Chapter 26

It was sometime later when Oren brought up his plan. “Martell, I don’t think what I do is an enchantment. I just need to focus to get outside the door. Will you be ok while I go and find a light source so I can get you out of here?”
“Sure, not like there is anything else in here.”
“Okay, I will let you know when I am outside the door.” Oren’s attempt to move beyond the door worked perfectly. However, his staff stayed behind, he assumed that must have been blocked because of its enchantments.
“I will be back for you Martell.” Oren spoke as he fumbled around the room. He wasn’t even sure where in Erridda they had been locked in. It may be where they found Lady Nattan or a completely new place.
His hands ran along the wall ahead of him grasping in hopes of preventing a run in with the walls. He found a door, but passed on going inside. He was trying to make a map in his head as he made his way, so the fewer rooms the better.
This process went on for several hours with him slowly working out that they were in no place they had seen on the way down. He found a stairwell and went up to the next level. It was still dark, but shortly after the stairs found the remains of a door and its hinges hanging to the wall. Was this the door where Lady Nattan had busted through?
He worked his way around the perimeter of the room slowly. There was definitely rubble strewn across the floor. He felt around on the floor and after what seemed like an eternity found one of the torches that they had had with them. That was a step in the right direction; now he needed something to light it with. If only he had asked Tabia to leave them the flint and steel.
With that, he now proceeded to search the walls for a small cabinet like Tabia had retrieved her set from. There was none in the current room. He preceded up the stairs another level to the first level of the basement. He turned down the hall to where they had not previously been. It was here he found a cabinet on the wall. Inside were flint and steel along with some other materials, possibly what Oren would need for another torch, if they had not gone bad.
Oren lit the torch and waited a bit for his eyes to adjust to the change in light. As he adjusted to the light he could see the decoration in the room. The room was laid out like the other with two altars. This one had a one side with flames and various shades of red across it. From the remnants of the statue on this side, the clothing the figure wore a tabard with two flames rising above a castle. The other side of the room was decorated in lightning running down from the ceiling to an anvil on the wall. Under the anvil were fields of gray, maybe dust or ash. There was another statue destroyed on this side as well. The figure on this side had wielded a hammer similar to one used by a blacksmith. There was nothing else he could determine about the figures here.
Oren went over and checked the other materials that were in the cabinet. They all still seemed functional so he brought them with. It was time to go back and get Martell. He hastened his way back down to her.
When he got down to the door, he called out, “Martell, I am back. Are you alright in there?”
There was a pause before he saw her face at the door. “Yes, now get me out.”
Oren looked at the door. This was going to take some time; Oren did not feel the need to ponder where Nattan and her men had gotten the locks to reseal the door. “Martell, you know anything about picking locks?”
“No, situation has never come up for me to break out of a place. I have always been more concerned about my wellbeing in combat, not so much concerned about being locked up.”
“Have any lock picks or small pieces of metal I can tinker around the lock with?” Oren asked.
“No, can’t help you there either.” The humor in Martell’s voice was fading.
Looking around the room Oren saw a place to at least hang his torch. He put it in its fixture and started to look around the room. He put together another torch with the materials he had found upstairs and lit it. He then went to go check out the other room on this floor. Inside he found it with book lined walls. If he was not trying to rescue Martell, he could have been lost for hours in here. He quickly perused the titles. They covered history of the Drémore kingdom along with some prayer books to each of the gods. There was also candleholder on a table and a box of candles. There was nothing to light them with.
