Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 15

Chapter 15: Into the Crypt

Before they could come up with a sound plan it was decided that they needed to gather a little bit more information. Aksel sent a message to Shalla who was still in Restenford. It only took a matter of minutes before the response arrived. The lady bard said that Grellus’s body had been placed in the mausoleum.

“They wouldn’t dare!” Andrella interrupted the little cleric who was reading the reply out loud. “There are still a few more days to resurrect him!” she cried. Then she looked at Aksel and said quietly, her eyes brimming with tears, “Aren’t there?”

Aksel realized this was difficult for the young woman. He replied as gently as possible, “Yes Andrella. There is more than enough time left to raise your father. There is no reason to put his body in a crypt.” Glorfindel, in Lloyd’s absence, moved next to the young woman and placed a tentative arm around her shoulder. “What they are doing is unconscionable. But don’t worry, they won’t get away with it.” Andrella turned and buried her face in her tutor’s shoulder. Glo gently patted her head and said, “There, there Andrella.”

Donatello, obviously overcome with emotion, stood up and marched over to the young woman. He knelt in front of her and declared, “Fear not Lady of Restenford. These vile villains will not get away with this. I may not be as strong as Lloyd, or as smart as Glo here, but on my word, I WILL do everything in my power to rescue your father and return him safely to you!”

The Lady Andrella lifted up her head and stared down at the swashbuckler, her eyes still brimming with tears. Then she reached forward and hugged the kneeling elf. Donnie somewhat embarrassed turned a bit red in the face. The swashbuckler had A LOT of experience with the opposite sex, but something about this young woman made him feel self-conscious. She was a budding beauty, and she did smell rather good, but she was just TOO young; AND she was Lloyd’s girlfriend to boot. Donatello pushed aside his discomfort and smiled charmingly at the young woman.

Andrella had let go of him and was staring into his face, her young face uncomfortably close to his. She gave him a big smile and said, “Thank you Donnie.” Then she sat back up. Donatello rose to his feet and looked around the room to see if anyone noticed his uneasiness. Kara stared at him with a knowing look on her face. The swashbuckler was momentarily startled but recovered quickly and flashed one of his patented charming smiles at the warrior woman. Kara winked back at him and gave him a wicked smile.

Meanwhile, Andrella turned to Glo and put a hand on the elf’s face. “Thank you too Glorfindel,” the young woman said. “Good Lady Andrella,” Baron Elvisda said from the head of the table, “From here to forward it shall be the primary goal of Graceland to rescue your father and return him to you. Consider this entire barony at your service fair lady.”

Andrella stood up, dried her eyes and straightened her dress. Then, in a very formal tone, replied, “Baron Elvisda, the House of Avernos of Restenford thanks you for your generosity and graciously accepts your offer in our time of need. I promise you that once our Barony has been reinstated in Restenford, our house will formally recognize you as the rightful Baron of Graceland.”

“Ahem”, Aksel cleared his throat, “may I continue with the rest of Shalla’s message now?” The Lady of Restenford turned to look at the little cleric and slightly embarrassed replied, “I’m sorry if my outburst interrupted you good cleric. Please continue.” The little gnome nodded and then continued, “Shalla goes on to say that there are patrols all over town. She is offering to meet us one mile North of town up the Restin river. There she can fill us in more fully on what we are dealing with.”

“I think that is a good idea,” Elvisda agreed. “Begging your pardon Lady Andrella, but the fact that the Baron’s body is now in the crypt actually might make things easier. Now instead of having to send a large party and possibly infiltrate the castle, we can send in a small stealth team to recover Grellus instead. That small team could meet with Shalla as she is suggesting and get any final details we need on getting past these patrols.”

“Well I can conjure enough phantom steeds to get all of us there,” Glorfindel announced. “The entire trip should take a little less than eight hours.”

“Let’s shoot for getting there by dusk,” Seth said. “Even though I don’t have to worry about any patrols, it will be hard for the rest of you to sneak around in broad daylight. And based on Shalla’s last message, there are still about 50 Dunwynn troops in town along with at least a few Ruby Knights. Based on the size of the town of Restenford, I would say that the amount of time inbetween patrols is only a matter of minutes.”

“That makes sense,” Aksel agreed. “I concur,” Elvisda added. “However, unfortunately, I will not be going with you.” The Baron of Graceland turned towards the Lady Andrella and in an apologetic tone said, “I’m sorry my Lady, but now that we know this is a stealth mission and will not require troops, I think it best for me to stay here and fortify our current holding over Graceland. It would not be prudent to rescue your father and then find that we have no safe place to bring him back to.”

