Elder Players' - Interlude Fifteen...Will's Adventure


WILL ARRIVES

Will wanted to retch. He'd never been subjected to teleportation sorcery before and he was sure now he never wanted to be again. It was disorienting. Suddenly you were immersed into inky blackness. No up or down, left or right. A sense of weightlessness followed by insanely rapid movement in no particular direction! The end was nearly as bad as the beginning. You come to a jarring stop, light flooding in all around you causing your eyes to burn and your head to throb. That's exactly what Will had just experienced. When the spots left his eyes Will vaguely had a sense of being in the Great Hall of the Azure Keep. He heard a servant running to fetch Javair and knowing other servants would be about he managed to croak "A bowl. fast!"

AN HOUR LATER

"But we must leave today! I have no time to wait for you to organize a patrol. Every minute we wait is a minute closer to those slaver bastards discovering the loss of their booty and coming to look for it. The mothers will be frantic, I told them I'd be back by now. William FitzPierce does not forget a promise!" Major Feld listened with his arms crossed, but a sympathetic look on his face.

"I understand Will, but you have to see that the tactical situation has changed. We've got a Giant army coming down the valley. If you go and get yourself caught or killed now, then the women and children are surely doomed."

"You make sense as always Major, but can't we leave within the hour with those that are ready? Your Goblin lads dress up smartly and if they're anything like my friend Furst they'll acquit themselves well but we need to be off."

"We'll be off soon enough Will, and besides I've had no chance to tell you since you charged in here like a drunken dwarf that you've business of your own to attend to. There are three men arrived yesterday, asking after you. By their dress they look to be Empire men and they claim to be friends of yours. You at least owe them a how do you do, before you go dashing off to your death."

"Three men? From the Empire you say. You're right I should look into this. I'll be back as soon as I clear this up Major. I hope we can be off by then."

AT OCKROTE'S

Charging into Ockrote's, Will came up short, his heart jumping into his throat. He'd recognize the back of that balding head anywhere, even if the man who owned it had probably not said ten words directly to him his entire life. It was Sir Thaddius Mumford, Knight-General of the Most Holy Order of the Knights of Kempin, Kings Chapter. The head of Will's Order! Sir Mumford was a balding man a decade past his prime. His balding head sporting a garland of gray hair and his large frame carrying at least twenty stones more than it should.

A slap on the shoulder brought Will back to the moment, the voice of Andy ringing in his ears. "I'd heard you were still alive, but I couldn't believe it. Had to come and see for myself. And Kempin don't you look a sight. Trail dust and a stained tunic, gone native on us have you?"

Will just stood staring. His mouth opened as if to speak but no words would come. Besides the Knight-General, standing right here in front of him was his best friend in the whole world, Andrew Kempwell-Smyth. At least him he had been expecting.

The third man turned out to be Sir Nathaniel Blackwell, Knight-Commander of the Most Holy Order of the Knights of Kempin, Guardian Chapter, Citadel Chapter House. Will was unsure why the commander of a Chapter House of another Chapter had accompanied General Mumford.

The General began, "Mr. FitzPierce, Commander Blackwell and myself have accompanied Mr. Kempwell-Smyth so that we might gain a first hand look at the situation we have read so much about in your reports."

"I am indeed honored sir, that you would make the arduous journey" Will replied.

"Nonsense young man, your reports have peaked the interest of a few lesser members of the council, and I have consented to favor the council with a report."

"As well they have drawn some interest from the Imperial Court!" Commander Blackwell interjected. General Mumford shot him a withering glance for his trouble.

"We are most anxious to hear your report Mr. FitzPierce and tour this Valender" General Mumford continued.

"I am most anxious to give both General sir, but a pressing matter awaits. I have been about a quest to purify an ancient abbey in the very province of Valender and in my travels came across a slaving caravan. With the help of the good company of the Finders of the Key, I was able to rescue those very slaves. However the pressing matters of my quest required me to hide the unfortunates with the promise I would be back to deliver them to freedom. The vagaries of the quest have made me late to keep my word, and I hurry to honor my commitment."

"Good show Mr. FitzPierce! Give us twenty minutes and we'll kit up our mounts and join you" Commander Blackwell said. This earned him another scowl from the General, but the older man also nodded his head.

