Rise of the Thrall Lord
The Life and Times of Klinkar Strakentir - Part 4
Klinkar ordered for his horse to be saddled. Staying in the manor all day was not an option for today. He felt obliged to share his miserable mood with everyone he would meet. The groom that the town provided to care for his horse made sure to get things right the third time after Klinkar upbraided him for his first two attempts. His entire face was crimson from the effort, anger and embarrassment. Klinkar started to leave and then wheeled the horse around toward the groom.
“You will not disrespect my horse with slipshod work!” Klinkar growled. “This horse is twice the warrior of any foot soldier in the Duke’s army. This horse has killed greater men than you and will kill more to defend you and your family. Insult this horse and you invite your own destruction!”
Klinkar did not dignify the man by waiting for any reply, but instead turned again and rode out of the yard without looking back. Klinkar rode out across the Breadgrain field allowing his horse to eat whatever it wanted. Klinkar could feel the eyes of the irate farmers on him, but he patted his horse kindly as it chewed. He then rode over to a water bucket that the farmers had been using to drink from and he allowed the horse to drink from it. After the horse drank, Klinkar drank some water as well. He ignored the farmers and rode on.
Klinkar paid no attention to anyone. He rode where he or the horse wanted. Sometimes they walked, sometimes trotted and sometimes galloped. Occasionally Klinkar would unsheathe his sword and cut a branch off of a sapling at full gallop. As he rode near the tree line he saw a stag. He stopped his horse and stared at it. The stag looked up and stared back at him. Klinkar slowly pulled his bow from its place on the saddle. He strung it and had an arrow knocked with practiced ease. He drew the bow and aimed at the stag. Its posture changed slightly, it looked defiant. The head rose proudly and the muscles tensed as though it challenged him. Klinkar loosed the arrow at the rebellious stag. The arrow struck home, and the stag jumped and tried to run, but it only made it a few steps before it fell. Klinkar rode over to the stag. The defiance was gone and the dead eyes stared blankly at nothing.
Jacob Nutley was surprised to see Baron Strakentir come into the tavern. It was the first time that he had in his two months residence.
“Jacob Nutley,” Klinkar began.
“Do you know how to properly butcher a stag?”
Klinkar left and strode back in with the stag over his shoulders. Jacob Nutley was impressed at the ease with which the baron carried the heavy load. Klinkar placed the stag down in the cooking area where there was a wooden block for cutting meat.
“Is there a tanner in town worth his salt?”
“Then have a care with the hide and have the tanner deliver it to me when he’s done. I’ll have Sofna come down for a portion of the meat. The rest you may have for the tavern. It’s more than I can eat.”
And Klinkar strode out of the tavern leaving Jacob Nutley to his work. The horse turned to look at him as he approached. Klinkar took the reins and walked the horse over to a rain barrel. After it drank its fill, Klinkar plunged his head in and rinsed the heat and sweat of the day off. He let go of the reins and walked up to the manor. The horse followed exactly one step behind the whole way. At the gate to the manor he found Sofna and the groom standing at what appeared to be a rustic servant’s version of attention awaiting his orders.
“Sofna, there will be venison at the tavern. Fetch only enough for you and the groom. I don’t care for it myself,” Klinkar ordered. “Groom, I will be in the stables when the sun hits those treetops. My horse had best be properly cared for.”
“Yes, Baron,” both said in unison.
Klinkar entered the house and went up to his chamber. He went to a shelf and removed a box. He placed the box on a table and taking a key from his pouch, he unlocked it. Inside was an orb with a cloudy swirling mist within. Klinkar placed both hands on the orb and closed his eyes. He could feel the magic of the orb removing the dirt, sweat and stench from him and his clothes. The orb felt tingly when it finished and Klinkar released it. The mist inside the orb was dark and murky. Klinkar locked it back up in the box knowing that within the hour, the darkness would be gone and it would be ready for use again.
The orb was something that Klinkar had thought of himself. He went to a wizard in Dunwynn and asked if it could be done. The wizard thought for a moment and then Klinkar saw the pouches in his mind filling with gold as he said, yes of course. He gave Klinkar one for free, but the Duke paid for dozens of them to be given as gifts to the nobles of his court. The Duke had a sensitive nose and had little tolerance for human odors.
After replacing the box on the shelf, Klinkar again reached into his pouch, but this time he drew out a ring. He put on the ring and could feel the magic flow from it all over his body. He looked at himself in the mirror, but saw nothing but the wall behind him. The Ring of Invisibility was one of three magical rings in a matched set left to him by his father. He never had use for it when he was in Dunwynn. The Duke employed many who could see through such things. Not even his brothers knew that he had the rings.
