Engaging the Enemy
Engaging the Enemy
Dorsea joined his Lord at the door to see what was happening to their army. There was a large ring of fire several hundred yards from the Hold, and their army was rounding the edge of the flame, headed for the gate. He thought it might be illusion at first, but then he looked up to see dragons. He was not sure at first glance, but he thought he saw riders upon the dragons.
“Are those our sons riding dragons?” Lord Gildenhanna asked.
“I believe they are. How on Hordann…?”
“I do not know, but I trust my eyes and thank Chance.”
“Truly. Such a sight to see.”
“Yes, indeed. But back to task. The door,” reminded the Lord.
“The door.” Dorsea sat back down, and with the inspiration afforded him at seeing the Company on dragon wing, he focused his efforts all the more. The thought of the Skadivers’ confection crossed his mind, and he dug the gifted bar out of his bag and ate several pieces.
Meanwhile, the Jawann were hardly pleased to see this new development. Dragons were not exactly something that superstitious barbarians were comfortable with. The Gelt marines, however, although thoroughly frightened by them at the start, had seen their comrades atop a number of the beasts and understood that they were on the same side. Hannegelt had Kondyr fly low to them and was able to shout out a greeting and a brief instruction.
“Welcome! Make for the gate!!” he yelled down to the wide-eyed group. Trusting their Prince, they immediately began to lead their small army around the fiery ring toward the Hold gate. There was more stumbling going on than usually experienced, as the fast-moving men were paying more attention to the dragons in the air than the ground beneath their feet.
They could see that a number of dragons were handling Styric’s standing army in the field, while another group was hitting the gate. There were several others circling the Hold itself, probably in reconnaissance. The fiery ring was keeping the field easily enough, and the gate looked as though it was being bombed by something, but it was not easily recognized. As they got closer, they understood. Many laughed at the sight while several of the dragons landed on the wall to drop off their riders, who, presumably, were handling getting the gate open for them.
Axemann, Beamann, and Bowmann were not happy to be slugging through the ‘bomb’ site, but the ‘bombing’ had done its job; there were no guards even close to the gate at that point. They made their way down to the gate mechanism and began to crank it open. Bowmann stood vigilant against any unwelcome advances with his bow at the ready as the other two muscled the capstan together. Slowly the gate swung open enough for several men abreast. At this point the three decided to move out of the dragon mess and seek some other useful duty.
As they turned to enter the open square past the gate columns, they knew they had found not only their next task, but their next challenge. A dozen soldiers were speeding towards them to take care of their open gate. Twelve to three was not a very fair fight, but when the defense of a Hold is at stake, there is no thought about fairness, especially when the Lord is a despot of dark magic. The three Gelts knew this was going to be serious.
The soldiers were closing fast, when they stopped and looked up to the top of the wall. A dragon had just perched above the gate, and on her back was Genie. Vyrna let out a warning bugle, and set fire to the area before the soldiers to stop their approach. As she was catching her breath, an archer among the group shot an arrow at her, and it tore through the skin of her left wing. She let out another bugle, which sounded very different from the first. In a matter of moments, Hazgorn was coming in for a strafing run. This time, however, he did not aim to miss, but incinerated the soldiers.
“Okay, then,” Sam said. “So much for the not killing thing.”
“They drew first blood, Samuel,” Hazgorn replied. “We will not suffer the harms of men.”
Genie hopped off of Vyrna and told her to get to safety. Hazgorn circled and came to perch next to her to allow Sam to join the ground forces as planned. He would take his mate to the perimeter and see if her wing needed tending. There were plenty of other dragons in the air to aid the men below.
As they took off, Gildenhanna’s small army came running through the gate. Between the bar-b-qued soldiers smoking in the square and the smell of the dragon leavings, they were not too keen to enter the square. Hannegelt and Kemann landed in the open right in front of the gawking men and dismounted their dragons, releasing them to the air once more. The rest of the Company, with the exception of Diedra and Eric landed on the wall and likewise dismounted.
Genie tried to send a Ringspeak message to Vyrna to get her to seek out Diedra and Eric to see if they could help with the wound in her wing. That was all she could do for her new friend at the moment. For now, she was about to be occupied by the main event. She gave Sam a quick kiss, and the two came down from the wall to join the group.
Hannegelt turned to the marines as they approached. “Where is Lord Gildenhanna?”