ON THE ROAD

Four mounted men followed by thirty Goblins quietly passed through the fortified lines of the Azure Keep. The gathering twilight helped to conceal their leaving. They immediately turned to the east hoping that by going one valley over they would miss the Giant army which was busy fortifying the valley that served as the more direct route to Tunis. Some of the Goblin soldiers quickly fanned out covering all sides of the little column. Their dark vision would be insurance against mishap, since the rescue party was travelling at night.

Spring was in the offing but these mountains still got cold at night. Will let out a great steaming breath matching his bay stallion's. He wondered if it would be any different at the height of summer. Here among the mountains he'd heard that summer never truly came because of their great height. His pondering fled before the commanding voice of the General.

"Mr. FitzPierce, am I to believe the information in your report that you intend to turn over the theological care of your proposed province of Valender to a heathen priest?

"General sir, I know little of theology save what I learned from my father and the required classes at Whitehall. What I do remember learning though was that our Lord Kempin is the Lord of all things, from the smallest insect to our mighty Emperor Jestak. All that is the world is merely a reflection of his being. My friend Father Jeremiah, worships a god which he calls Heironeous, and he is strong in his faith. He has been blessed greatly for his devotion and has displayed powerful miracles. I choose to believe that no matter the name he uses his prayers are heard and granted by our Lord Kempin who is the Lord of all things. Father Jeremiah is a strong force for good and will serve a reborn Valender well. Besides the good Father and I both agree that no good religion will be turned away from Valender."

"Your rationalizations are all well and good Mr. FitzPierce but keep in mind you will have to answer to the chaplains of the order for your actions."

After the General's comments the darkness of the night seemed to descend on Will's mood. He rode on in silence.

A LITTLE ACTION

Darkness could mask the boulder but not the sound it made. Will heard it long before he saw it. After an instant of hesitation he screamed "Run, Giants" and whipped the withers of Andy's mount in front of him urging it to action. He ducked his head down by the bay's mane just as a huge rock passed overhead. No doubt propelled their way by a Giant. One of the good things about mountains is they leave a lot of huge boulders and rock piles laying about, and these provide excellent cover. Will spotted just such a spot only fifty yards or so further up the trail. He hurriedly yelled and pointed for his companions to follow him. Making the cover in front of the rest of the horsemen, he pulled the bay down on it's side. Removing the animal from their attackers sight. His horse was a smart animal, that he'd selected and trained himself. He wasn't so sure about his companions mounts and quickly moved to the rest of the horses. He was helping coax them down when a boulder glanced off their cover sending shards of rock flying. One caught Will on the forehead just above his left eye. Blood was running everywhere and Andy rushed to his friend's aid. He quickly produced a bandage, holding it to Will's head he pronounced the wound, "Not bad, just in a bad place! You bleed like a stuck pig on your forehead" he explained grinning.

The boulders had come from their left and so they had taken cover on the west or right side of their rock pile. Once they stopped they could hear the high pitched whizzing of arrows. Presumably the Goblins were returning fire. They were shortly joined by the Goblin leader. He was large for his race, being about five and a half feet tall. He had been introduced to Will as Captain Frazon. The Goblin spoke perfect common with an Imperial accent. Will wondered if he'd been educated in the Empire and smiled to himself. It was amazing the things that came to mind when you were under stress he thought.

Frazon said, "It's only a couple of Giants with six to ten Ogres according to my scouts. The problem is from that cliff side they can easily pick us off if we try and make a break for it. They've got plenty of cover and they're hard to bring down besides. My boys have already put a couple of arrows into one of them, but it doesn't seem to be slowing it down much."

"How are casualties Captain", Will asked, holding the bandage to his head.

"We've got one lad down. But he just took a glancing blow to the head. He's out of the fight but should be able to keep up with us when we have to move. How are you doing young man?"

"I'll be fine sir, a lot more thunder than lightning fortunately" Will said with a half smile.

Captain Blackwell asked, "Captain can you draw me a tactical map?" as he pointed towards the ground.