The Lady Andrella smiled at the elf and said, “I quite agree Baron Elvisda. I look forward to returning with my father to a safe haven here in Graceland.”

So it was settled. Aksel sent a message to Shalla confirming the time and place of their rendezvous, one mile up the Restin River at dusk the next evening. The group then broke to make preparations for their journey the next day.

About an hour and a half later, Lloyd arrived from Lukescros with 20 men at arms and 20 seamen all dressed in Penwick colors. Elvisda made a fanfare of greeting these new recruits. He gathered them in the courtyard with the current castle guards and made a speech about harmonious relations between the new town of Graceland and the noble city of Penwick. Then he introduced Captain Ascue who thanked the men for coming to help support them in their time of need. Captain Basmar was also present and welcomed the Penwick navy men. Then Elvisda had everyone inside for a hearty feast, in rotating shifts of course and they did not want to leave the castle walls unguarded.

After dinner Ascue sat down with Elvisda to prepare a new schedule which included the men at arms. And Basmar walked the sailors down to the docks to show them around his vessel. Meanwhile, the Knights of the Coach filled in Lloyd on their plans to rescue Baron Grellus.

The night passed uneventful and the next morning the KOTC and their companions made their last minute preparations for their fast trip to Restenford. Around noon time, the group gathered in the keep courtyard. Elvisda, Ascue, Basmar, Balmarrow, Willis and Phyllis were all there to wish them luck.

Glorfindel conjured up seven phantom steeds. Then Aksel, Seth, Lloyd, Andrella, Donatello, Kara and the wizard swung up onto their ethereal mounts. Elvisda looked momentarily sad as the realization sunk in that he would not be joining his companions on this leg of their journey. But then he quickly recovered and was his same old jovial self. “Stick to the plan,” he advised them. “Don’t let Donnie get sidetracked with any serving wenches or Lord’s wives!”

A chuckle ran though most of the group, but Donatello looked at the bard acidly. “So then,” the swashbuckler shot back, “should we tell Shalla to come back with us? After all, she would make a fine Baroness.” Elvisda suddenly looked wild eyed and threw up his hands. “No, no, that will be just fine. I’m a bit too young to settle down just yet.”

Everyone laughed once again. Then Aksel, Seth, Lloyd, Andrella, Donatello, Kara, and Glorfindel said their final goodbyes and trotted out the gate. Once outside the keep, the companions took off like the wind up the north road towards Restenford.

It was a clear day and the afternoon sun shown down brightly. The sky was a brilliant blue and empty of clouds as far as the eye could see. The lush green countryside flew by as the companions raced up the Old Knight’s Road back towards Restenford. It had been almost a week now since any of the party had been there.

The KOTC members had not been happy about leaving Restenford. Most of them had wanted to stay and defend the town from the Dunwynn invasion. It was only after the realization that their staying would have led to more casualties that the companions had reluctantly decided to go. But that decision had left a bad taste in the group’s collective mouths.

Now they were finally returning and they would be able to set at least one thing right. Although they would not be able to immediately liberate the town from the oppression of the Dunwynn occupation, they would at least be able to recover the Baron’s body and finally resurrect him. That is, if they could get into town undetected, retrieve Grellus’s body, and get it out of Restenford without getting caught by any of the Dunwynn patrols.

When the companions had first sat down to discuss their strategy to retrieve the Baron’s body, they had briefly considered approaching Dunwynn directly. After all, they now had the Baron’s heart. But they immediately rejected the notion when they had found out that the Grellus’s body had been moved to the mausoleum. It was obvious that Dunwynn had given up on the Baron, making no further effort to retrieve his heart. Even with the knowledge that the KOTC had passed on through the Lady Fairwind that the Assassin’s Guild in Garotten had most likely had the heart.

It was further obvious that Dunwynn, and specifically Ignar, wanted the Avernos family of Restenford out of the way. With the Baron gone, and the Baroness sent back to the city of Dunwynn, Sir Ignar had been able to solidify his hold on the town. And it seemed highly unlikely that the Dunwynn officials would do anything that would jeopardize their control of Restenford now. So that left the KOTC with little choice except taking matters into their own hands. But that seemed to be what they were best at.

The hours flew by and before the companions knew it the Dead Forest sprang up on their left. The familiar sight of Bone Hill could be clearly seen rising behind the forsaken woods. And to their right rose the three small hills, known as the Tri-tops, that the Old Knight’s Road bent around on its way to the town of Restenford.