“He and his Wizard left our company to come here near an hour and three quarters ago,” the Captain reported. “We were ordered to lead the enemy astray, but were ill-met on the road west and made a hasty circle back here.”
“Now, may you be able to tell the tale of how you were well-met, Captain.”
“They are attempting to make their way into the Hold through another entrance,” Kemann divined.
Hannegelt thought for a moment. “We will let them continue on their own course. There is no way to know what Chance and Fate have in mind for their ways.”
“Agreed, but that would leave us the task of flushing out Styric,” Kemann pointed out.
“Yes, it does,” Hannegelt agreed. “Samuel, any ideas?” Hannegelt was being slightly facetious in his question. Sam’s leading the assault on Raustorn was not really of his choosing, and Hannegelt had felt a little left out on the whole affair. The aerial attack on this Hold, he had concluded, had also come from Sam. The dragons basically took over at some point, but their plans almost surely had come from the ‘Son of Sky Hold’. Fortunately, things had turned out well thus far, and Hannegelt could not be disappointed with that, but still, as leader of the Company, he had been feeling slightly emasculated.
“Not really,” Sam replied, “but Gensonn probably knows more about this Hold than anyone else here.”
“That is true,” Kemann agreed.
Hannegelt once again swallowed his pride and looked to Gensonn. “Well, where is he, and how do we get there?”
“Follow me,” Gensonn said as he darted away from the courtyard and into a side street. A few arrows were falling around them as they ran a serpentine pattern to cover, but moments later, they looked up to see fire raining down on the sniping archers, compliments of their dragon friends. Gensonn made his way up the street to a building whose doors were greeted by a number of carved steps.
Armed men began to pour out of the building and took the high ground at the top, which was slightly shielded from the sight of the dragons. The archers among the Company began to cut them down immediately, but there were many more than they had arrows, and they were not going to be content to simply stand there and be shot. No, they attacked down the steps and quickly were diving into the midst of the diverse invaders. Hannegelt fought viciously as man after man confronted him. He was dodging one man’s sword while blocking another. Axemann was in full swing, as expected, piling bodies around him like a farmer with a scythe at harvesting time. And this was the first time that Sam had really been able to observe the surgical way Beamann handled a melee. He had such a cool head and precise movement that anyone who appreciated such talents would have to acknowledge. Sam and Genie, however stayed together and fought back to back. They were happy to discover that Styric’s soldiers were not really well-trained, but also that their hearts were not into their cause. Some of them died in the fray without ever looking like they cared about living one way or the other. Several times, Sam caught sight of someone in the Company getting into trouble, and he leapt over several people to land a crucial blow onto the pate of a threatening soldier. But then, he would make his way back to fight beside his Amazon.
In several minutes, the battle of the stairs had been decided. It was an overwhelming victory for the Company. As they pulled up together at the top of the stairs, it was noted that Johamann had fallen. Dextmann had been beside him, and quickly killed the soldier responsible, but it did not make the others feel particularly gratified at that moment. Perhaps he would be honored in a song one day, provided the Company could prevail this day.
They had lost their first man. Of course, the reality of this quest had always been accepted as, quite possibly, a suicide mission for all, but their luck had been good thus far. Johamann’s death now served to transfuse to the rest of the Company a surfeit of resolve. Surely the need for it was felt by all of them as they stepped into the main hall in Styric Hold.
This Great Hall was not exactly what they had expected. Always they had had in their minds that this dark Were-Wizard would have taken to dark, wet surroundings, but here was a warm hall with ancient architectural detail abounding. Natural light poured in from arched openings bordered with rich fabrics of many colors. The group surveyed the place in wonder as they braved their way farther in.
“Wow. This is actually kind of nice,” Genie whispered.
“Yeah, I never considered that this guy would have a sense of style,” Sam added.
“Maybe he’s got a Lady to run the Hold,” Dextmann said.
“Which way, Gensonn?” Hannegelt asked to stop the idle chatter.
“Up. To the left,” the Xeltic Apprentice motioned as he spoke. It was slightly apparent that the reality of the place was now intersecting that which had been in his ‘sight’ in the earlier times before Styric had cast the defensive spell against such intrusions. There was a slight disconnect now, to be physically walking in that, which had previously been dream-like.
As they passed out of the Main Hall, Sam noted the size of all the passageways and arches. They seemed much larger than needed for most of the normal activity that would go on in a Hold.
“This passage is huge. Big enough for a dragon,” Sam whispered.
