Rise of the Thrall Lord
Knights of the Couch - Part XIII - Assassin Season - Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Secret Rendezvous
When the party had separated earlier that day, Seth and Aksel had made their way to the west tower of the Bright Angel Inn. They now stood before the door to the tower suite. Aksel looked over at Seth. The halfling stared back at the gnome. “Well I’m not going to knock,” the ninja finally said. “Remember, I’m the rather not be seen type?”
“Oh very well,” Aksel retorted. “I’ll do it.” He reached for the door and tentatively knocked on it a couple of times. At first nothing happened. Then, the door suddenly opened a crack. A young girl stuck her head around the corner of the door and peered out. She didn’t see either of them at first. Then she looked down. “Oh, there you are,” she said. “Can I help you?”
“Um, yes,” Aksel replied. “I am the Cleric Aksel and this is my friend Seth. We were wondering if we may come in and visit. We are also staying in the Inn in one of the other towers.”
The girl seemed to consider that for a moment. She turned to look back over her shoulder as if to check. Then she turned back and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but we aren’t accepting visitors right now. Have a nice day!” she finished cheerfully then closed the door. “Well, that went well,” Seth noted sardonically. “Yes, it could have gone better,” Aksel concurred.
“Well then,” the little ninja said as he walked down the hallway to a window and opened it, “they can’t say we didn’t at least try the honest approach.” He cast a spell and began to climb out the window onto the outside wall of the tower. Aksel also cast a spell and began to air walk out through the window. “No, we definitely tried to be above board,” the little gnome agreed. “We are a bit conspicuous up here though,” he noted as he looked down at the street below. It was still filled with many folks going about their daily business. “That can be easily fixed,” Seth replied casting another spell and disappearing from sight. “Yes, good idea,” Aksel agreed and he two cast a spell and faded from view.
They made it over to a window and peered into the tower suite. They saw a main room almost identical to the one in their tower. The window as partially opened. Seth heaved a bit and it slid easily high enough for he and Aksel to enter the room. The two companions entered the tower and looked around. There was no one in the main room at the moment.
The pair began making their way farther into the room when a form suddenly appeared in front of them. At the same time, a gentle wind began blowing. Seth and Aksel froze in their tracks. The watched carefully as the form coalesced into the naked upper half of a man while the lower half remained a whirling mass of air. The being in front of them was quite muscular with broad shoulders and a bald head except for a long black pony tail and a black mustache and beard. He was also quite blue!
As the two companions watched in fascination, the apparition spoke. “You may not enter here,” it intoned in a deep baritone. “Only the master can invite you. Go away!” it finished emphasizing the last word.
Seth and Aksel exchanged knowing glances. They were both well aware that they were facing a Djinn. They also both knew that there was no way they were getting past it and to try would not end well for either of them. As they stood there contemplating their next move, the Djinn stood its ground glaring at them. Finally Aksel spoke up. “We are looking for the Wizard Peltar. The Baron of Restenford was recently murdered in a very heinous manner, and his long time friend and companion, Peltar, disappeared around the same time. We need to find him and discover what he knows about the Baron’s death.”
The Djinn hovered there for a minute, his hand going to his chin. “Hmmm,” the floating being murmured. “That is a worthwhile request. I will pass your message onto my master. But for now, you must leave.”
“Very well,” Aksel replied nodding to Seth to comply. “We are staying in the South tower. Ask for Aksel or Seth.” With that the cleric turned and air walked back out the window, followed by his little ninja companion.
The gnome and halfling returned to their own tower. “Well that was pretty much pointless,” Seth observed as they entered the main room. The tower was still empty as the others were still at Penwick Manor enjoying a brandy with the Lord Hightower. “Well, you never know,” Aksel responded to Seth’s comment, “but I don’t think we had much choice but to leave.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Seth said regretfully, not liking to back down from any challenge. He was a little too Lloyd like in that regard for Aksel’s taste. But the little halfling had become his best friend over these last two months. The unlikely duo had found themselves paired together again and again. And usually it was their own choice to do so.