This may have been the library Katsutaka and his assistant had been referring to. He relayed his finding to Martell and expressed that they may need to peruse this collection before they departed. She agreed with his assessment. It was around this time Martell confessed she was getting hungry. Oren would have to go out and find some food for both of them.
Oren exited into the courtyard; the place was strewn with rubble from destroyed statues. There were still a few statues that remained standing, presumably the ones that did not animate themselves. The doors out of the stronghold were open again. Oren climbed up to the second floor to look out and get a feel of who was left around outside the gate. When he looked out the windows he saw that all of Lady Nattan’s men had taken off. He made a quick stop back at the armory to grab a sword in case anyone was still out there.
Oren left the stronghold in order to go get their horse and what supplies they had left. They still had some food in the packs. Also, they did have a couple tools, maybe something to open the doors with. He found their horse and belongings where they left them. After returning to the stronghold, horse in tow, He proceeded to look through what was left behind by the departed knights. He found a bit more food, along with a couple tents, three more torches, and Martell’s other two swords.
Once he had collected everything necessary, Oren closed the gates to the stronghold and started a small fire inside the walls. He wanted to have it going before night came. At this point he was not worried about Nattan’s return. As soon as he had the flames going there was a knock at the gate. Oren headed over to see who was knocking with a sword at the ready.
“Oren you in there?” a familiar voice asked.
“Yes, and you are?”
“It is me, Teman. I wanted to see if you were ok. There was a large group of men that headed down the road away from here. They did not all look in the best of shape. I was coming to see if I could benefit from your excursion here while Devlin took care at Abbysta.”
Oren cautiously opened the gate. He saw the same short, black haired man he had left at Abbysta. He had two dead rabbits slung over his shoulder. “Get in quick, I was about to barricade the gate for the night.”
Teman slipped in and Oren shut the door, slipping a cross in order to seal the gate. “Where is Martell? Is she busy with preparing dinner?”
“No, but I am glad you are here we need help getting her out of a room.”
“Oh? Did you trigger a trap?”
“It was our reward for roughing up the party that left here. Well, really, it is more complex than that. I will explain on the way to where she is.”
They arrived in the room outside where Martell was locked up. Teman took a look at the door and let out a whistle. “You, friends, got yourself a big dilemma if you had not run across me. Those locks are not going to bend to any enchantment. Sure, any one of those chains on their own and you could use one means or another to break. No, this is going to take mechanical know how.” Teman was running his hands down the chains, as if sensing from them the wards on them. He picked up one of the locks and examined it. “Quality locks too. Looks like height of the Drémores’ time. Still better than many made today. This will take some time.”
“You sound so encouraging,” Martell quipped.
“Well let’s get started. Oren if you can handle getting us all some food, that will help all of us. Feel free to use one of the critters I brought to bulk up whatever it is you make.” With that, Teman unfurled his collection of lock picks and started to probe the lock and figure out how to open it.
It was after preparing them all dinner and while Teman had a ways to go on freeing Martell that Oren sat in the small room. On a wooden stool he sat, with candle light coating the table, while he opened the books on the history of Drémore. It was nice of the person who shelved them to have left them in order. Oren would have preferred to read from the start, as history works best in context of what came before it, even if biased by the author. He did not have a luxury to do so at this time. He went to the last couple of tomes till he could find something on Iseb. His goal was to determine if Lady Nattan was crazy or actually telling the truth about the fall of the Drémore Kingdom and if someone had written of her incarceration.

