Challenge of the Black Guard
Dawn was just beginning to colour the clear, cold sky. Silverymoon gate was closed, members of the Watch standing by, preparing to open it once the sun was truly risen.
Astride their horses Misara and Rowan sat, waiting with members of a small caravan who also planned to leave the city as soon as the gate was open.
"Did you win?" Misara asked Rowan. Asking Rowan about her luck at the game was far better than thinking about what Yeshelné had told her the day before.
"I did well enough. I have a reasonable sum to donate to the church when we arrive at Silverymoon." She smiled.
"And what of Olpara? She went with you."
"When I left she was in the process of either winning everything or loosing everything and did not seem overly concerned with which way it went. She trusts in Tymora."
"It is about fifty miles to Silverymoon along this road as I recall," Misara said, something of a non sequitur.
"A day's travel, if we ride hard."
"It will certainly be noticed if we travel that fast."
Rowan nodded and reached down to pat Rose Thorn's neck. "I think he would like the chance to stretch his legs and run. What about your Iron?"
Misara reached forward to scratch her horse between its ears. "He's normally lazy as a drunken orc, but he'll not let your pretty beast think it can outrun him."
The two Paladins met each other's gaze and both smiled, a silent challenge passing between them.
When the gates opened a few minutes later the two horses thundered from the city, charging up the road towards Silverymoon. They were certainly noticed.
The sun had reached its zenith and was moving slowly towards the west when Misara and Rowan spotted the rider on the road. Misara looked to Rowan. She nodded and then reined Rose Thorn in. Misara and Iron pulled ahead and were the first to approach the rider.
The horse was a tall, roan warhorse, covered in chain barding. His rider was tall as well, broad shouldered, outfitted in full plate that was lacquered a dark blue with gold trim. "Halt," he called, his voice, echoing from within his helmet, a rich baritone.
Misara brought Iron to a stop and faced off against the man. "Who are you to demand anything of me?" she replied impetuously. "I am a Paladin on business of Green Stone Keep and I shall not be interfered with by some brigand!"
"You shall, and not by some brigand." He put his hand to the hilt of a great sword that hung off his saddle. "If you are a knight of honour I challenge you to a duel to the death. I will not allow any Paladin free passage within this land."
Things were going very well, Misara thought as she let her body language convey a certain outrage. "Very well! I accept your challenge."
Rowan came up beside her, pulling Rose Thorn into a stop. The hoarse reared and shrieked, as if it was barely in control. "I will fight him Lady Anor'Esira. I cannot let you risk yourself. Go on ahead while I finish him!" she shouted as Rose Thorn shifted back and forth under her.
"Challenge has been made and accepted," the Black Guard said. "If you wish to fight me it will only be after she is dead by my blade." So saying he dismounted and pulled his sword free.
"I have nothing to fear from the likes of him," Misara said, with all the recklessness she had seen in many fool nobles that had died young. She slid off of Iron's back and drew her long sword. "I shall leave your corpse as a feast for the wolves," she told him, rising her sword. "I am Misara Anor'Esira, tell me who will fall to my blade today!"
"You may die in ignorance, as you lived. Know me as your death." He slapped his horse across the rump, sending it running a short distance down the road, out of the immediate combat area. He raised his sword in a salute.
Iron had already stepped away from her, so she lifted her blade in salute as well. He leapt forward and attacked even as she still held her weapon raised in respect.
The huge sword swung around rapidly, he handled it as if it was a blade half the size. Misara moved with an economy of motion, simply shifting the side and lifting her blade to catch and deflect his.
As they passed close he shifted his grip on the hilt, moving his left hand farther up. The move gave her warning of his next move and when he lashed out at her with his right hand she was prepared to counter. Driving her left forearm up, she blocked the blow-it felt as if a giant had hit her-then stepped back away from him and slashed out with her sword.
Moving back quickly, almost losing his balance, he avoided her blow and set himself up for his next attack.
They met, sword clashing on sword, Misara parrying his heavy and fast blows. He was incredibly strong. She never took the full force of the hits, angling her sword so most of the energy was turned harmlessly away.
They circled each other, he obviously watching for an opening, some way to break through her defences. She watched him, noting how he fought, watching for the tell tale signs that would let her know what he might do.
When he pulled a hidden dagger from the hilt of the sword she was ready, dropping her elbow onto his wrist, forcing him to drop the small blade. When he kicked the snow and dirt from the road at her, she simply spun, avoiding it, and used the momentum to launch into a series of moves that drove him back and sent him stumbling to the ground.
He came to his feet fast, almost as if he bounced, and they locked swords, standing corps-a-corps, pushing at each other. He was far stronger, but her balance was better.
"You will die," he told her, gasping.
"When your great, great grandfather was a mewling babe at his mother's breast I had passed all five challenges of the Sword-Master," she answered him.
She leapt back before he could force her back, keeping her balance, ready for the vicious series of swings he launched at her. She backed away, letting him fall into a rhythm, into a predictable pattern. When he did she ducked under his blade, stepped through his assault, and slashed across his side, cutting open his armour, the padding, and the flesh beneath.
Bellowing in anger, he swung about, sword raised above his head, moving with explosive speed.
Misara could feel the gathering of unholy energies about her. His sword seemed to glow with a malevolent light, and he was faster than he had been in the entire fight. Fully committed to his attack, holding nothing back, he swung the sword down at her. The blade whistled as it cut through the air.
She used the snow underfoot for extra speed, shifting quickly and smoothly to the side. The blade passed close by her, cutting her cloak, scraping against her armour, cutting a few links of the elven chain. The great sword slashed deep into the ground by her feet, causing dirt and pieces of broken rock to leap into the air, as if it from a geyser.