“Well then,” Seth suddenly brightened, “let’s try another tact. Do you still have that scrying ball on you?”
“It’s in my backpack,” the cleric responded. “Who were you planning on scrying on?”
“Just a few people,” Seth replied mysteriously. When he saw the worried look on Aksel’s face he smirked and then laughed. “Oh don’t worry so much. I just want to find out what’s going on in Restenford.”
“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Aksel said approvingly. He got up and went to get the crystal ball. “When have I ever had a bad one?” Seth cried after his friend. “Do you really want me to answer that?” Aksel shouted from the other room. “Don’t tell me you’re still mad about the red dragon incident?” Seth replied feigning hurt feelings. Aksel returned to the room with the ball of scrying in his hand. “Well, considering you brought the entire house down on our heads, and almost got us fried?” the cleric retorted, “Nah, why would I be mad at that?”
“That was the dragon who did that,” Seth shot back, “not me!”
“Well, maybe if you hadn’t tried to stab it in the back?” Aksel offered. “Yeah, like that would have really hurt it,” Seth responded sarcastically. The two stared at each other for a moment, then both burst out laughing. “You looked so funny when you poked your head out of that hole!” Seth cried rolling on the floor giggling. “Me?!” Aksel shot back holding his stomach he was laughing so hard. “You looked like a drowned rat! You’re lucky she dropped you into the lake the way she did.”
The two companions continued to laugh for another minute or two. When they finally calmed down, Seth stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Good times!” Seth said with another smirk. Then he went over and picked up the crystal ball where Aksel had set it down on the table in front of the couch. “Just a moment,” Aksel said holding up his hand. The cleric began intoning a spell. He incanted and let it loose after a few moments. Seth felt a strange sensation wash over his body, almost as if he had become invisible. But he could clearly see himself in the mirror over on the wall. “What was that?” he asked his friend. “A spell of non-detection,” Aksel answered. “Nice!” Seth replied appreciatively. “Now, I think I will also follow up on your idea,” the cleric added. “I never prayed for all my spells yet today, so I think I will go and ask for some spells of sending. It would be good to contact Lady Fairwind and see what is going on.” With that Aksel went to his room to pray.
Seth turned and bent down towards the crystal ball. He decided he would try to scry on Ignar and see if he could find out what the Dunwynn noble was planning next. The halfling concentrated on the ball staring at it intently for a few minutes. But nothing happened. Seth sat back and shook his head. Then he leaned forward and tried again. He pictured Ignar Strakentir in his mind. He had gotten a look at the noble when Dunwynn had invaded Restenford. Albeit, it was from far away, but the image was ingrained in his mind. He concentrated hard for about ten minutes. But again, nothing happened. He sat back and rub his eyes.
“Well that was a bust,” he said out loud. “Let’s try something different.” He thought for a minute and then leaned forward gazing at the crystal ball. This time, after about 30 seconds, the ball began to glow. Clouds appeared inside it and eventually thinned till an image formed. It was Captain Relkin from the castle guard at Restenford. Seth smiled to himself as the image cleared and sound began to emanate from the ball.
Relkin was sitting at a table in an Inn. Actually, it was the Golden Golem Seth realized as he saw the details of the room behind the Captain. But Relkin was not in uniform. There were five other men sitting around the table with him. The halfling recognized most of them as castle guards. He definitely knew Francis and Marcus. But none of the others were in uniform either. Suddenly Shalla walked up with a handful of tankards. She set them down on the table and the castle guardsmen reached for them.
“I tell you we should have done something,” Marcus grumbled as he grabbed for his ale. “The Baroness said no,” Relkin replied. “She didn’t want any more blood spilled in Restenford. It’s bad enough after what happened to the Baron and those poor kids the vampire’s killed.” By the look on Marcus’s face it was obvious he wasn’t satisfied with Relkin’s answer. “Drink up,” Shalla said as she leaned in close to the table. “We’ll get our chance soon enough,” she whispered to them. Marcus looked her in the eye and then nodded saying, “I’ll drink to that!” Then he and the other men drained their tankards.