The party decided to stay on the road a little further as any detour would delay them, even on their phantom steeds. Once they came out of the pass in the Kelman hills, they would leave the road and head for the Western branch of the Restin River.

As the group on ethereal horseback reached the Kelman pass, Seth, riding up in front with Donatello, held up his hand and slowed down to a halt. The rest of the party reigned in behind the ninja and the swashbuckler. Seth was pointing up into the sky towards the south and Donatello was following his gaze. The rest of them peered where the ninja was pointing and saw three specks high in the sky.

Whatever they were, they were in a V formation. With his keen elven eyes, Glorfindel judged them to be too big for birds at this distance. Donatello, clearly straining, suddenly opened his eyes wide, then turned to the others and said one word. “Hypogriffs”. Aksel, upon hearing this, yelled, “Quickly, to the trees.” They were only a half mile from the West Restin and could easily pass over it on their phantom steeds into the shelter of the Dweomer Forest on the other side.

As the party spurred their mounts full out, Seth kept an eye on the patrol of Dunwynn Sky Knights. “They’re headed this way!” the ninja announced. But the Hypogriffs were no match for their ethereal steeds when it came to speed. It was only a matter of minutes before the little group had reached the river. In that time, the Sky Knights had not closed the gap sufficiently to clearly identify them; especially considering that the Dunwynnians were certainly all humans.

The steeds glided over the water and were on the other side of the river in less than another minute. The woods were now only a couple of hundred yards away. “We’re going to make it!” Donatello yelled, staring over his shoulder at the formation of Hippogriff’s off in the distance. The last few yards flew by and then the party was in the safety of the trees. They made their way well into the forest and then veered south fast putting distance between themselves and their entry point into the forest.

It was early evening now and the sun was low in the western sky, just about to drop down behind the Lamdusel mountains. The party reached the southern end of the forest and then stopped. Glorfindel sent his familiar up over the treetops to scan for the patrol of Sky Knights. The Raven spotted them far to the south now, headed back in the direction of the town.

“We’ll wait until the sun sets,” Aksel announced. “Then we’ll follow the West Restin down to where it meets with the East Restin. There is a small patch of woods there and we can wait for Shalla to show up.”

Once night had set in and the sky was completely dark, the little group made their way downriver to the small woods Aksel had mentioned before. Once there, they waited in silence for their rendezvous with the lady bard, Shalla. They did not have to wait long.

From their vantage point in the woods, they saw a small fishing barge making its way up the river. It stopped on the eastern bank, not too far from their hiding spot. Seth whispered, “I’ll check it out,” and disappeared from sight. Two seconds later, a lone figure jumped off the boat, and then whistled a tune. It was the password they had agreed upon; a passage from one of Elvisda’s favorite songs, Hell Hound.

“That has to be Shalla,” Donatello said emphatically. “Wait for Seth,” Aksel warned. Thirty seconds later they saw a small figure appear out of thin air next to the other one. The taller figure knelt down and hugged the smaller one. Then the small figure raised a hand and gave a thumbs up sign.

The rest of the party burst from the woods and made their way down to the barge. “Aksel! Lloyd! Glo! Donnie!” Shalla cried out all their names coming up and hugging each in turn. Then she turned to Andrella and said, “Lady Andrella.”

“Shalla!” Andrella cried and embraced the other woman. Shalla looked surprised but then hugged her back. When they let go, the lady bard said, “It is so good to see you all.” Donnie introduced Kara and the Lady bard. Then he said, “Elvisda sends his apologies for not being here.” Seth added, “Yeah, he’s got a Barony to run now.”

“Really?” Shalla said intrigued. The others quickly related the events that led up to Elvisda becoming Baron of Graceland. “And he would love for you to come and join him there when you get a chance,” Donatello finished with a smirk.

“So, what’s going on in Restenford?” Aksel asked. “The town is on lockdown,” Shalla replied. “Word is a patrol spotted some riders north of town earlier this evening. They couldn’t make out who it was, but it made the Dunwynn officials nervous.” Seth nodded. “The saw us coming out of the pass, but Glo’s steeds were too fast for them. We were in the woods before they even got close.”

“So I assume this barge is our ticket in to town?” Aksel asked. “I’m afraid so,” Shalla replied. “I hope you don’t mind the smell of fish too much.” Seth wrinkled his nose, then looking up at Lloyd said, “Trust me, I’ve smelt worse.” The warblade gave the little halfling a dirty look in response.