“But the doorways are too small,” Genie responded.
As she was saying that, a door opened and a number of guards came out into the expansive passage. They looked like they meant business.
“Big enough for them though. Stay close,” Sam whispered back at her.
The guards immediately advanced on the intruders. Gensonn, who had been leading as guide was foremost in the Company. He lunged forward with his hands at unusual angles. Almost faster than could be seen, the first two of the guards fell to the floor, having had their throats torn asunder. With another move, Gensonn was in the middle of the attackers, and they were falling to the sides as fast as they approached the Xeltic. The Company stood astounded at the sight, and Kemann briefly explained that although the Xeltic priests could not go into true hyper-motion, like Wizards of the Jaederon, they had their own version, which they practiced tirelessly for defensive measures.
Several of the guards did manage to get by him, but were met with axe and sword by the Gelts in front of Sam and Genie. When the last of them had fallen, Gensonn was trying to get water out of his skin to clean his hands with, and Genie stepped up to help him out. There was enough gore to go around in this hallway, and she was glad that she had not been needed to add to it.
“We need to keep moving,” Hannegelt said with an impatient tone.
“We have time,” Gensonn replied. “Styric is in his temple chamber, and he is watching us. More precisely, he is waiting for us.”
“I do not like the way that sounds,” Dextmann said.
“No, there is not much to like about it,” Kemann added. “He has become very powerful as of late. I am sure he must be certain that he can defeat us if he waits as a spider in a web.”
“The entrance is just ahead,” Gensonn announced. At that moment, out of the aforementioned door, Stryic himself stepped. He stood in the middle of the corridor, snarling a crooked smile. The Company froze.
“Greetings. Welcome to my Hold. What an odd bunch of characters who come to kill me. Gensonn, Xeltic Apprentice, I feel as though I already know you. So long have you been watching me, and I truly enjoyed our little Schlafzeit together.”
The Were-Wizard was larger than the Gelts were expecting. At over six feet, hunched, his greenish skin of lizard seemed stretched over a full physique to give him a frightening appearance. He wore a simple tunic of a rich burnt orange fabric with gold trim. He blinked into hypermotion, and stopped with Gensonn lifted off of the floor by the neck, which the Company heard snap. His next move took him back to where he had previously stood.
“That felt good,” he said as Gensonn’s lifeless body was slumping to the floor. Hannegelt was just about to make his advance, but Kemann stopped him by the arm. “That was a good choice, Brother.”
“Do not feign to call me ‘brother’. You are an abomination made of stolen loin,” Kemann shot back at him.
“You do me an injustice, Brother. My mother was resourceful, while yours…well, let us just say that she was well-paid, but then, that is the way of the Jaederon. Is it not so? But where are my manners? I have another little greeting for you all.”
From behind Sam and Genie, four berserkers came bursting through a door. They were frothing at the mouth from some wild mushroom potion, and their weapons were scraping stones as they swung them with abandon. They were even larger than Styric by forty pounds or more, and they were coming fast. Instinctively, Sam jumped and used one of the moves Beamann had made him practice at Gilden Hold. The lead berserker crumpled to the floor with a cleft skull. Bowmann had been ready with his bow and took down the second. Axemann pushed his way to the back to meet the last of the four, and a mighty conflict ensued. Axe to axe, man to man, will to craze, they fought for nearly thirty seconds blow for blow. But the last berserker had been the one to beat, and Axemann got clipped on the neck just enough to sever his artery. Blood spewed for several feet, and Sam moved to get into position against the attacker. That’s when things got really bad. The berserker turned and wanted a shot at this jumping fool. The berserker kept his axe in hand and pulled from his side a flail that had a fist of metal dangling from its chain. It swung a wide arc at Sam, but he ducked and moved as the axe came down in tandem. Sam had ducked the swinging fist, but Genie’s view had been blocked by Sam’s body, so she never saw it coming. Unfortunately, she had stepped in behind him to try to help him, and as a result, she took the fist to the top of her helmet. It was a glancing blow, and, since she was a few inches shorter than Sam, the blow did not achieve its full impact. Regardless, the clank on her helm sent her sideways and down, unconscious. After having moved past the axe swing, Sam saw her fall. In a millisecond, it was the berserker who was now facing a berserker, for Sam was now officially crazy mad. He dropped his sword and did a full leap right at the chest of the man who had just apparently killed his woman. The impact of the Sam’s knee to the solar plexus would have been enough to incapacitate almost any man, but this was not just any man, and he turned aside, although stunned, and swung his axe at close quarters. The blade could not reach good hacking speed, but it bludgeoned Sam’s right side and sent him down to a knee. As far as Sam was now concerned, this guy had to go. From his knee, he jumped, doing a front flip over the man’s head and came down with his arm securely wrapped around this man’s neck in a choke hold. The term ‘tiger by the tail’ did not cross Sam’s mind at the time, as he was rather occupied, but it certainly applied. The berserker jerked him from wall to wall. Sam managed to get a foot on the wall just before the man he was essentially riding could bash him once more against the stones. While his foot was up, he pulled his boot knife and brought it down repeatedly into the man’s chest and side. It took a few moments before the crazed fighter realized he was dead, but his red eyes rolled back in his head as he slowly knelt and toppled over.