Just then Seth heard a voice from behind him. “Did you find out anything?” Aksel asked. The little ninja sat up and turned. Aksel had just come back from his bedroom. He relayed the scene he had just observed to his friend. “Very interesting,” Aksel responded. “No luck with Ignar I assume.”
“None,” Seth admitted obviously annoyed. “No worries,” Aksel told the halfling. “If we can’t spy on one Strakentir, there’s always the other one.” Seth visibly brightened. “I like the way you think,” he told the gnome. Aksel smiled in reply and cast the scry spell. Within a few moments they were watching the youngest Strakentir brother, their old friend Fafnar, flying through the air on the back of a Hypogrif. As the view broadened they saw that the Dunwynn noble was flying in formation with seven other Skyknights. The view widened even more and they saw the group was approaching a lighted town. As they got closer a river became visible below the Skyknights. “That town looks very familiar,” Aksel commented. The two companions stared intently at the scene until it dawned on both of them at once. “That’s Lukescros!” they both said simultaneously. They continued to watch as the formation of flyers made for a large open field.
“I wonder where they’re landing?” Aksel mused. “Well there’s one way to find out!” Seth exclaimed. He got up and went over to one of the tower windows. He opened it, cast the spell of spider climb upon himself and then crawled out the window. Aksel walked up to the window and peered out. He saw the ninja climbing up the outside wall to the top of their tower. The cleric shrugged his shoulders and said, “If you can’t beat them…” He cast air walk on himself and then followed behind the ninja up to the top of the tower.
A short time later, at the gates of Penwick Manor, the two guards that Lloyd and the others had met were still standing their posts. Out of the dark, a small figure came running up the road at an incredible pace. The guards came alert, but the little figure stopped short a few feet from them. “Who are you?” one of the guards asked. “I’m a friend of Lloyd Stealle’s,” the figure replied. “He was headed here a few hours ago. I assume he is still here?”
“He is,” the other guard replied cautiously. “Good,” the little figure replied. The moon suddenly shown threw the trees and the guards could see that they were talking with a halfling. The halfling responded, “Can you please tell him that Seth wants to meet him on the Parade Ground? Tell him his friend Fafnar is there.” And with those parting words, the little halfling turned and ran down the road back towards town at a ridiculously fast pace. The two guards exchanged glances not sure what to make of the strange encounter. Finally the one guard said, “I guess we should relay the message to the young Lord Stealle.” The other guard just nodded his head, still staring at where the little figure had disappeared down the road in the darkness of the night.
On the other side of town, on the isle where the annual festival took place, Aksel stood in the dark a few dozen yards from the Parade Ground. It was a large field with five large towers, four around the outside marking off its edges and one larger tower right in the center rising above a building which contained the amphitheater. That was where the Lukescros Fair’s bardic competitions took place as well as the awards ceremonies when the tournament was over. Speeches were made by the Mayor of Lukecros as well as the various dignitaries from attending towns from all over Thac and beyond. This was followed by the awarding of trophies and prizes to the winners of the numerous competitions that occurred during the Fair. However, on this evening, five days before the start of the Fair, the Parade ground was empty. That is, except for the 8 hippogrifs and their riders who had just landed in the field.
From his vantage point, off in the dark, Aksel could clearly see Sir Fafnar Strakentir of Dunwynn. He had dismounted from his steed and was talking to a figure in a dark cloak. The little cleric silent began to circle the field, seeing if he could get a look at the face of the person under that cloak. The foppish Dunwynn noble seemed to be having an animated discussion with the dark robed figure. Then the conversation came to an abrupt end. Sir Fafnar climbed onto his Hipogriff and took off into the air, his fellow skynights close behind him. Aksel watched the figure in the dark cloak as it turned and headed into town. The little gnome quickly cast a spell of invisibility followed by another spell of air walking. He then took off after the retreating figure.