Then Andrella stepped forward and asked with obvious concern in her voice, “How are the people doing?” Shalla looked back at the young woman with compassion. “I will not lie to you lady. It is hard for them. Many folks had left before the occupation began, but those that stayed behind have it rough. They are forced to continue their jobs during the day, but heavy taxes have been imposed and everything they make goes into the Dunwynn coffers. And no one is allowed out after dark. A strict curfew is imposed and anyone found outside is immediately thrown into the dungeon.”

“That’s horrible!” Andrella cried. Lloyd walked up behind the young woman and placed his hands on her shoulders. She shifted her weight back and leaned heavily on his chest, stifling a sob. Then she got a hold of herself and stood up straight again. “What about Captain Gelpas?” she asked.

Shalla smiled sympathetically and replied, “All the original castle guards were let go and replaced with Dunwynn soldiers. We put them all up at the Golden Golem right now. Together we have formed a bit of a resistance group, but we are always under surveillance, especially at times like these.” “Please send him my warmest regards,” Andrella replied.

“I will,” Shalla promised. “Now quickly, into the boat. If we stay out any longer, we will not be able to get back into town.” The entire party scrambled aboard. Everyone hid underneath the fish except of course for Seth who just turned invisible. Even the Lady Andrella hid beneath the stinking cargo, though it was obvious she had never done something like this before. Lloyd buried himself next to her trying to shield her as much as he could.

The bargeman turned the craft around and headed back down river. The barge floated downstream for about half an hour then unceremoniously bumped up against what they guessed was the docks. Suddenly, a gruff voice cried out, “Hold there! What are you doing out so late! It is past curfew!”

“My apologies good sir,” Shalla replied modulating her voice to sound a bit older, “but our nets got tangled. We only freed them a short time ago, then came straight in.” There was a pause, then the voice yelled back, “Fine! But get inside quickly now, or we will throw you both into the dungeon!” Shalla’s disguised voice cried back, “Yes sir! Thank you sir!”

The party heard boots marching off into the distance. After a few minutes Shalla’s voice whispered, “It’s all clear. Hurry now.” The group of adventurers climbed out from under the pile of fish, wiping the slime off of their arms and legs. Then they followed the lady bard across the dock and into the bait shop.

“Whew, that was close,” Donatello exclaimed when they were safely inside. Shalla shushed him and motioned for them all to get down. They did so and then heard more boots march on by. When they were gone she got up and said, “Regular patrols.”

“Well that might make it easier,” Aksel replied. “So what exactly are we dealing with?” Shalla took out a map of the town and laid it out on the counter in front of them. “There is a Lord Protector, a Magistrate, 7 ruby knights and 5 wizards. We see them during the day now and them, but at night they all stay up in the castle. There are also 50 Dunwynn troops broken up into Sky Knights and regular soldiers. The Sky Knights also stay in the castle at night. But the soldiers patrol the town from dusk till dawn. There are 5 patrols, each composed of 5 soldiers.”

Andrella, studying the map said pointing at a spot, “So we are here, down by the river. And the royal crypt is here,” she continued moving her finger west, “up behind the temple.” They all gathered around and looked at the two locations. The south road was between their current location and the mausoleum. There were a few batches of trees here and there, but it was mostly open area from the road up to the temple.

“What are these other buildings?” Donnie asked. “That’s the abbey south of the temple,” Aksel replied, “and a temple guardhouse north of it. I spent a lot of time in the temple when we were staying here and am very familiar with the area.”

“Well the patrols are no problem for me,” Seth noted, “but the rest of you might have trouble getting by them with all that open space between here and the crypt.” “It would really help to know where those patrols are,” Aksel nodded.

“Let’s see if Raven can help out there,” Glo interjected. His familiar had been sitting on the wizard’s shoulder. Now he turned to it and had a short mental conversation. Then the elf walked to a window, carefully opened it and let the bird fly out.

Raven winged her way up to the rooftop of Falco’s tavern, located centrally on this side of the river, and began scanning the area. She quickly noted the location of only two patrols on this south side of the Restin, this being the smaller part of town. They were marching back and forth along the long road that ran parallel to the river. Then the one patrol would turn down the south road and march up to the guard house at the southern edge of town, right across the path the KOTC needed to take to get to the mausoleum.