Klinkar went down to the stables and saw the groom working furiously. “This horse is a better soldier than any footman in the Duke’s army, he says,” the groom complained. “It’s killed better men than you. Well, to me you’re just a dumb horse and that’s all you’ll ever be. Ah! A bee!” A giant bee, one the size of a ripe watermelon buzzed into the stable. The groom tripped over a rake as he tried to dive away from it. The bee was on him instantly. Before Klinkar could move to aid the groom, a rear hoof slammed into the bee driving it into the wall where it was impaled on pegs. The groom just stared up in amazement.
Klinkar quietly left the house. He walked down to the tavern and sat outside the window listening to the revelry inside as the sun set. There was a bard inside singing a song about him. Klinkar thought that this must be the fellow that the guards were so worked up about. The song was harmless enough, poking fun at Klinkar’s situation. The bard himself was very good, far better than one would expect to find in a backwater farm town. Then someone yelled, “Guards of the Baron!”
Klinkar looked and saw his men coming up the street toward the tavern. Then he saw someone come out the back door of the tavern not far from where he sat. The man was dressed in a travelling cloak that poorly hid a lute. The bard closed the door, concealed himself behind the rain barrel, and watched the guards enter the tavern. Once he felt safe he turned around a looked about. He looked directly into Klinkar’s eyes and smiled quite charmingly.
“Sorry, Baron. I didn’t mean any offense,” the bard said obviously seeing through the invisibility spell.
“None taken. I enjoyed the song,” Klinkar said with his own courtly charm.
“Am I free to go?” the bard asked.
“See Sofna up at the manor. She’ll give you a hot meal and something for your journey. It won’t be long before the Duke’s hunters are here looking for you. It’s best that you move on.”
“Thank you, Baron. I’ll speak well of you to the other Free Bards.”
“I’m sure that will go a long way toward ruining my reputation. Thank you.”
With that the bard disappeared into some tall grass and Klinkar lost track of him. Also, Klinkar’s attention was taken to the events unfolding inside the tavern. The guards were being very loud and intimidating and the patrons were leaving. Vilcomb shouted above the laughing of his men that he’d be taking a keg of ale in exchange for keeping the peace inside the tavern for the evening.
“Hey, what’s that?” Klinkar heard Vilcomb say. “Is that a stag I see butchered back there? So, Jacob Nutley, been doing a bit of poaching, have we?”
“No,” Klinkar heard Jacob say in a somewhat nervous voice. “The Baron brought it here this afternoon. He said it was too much for him to eat himself.”
“Funny, the Baron didn’t mention any of this to us. Perhaps we’ll be taking another keg of ale as payment for the deer.”
“Yasvina, come with me,” Klinkar heard Jacob say. The two of them came out the back door of the tavern. “Daughter, I’m going up to the manor to find the Baron. Just give them whatever they want until I get back.”
Klinkar took advantage of the open door to go inside. He saw his men pouring out the ale from the keg into their tankards and drinking deeply. Vilcomb was waiting by the door eavesdropping on Jacob’s conversation with his daughter. He had no idea Klinkar was inches from him walking by. Klinkar made his way up to the lofts so that he could look down without any chance of being discovered.
When Yasvina came back in, Vilcomb said to her, “So, you’re to give us whatever we want until your father comes back from the Baron. How about you give me a kiss.”
“I’d sooner kiss the Barons horse,” Yasvina said with obvious scorn.
“You can do that later. For now you can kiss me,” Vilcomb said and grabbed her. He pulled her face close to his and he began kissing her. She bit his lip drawing blood in return. Vilcomb went into a rage. “For that you’ll do more than kiss me!” Vilcomb began dragging her to the stairs. Yasvina broke free and started to run for the door, but two of the guards grabbed her and threw her back towards Vilcomb. Vilcomb had his dagger out now and put it to her throat. “You’ll do as I say, or you’ll be butchered like that deer. And when your daddy comes back from the manor all by himself, because the Baron is too busy pining away for Dunwynn than to care about you wretches, I’ll butcher him too!”
Yasvina looked at the glittering blade of the dagger. It seemed almost alive with energy and vitality. Her mind was looking for a place to hide from the fear she was feeling. She hid in the blade of the dagger. It was beautiful. She began to believe that such a beautiful thing would never hurt her. She started ascending the stairs with Vilcomb resigned to whatever fate the gods intended.
They reached the loft and Vilcomb pushed Yasvina to the floor. He stood over her and laughed. “You’re going to enjoy this very much.” Vilcomb bent down and pointed the dagger at Yasvina’s chest. By reflex, Yasvina grabbed Vilcomb’s hand. Both Yasvina and Vilcomb were surprised when another hand covered both of theirs and turned the blade onto Vilcomb’s own chest plunging it into his heart. Strangely enough, there was no blood coming from the wound. The dagger glowed with power as Vilcomb’s heart shriveled up inside of him, consumed by the magic. Vilcomb himself could only exhale as he died, never knowing who had done it.