Chapter 25

The two exited the chamber and then went down the middle hallway. From the base of the stairs they could hear Tabia fighting the statues. Martell would have liked to go up and see what her methodology was for fighting such beings but the search for Lady Nattan and her men was more pressing based on the message Tabia had given. Down the middle hall they went, it was smooth stone walls all the way. The quakes had not phased the infrastructure here. At the end of the hall they found a room with several doors off of it. They were all open, but Oren and Martell could not see in to any of them from their standpoint. Martell took initiative and headed right in the lead. She looked into the first room. It was of simple furnishings with a bed in one corner and a table next to the bed. There were no windows and if the door had been shut the only way light would enter was a small window in the door. Oren followed behind Martell; as she was checking out the room, he took a defensive stance so as they could not be sneaked up on.
They searched three rooms this way till they got to a door that had a stairwell further down. A quick check of the other rooms confirmed no one else was in the area and the only place to go was down the stairs. The two debated on whether to proceed. They checked around for any marker as to what was further down, but to no avail.
The two made their way cautiously down to the next floor, uncertain as to what to expect. When they reached the bottom of the stairs there was another room with a hallway leading out of it. Oren motioned quietly to Martell that he heard noises down the hall. It sounded like someone was moving chains. Whoever was working ahead let out an “ouch” before the chains continued to move. Oren and Martell quietly moved down the hall closer, they left their torches in the room so as to not be seen.
When they got close enough, it became clear it was Katsutaka and the other guard. They had broken through a couple locks and were now undoing chains that crossed over a door. “Lady Nattan, we will have you out shortly. We just need to remove one more barrier on the door.”
“Thank you”, said a voice unlike anyone Oren or Martell had heard before. “You shall be rewarded for your efforts.”
Oren and Martell ran in weapons drawn. Katsutaka drew his sword, “Get our Lady free. I will hold these two.” Katsutaka thrusted his sword at Oren, he parried the blow, but not before it nicked him on the arm.
Martell lunged at the opening only to strike air as Katsutaka sidestepped her. He brought his sword back for another assault on Oren. Oren parried again with his staff and countered hitting Katsutaka’s shin. Martell ceased her assault on Katsutaka and moved past him to prevent his colleague from opening the last lock.
Oren continued his assault on Katsutaka, pivoting his staff in his hands to land a strike on the jaw and then a blow on his gut on the opposite side.
Martell slashed at the fingers that were prying at the lock. The man withdrew them before she could cut him. He drew out his sword and prepared for her next slash.
The door shook as Lady Nattan pounded on it. Martell then heard one of the words she had heard up at the battle near the altars. She jumped back in time as the door shattered and wood and stone went flying everywhere. Lady Nattan’s allies got hurt just as badly as Oren and Martell. It was mostly scratches and cuts. More than likely there were a few bruises and splinters that would not be felt till later.
When the debris cleared out a woman was left there. She looked to be about forty, and was wearing a dress. She had shoulder length light red hair and glowing copper eyes. “Enough of this fighting,” She spoke. “I am going to walk out of here and Oren you and your friend are going to let me and my associates leave. “ She was very intense, as if focusing on something as she spoke this.
“I will not yield to you Nattan, nor will she,” Oren motioned to Martell. “You are not to leave this room.”
“Curious, Oren.” Lady Nattan seemed vexed, as if something was not happening the way she thought it should. “If you do not bend to my will then I shall need to remove you as a problem.” She pulled out two balls and tossed them at Oren and Martell. She uttered a different word than they had heard before. The balls expanded into lightning emitting spheres.
Oren, almost reflexively, called on spirits to shield himself, when he saw the spheres come out. With the speed they answered his call; he also attempted to protect Martell from the impending assault. Oren’s quick move spared him and Martell the shock that would have followed. Instead they dissipated with loud thunder following, but no harm to the two of them.
“Well, are we not full of tricks Oren?” Lady Nattan mused, slightly annoyed. “You may not be able to get out of this one.” She tossed another ball, into the air above her this time. He heard her mutter a new phrase. And with that all went dark, followed by a resounding slamming of doors shut.
When Oren could see again, he was in a small room with Martell. There was a vent in the door where he could see a small flicker of a flame dancing on a torch.
“You will not be a bother to me in there.” Lady Nattan’s voice could be heard. “You will enjoy the same fate my captors gave to when they realized I would not bend to their will. The chains across the cell door each ward against a different enchantment. If I was unable to break out without them being removed by someone else, neither will you. It took me five hundred years till I found someone willing. You will wait much longer since no one even knows you are here.” With that the torchlight went out. Oren could hear talk coming from down the hall. “Katsutaka you did well in serving me. This will eventually be yours, but we have one last place to go. Besides, what good is a keep like this if there is no garrison to staff it and no farmers to feed it.” Darkness settled in. Martell and Oren sat in it thinking, locked away.
“Martell?”
“Yes Oren?”
“Do you know any way out of here?”
“Nope, you got any ideas?”
“One.”
“That is enough if it is the right one.”
“How long until they will have left Erridda?”
“Couple of hours…?”
“Okay, we can talk about it then.”
“Think they will be back?”
“No, worried we may have to fight them again is all.”
“So sit in the dark till then?”
“Yes.”
“Oh.”