As Raven forwarded her findings back to her master, she was suddenly accosted by two other ravens. They landed on either side of her. They were both larger males and surrounded her making her quite uncomfortable. Then the one spoke to her in common, “What’s a pretty young thing like you doing in a place like this?” But Raven was very intelligent, and quite artful at playing dumb. She looked back at the other raven with an innocent look and pretended not to understand a word of what he was saying. She just “cawed” back at him. The two male ravens conferred with each other for a moment then seemed to enter a momentary trance like state. They must be other wizard’s familiars Raven thought and were reporting back to their masters. She dare not risk contacting her master right then. Instead, she flew away down towards the river, and out to sea. The other ravens followed for a short distance then veered back towards town.

Back in the Bait shop Glorfindel had relayed the information on the patrols to the others. The little group began to figure out the timing based on Raven’s observations. The two patrols were very much in sync and left little time to cross the open space. “I think only some of us can safely make it to the crypt,” Aksel announced finally. “Obviously Seth will go. Donnie, do you think you can sneak past the patrols?” The swashbuckler nodded. “Good,” Aksel replied. “And I can also make myself invisible and I can airwalk at the same time so I won’t make any sound.”

“So the rest of us should just wait here?” Lloyd said obviously disappointed. “I also want to help rescue my father,” Andrella added. Aksel was just about to reply when Glo suddenly interrupted, “Much as I would also like to help, I don’t think any of the rest of us should go outside. Raven just informed me that aside from the patrols, there are also other wizard’s familiars patrolling the town. They spotted her while she was scanning the area.”

“Did they figure out what she was up to?” Seth asked. “No,” Glo responded, “she is quite artful and pretended to be just a plain raven. She led them on a wild goose chase out to sea and then lost them.”

“Very good,” Aksel nodded. “But that tears it. Only the three of us will go.” So it was decided. Glorfindel set up a telepathic bond between himself and Seth so that the two groups could stay in contact. Then they waited for the patrol to pass on its way back up the south road.

Once the patrol had passed, Seth and Aksel both turned invisible. Then Shalla opened the door and peered out. There was no one in sight. She stepped back in and let Seth and Aksel out passed her. Then Donatello quickly kissed Kara for good luck and snuck out the door. Shalla closed it behind them. “Now we wait,” Glorfindel announced.

Seth quietly made through the grass up the hill towards the temple. He glanced around but there was no sign of any guards. The temple was dark for the evening, but there were lights in the Abbey ahead of him, and in the temple guardhouse he had just passed. Aksel was nowhere to be seen, but he could faintly make out Donatello creeping his way up the grass behind him towards a group of trees south of the road leading up to the temple. The swashbuckler made no sound as he moved and when he stood completely still was extremely difficult to detect.

Not bad, Seth thought to himself grudgingly. He liked to tease the elf to his face, but had to admit that Donnie had some skills. Good thing too. The elf had just made it to the trees when the patrol appeared again on its way back down the south road. Seth studied the sky and noted a black bird flying around north of their location, up by Falco’s tavern. Then he began stealthily making his way to the royal crypt.

He, Aksel and Donnie had agreed they would meet in front of the mausoleum. However, when Seth came in sight of the crypt, he saw two figures standing in front of it. He drew closer and was able to discern that they were wearing Dunwynn uniforms.

Glo, he thought to the wizard, there are two Dunwynn guards in front of the crypt. What? the wizard thought back. There was silence for a moment then the elf replied. Shalla says there are never guards there. Dunwynn must really not want the Baron to be resurrected. Well, Seth thought back, that’s just too bad for them.

The little ninja turned and vaguely made out a shadowy figure entering into the small woods behind the temple. He made his way towards the woods and caught Donnie coming out of the other side. “Guards in front of the temple,” he whispered. “Meet around back.” The elf nodded his understanding. Then Seth made his way back to the guards. He kept an eye on them as he saw Donatello sneak towards the crypt. When the swashbuckler was safely in back, Seth made his way around to meet him.

There was no sign of Aksel, but the gnome’s keen eyes would have also seen the guards. Seth figured his friend would also spot Donnie around back and join them there. As the halfling reached the back of the mausoleum, the wall of the structure suddenly started to stretch and spread apart. As it did so it made a terrible grinding sound. Seth laughed inwardly. Aksel was definitely there and using stone shape to make a hole in the crypt.

Around front, the two guards heard a terrible grating noise coming from what sounded like the inside of the crypt. “Wh…what was that?” the first guard said shakily. “I…I don’t know,” the second guard said his voice also quavering. Both men turned and peered towards the crypt door as if expecting to see it burst open any second. All was quiet now. Then suddenly the terrible grinding sound started again. It sounded like stone grating on stone.

