Gender: Male Age: 53 Location: Las Vegas, Nv
|Introduction: The king’s court|
The start of summer brought word that the king wished a ranger at his court for the summer conclave. I looked at Aveline as I finished with the two large saddle bags and the large sleeping roll. She pet the horse and looked at me before climbing into the saddle. She wasn’t comfortable riding a horse but neither was I.
I swung up and turned to start for the south gate. We were using horses because we needed to reach the king’s court quickly. If we had walked it would take at least a couple of months. Riding we could reach Killingham in a month. Once we were clear of the fortress we picked up the pace and the horses began trotting.
Even riding a horse Aveline had little trouble using her sling to kill our dinner. We bought new horses to use as spares three days later when we reached the walled town of Crossing. We didn’t see any orcs or bandits as we continued to south into King’s Pass. It was a very wide pass with a tall wall stretching all the way across it.
We rode into the fortress with everyone staring as if we were strange. We spent the night in the fortress tavern and after that we would reach a tavern each night. Since we had each brought a large pouch of gold coins we didn’t have to worry about money. Once past King’s Pass the way opened up with large farms and small towns.
The closer to Killingham the larger the towns and the more people stared. We rode into the huge city and climbed down to walk as we gawked at the people and buildings. The huge area we went to was on the other side of the city. There was a very large fortress with soldiers in fancy dress. When we reached the main gates a soldier walked out, “your business?”
I looked him over, “We are from the rangers in the north and we were asked to attend the summer conclave.”
He snorted as he looked at my clothes, “you look like a mercenary.”
I smiled, “and you look like a useless peacock.”
He stiffened before gesturing, “inside on the left is the stables. Use the servants entrance around back.”
I looked him over again, “tell you what, you let his majesty know we are returning to the north.”
I turned with Aveline and started away. I had seen a large inn with a stable yard and we stopped there. We carried everything up after we paid for the night. Aveline smiled as she collected a clean set of clothes and headed towards the baths. I sat outside the inn on a large raised porch and sipped cider as I watched the street and the people rushing around.
It was awhile before I saw the two elves walking with a soldier in a fancy set of clothes and a long colorful feather in his helmet. The elves glanced at me and slowed before looking at each other and climbing the steps to the porch. The soldier followed as they stopped beside my table.
One elf bowed, “I am Ashton and unless I am mistaken you are a ranger.”
I nodded and he gestured to the other chairs, “may we join you?”
I gestured and they sat and Ashton leaned towards me, “riders have been sent out to find and ask you to return to the conclave.”
I shrugged, “I am no man’s servant. That pompous ass on the gate wanted us to use the servants entrance.”
The soldier growled and I glanced at him before looking at Ashton, “you are here for the conclave?”
He nodded and turned to smile at the serving girl, “cider.”
He looked at me, “and bring word to the Green Heart.”
I sat back and sipped my cider before glancing around, “do know what the Elf’s Mind is?”
He straightened, “you are Blade.”
I smiled and nodded and he glanced around, “you found another stone?”
I glanced at the others, “it was in Scarlet mountain.”
The man sat up and hissed, “that is occupied by orcs.”
I grinned, “actually the dwarves have sealed the doors and most of the orcs have been killed and the rest are being hunted.”
The elves looked at each other as the man looked at them. I turned as Aveline walked out and grinned, “a record. I thought you would be soaking for another candle mark at least.”
She smiled as she joined me, “one candle mark was enough.”
She looked at the elves and nodded her head. They returned her nod and Ashton murmured, “lady Aveline.”
We sat and talked for a couple of hours before having dinner and retiring. We were up early and dressed and walked out to a messenger from the king. We broke our fast and walked to the Keep and the fancy soldiers were quick to let us pass. We were early and had time and went around to the large practice yard.
I grinned when I saw a set of footprints to one side. I looked at Aveline before I pulled my short swords and stepped into the pattern. Only I walked the whole pattern and she followed and when I finished six elves were watching. Ashton stepped forward, “you know the whole pattern?”
I smiled as I watched Aveline finish, “we learned at the Dawn’s Step.”
He straightened before bowing with the others. We walked it again but this time with the elves following. When we finished we walked into the Keep together and into the huge entrance hall. We were seated between the elves and a dozen dwarves. One stood as we approached and bowed to Aveline and I grinned when I recognized him.
