herself to be true.”“Fine,” Seth said and turned back to Kara. “Not questioning your honor or anything,” Seth continued, “but you did fall into that trap fairly easily. Correct?” Kara returned Seth’s look evenly. “Yes,” she replied stiffly. Seth nodded, “Okay then. Just wanted to point out that you will need more than a few good warriors, no matter how true of heart they are.”
“Why Seth!” Donnie declared, “Does that mean you’re volunteering for this little expedition?” The ninja looked scathingly at the swashbuckler and then replied, “Well it looks like you’ll need someone capable of keeping you all from getting caught in these traps.”
“Touché!” Elvisda commented striking a chord on his lute.
“Ahem,” Aksel cleared his throat. “Yes, this is obviously a very important development.” He looked at Kara and added, “One that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. But if I might draw everyone back to the original topic…if we do not raise the Baron in the next few days, then we will not be able to at all. This must take precedence over everything else.”
“Thank you Cleric Aksel!” Andrella said from her seat in the corner next to the still standing Lloyd. The warblade hit his head with his palm and turned to the young lady. “Forgive me Andrella. All this talk of demons has got me all turned around. Of course we will save your father first.” He reached down and kissed her quickly on the forehead. Then he stood up and turned towards Kara, “But then Dame Kara, you will have my blades by your side to squelch this demon threat.” Kara bowed gracefully and replied, “I can ask for no more.”
“Just one more pertinent fact before we move on to rescuing the Baron,” Donnie said. “What’s that?” Aksel asked. “Well….” the swashbuckler paused, “while there is no doubt that most of the prisoners of the demons are wizards and such, there was one rather large cage in the place. While I could not make out the color, there was definitely a dragon inside that cell.”
Everyone exchanged glances. “Rodrick Greymantle?” Glorfindel asked softly. “Or his wife perhaps,” Donnie replied.
“That definitely adds to the urgency of the matter,” Aksel agreed. “Are you going to tell Ruka?” Glo asked Donatello. “I rather not say anything until we are ready to launch an assault on the tower,” the swashbuckler replied.
“Who’s Ruka?” Kara asked curiously. “Oh, just a medium sized bronze dragon,” Donatello replied nonchalantly. The warrior woman shook her head in amazement. “You folks sure have some surprising friends,” she said finally. “My dear,” Elvisda replied from the corner, “you don’t know the half of it.” The bard punctuated his statement with a few chords on his instrument.
The group of companions then began to plan on how they would go about rescuing Baron Grellus of Restenford. When all was said and done, they had decided to stay in Garrotten for the next two days so that they could study some spellcraft and train for the potential combat ahead of them. Aksel would inform Shalla to expect them in Restenford in two days time and to arrange a meeting place outside the town. Meanwhile, they would solidify their control of Garrotten and do what they could to fortify its defenses.
They would recruit more castle guards, and train them. Lloyd and Donnie would assist in that. But first, the warblade and the swashbuckler, along with Balmarrow, would take a quick ride, by phantom steed, to Lukescros. Lloyd would to Penwick manor to report to Hightower on their success and to hopefully recruit some Penwick forces to help protect the town of Garrotten. While the warblade was doing that, Donatello and Balmarrow would sell some of the treasure they had found and get enough money to raise Willis who had been killed during the raid of the Assassin’s Guild.
This just left the question of who would step up and rule Garrotten. Glorfindel and Aksel both would be too deep in study to run the town. And as everyone else had plenty to do, Elvisda offered his services. So it was decided. Glorfindel would appoint the bard the ruler of Garrotten, saying that the Mayor had been invited to sit on the Wizard’s Council and had accepted a full time position in Lymeridia. Glo would therefore fill the role of town wizard, Aksel would become the new head Cleric, and Seth would be the town treasurer.
When the Knights of the Couch and their friends had finished strategizing, Andrella insisted that they all keep their promise to take baths. The young lady sent for Rota and Torvil. When the young page and the serving woman arrived, Lloyd was still trying to argue his way out of “wasting precious time” on washing up. But the Lady Andrella would have none of it.
It was actually a rather comical sight. The young lady, all 5’ 5” of her, standing up to the huge 6’ 4” warblade. Lloyd was immediately on the defensive, and Andrella pressed her advantage. Finally, with a huge sigh, the big man gave in. He turned to Torvil and said, “Will you please lead us to the baths? The quicker we get this over with the better.” Torvil grinned and led the men out of the Mayor’s room and into the hall. As they followed the page, Andrella stuck her head out of the room and yelled, “And make sure to do a thorough job!”
Seth snickered and Donnie leaned in and whispered to Glo, “Can you say henpecked?” But the wizard failed to comment. He had a faraway look in his eyes. The swashbuckler realized that his elf friend was probably thinking about his own paramour, the Seeress Ellistra. Although most of the companions thought that the seeress had betrayed them back on the Princess Anya’s ship, Donatello privately had his doubts. And even though Glo outwardly had denounced her, Donnie had always suspected that the wizard still pined away for her.
As they made their way downstairs and through the hallways of the first floor of the castle, the swashbuckler thought about love. In his experience it was strange and fickle, just like women. That is why he chose to spread his love around. His love of women was much akin to his love of art. It was not something to be hidden away, or only be displayed to one person. It was something to be shared with the world. And Donnie had shared his love of both art and women through the years with a good many folks.
The red head, Alana, had been a more intense liaison than normal for the swashbuckler. Perhaps it was because she was so honest and straightforward. He had never been involved with a Paladin before. And she had influenced him a great deal more than he had realized. He had found himself questioning the morality of his friend’s and even his own actions more and more as of late.