The first guard glanced over at the second one. They were both wide eyed with fright. “Y…you don’t suppose something is moving around in there?” the second guard said. “I…I heard rumors there were zombies…and vampires in this town,” the first guard gulped. “They say they had to clear them out of the catacombs under the town when we first got here.” The grinding had stopped again. Both guards listened intently but now it was all quiet. “They just put the Baron’s body in there the other day,” the first guard said finally, “you don’t think he turned into a vampire do you?”

Without warning, another grating sound came from within the tomb, followed by a large crash as if something had fallen to the ground. “Th…that sounds like the lid of a coffin!” the first guard squealed in fright. “Y…yeah,” the second guard replied fearfully. Then the moaning started. It was low at first, but grew in sound until it reached a wailed pitch. Both men took a step back from the crypt, completely terrified. Then they heard scraping at the crypt door. It sounded like long fingernails scratching at the door, desperate to get out.

Both men lost it. They dropped their weapons, screamed, and went running down the hill towards the south road.

Seth, kneeling on the side of the crypt, still invisible, fell on the ground rolling in laughter. Inside the crypt, Donatello stood at the door. He held a dagger in both hands and had been scrapping at the front door. Behind him, the lid to the coffin that held the Baron’s body lay on the floor where he had pushed it. The swashbuckler also heard the screams from outside clearly through the door. As they faded off into the distance, he smiled satisfactorily, sheathed his daggers and turned to retrieve the Baron’s body.

Grellus’s body had begun to decay just a bit, but was not in that bad a shape. It had obviously still been in stasis till only a few days ago. Donnie slung the body over his shoulder. As he adjusted it, he heard Seth’s voice. “That was hysterical! You should have seen the guards run towards the road.” Then he heard Aksel’s voice. “Yeah, nice job. Now we just need to get the body out of town.”

Donnie thought quickly and then replied, “If I can just get to the river, I have a ring that lets me breath underwater. I could carry the Baron’s body all the way upstream to where we first met Shalla.” Aksel’s voice replied, “Good idea. I can help with that.” A brief few seconds past and then Donnie felt the familiar feel of magic being used on him. He suddenly noted that he was invisible. “That’ll work,” the elf said, “but even invisible it might be hard to sneak down to the river while I’m carrying the Baron.”

“No problem,” Aksel’s voice said. “Just one more spell.” Donnie felt the rush of magic one more time. When it was over, he felt light as a feather. He took a tentative step forward and rose up into the air. “Wow, this is fun!” the swashbuckler exclaimed like a little kid with a new toy. “Yeah, it can be,” the gnome replied, “but I will think flying is better.”

“Well beggers can’t be choosers,” Donnie said. “I better get going then. Those guards will probably be back with reinforcements any minute now.” Seth’s voice came from over by the front door of the mausoleum. “Don’t worry about that. I’m leaving them a little surprise.” Aksel replied, “Eh? What’s that?” Seth answered, “Let’s just say that when they open the front door here, they’ll get a real bang out of it!” Donnie and Aksel laughed briefly.

“Well I’m off,” the swashbuckler announced. Then he floated through the opening in back of the crypt and made his way down towards the river. As he approached the road, he saw a ruckus over to his right. A group of guards were having a frantic conversation. Two of the men in particular seemed very out of sorts. Donnie chuckled to himself. Then he continued on his way towards the river.

Back in the hut, Glorfindel received a message from Seth. He turned to the others and announced, “They did it! They have the Baron’s body!” Everyone shouted “Hurrah!” Andrella and Lloyd grabbed each other and hugged tightly, then finished with a kiss. Shalla grabbed Glorfindel and embraced the elf. Kara stood back and smiled at the elation of the others.

Then Glo announced, “Seth says we should start making our way out of town. In a few minutes there should be a major disturbance up by the crypt. That will be our signal.” Then the wizard turned to Shalla and told her, “You should come with us. It won’t be safe here for you any longer.” The lady bard smiled sweetly at the elf and put a hand on his cheek. “I thank you for the concern, but I need to stay and warn the resistance fighters. Once the dust settles, they will all be under suspicion of helping to steal the Baron’s body.”

Lloyd stepped over and said, “Then tell them to leave town. They can gather up by Bone Hill. We cleaned out all the monsters and it should make a good base of operations for them.” Shalla turned to the warblade and replied, “Thank you. That is a great idea. I will pass on the message to Captain Gelpas.”