Chapter 23

Martell feigned sadness; she had an idea of what happened, but no proof. “May I at least have one of my swords? If there is anything lurking behind one of these doors I would like to stand a chance with it.”
“Oh very well, you look so sad darling. I know you could do harm to us with it, but that face and your teary eyes just cut me to the quick. So you may have one, but do not be daft about it. If I or any of my men see you raise it near us you will have more arrows in you than a porcupine has quills.” She motioned to one of the people to fetch her short sword. “Into the courtyard with you dear, we will toss it to you. Some nice distance so you may not be inclined to turn upon us in a rapid fashion.”
Martell chose to go to the path lined with canines. The realism of the carving was impressive and accurate as far as she could tell from the creatures she had encountered. She paused briefly at one that was the size of a pony, hunched over like an ape. She would have sworn its eyes followed her as she went to the door. When she looked again and nothing was different or out of place. At the door, she examined briefly if there was anything out of the ordinary to see. Nothing popped out at her and she reached down to open it.
The door swung open easily, there was a hallway going each direction with rooms leading off of it. The lighting was quite poor as little natural light made its way in. “It is open, and I am still alive,” She called back.
Lady Nattan and her men started to make their way into the courtyard. They looked around; a few headed up to the second floor and took position, training arrows downward at Martell.
“Good work, nice and simple. You can move to the next door now, you can choose again. This is getting to be fun. You know dear, a few of the men are taking bets on what the odds are you will safely open two doors here. Let us find out who amongst them has the winning bet.” Lady Nattan’s voice crackled with delight.
Martell went over to the second door. She bypassed the walkway through the statues and walked the perimeter of the courtyard. At this door, she saw it was locked with a seal of wax and an emblem of a manticore on it. Hanging down from the seal was a sheet of paper tacked across the door opening. The writing was not any language she had run across. Martell walked on after seeing that. She was going to deal with the other door first.
She stood at the third door and studied it. She could see no sign that it had even been moved by Oren. It was a good trick if he was now somewhere safe. Hopefully, he was either getting help or had a plan to save her and Tabia. She paused as she saw what looked like a wire going from the door, running back into the courtyard. She followed the taut line back down the pathway; it wrapped back up the far side of the courtyard to a downspout. She motioned for the people to clear out of the way, and then cut the wire. After hearing a feint series of clicks, three arrows shot from the wall opposite hitting the door followed by three more. Everyone waited another couple of minutes before moving. Martel felt confident that trap had been disarmed.
“Impressive work dear. You care to open the door now?” Lady Nattan teased.
Martell glared, it was far from hard work. She went over to the door and flung it open. It was a hallway similar to the other side and just as dark. The only difference was she saw that the floor had recently been walked upon. She quickly pulled back on the door to stir up more dust and at least hide the footsteps to anyone else who may peer inside.
“I will open the third door next,” Martell said. “However, I need her,” she pointed at Tabia, “to see if she can read something on the door before I do. There is a something written there and she may know what it is.”
“Very well, darling. It is the least I can do before I let my men take care of you. I shall think of it as a last request.” Lady Nattan stated, and then turned to Tabia, “Go, be close to your friend one last time.”
Tabia came over to where Martell was. As she got closer she saw what Martell was looking at. Tabia looked at the paper and immediately was able to read it. She whispered to Martell “Life for Drémore, Break the seal, Death to its enemies.” Tabia paused, “There is something bad locked up hear. Not just the wards and traps like Abbysta. These types of seals were written so that those who read the language knew not to open the door. The only people that would open them was either ignorant of the language or wishing death upon themselves. Someone from Drémore would know not to open because of the Manticore.”
“Well, we have to open it, any suggestions Tabia?”