Styric was laughing in the corridor ahead and leisurely stepped back to his temple room, leaving the door open, like an invitation. The only one of the Company rash enough to step through the door first was Hannegelt. He was furious and wanted to take on the Were-Wizard without delay. He began moving quickly to follow, but Beamann stopped him.
“No, my Lord,” he told Hannegelt. “I am at your service.”
At that, he leapt through the door, only to be met with a green flash. He fell back out into the hall with lifeless eyes. Hannegelt rushed over to his old friend and mentor. Meanwhile, Sam had gone to Genie’s side and turned her onto her back. Her eyes rolled as she gave a groan. There was a little blood trickling out of the side of her helm that had taken the fist, but she was alive. Sam was so happy that he began to tear up.
“You really scared me there for a minute,” Sam whispered, “You were lying there so quiet…I thought you were…”
“Don’t write me off so quickly, Sammy,” she said, stretching her neck. “Although I must admit my head hurts consumedly,” she added in a southern belle accent. He smiled at her, because he remembered the line from a melodrama they did together in college.
“I will never leave you, Miss Lucy,” Sam answered on cue.
“What did I miss?”
“Me kicking that guy’s butt, and..” He motioned over to the others. “Styric just zapped Beamann. I don’t think he made it.”
“Oh, no,” she said sadly. “That Were-Wizard has got to go.”
Kemann knelt next to Hannegelt, who was kneeling over Beamann’s body in disbelief.
“Are you ready?” Kemann asked. “I will hypermotion around the room. You distract him from the edge of the room, but do not linger, lest you suffer the same Fate as Master Beamann.”
“Who’s with me?” Hannegelt asked the rest of the Company.
They all stood proud and answered, “Aye!”
Sam helped Genie up, and she pulled her bow around. “Aye,” she also answered.
Lord Gildenhanna was becoming impatient. He and Dorsea had hidden away in this little out-building for some time, and the old Wizard had not made any headway at getting through this door.
“Our army has entered the Hold through the main gate. Why don’t we just follow them in?”
“Patience, my Lord. My senses tell me that we are in the right place.”
“While our sons have entered Styric Hold on Dragonwing? Yet we hide out in this tiny room. Such a fine state,” the old Lord complained. And yet, he knew to trust Dorsea. Not only was this waiting getting on his nerves, but it also gave him time to start feeling the throbbing of his hand’s wound. So, he sat and watched his old friend trying to use his power to open the stone wall before them.
The remainder of the Company was about to make a move on Styric’s chamber. Sam looked down at Beamann and saw the eyes of the lifeless friend and teacher. Something about the stillness of him reminded Sam of a movie he had seen. In the movie, Perseus had to enter Medusa’s home and attempt to kill the Titan. He passed many men who had turned to stone in the attempt. Perseus survived by not meeting her gaze.
“Genie, hold back,” Sam whispered. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“How could you have a good feeling about this?”
The move began. Kemann blinked in, and the others followed inside and set about to the perimeter of the space. The crafty Were-Wizard had long practiced his moves, and he went blink for blink with Kemann, toying with him. The young Wizard was obviously no match, so in between blinks with Kemann, he would blink over to another of the Company to deliver a massive blow, and then blink back to Kemann’s blind side and slap him.
“This is fun, Brother,” he said before blinking over to Bowmann and breaking his neck, causing the arrow he had at the ready to fly across the room and bounce off of the stones above the fire pit. He simply was taking turns at annoying Kemann and killing his friends. Hannegelt was next and received a devastating hit on his sword arm as he tried to guess the Were-Wizard’s arrival from the hypermotion. His sword dropped and he was knocked to the wall. Kemann drew his dagger and concentrated on Styric. Simultaneous with his appearance, the dagger swung around and caught Styric in the forearm. The move cost Kemann, for he too received a sweeping left from a thick elbow, which threw him nearly ten feet.