As the little group of adventurers made their way down the stairs to the basement, still led by Torvil and Glorfindel, Donnie’s mind fixed on Kara, his current dalliance. The warrior woman was beautiful. She was blond, with an excellent body, and was extremely energetic. He had been quite satisfied with their casual relationship in these last few weeks. But Donnie knew that this liaison was a fleeting one. He had already seen how Kara had set her sights on Lloyd. He silently wondered if Andrella realized this yet. What he wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall in the woman’s bath right now!
“What are you smiling about?” a voice said and as an elbow nudged the elf. Donnie shook himself from his musings. They were at the entrance to the men’s bath chambers. Torvil was handing out towels to Glorfindel, Aksel, Seth and Lloyd; and to his left stood Elvisda with a quizzical look on his face. “Oh, nothing in particular,” the swashbuckler answered. “Well that was an awfully broad smile you just had on your face,” the bard chided. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were thinking dirty thoughts”. The last two words were whispered. “Why Elvisda!” Donatello feigned shock, “I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.” The bard gave him a hard look and then the two companions began to laugh raucously.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd said turning around as they all entered the bath. “They’re talking about women,” Glo responded before the bard or swashbuckler could reply. “And what makes you think that?” Donnie said quickly. “It probably has to do with the guilty looks on your faces,” Seth interjected as he wrestled off a road worn boot. “Not to mention the lecherous laughter,” Glo added as the wizard laid down a dust covered robe. “Oh no my friend!” Donnie jabbed back, “you’re not pinning it on me that easily. Not when it is obvious who you were thinking about just a short time ago.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Glo said his face turning red almost up to his pointed ears. “He got you there!” Elvisda cried strumming a note on his lute to accent the point. Then, of all people, the usually quiet Martan spoke up. “It’s ok Wizard Glorfindel. I understand.” The men all stopped what they were doing and stared at the archer who stood self consciously wrapped in his bath towel. Martan paused for a moment as if to gather courage and then continued. “See, even with everything that has gone on, I think I’m still in love with Ves. I mean, first I thought she was a lady and I was just a poor commoner. Then I find out she’s a dragon which should put even more of a wall between us. Then she shows up in Lukescros and acts like she is some lady companion off the streets.” The archer paused, the regret on his face clear. Elvisda now standing beside him put a hand on the man’s shoulder.
“But even with all that,” Martan finally continued, “I still care about her. None of the rest of it matters to me, you know? All that matters is just the way I feel when I’m with her.” The archer paused once more. “So, I figure, you feel the same way about the Seeress Ellistra.” Martan went silent after that and stared down at his toes.
Donnie looked over and saw tears streaming down Glorfindel’s face. He was right! Martan had hit it right on the head. Then a tune suddenly sprang up out of nowhere. The swashbuckler turned and saw Elvisda strumming his lute as he began to softly sing. The melody reverberated off the walls of the large bath area and amplified the sound as if it were coming from all different directions. What started out as a sad song about unrequited love, however, quickly sped up into a bawdy tale about a young man determined to lose himself in the arms of every wench in every town he passed through on his adventures. It was a quite vivid song leaving not much to the imagination.
When the bard was finally done the entire group had forgotten its momentary melancholy and began joking around. They all jumped into the baths and began horsing around rowdily. Soap bars were thrown, towels were snapped, and a lot of water was splashed. Eventually, the others had to gang up on Lloyd to even things up. However, the warblade still managed to hold his own against the rest of the group. Lloyd turned out to be as fast with a towel as he was with his blades.
All in all, when it was all over, everyone was clean, thoroughly soaked, and refreshed in spirit as well as in body. Torvil had had new clothes laid out for all of them. The group got dressed, still laughing and throwing things around. Boots were tossed, and a belt would occasionally snap.
Finally Aksel said, “Enough! Time to settle down folks. We still have a lot to do.” Everyone stopped horsing around and looked at the little cleric. “Aksel’s right!” Elvisda cried. “It’s time to go see Captain Ascue and declare me Baron of Garrotten.” The bard paused for a moment, his hand on his chin. “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound quite right. Baron of Garrotten,” he said once more making a face. “Oh come on El!” Donnie chided. “What’s not to like about a title like Baron?”
“It’s the town name,” Seth interjected, “It kind of sucks.” The swashbuckler nodded in agreement and said, “Can’t argue with that.” Then Elvisda smiled and replied, “Yes. That’s what it is. Garotten. That does suck! Thank you Seth.” The halfling grinned and nodded, “Glad I could state the obvious.” But Elvisda wasn’t paying attention anymore. The bard was deep in thought. Then he suddenly snapped his fingers and yelled, “I got it! Graceland! We’ll rename the town and I’ll be the Baron of Graceland.” As he spoke the title, the bard slowed down and panned his hands across the air. “Well? What do you think?”
“Catchy!” Donnie nodded. “Not bad,” Glo agreed. “I like it,” Lloyd added. “Works for me,” Aksel said. “Anything is better than Garrotten,” Seth commented. Elvisda slapped his hands together and cried, “Then it’s settled! Graceland it is.”
“Great,” Aksel said, “Can we please go and talk to Captain Ascue now?” They all chuckled and Elvisda said to Torvil, “Lead on fair page!” Torvil smiled and shook his head. This was an interesting group of folks indeed. But the boy liked them far better than the Mayor and her cohorts. Things were looking up in the Keep of Garrotten. Strike that, he thought; the Keep of Graceland. Torvil’s grin broadened as he led the group of adventures out of the baths and upstairs to the first floor.