The king started with talks of where trouble was and how many soldiers he was using. He looked at us, “Rangers?”
I stood, “yes?”
He gestured to all the nobles around the table, “we would like to know why we continue to have orcs and other foul creatures pushing and attacking our borders.”
I looked around, “you speak of armies guarding places. Just one of your armies is more than all the rangers combined. We face and kill foul ones on both sides of the north mountains, from the far west coast to the far east coast. You want to know why the foul ones continue to attack your borders? We can not be everywhere.”
He frowned as the nobles murmured and one leaned forward, “perhaps it is because you do not seek them out.”
I smiled, “do not seek them out? I have faced goblin, orcs, trolls, a giant and other creatures you only have nightmares about.”
I looked around at the fancy nobles, “I didn’t see you on the northern plains when only two of us faced a small army of worgs and orcs. I didn’t see you when we entered Frost fortress and killed the dark brother clan leader. I didn’t see you when we faced a wyvern. You were not with us when we went into Scarlet mountain to hunt orcs and kill the dark shadow that ruled.”
I shook my head, “that was only the things I have done. Rangers face foul ones alone or in pairs. We do not have armies to attack or defend.”
Another noble stood, “maybe if you used serviceable weapons and not those fancy ones...”
I growled as I leaned on the table, “fancy? You are a fool. My sword is called Reaper and that is what it is. I took it and the short swords after killing four trolls. I took the two long knives from the dead body of an orc commander.”
I touched the spikes, “the spikes are from the dead bodies of dark brothers.”
I looked around at the nobles, “if you are looking for excuses, look at each other.”
I straightened and gestured to Aveline, “you asked for rangers to point fingers at and blame. We have enough to do just to stay alive. Rangers go out everyday and many times they never return. You can piss in the wind for all we care.”
I spun and started for the door with Aveline beside me. Talking broke out and then there was shouting as we left. When we returned to the inn I was ready to leave but Aveline said to wait. We had a small lunch and I went into the courtyard. I stretched and began stepping and following the pattern.
I saw the elves and dwarves but continued to follow the pattern until I was finished. Like each time I always felt refreshed and stretched before turning to face the elves and dwarves. Ashton cleared his throat, “we wish to speak with you.”
I gestured to the inn, “perhaps over cold cider.”
He smiled as the others agreed and they followed me in and to the common room. We pulled and moved tables and I tossed the innkeeper a gold coin, “kept the cider coming and let me know if you need more.”
He grinned and turned to yell for the serving girls. I sat and Ashton cleared his throat, “since we are here we would like to find a way to help each other.”
I nodded, “I can tell you ways to help. The great valley between the King’s mountains and the north range needs to be patrolled...”
I glanced at the door as the king and several nobles entered, “I would say no more than a month out from your respected lands or Keeps. If need we can provide a ranger to led each patrol.”
The nobles sat and kept quiet as I continued, “the key isn’t to have a large force and to pick your fights. Use bows or like we did in Scarlet mountain the smaller dwarven repeating crossbows. Ambush the foul ones and keep moving. If you use a large force and try to defend they will just go around and not attack or gather and overwhelm you.”
I glanced at Aveline as she sat beside me, “use your wits. A normal arrow will not penetrate a troll deep enough to cause it real harm. If you know they are there try to use a trap or snare to hold them.”
I sat and took a drink as a dwarf stood, “we know Blade and Aveline well since they came to our aid and killed the wyvern at our mountain. If they have sealed the doors of Scarlet our people will return. He is right, small groups of dwarves with our crossbows send the foul ones running when they come close. If we patrol and ambush from a distance we should be able to kill all the foul ones.”
I sighed as I stood, “the valley has many ways to the north plains that have been left open. The Red and Blue pass are only two wider ways. The elves patrol the Highlands but there are trails they use.”
The king cleared his throat, “can we not block or seal those ways?”
I shook my head, “as fast as we could put up a fortress or Keep they would overwhelm any force. The best we could do would be to set up ambushes on the ways that we find. The rangers already do this but again one or two rangers is no match for a thousand foul ones.”
Ashton stood, “our people are not as many as we once were although a few have began a campaign to increase our numbers.”
He grinned at me as the other elves laughed. He sighed, “like the rangers we can provide guides but with the way open through the Highlands we have our cousins and other foul ones that come straight down from the plains.”