At about the same moment, Seth came running at breakneck speed over the bridge and towards the parade ground. He was almost there when he saw the eight skynights suddenly fly up into the air. The little ninja quickly invoked his cloak and turned invisible. As the knights flew overhead he decided to turn and follow them. His spell of expedious retreat made it easy for him to keep up with these men on their flying mounts. They weren’t really flying all that fast anyway. Seth trotted along back the way he came over the bridge and to the island with the mansions on it. However, he did not make it all the way back to Penwick manor this time. The Dunwynn knights flew to the manor just north of the Penwick one. When Seth stopped some yards back he saw guards standing in front of a gate just like the one in front of Penwick manor. The only difference was that instead of being dressed in Penwick red, these guards were dressed in Dunwynn blue. And the Dunwynn crest could be seen clearly on the gate behind them. The ninja debated on whether to sneak in the grounds or not when he heard the sounds of someone coming up the road. He decided to wait to see who it was.
A short time earlier, in Penwick Manor, Lloyd, Andrella, Glorfindel and Elvisda had just finished a supper provided by Lord Hightower. When they were done, Elvisda had taken out his lute and was playing a soothing melody for the group. Lloyd sat lazily on the couch, Andrella laying her head comfortably on the big man’s shoulder. Hightower sat on a chair next to the elf wizard. He leaned over at one point and said, “He’s quite good isn’t he?”
“You should see him in concert,” Glo whispered back. “I trust he is entering the bardic competition,” Hightower said quietly. “It would take a whole flight of dragons to stop him your Lordship,” the wizard joked. Both men chuckled softly.
Just as Elvisda was finishing his tune, a butler came into the room. He walked over to the group and announced, “I have a message for the young Lord Stealle.” Lloyd sat up gently moving Andrella’s head from his shoulder. “For me?” he said incredulously. “Who even knows I’m here?”
“I’m not quite certain Lord Stealle. The guard at the front gate said it was a halfling. He asked the guard to tell you to meet him at the Parade ground,” the butler continued. “It was probably Seth,” Elvisda observed. “True,” Glorfindle added, “you won’t find that many halflings in these parts.”
“Was that all he said?” Lloyd asked the butler. The man paused for a moment and then said, “Yes. I think he said something about a mutual friend. There was a name. Farfar? Faf-far?”
“Fafnar?” Lloyd asked excitedly. “Why yes,” the butler replied. “I believe that was it. Fafnar.” The butler excused himself and turned and left the room. “What would Sir Fafnar being doing here in Lukescros?” Elvisda mused. “Last time I saw him, he did say he was headed south,” Lloyd answered. “Is that Sir Fafnar Strakentir of Dunwynn?” Lord Hightower asked them. “Yes,” Glo said turning to face the noble. “Lloyd here somehow managed to make friends with the man.”
“It could have to do with the fact that he placed himself between Fafnar and that flesh golem that was trying to kill him back in Gaither’s tower,” Elvisda said with a laugh. “Now that sounds like an interesting story,” Lord Hightower observed. “You are going to have to tell me that one some time. But Sir Fafnar is quite close to the Duke and would be a good ally to have. It seems you are doing quite well for yourself my boy,” he finished clasping Lloyd on the shoulder.
“Well,” Elvisda said, “we should probably go and see what trouble Seth has gotten himself into now. Lord Hightower, could we perhaps borrow a change of clothes. I have a feeling disguises might be in order.” Hightower considered for a moment and then said, “Would Penwick colors do? We have some tabards that you could wear.” The bard bowed deeply saying, “I would be honored to wear Penwick colors your Lordship. But I think maybe something alittle less conspicuous for our Lady Andrella here.”
Hightower turned to look at the young noblewoman. “Andrella, maybe you should stay here with me.” Andrella shot a look at the old gentlemen then visibly softened. She walked up to him and said coyly, “But Lloyd needs me your Lordship. He would be lost without me by his side. And anyway, I can take care of myself. The Wizard Glorfindle here has taught me magic!” Hightower now turned to look at the elf wizard and raised an eyebrow. “Is this true?”