Yasvina saw the man behind Vilcomb who had just let go of her hand. It was the Baron.
“Say you were just protecting yourself,” Klinkar whispered. Then he was gone.
Yasvina screamed. She ran down the stairs screaming. The guards just laughed as she ran out of the door. Klinkar left after her, invisible to the eyes of all. He hurried up to the manor and saw Jacob returning with a sour expression on his face. Jacob ran to his daughter as he saw her running and screaming to him in the moonlight.
“Yasvina, daughter, what happened?”
“You must come back! I was only protecting myself!”
“Good girl,” Klinkar thought as he went up to the manor. There he would wait for the guards to come. It was not long before Jirney, the youngest of the guards, came running up the hill.
“Baron Strakentir, Baron Strakentir!” Jirney yelled.
Klinkar opened the door to the manor and stepped out. “Jirney, what is it? Has someone frightened a rabbit without the Duke’s consent?” Klinkar asked sarcastically.
“Baron, you must come quickly. Vilcomb is dead.”
“What? What killed him? Is there an ogre or a troll?”
“No, just come. It was one of the townspeople.”
Klinkar with a stern face set off down the hill. Jirney, who, in addition to being one of the youngest was also one of the laziest, and who was tired from the run up to the manor, had a great deal of trouble keeping up with Klinkar’s pace. As he approached the tavern Klinkar could hear a commotion inside as guards were accusing and Yasvina and Jacob defended themselves. Klinkar made a loud entrance with the door slamming against the wall and his boots stomping on the wooden floor.
“What is the meaning of this?” Klinkar’s voice silenced all within. Klinkar saw Vilcomb’s body lying on a long table with the dagger still in his chest. Jacob was standing before his daughter shielding her from the guards. Two of the guards were readying a noose strung over one of the rafters.
“My lord,” Hulgif, second to Vilcomb among the guards, said in a stern voice. “This girl killed Vilcomb. She stabbed him with his own dagger.”
“Is this true?” Klinkar asked of the other guards.
“Yes, my lord,” they all said nearly in unison. Jirney sputtered it out as he was still trying to catch his breath.
Klinkar went over to the body and looked at it. He saw clearly now the wound to the chest. Vilcomb’s dagger was magical. It was an assassin’s blade. When it penetrates the body, it destroys the organs it contacts completely. This would make it more difficult or even impossible for a temple to bring him back. Vilcomb was dead and that was that. Klinkar could see on the guard’s faces that they understood this as well. Vilcomb had probably bragged about the knife to all of the men.
“Bring them forward,” Klinkar growled. Court had made him a good actor. Many times the Duke had briefed him beforehand on what was going to happen at a meeting, but Klinkar would still have to act like he was experiencing it for the first time. The guards handled both Yasvina and Jacob roughly as they were brought to kneel before Klinkar. They both stole glances at the noose. Klinkar removed a ring from his pouch. “Put this on,” he said to Yasvina. She did so nervously.
“Now, tell me what happened,” Klinkar said.
Yasvina, with head bowed now and tears forming said, “He was trying to take me. I was only protecting myself.”
“She lies!” the guards said. She lured him up there and killed him.
“Young lady, are you lying to me?” Klinkar asked.
“No, my lord,” tears were dripping to the floor as she nervously spoke.
“Are you telling me the whole truth?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Give me back the ring please,” Klinkar said. Yasvina did as he asked with trembling hands. “Hulgif, Is this girl lying to me?”
“Yes, my lord. She lured him up.” Hulgif said with hatred burning in his eyes.
“Hulgif, do you know what this ring is?” Klinkar asked.
“No, my lord,” Hulgif said
“This is called The Ring of Truth. It forces the wearer to speak only the truth. This girl was wearing it when she said what she said. Would you like to put it on and repeat what you said?’ Klinkar asked.
Hulgif stood silently with his head bowed.
“I thought not,” Klikar said putting the ring back into his pouch. “You men are a disgrace to Dunwynn. Tonight you will wrap Vilcomb’s body in an appropriate shroud. Seek out a cleric to bless the body so that it won’t rot. Tomorrow morning you will set out back to Dunwynn to return Vilcomb’s body to his family. The dagger must be returned to them as well. You must carry his body the whole way. You may not use a cart, nor a horse. When your task is done, you will see the Commander of the Guard for reassignment. Tell him I will train my own guards from conscripts here.”
“Yes, my lord,” Hulgif said. He and the men began to work silently on their task.
“Jacob, your daughter is very brave. Come to the manor tomorrow as I have plans to discuss with you and the town elders.”
“Yes, Baron Strakentir,” Jacob said.
Klinkar grabbed the noose and pulled the rope down. He coiled it up, slung it over his shoulder and walked back up to the manor.