The king cleared his throat again, “so we have to patrol outside our lands?”
I saw the way the nobles looked at each other and shook my head, “is not the land between the King’s mountains and the north mountains already yours? Do you not tax the people that brave the foul ones?”
He blinked and then grinned, “yes.”
He looked at the sour faced nobles, “something I had forgotten.”
Aveline stood, “we can not and will not tell you how to protect your borders. The rangers scout the north plains and take the foul ones when we can. We also send rangers through the kingdom valley but according to the records that has never been our responsibility. There are six abandoned or destroyed elven fortresses in the northern mountain range. They could be used by men to patrol the valley.”
I looked at her and then grinned, “many of the ruins could be repaired with less chance of foul ones attacking.”
It was several hours before we broke up and I stretched as the elves spoke with Aveline. I followed the king and his nobles out to get fresh air. The dark cloaks I saw up and down the street made me hesitate, “your majesty?”
He turned from speaking to a noble and I moved quickly as the men started for us. I caught him and yanked him behind me as I pulled a short sword, “FOES!”
What had made me act was the glint of a naked sword blade. Dozens of men yelled and charged as I pulled my other short sword. I slid aside at the last moment and deflected a descending blade while slicing over it. The man fell back but another was moving to replace him. I stepped into the pattern and lashed out to take a hand wielding a sword and block another.
Suddenly the elves were there slashing with bright star silver swords and then the dwarves with their axes. More of the black cloaked men appeared as others fell. We formed a wall as we fought and killed the silent men. I slid aside suddenly as a long sword lunged into where I had been.
As I started to stab the man an arrow from an upper window slammed into his chest. More began taking the men and I deflected another sword and cut the man’s throat. I glanced around as the last few black cloaked men turned to flee. A couple of the nobles and one elf and one dwarf were down with wounds but luckily no one had been killed.
I knelt and used a black cloak to clean my weapons as I scanned the empty street. I stood and looked at the king, “I think you have enemies right here.”
He was grim but nodded before looking towards soldiers rushing towards us, “I think we will need to find one of them alive and question them.”
I turned one over and knelt to pull the hood of the cloak back. Ashton hissed and bent to yank a gold chain from around the throat of the dead man, “assassins from the Dark Men.”
The Dark Men were a cult that worshiped and followed the ways of the dark elves who gave them gold and weapons to cause strife and discord in the kingdoms. I stood and moved back, “if they are here in numbers they will try again and not just against the king.”
I looked at Ashton and then at the dwarves who nodded. The elves grinned and Ashton gestured towards the Keep, “perhaps it would be better if we met in the Keep.”
The king nodded as he watched the soldiers checking and pulling the dark cloaked men away. An hour and we were settling into a room in the Keep. It was cold and not as comfortable as the inn. I glanced at Aveline as I thought of the drainage tunnels under the other fortresses, “I think we should check out the Keep drainage system.”
She looked at me and then straightened before following. The first few entry spots had not been touched in a long time. We had Ashton and a couple of dwarves following when we looked into the Keep garden. The small crowd in one back corner turned and suddenly rushed towards us.
I pulled my short swords and moved out as Aveline and the others spread out by the wide door. I brushed a lunging sword aside with one sword while the other sliced over his reaching arm and cut his throat. I shoved him into the others as I moved to the side and deflected another sword. I rolled the blade around mine and threw it away as I lunged with the other.
I turned as I yanked it out of the man’s chest and stepped back while brushed two reaching swords away. I brought one sword around and down to take a hand as I stepped back. Arrows began raining down and into the men. More were still coming out of the drainage tunnels and more soldiers and people arrived to fight.
I sliced one man’s gut open while deflecting another sword. The crowd with Aveline and the others had pushed out from the door and were killing the men faster than they were coming out. I was finally in the clear with only a few dark men still fighting. I dropped my swords and pulled throwing spikes and started throwing them.
A minute later and it was quiet except for a few moans from the dying men. I knelt and began cleaning my swords before going to retrieve my spikes. We went to each opening into the drainage tunnels and sealed them.
It was three days before we rode out and headed back to Blue Pass. I had given the Elf’s Mind to Ashton to return to the Green Heart. A lot of changes were coming not that it was going to spread as far as Blue Pass or Red.
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