Before he could pull the weapon free she swung her sword about, imbuing the weapon with holy energy, and slammed her blade into the side of his. The tip imprisoned in the ground, the hilt held in his so strong grip, his blade flexed as much as it could, then snapped, shattering along the pressure ridge.
She continued with her attack, letting the tip of her sword snake up the remains of his weapon, disarming him. Shifting into a low stance she sent her blade up, under his helmet, pushing it into the underside of his chin, drawing blood.
He stood perfectly still. Slowly he began to raise his hands. Misara put a little more pressure on her blade. He stopped moving.
"Do you yield?" she asked.
"I yield," he answered. "You have beaten me fairly. I am your prisoner."
She took the blade away from his neck and stepped back as she straightened up. "Remove your armour and I shall take you to Silverymoon to be tried for your crimes."
"As you say." He reached up as if to remove his helmet. From wrist sheaths two, long daggers were propelled into his hands. He shifted into a combat stance, daggers leading as he came at her.
Misara did not meet him, she moved, flowing around his attack, behind him. There she sliced into the back of his knee, her sword parting the armour and leather, cutting tendons and ligaments.
She stepped close, watched as he fell, as he turned himself over and grabbed for his knee. Before he could heal the wound she knocked his helmet from his head and used the flat of her blade to drub him into senselessness.
He lay on the ground, unmoving, eyes closed, blood running from his nose and ears.
She drove her sword into the snow on roadway and then knelt down by his side. "Let's get his armour and gear off him. No telling what sort of magic he might have." She began to tug at his armour straps.
Rowan was soon by her side, helping her strip the man.
She could see, now that she had his helmet off, that he was an older man, not quite middle aged, as humans measured such things. A man at his best, she thought. Age had not begun to slow him down or cost him his strength, and he had learned how to fight, knew all the tricks-dirty and clean-had years of experience. Little wonder he had killed so many Paladins and other Holy Warriors.
"You were playing with him," Rowan said as she undid his breastplate and pulled it free. "You could have won that fight immediately."
"Yes. I probably could have." She reached down and pulled a pendant from around his neck. "He chose to fight one on one, with no backup of any sort. The road is flat and easy to fight on. There are no distractions. It was the best fight he could give me." She weighed the pendant in her hand before tucking it into her belt. "The fool."
"So why did you take so long to beat him?"
"I needed to learn a few things."
"I'll explain shortly."
Finally they had him stripped down to his loincloth, and Misara took the time to examine that before she let it stay. She went to his horse-it tried to bite her so she slapped it hard enough that the beast was cowed-and looked through his saddlebags and pack. A short time later she came back with some pants and a warm cloak in which to dress him.
With some leather cord and some chain she bound his wrists and ankles. Then she healed him.
His eyes opened, and he struggled to get up, but his bonds held him immobile.
"As I said, we will take you to Silverymoon to be tried, but first you will answer some questions."
He scowled at her as he tried to sit up. "I will tell you nothing."
"You already have. I have beaten you and your mind was opened. You have no secrets from me."
"I know all about you." She leaned close to him. "You were born in the Dales, but the life of a farmer held no interest to you, so you left and travelled to Cormyr, to join their army."
She could see doubt in his eyes, and the beginning of what might be fear.
"A man like you, the Purple Dragons would have seen you for what you were, so you left them. You found kindred spirits amongst the Zhents. You became one of them. You were specially trained by," she paused, "by one of the Weapon Master Igroshi's apprentices."
He shook his head, as if to deny it.
"And while the Zhents still think you work for them, you have found another master."
"It does not matter what you know," he screamed. "You will never stop Asharass. You and your foolish Silver Marches will fall to her power! You will suffer for what you have done! I will see you dead, I will..."
Misara stuffed a rag into his open mouth and then used a band of cloth to hold it in place. "I think that is enough of that," she told him. Looking over at Rowan she said, "Let's get him on his horse. I don't think we'll make Silverymoon today."
"We can stop at one of the way stations and spend the evening there. Tomorrow, when we reach the city, we can hand him over."
Misara nodded as she grabbed him by his shoulder and pulled him to his feet. With Rowan's help she managed to get him on his horse and tied him to the saddle so he would not fall.
She and Rowan mounted their own horses and soon left the site of the battle behind. The Black Guard's shattered sword lay where it had fallen, wan, winter sunlight glinting off the blade.
Misara came out of the way station's small cell, carrying and empty bowl and mug. "Our prisoner has eaten," she told Rowan as she put the tableware into a small barrel full of soapy water.
"Was he grateful for the meal?"
"Not really; quite rude in fact."
"Has he told you his name?"
"No." She took a seat at the table. One of the station attendants put a bowl of stew and a mug of mulled wine in front of her. "Thank you," she said to the young man.
"How is it you don't know his name? You knew everything else."
"Actually, I really do not know much about him. It was his fighting style that told me what I needed to know to convince him otherwise."
"You recognized his fighting style?"
"Styles, and yes. The basis of his sword work comes from the Dales. That basis was built upon and refined with techniques that are most often found in the Purple Dragons of Cormyr. It is the Zhentarim techniques that are the most important of component of his style."
"What about knowing that he had been trained by, what did you say, one of the apprentices of Ig something?"
"Igroshi. Very unique style, dirty fighting, not something he shared very often, but he's been dead for twenty years. I almost forgot that and tripped myself up. So our un-named blackguard most certainly was trained by one of Igroshi's apprentices."
"What about that last part? How did you know?"
"A guess. If it were not true, no real harm would have been done. I was lucky."
"Indeed. You are a gambler, and play for larger stakes than I."
"When necessary." She leaned back in her chair and drank from her cup. "And only when I'm certain I'll win."