They said their goodbyes and then Glorfindel cast the spell of invisibility on everyone. Shalla then left to head back to the Golden Golem. The rest of the meanwhile snuck down to the river bank and slowly made their way north along the river. As they went along they saw a commotion up on the road and saw a group of 7 guards meet another group of 5 guards at the crossroads. The entire mass of soldiers then headed up the road towards the direction of the crypt.

“Hurry,” Glorfindel whispered. With the guards preoccupied the invisible group picked up the pace and were quickly past Falco’s tavern. They had just made it to the mill on the other side of town when suddenly a loud explosion rocked the area. Glo stopped and turned, the other’s following suit. Up on the hill to their left, where the crypt ostensibly stood, they could see flames and a column of smoke rising.

“Seth sure doesn’t do anything half way, does he,” Lloyd commented. “No he doesn’t,” Glo chuckled softly. Then the wizard said, “Okay, let’s hurry. Once we are over the town wall we should be home free.” The companions easily made it to the wall and beyond. They were a good way up the river but could still see the fire burning in the town behind them. There were shouts now from all over, and they could see some shapes winging across the sky over the town.

About half an hour later, the little group met up with Donnie, Seth and Aksel. “Nice show you put on back there,” Lloyd told Seth. “I do my best,” the ninja responded modestly. Then Andrella saw her father’s body. She flew to his side and began weeping. “Daddy,” she said mournfully. “What have they done to you?”

As they stood there, Seth looked back south. “We’ve got company,” he announced to the others. They all turned and saw torches fanning out in all directions from the town. Some were headed up river towards them. Donnie gazed skyward and pointed, “Airborne too.” The companions looked and could vaguely make out flying shapes heading out from the city. Again, some were headed north.

“I think it best we hide for now,” Aksel said. “No!” Andrella cried. “Raise my father! NOW!” Lloyd knelt down next to the girl and put his hands gently on her shoulders. “Andrella,” he began, “it’s too dangerous…” But the young girl cut him off. “I don’t CARE! Raise my father NOW!” she screamed looking directly at Aksel.

Then Kara stepped forward and smacked Andrella right across the face. The others stood back watching incredulously. Then the warrior woman knelt down in front of the girl and grabbed her by the shoulders, brushing Lloyd’s hands aside. “Andrella,” she said in deadly a serious tone, “stop being a child. We are all in danger and cannot raise your father right now.”

The young girl stared at the woman in front of her wide eyed. Her hand went to her cheek where she had just been slapped. She looked as if she were going to scream again, then slowly, began to regain her composure. Then she stood up and said, “Yes. You are right. Forgive me. What do we do now?”

“Now we hide,” Glo replied. The wizard turned and cast a spell. A rope appeared in front of him leading up into nothingness. “Quickly,” he said, “everyone climb up and in.” Donnie spoke up quickly, “I don’t need to sleep. I’ll stand guard.” Seth, standing beside the swashbuckler, unbuckled his cloak and handed it to him. “Here,” the ninja said, “this might come in handy.”

Donatello looked touched. “Thank you Seth.” The ninja smirked and replied, “Yeah, don’t get used to it.” Then the halfling shimmied up the rope and disappeared above. The rest of the party soon followed until Donnie was all by himself. The rope was pulled up from above and disappeared. Then swashbuckler smiled then donned the robe and disappeared from sight as well.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Donnie saw the search parties pass close to where they were hiding, but the companions went completely undetected. Eight hours later, as the sun was rising, the rope reappeared and the entire company slid down and rejoined their companion. “We miss anything?” Seth asked retrieving his cloak from the elf. “No, all’s quiet right now,” Donnie replied. “The search parties passed this way but then went back to town. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of them soon now that the sun is up.”

“Well then,” Aksel said, “let’s raise the Baron and get out of here.” Lloyd had carried Grellus’s body down and laid it gently on the ground. The little cleric began his preparations, taking out the heart and laying it carefully on top of the body. Then he took out the necessary components and began the spell. The others stood around in hushed silence as the gnome concentrated, incanting the difficult spell. The very forest around them seemed to sense something extraordinary was going on. Even the birds in the trees went quiet.

Andrella held Lloyd’s hand as they watched together. The young woman had tears in her eyes as she gazed upon the body of her father once more. Then the spell was released. A glow of white light shot down from the heavens and engulfed the body of the Baron of Restenford. It lit up brighter and brighter till the party had to all avert their eyes. Then finally the light began to fade. When they could all turn back again, there sitting up on the floor of the forest was the Baron Grellus!