In crimson robe did he sit
Awkward did the garment fit
Waiting to bestow title and rank
Upon the best in class and thank

She stood late in line to tell
Young lady knight Martel
Blonde hair short like stature
Fierce eagle upon her banner
Grey eyes gazed out bright
Others mistook with a bit of fright

Robed elder looked in her in the eye
Greatness in her future spy
Small command was she given
A quintet of green with potential hidden
To guard the marches and wild
From whence the family came this child

She swore to protect home and Lord
With her body and her sword
Not knowing that it was this night
Goblins would fall in with delight
Destroying farm and forest
Causing her protectorate unrest

It was here Martel would test
And not falter with the best
They eager to her prove
At her command they move
Martel young and brave
Guarded others from early grave

Lady of the land rewarded
Goblin problem now all sorted
Hers was not the glory had
For she dealt it to five lad
Hungry for guide and purpose
To the weak now she in service

Scellemen’s Hall

Are you going to Scellemen’s hall
The place where you can see it all
Down old stone pathways lead
Ignore the warning sign’s plead
Out past rational things of pleasure
It is where to go for all types of leisure
Where luxury is always on display
And beast, unrestrained, are free to play

Did you receive a similar call
See my bill with fancy scrawl
Ideas described inside as seed
Curiosity abounds more than need
My concern I keep in equal measure
What at path end is this maps treasure
Haste we make in sun’s last ray
We join others along the way

As moon light starts it’s fall
Revels in mind’s corners sprawl
Then comes noise summoning heed
Celebration. not warnings, indeed
Inquisitiveness is a greater force
On we adventure without remorse
Fun shall be ours today
At Scellemen’s hall we will stay

Little Cat 5

In the early autumn air, the little cat chased an elm leaf. She liked the crunch it made in her paws each time she clapped it. Light peaked through where her claws had poked a few holes. Soon the browning saw toothed oval would meet its fate of destruction, but until then it was her toy. The leaf’s fate was of little consequence to little cat as she could just as easily climb a tree and fetch another, if she was so inclined.

A gust of wind took the leaf into the air, and little cat jumped and pounced it back down to the ground. Unfortunately the leaf was now caught on a claw and would not free itself. Little cat tried dragging her foot on the ground to rid her self of the assailant. The disrespectful leaf did nothing of the sort and stayed attached to her paw, even as she tried walking off in indifference. Slowly getting grumpier with the leaf and its defiance, little cat decided to roll on to her back and employ all four paws in the effort to free her poor claw. Little cat meowed in success as the leaf flew up into the air.

A young white and black cat, had been watching the ordeal from under a bush. Seeing the leaf float in the air, he decided now was the time to surprise this worthy foe. He sprang from his hiding spot, paws out stretched to capture the target. And successfully missed it while landing square on little cat’s belly.

Little cat was not happy, she let out a long, low murr.

White and black cat, froze for only a moment before rolling off of her and proceeded to lick his front paw.

His disregard of her annoyance further irked little cat. She voiced her opinion again, this time with raised paw at him.

He used his front paw to clean his head while she continued her show. As far as he was concerned, she should have not been where he was jumping.

Little cat hissed her displeasure and inched closer before taking a light bat at the white and black cat.

He stopped his cleaning and debated whether to respond in kind or retreat. After all it was an unprovoked attack while cleaning in his mind. But soon he saw her paw going back up and he decided to tarry no further. A respectable cat like himself, would not be drawn into a brawl with some common street queen.

Little cat was pleased with herself. She had sent a good message to the white and black offender. Now she was left to ponder where her leaf had gotten off to.

Tobin of Braques

He stood up on a four legs at the edge of the forest studying the silhouette of the city of Braques that lay before him. The moon had disappeared between the clouds hours ago, leaving him to find his way here more by smell than anything else. His ears perked up at the sound of the a cow mooing from inside the walls. He had been out in the woods for around ten days and was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of going to the city again. He enjoyed roaming the woods where he was lord over the wolves and only had the occasional tussle to maintain his rule. Despite all this. the city called him too. When he was there, he was lord Tobin of Braques, and also a loyal earl to the emperor. He could protect his lupine family from the deforestation that had once threatened them, while protecting the people’s livestock from them.

