Wilfred stood looking over the ramparts of Windclave. His hand was occupied with tossing a dagger up in the air and catching it. Despite the danger, he was not too keen on monitoring his success. He watched two farmers working their plow across a field. It had been three of them when they started, but since then one had left for some reason or another.
Casting his eye above them, he could see a winged beast flying toward them. It caused Wilfred to put down the dagger on the ground and pick up the crossbow sitting near by. He carefully loaded a glowing bolt into place and whispered, “Windclave needs protection.” The bolt started to glow a faint pinkish hue. Wilfred rested the crossbow on the wall to steady his arm. He took aim at the winged creature, and let the bolt fly loose. It flew across the sky with a whine in its wake till it hit its mark. There was an explosion of fire when the beast and the bolt made contact, and then nothing.
Wilfred put down the crossbow, and picked up the dagger. He went back to watching the farmers plow the field.
“Did I miss it?” asked a small boy running over to Wilfred.
“Yes, but there will be more. Not for a few more days, but there will be more.” Wilfred responded.
“Father, you promised I could see this time,” the boy stomped his feet and scowled.
“Reginald, be patient. When you are older you will realize this is not the type of thing to look forward to.”
Reginald crossed his arms, “You said the same thing about being an Earl. But now everyone refers to me as Lord Reginald. It is great!.”
Awarding of the title, Earl, had not changed much for Wilfred. He still was owner of the same lands, lord over the same people and commander of the same size military. He was pleased his cousin Routh let something trickle down to him, but wished it somehow had been something more than a title. So far it had come with more responsibility and an addition to the Windclave to accommodate the collections and dignitaries he was going to house. Wilfred was not keen that he now was the center for all the spies at Routh’s disposal. Then again who was his cousin to trust with as short a time as three months till his demise.
“I am sure it is, and in three years when you have more responsibilities you can tell me how great it is then.”
“Oh it will be fun, I can tell everyone what to do. And they won’t give you that questioning look as if I have no power.”
“That will not change my son. In the meantime, why not go check with the kitchen and see if they have prepared the bread I ordered them to make for you.”
Wilfred looked out over the wall as Reginald scampered off. He waited till he was out of earshot, then spoke “Fenton, no need to hide now. The boy is gone.”
“As always you anticipate my arrival,” A man covered in a red cloak spoke as he appeared from nowhere. The wind blew slightly at the opening of it letting the sun show a glint of his sword.
“I know you saw my shot, and that you were on patrol. Only a matter of time till you appeared.” Wilfred’s green eyes did not move off from the horizon as he talked.
“Right you are, guess I need to change my methods, becoming too predictable.” Fenton smirked,
“Perhaps. What do you think the odds are the manticores will try to find their friend?”
“I put the odd as not likely. They know our reach and better than to come this way anymore. I have to say I was surprised one showed up today.” Fenton looked out following Wilfred’s gaze. “You told your son another will come in a few days.”
“Sorry, thought I saw something.” Wilfred turned to Fenton. “I said that to keep the pup from complaining longer. Any word on more riders from the Emperor? I think we were shorted in the handouts of wealth some days.”
“Shorted is right, though it could be that you are a sorcerer or that you have a larger trove of enchanted items than the other earls.”
“Well I gladly would have given up some of it to trade places with another earl and have less of the manticores.”
“My Lord, would you really given up your brother’s lands he left you on his deathbed?
“He did this as a joke. My sister and Earl Fancy Pantaloons have the other half his lands on the other side of the mountain pass. That is nice fertile soil, and even has a few watch towers built outside the keep. We have to keep watch in the sky as we try to turn grain from the stone under our feet.”
“How many men do you think we need to take out the manticores?” Fenton asked, trying to steer the conversation.
“About a hundred more than what we got, if they are trained in that sort of thing. I estimate about ten nests currently up in the peaks, but we need to strike them all at once. If they get wise to us they will up and move their nests elsewhere in the same mountains.”
Wilfred and Fenton looked out toward the fields, where a white bird had just taken flight.
“There is lone rider from the Emporer coming. We had best make them feel welcome,” said Wilfred.
“You know it is a request for another item from our vaults,” Fenton teased.
“Always is,” Wilfred shot back.
Wilfred headed down to his chambers to properly receive the messenger. He winced with every step down the stairs as his left knee complained. It had been hammer during a fight two summers back that had caused the problem and still it showed no sign of improving. Wilfred had led a company of men to take on an ogre terrorizing some of his farmers. The ogre had brought along his goblin allies the day of the encounter and it was not a pretty outcome. Wilfred had escaped with only two others, while the ogre was slain with many of his goblins, he would hardly say either side won the encounter. So Wilfred slowly made his way down the stairs to his chambers, periodically cursing a long dead foe.