Captain Frazon began drawing the tactical situation in the dirt with the point of his dagger. The two captains talked at length eventually devising a plan that would take advantage of the Giantkin's lack of discipline and the coming dawn. There was little hope of defeating the Giant patrol with the forces at hand unless they could draw them from the cover of the mountainside. Captain Frazon proposed forming up his men in a firing line and exposing them to the enemy. He argued that they would be able to dodge the inevitable onslaught of boulders that would be hurled their way and should be able to taunt and harass at least the Ogres into charging them. At this point the concealed cavalrymen with the sun to their backs would charge into the ranks of the Ogres creating havoc. If the maneuver could be performed quickly the Giants would not be able to react before the forces became engaged.

As dawn broke over the mountains the plan was put into action. Eerily the plan worked almost flawlessly. As with all military plans it was not perfect, the Goblins were very good at dodging the Giant's rocks but not perfect. The sun proved less of an advantage than was hoped, but the Ogres proved themselves to be considerable cowards and quickly broke under the weight of the cavalry charge leaving four of their kin dead on the field they fled back up the mountainside. Without their shock troops the Giants quickly realized their position was untenable and they to retreated up the mountainside.

Seizing the opportunity the little column quickly made ready to depart. Three of the Goblin warriors had fallen to the Giant hurled boulders and Will saw several of the warriors attempting to cover their dead comrades with rocks. This went against the military traditions of Whitehall and the Empire and Will could not contain himself.

"You lads, stop that! Surely you don't mean to leave these brave warriors behind?" The Goblins stopped and looked sheepishly at Will who continued.

"We will leave no soldier behind alive or dead. We all return home together or we all die here together!" He paused and the whole company of Goblins appeared to be intently surveying the ground around their feet, as if they too felt it wasn't right to be leaving their comrades behind and were embarrassed to be called to task on the question.

"Lads wrap the boys up in their sleeping blankets. I can carry one on my horse." Looking at Andrew he said, "Can you take one? And you Captain?" Both men nodded and walked towards the bodies to help shroud the fallen.

AN ARGUMENT

"What do you mean you were waiting until the right time? Captain Blackwell snarled. "Surely there would have been no better time to offer the Emperor's gift than before we charged into battle! The Sword of Westron would surely have aided Will and thus ourselves in the fight!"

"Captain you overstep your bounds. You have no concept of the politics of the Imperial Court" General Mumford replied. "To have the proper effect the tool must be used at the correct time."

"General, I've had enough of your political games. I know the charge given to us by the council, and I thought you did as well. Whatever advantage you seek to gain through manipulating Mr. FitzPierce, I'll have no part of!" With that Captain Blackwell stalked over to the General's horse and pulled an oilskin wrapped sword from it's kit. The General made no move to stop him. Walking over to where Will and Andrew had been sitting out of earshot enjoying a meal of beans with Captain Frazon, he trust the package towards Will and said, "Compliments of the Emperor. Use it well in service to the Empire."

A MATTER OF TRUST

Will was relieved to find the freed slaves all well. The assorted sniffles and flues associated with any group with so many children were present of course. But the women had actually begun to set up house keeping, blithely confident in his return! They'd begun to organize a camp with cooking fires and a play area for the children. He was amazed as close as they actually were to Tunis that this little band had gone unnoticed. Grateful but amazed.

Helping load the wagons Will began to realize the faith this little band of people had placed in him. The thought frightened him. He had never really had to accept responsibility before, at least the responsibility for other people. As the youngest of his father's three sons and four daughters, such thoughts were beyond his thinking. Yes, he had felt the weight of upholding his families good name, but that had been relatively easy to accomplish. Studying hard and earning a scholarship to a good school. Seeking an honorable position. On that score he had initially disappointed his father when he'd joined the city guard in Citadel. But it had only been to prove himself so that he might obtain a commission into The Most Holy Order, which he did. And without his father's help. But those had all been principles and ideals, these were actual people and if he had failed they could have died! As frightening as that though was it also gave him a feeling of accomplishment like he'd never had before. He had felt great when he'd been offered his commission, but even then not this good. He'd have plenty to think about on the long trip back to the Azure Keep and the city of Hope.

Because of the Giant patrols the group would have to head to head back to the east and make a circuitous journey back to the Keep. The little caravan would ride by the Mill, the hidden gate to Tunis. Will smiled at that. They'd ride by without so much as a 'by your leave.' That should put some fear and consternation into the leaders of that outlaw city. It would be a long trip and probably make him late for the Finders next trip into Tunis, but that's just how it would have to be. He had responsibilities and he felt good about it.


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