After a bit of contemplation, the he trotted on toward the city. Out in the open he could feel the tension in his shoulders growing, as if somebody may be watching. Glancing to his left, he could see the first pinks of sunlight creep through the tree trunks. As he got nearer the edge of the first farms, his shape started to morph, and by the time he was past the outer fields, he was walking upright. It was just a short distance further to where he had stashed his belongings. He hoped the curfew was still in effect and give him a few moments of privacy while he was exposed.

By the time he had gotten dressed, all traces of his feral attributes were gone. He now looked like any other a middle aged merchant from Braques. He left his clothes looking a little unkempt as it would play into his story of being lost in the woods, if his friend Stragove was not at the gates. When he knocked at the door, he was greeted by a young guard who was far more alert than the normal watch at this hour. He smiled when he saw Tobin and whispered, “I knew you were coming, I could smell you from the other side of the gate. You should really work a bath into your routine before coming back.”

“I will take that advice shortly, Stragove” replied Tobin he was relieved he did not need his alibi. “I take it all is well if you are on duty at this hour.”
“Yes, though the men still think it odd that a captain would take the gate watch at this hour. It is rather boring, and most of them want some interaction with people when they work.”
“If they only knew. I see you have the rotations setup right to. I got past without even one of them on the walls.”
“I followed your orders. I will cover that gap tonight. By the way, your sister is asking where you have been. You know she hates all the formal audiences you leave her to deal with, almost as much as she hates covering for your absence.” Stragove, had worked the gate open and let Tobin in.
“She could have taken up the offer to be the earl of these lands if she had married right.” Tobin entered the safety of the walls and quickly shook his head. “You smelled my approach over these odors?”
“Yes m’lord, only thing that smelled right for weeks.”
“I can imagine. Return to your watch, and see me when you are done. I have news from the pack to share with you. I will bathe and see where things now sit.”

Tobin sat eating a breakfast of dried meat and berries, when his sister, Tara, sat down next to him. “You better eat seconds this morning. We have a long day ahead of us, as tomorrow we leave for the Routh’s castle. I hope you got the wild out of your blood for a few days.”
“It is never out. This will never truly be home, and I do not know how you stand it.” Tobin retorted. “I will take your advice on the food, however. Forest was a bit scant on game. I think I am getting soft in the luxury here.”
“The people do not see you as soft. They do see you as fair, which is good. I heard over in Windclave, there was some inklings of revolt brewing. Seems the people prefer their Mistress to their Master.” Tara replied. “You enjoy your time out there with the boys, but do not know the amount effort I have to put in to keep them off me right now. I am in the prime of my life and they know it. I am much safer here, only have to keep Stragove and Klause at bay. They are far easier to handle in the wall s of the city.”

“Oh you still playing them off each other?”
“No, Klause is no longer interested. Stragove knows to keep his distance when you are here.”
Had Tobin not been so tired, he may caught something in her voice. “Do you know how many are making the trip with us? I know the normal twenty of the Emperor’s men will be there, but who else are we taking?”
“They are the only required people. I was thinking, some of the merchants may want to come along under our protection. It would make some good will for you with them. Also may give us a better network of connections.”
“Do you have a few in mind, ones we can trust?”
“Yes, I have scouted out three loyal ones. I know you are weary since the spy was found last year in our court, but I think these are ones we can trust.”
“They will not turn on us if they know our origins?”
“I cannot say that, but that is humans for you. I think Routh knew what he was doing when he reached out to you. It took him a couple years, but I think an alliance will be needed between all who call these lands home when the Emperor meets his demise.”
“Quite. So then, I take it you have the merchants set for a meeting today with me?”
“Silversmith Helena, Charles of trade house Wenthra, and Sabine the clothier. They are coming as a group, you are to put them at easy for safety and that the trip will be worth their while.”
“Will you tell me what you have already promised them?” Tobin prodded.
“Why, only that there is opportunity if they could spare some time,” Tara smiled, getting up from the table.
“So like always you rely on me to run with your scheme. And what makes you think they are loyal?”
“This,” she held up a small opal. “One of the treasures passed along by our lord. It is used for discerning intentions of others via the temperature and color it shifts to.”
“And you trust it? I do not accept these enchantments are all that we are told. I suspect spirits and demons at work here.”