At the bottom of the stairs, Wilfred heard someone clear his throat. He turned to see an old man that came up to his chest. The old man’s grey hair was shoulder length and a mess, covering over one of his blue eyes. The man was clean shaven, and wearing long blue robes with a large golden vee embroidered on it with a dog or wolf above the right side and an owl above the left side. “Master Wilfred, a moment of your time, if it pleases you.”
“Be quick and walk with me as I am in a hurry,” Wilfred replied to the stranger.
“My name is Simon I represent a group of concerned people regarding the manticores. Is it not possible to slay the beasts and be done with the threat to the city? I saw you take down one today and it is not more than ten days since the last you took down by our accounts. And that is not counting for the attacks you or I may not be aware of…”
“Good Simon, I see you are from the Brotherhood of Osai, and I respect your rank. However I do not have a force at my command to go forth and deal with such things.” Wilfred did not make further eye contact, but did keep a pace to match his urgency, but still respect the mobility of Simon.
“I had heard rumors of such and would like to make available members of my order to bolster your abilities.” Simon smiled as he calmly spoke.
“How many do you have to offer and what is my cost, err donation to be?”
“Your donation would be use of land with in your fine city to build a new sanctuary. We will provide seventy able fighters and twenty scouts to help in the endeavors. This would also leave you to call upon us in the future should the need arise without further need of generosity on your part.”
“I see,” Spoke Wilfred as he got to the gate of the inner keep. “I must make ready for meeting someone else, may I contemplate your offer for the rest of the day?”
“Naturally, I understand your decisions cannot be made on the whim of the hour. I shall request a formal audience with you on the morrow and we can discuss then.” Simon bowed deeply his hands pressed together then spread apart by the length of his arms.
“As you can see my lord, the Emperor is not asking that you share the items in your vault, but give an accounting of them so he may divide up his resources fairly.” The messenger spoke as Wilfred looked over the papers.
“Yes, but the other Earls, are they giving similar accounts?”
“Of some, others like Herald and Natalya have no significant holdings coming from where they do.”
“My sister’s husband, Francis, is he giving an inventory of their lands?”
“The Emperor has made a request to them as well, my lord.”
“Can you give me an incentive to harboring more of his highness’s belongings here? So far I have part of a library, a score of archers, and some pretty pictures. Other than that I am at a loss as to what help I may expect by turning over a inventory of my vaults to him.” Though calm, the frustration in Wilfred was on the cusp of release.
“It is his desire for a fair division of power among the earls.” replied the messenger
“And he has advisors that can compare the value of a hundred men and mounts against a crystal that lights a room?”
“I am not privy to such knowledge, I am just the carrier of the message.”
“Yet you know he has made requests of the other Earls?” Asked Wilfred.
“Yes, as I am the one who delivers such documents.” The man replied, shifting his weight back and forth between his feet.
“And do you ride with their responses?” pressed Wilfred,
“My pardon, sir. I am humbly presenting that which I am asked to. If you would like I can return a message or request when I depart in the morning.”
“Very well, I shall draft something for your return trip. You, however, will be confined to the quarters for your stay, let your guards know if you need anything.” Smiled Wilfred. He motioned for one of his men to take the messenger away.
“Send in the next person,” ordered Wilfred
In came a bearded man cloaked in dark green clothing.
“And how can I help you today good sir?” asked Wilfred.
“It is I who can help you with your frustrations, Please listen to my suggestions” spoke the man. “I pose a way to assist you off of the emperor’s wrist. With short supplies you are in need of allies. I see manticore aboun’ but no help from the crown. I have legions in waiting for those who act without hesitating. Simply agree to follow plan and I will take nothing but loyalty from you clan.”
“Is it treason you speak in front of me and my men?”
“What men do you see where could they be?” smiled the man.
Wilfred looked around at the empty hall, “What magic are you pulling trickster?”
“I only show power so you know others will cower. You fret for your people as you feeble. I shall lend you my power to protect this tower. Mind you that if I am rejected your lands will go on dejected.”
“Yet you not introduce yourself?” Wilfred responded. “You ask me to name loyalty as a fee for your services and I already have made said agreement with the Emperor. I know the politics of his land, yet in yours I have the disadvantage. Could you ease my concerns on any of this I could contemplate an alliance.”
“Kelpie is my name and eventually you will know its fame. I honor my friends gift as it is their station I lift. Things take time I understand, tell no one else of this is my demand. I await your answer tomorrow’s eve, do not try me to deceive.”
Before Wilfred could respond, Kelpie was gone. The next thing Wilfred could recall was being roused in his chair, and told he had passed out after the messenger had left the room and only mere moments had passed.