Andrella leapt from her place beside Lloyd and threw herself into her father’s arms. “Andrella?” Grellus said confused. “What am I doing here? Where are we?” The young girl kissed him all over his face and said, “We…are…safe…now.” Then she sat back and looked at him with the love only a little girl can have for her father.

Grellus still confused, looked around and saw the companions standing around him. “Lloyd. Aksel. Glorfindel. What is going on here?”

“You were dead sir,” Lloyd replied quietly. “Assassinated.” Grellus shook his head. “Assassinated? The last thing I remember is I was standing in my room. I was by the bed, looking over some parchment. Then I felt a sharp pain and…now I’m here.”

“It was the Assassin’s Guild from Garotten,” Glo said. “It seems that your good friend Qualtan was jealous of you and Fairwind. It must have eaten away at him all these years and finally turned him towards evil. He hired them to kill you.”

Grellus put his hands on Andrella shoulders and slowly got up. “Qualtan you say. I knew he had feelings for Fairwind, but I would never have expected such treachery. You have proof?”

“Yes sir,” Aksel said. He walked over and handed the letter Qualtan had written to Fairwind to the Baron, as well as the letter between Qualtan and the vampire. As Grellus looked them over, Aksel continued, “Sir, it is really not safe to stay here right now.” The little cleric explained how Dunwynn had annexed the town, sent Fairwind away, and interred his body in the crypt. “It’s all true father,” Andrella added. “And after we rescued you, the Dunwynn troops came looking for us. I think they will start again now that the sun is up.”

Grellus dropped his hand holding Qualtan’s papers and then looked up at Lloyd. “And what say you good son of Penwick? Do we run like cowards, or do we stand and fight like men?” Lloyd flushed at the Baron’s words. Both his hands went to his sword hilts as he replied, “I have been with these folks many months now your Lordship. I hold their council in high esteem. If they say we should retreat, then I believe them. But if you command me to stand and fight, I will do so your Lordship.”

Grellus regarded the young warblade for a moment then smiled. “Spoke like a true son of Penwick. Very well young Lloyd,” he said then turned to Aksel, “I will abide by your council as well. But before we leave, I wish to speak with Captain Gelpas. Can you send him a message?”

“That may not be safe right now either,” Glorfindel interjected. There are Ruby Knights in town and they may be able to intercept such a message. We advised Shalla to tell Gelpas and the rest of the former town guards to leave town and regroup up at Bone Hill. Once they are there, we should be able to contact them.”

Grellus thought for a moment and then sighed. “Oh very well. We shall wait as you say then.” Seth suddenly interrupted, “Um, guys. We really should be going.” They turned and saw the ninja pointing south towards the town. A squad of Sky Knights could be seen winging away in the four cardinal directions from Restenford. One was headed directly for them.

“Well that’s my cue,” Glo responded and began to conjure up phantom steeds. When he was done, there were eight ethereal mounts in front of them. Everyone clambered up onto their translucent horses.

“Well, no need for stealth anymore,” Seth announced. “Those Sky Knights don’t have a prayer of catching us now.” Then he spurred his mount out of the woods and across the Restin River. The others followed right behind him. The quickly reached the road and then headed north towards Kelman’s pass.

The Sky Knights gave chase but were quickly outdistanced. When they realized they were outmatched, the Knights tried veered west climbing over the Tri-top hills to cut them off on the other side. But they had already traveled too far north and the phantom steeds were too fast. By the time the Hippogriffs had gained altitude and made it over the hills, the eight riders had already passed the Dead Forest and were heading south on the Old Knight’s road back towards Graceland.

As the companions sped south to meet back up with Elvisda, Glorfindel thought to himself, Well we finally did it. We raised the Baron of Restenford. He glanced over to where Grellus road side by side with his daughter Andrella. The two were in deep conversation as they road along. The Baron looked quite grim but the young woman was the happiest Glo had seen her in months.

But what would they do now that they had raised Grellus, the wizard thought. Dunwynn was still in control of Restenford. And the Princess of Lanfar still had a price on all their heads. Their dragon friends Ves, Ruka and Maya were all missing. Not to mention that the Thrall Lords were still lurking out their somewhere. And there was also the Demon Tower in the mountains to be dealt with.

No things were far from over, Glo thought to himself as the KOTC members and their companions raced along the road southward towards Graceland.

Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 15

Rise of the Thrall Lord fpspirit