Quiet settled in for the rest of breakfast, Tara was certain she had pushed a little too hard in her ambitions this morning. It was not her fault she saw the potential in a world beyond the forests they called home. If they stayed isolated here and the prophecy was true, who would ally with them if their nature came out? Her brother did not seem to worry about such things, and that bothered her more.

She looked out of the corner of her eye at him. He sat methodically cutting at his food, lost in his own thoughts. She gave it a few minutes more minutes before speaking, “We will join up with Earl Kanto and Herald in Hearthvale on the second day of travel. Have you given any thoughts to the proposal their envoys made?”

“You mean alliances in the case of unforeseen issues?” Tobin replied. “You know those two are the weakest of the earls. Kanto has at best another two years to live and Herald is a simpleton. Not to say I am a product of better breading than either.”

“Allies are allies, and it is not like you want to pick sides between Wilfred and Francis. Natalya and Flynn would be perfect for an alliance, but we have nothing to offer them. Johan, Byron, Robin, Garth, and I forget the rest, I know too little about to advise. Besides Kanto is who we make the alliance with, but I am putting the prize as his daughter. I saw her a few months back and I do see potential in her future.”

“I am surprised you forgot Timothy. His domain is productive farm land and near enough to the Ironblack Mountains to have a ready supply of metals.”

“Smallest in size after Wilfred, but none of the magic. What does it get us? We are fine here for food,” Tara replied

“And by size do you mean land? I am certain you would be auctioning your own hand in marriage if Routh had not forbidden the Earls from such actions among themselves.”

“My dear brother are you saying I have higher ambitions than a suite at the top of Braques keep?”

“Only socially,” he smiled. “But you must excuse me as I must go make ready for my audience with the merchants.”

Prison

The Saj-graf prison was one of the original buildings of the city.  It had been expanded over the years to accommodate the growth in population.  Its proximity to the single room court had not changed in that time nor had the size of the court.  The oldest parts were made of well-aged wood, slowly being patched with stone and mortar. The newest additions had been the second subbasement that was under construction.  This new addition had resulted from finding several attempts to dig out from the prison and finding another purpose than simply filling them in.  The top floor, which was the third, was meant to hold people temporarily and was often crowded with multiple occupants per cell.  The few lucky ones were deemed in need of solitary confinement on this floor.  Commonly it was those sleeping off their vices or those that were not fit to socialize with the common residence.

Justice in Saj-graf was doled out by two judges, appointed by the mayor. The process was so whimsical that if a spat of good weather or a feast day came up you would wait that much longer for your hearing.  The judges heard cases as they saw fit.  The hearing usually consisted of whichever judge heard your plea and accounts from the town guard.  Naturally witnesses were allowed to be presented, and given the haphazardness of the hearings, only those with coin to spare or dear friends would you be guaranteed their appearance.

It was on a cool late evening that Cerridwen sat at one of the cell doors. It was through the its small window she could see Sartow sleeping in a corner.  “That the one m’Lady?” asked a sleepy guard.

“Oh yes, that is him.  And this if for your troubles,” she slipped him a small pouch. “Now it is probably best you find a corner to curl up in.”

“Yes, that sounds like a lovely idea,” the guard yawned.

“Sartow, darling, how did you end up in here?” Cerridwen said in a sweet voice.

He rolled over on to his side and looked at the door. “I don’t have time for wenches,” he snipped.

“Oh dear is that who got you stuck in here?  I am not here to offer my services; rather I am in need of yours.  Yet in here you serve no purpose, perhaps you would like for me to let you out so we can discuss business?”

“I have no business, just my time till they set me free.”

“And that would be when?  Has it not been thirty days since you took up residency here?  You know a certain lord has some say in the courts and I do not think it best you go to trial.”

“Speak quickly or I may call for a guard to bring me water.”