“She has the aptitude for it your Lordship,” Glo replied. “Frankly if I didn’t start teaching her, she was just going to hurt herself. She’s actually quite good.” Andrella looked fondly at the elf wizard and said, “Thank you.” Then she turned back to Hightower and said, “See. I’ll be just fine. And after all, mother trusted these gentlemen to take care of me. You should too.”
Lord Hightower, a man well seasoned in battle, knew when he was beat. He relented and let Andrella go with the others. They found her a black outfit and a dark green cloak. They also brought Penwick tabards for Lloyd, Elvisda, and Martin. The latter had come to the manor with Elvisda but felt it was not his place to join the nobles upstairs. He had waited downstairs with the help and had eaten in the kitchen. The party was now decked out in Penwick colors except for Glorfindle and Andrella. Hightower bade them good luck and invited them to come back to spend the night when they were done.
The companions left Penwick manor and headed north up the road. Elvisda had studied a map of Lukescros back in the Bright Angel and said the road would curve back west and cross a bridge to the northern island where the Parade ground was. They had not gone more than a half mile when they passed the next manor. As the marched by they noted the Dunwynn crest on the gate and the guards in Dunwynn blue. “I’m glad I’m in Penwick red,” Elvisda said quietly. They had just passed Dunwynn Manor when they heard a small voice saying, “It took you long enough.”
“Seth?” Lloyd said. “Who else,” the voice replied. Then the halfling appeared out of thin air in front of them. “I thought you said we should meet you by the fair grounds?” Elvisda asked. “I did,” Seth replied, “but when I got there I saw the knights flying back this way on their overgrown chickens. So I decided to follow them. Surprise, surprise. They ended up back in there,” he finished pointing back over their shoulder towards Dunwynn Manor.
“So where’s Aksel?” Glo asked the ninja. “He had gone ahead to scout out the parade ground,” Seth replied, “but when I got there I didn’t see him. Of course, I was kind of busy tracking the flying cuckoos back to their nest…” Elvisda and Lloyd chortled at the reference. Glo couldn’t help smiling either. But he quickly recovered himself and said, “So we have no idea where…” The elf suddenly stopped short. He was staring past them with a strange look on his face. They whirled around, Lloyd drawing his swords, but saw nothing.
“What is it?” Elvisda asked him with a worried expression. “You don’t see that?” the wizard replied uncertainly. “See what?” the bard responded. Everyone was looking around but could not spot what Glo was talking about. Glo gulped slowly and then spoke. “There is a semi-transparent hand, floating in mid-air not ten feet from us down the road. It keeps beckoning to us, or to me I guess.”
They all looked around again then back at the wizard. “Are you sure you didn’t have too much brandy tonight?” Elvisda asked his elf friend. “I didn’t have that much to drink!” Glo replied sarcastically. He looked over their shoulders again. “No, there is definitely something there. It is probably a spell intended just for me which is why only I can see it. But I am not familiar with this brand of magic.”
“Helping hand,” Seth suddenly said. “What?” Elvisda said turning towards the ninja. “I think it’s called helping hand. It’s a cleric spell,” the halfling replied, “but I’m pretty sure the caster has to know you, or at least know what you look like to use it on you.”
“Well then,” Glo responded slowly, “it could be from Aksel. But it does seem a bit melodramatic.”
“Elvisda must be rubbing off on him,” Seth quipped. “Wait,” Glo interrupted before Elvis could retort, “it is moving away down the road…in the same direction we were headed.”
“Okay then,” Elvisda said, “Let’s follow it. But everyone be ready just in case it is some kind of trap.” They all nodded and prepared their weapons. Then the bard turned to Glo and said, “Lead the way!” The wizard sent Raven up on ahead to spy out any potential trouble and then led the party on down the road following the ethereal hand as it led to some unknown destination somewhere in the town of Lukescros.