“The job is outside of town and as a leader of men.  They aspire for your renown and your skill.as a leader.  I can take you to them, but only tonight.”

 

Jackal

The clouds rolled in that day. It was not unforeseen by anyone who had paid attention to the winds. The jackal sat looking over the valleys and plains before him and thought about how long it would be till the rain hit. His mate had gone out hunting to for a snack and had said she would be back soon.

The gentle rumble of thunder in the distance made him worry slightly. She never liked the rain, and thunder made her want to hide in the den even more so. He paced around the hill top a little more, looking to see if he could catch sight of her return across the field. He never liked it when she was gone this long. It made him worry and debate what may beholding her up. As always, he would regret not tagging along, tired as he may have been when she left.

He could now see the gentle rains in the distance as the grass changed shades as it bowed and rode from the drops. It was approaching at a decent rate. It would only be a matter of minutes till it was here. He paced around again surveying the horizon in each direction for the sign of her approach. His nose twitched as he sniffed her familiar scent in the wind.

It was too late, she jumped up and pushed him on his back. He braced for the second assault as three pups jumped up at him from the other sides, each nipping playfully at his ears and arm. He rolled under the assault for a quick moment before knocking the four of them off. He took a quick moment straighten up his fur with a few licks. He nuzzled at the pups to move them along toward their den.

The five jackals’ ears perked up as the sound of the rain now reached them. The quickened their stride to the den in hopes of staying dry. The two watched as the pups scampered to get inside, both watching for any things spying on them. Confident they would get a good rest, the mother went in next followed by the father who was happy to have his family back.

Calm

The building week of tension had broken last night in chaos, and now quiet filled the air. Order won the battle and was set to reclaim the rule. Its serene reassurance was to be embraced by those that had survived. As the panic in people’s hearts to escape from the cages that had been built, there was still much work to be done. Those brave enough, were out in the field tending the wounded or confirming that the large beasts were indeed dead. The Ardent order had been decimated, but their casualties looked minor to the slain cloudervan lying strewn across the field.

Artron followed Corvus as he made show of his kills to the record keepers. He wanted his share of the bounties on these beasts from the mayor. Collaboration was key and that was where someone honest like Artron came in. Artron felt no moral qualm signing off as a witness as long as Corvus kept a blind eye to the valuable metals and gems the silversmith pocketed. It was not as if there were not nobles out in the field doing the same, it was how money was made. Arton was also busy counting the total number slain in the field, he would later gather with the other counters to make sure no corpse was unclaimed or disputed. Those lower in the pecking order stood near their kills to chase of the profiteers and show their mark on the corpse. Once all was tallied the gold would be split and the only ones who lost out were the fallen.

Martell walked the field with Kit, studying the bodies of the cloudervan. Kit worked in a sketch book, while Martell collected samples from the dead. “Looks like these are an Enchanter’s experiment gone awry. That or they have some inherent magical inclination as now their bodies come apart with any of my blades,” commented Martell.

“Nothing natural about copper being a weakness…at least on the skin. I could see it being an issue with something like blood, but copper is not that strong,” Kit commented. “You ever hear the formula of eternal life?”

All the riches could save us
My child, collect and discuss
Silver for a disease or curse
Pestilence gone with Ruby in your purse
Gold against enchantment
Pearls for containment
Emeralds keep a spirit safe
Agate keeps away the wraith
Moonstone to keep your dreams
Lapis will focus you schemes

A few more to help you keep score
Affordable if you don’t mind a dirt floor
Rubies help against haze
Jasper prevent your daze
Opals to clean the eyes
Turquoise to find a prize
Tin to clean up your ail
Platinum for where others fail

A shipment of each
There is nowhere out of reach
Fetch each I beseech
Together their power I will teach

“I had not heard that one,” replied Martell
“There is wisdom in there somewhere, or so my master says. I find it just a list of wealth without the context in which it was written.”
“I think enchanters would be able to do more with it. They are all crafting items for talismans. Yet some of those items are not used for what is listed. Maybe it is a code or done to intentionally mislead outsiders.”