From just outside the door, Sam and Genie could hear the action. Sam looked in and saw the Company getting decimated, but Dannhelm and Dextmann were moving erratically around the room with swords swinging at shadows. He also saw Kemann and Hannegelt down.
“Crap,” Sam muttered to himself. “You okay? You’re going to have to be really quick with that bow when I cue you. And don’t hit me.”
“Let’s do this,” Genie said with a steely resolve.
Sam entered the room. Styric stopped and looked at him, pulling the dagger out of his arm as if he were brushing a fly away.
“I have seen you through the eyes of Were-folk that you have slain. You also wear one of the Rings of Ingebriggt. I should thank you for bringing them too me. I do not recognize your armor. Odd symbol, ancient helm, Gelt sword. What are you?” the Were-Wizard asked.
“I am an entertainer,” Sam said.
“Gilden Hold sends the minstrels in? That explains these two dancers,” he said looking over at the other two, who stopped to see what was about to happen. “Perhaps you could sing me a song, Minstrel.”
Sam hated this kind of guy, a bully, pure and simple. Maybe not so simple, but Sam had always taken exception to bullies since he himself had bully problems starting off in elementary school. One thing he knew he could do was to deliver something unexpected, since everything he knew came from another planet entirely. With sword in hand, he began doing an irritating Al Jolson impression. He knew Genie would see this as an opportunity, because she knew this shtick. He would sing the first bit and then go down on one knee for the second. At that point, he would be low to her vantage point once she swung around with the bow in the doorway. She could shoot over him and try to land one in Styric.
“Mammy, how I love ya, how I love ya my dear old Mammy! Oh, Mammy, it’s your sonny from Alabammy.” He held out his arm for the big finish. “What do you think, Mr. Demille? Do I get the part?”
Sam’s instincts were good, but the timing was off. The shot from behind him was late. Having practiced with Kemann and hypermotion tactics were about to pay off. As he waited for Genie to shoot this guy (which in reality was merely a second at most), he began getting the slightest inkling of Styric at his left side, and he tucked the sword under his arm and thrust it right into Styric’s side as he appeared there. At the same instant, Genie swung around and landed one of their special arrows into his back. Sam was knocked to the floor, but they had scored big on Styric. He was in no way incapacitated, however, but hurt badly enough to realize he should flee. He ran to a stone wall and spoke. It opened before him, and there was a big wind. The wind was not coming out of the door, but the passage beyond the door seemed to be sucking air into it. Before fleeing through the windy tunnel, Styric turned and looked right at Sam and drew a claw back to cast a green fireball. Sam saw the arm about to let something fly and covered his eyes. Styric gave an angry look at Sam as the deadly green light passed him. He exited, closing the wall behind him. The wind stopped, and all was quiet.
Dextmann came to help Sam up and shouted after the Were-Wizard, “That’s what you get when you fight the Son of Sky Hold!”
Dannhelm and Genie tended to the fallen Prince and his Wizard.
“That was a masterful shot, Lady Genevieve,” Dannhelm said as he knelt down to see if Hannegelt was alive.
“Masterful would have been between his lizard eyes,” Genie said.
“You can be humble as you may, but he would have killed us all, had you not stepped in as you did. Both of you.”
Hannegelt began to stir. He looked up and saw Dannhelm. “I am not dead. That is a good sign. Aahh!” He winced as he moved his arm and had to cradle it with his other. “Kemann?”
“I am still with you, My Lord,” Kemann mumbled. “Styric?”
“He has fled, but he is badly wounded,” Dextmann reported.
“Who…?” Hannegelt began, but he did not need to finish asking the question when he saw Sam retrieving, his sword for him. He carried it over to him and helped him put it in his scabbard. “Thank you, my friend.”
“At your service, my friend.”
“We must pursue the Were-Wizard,” Hannegelt said.
“Our Company is now halved, and we have not the strength to fight further, my Lord,” Dannhelm reported.
“And I’m pretty sure if we open that passage, that there is a trap that way. Did you feel that wind?” Sam said.
Wind? That was odd.
“We should make back to the dragons,” Hannegelt decided. “Kemann, where are our fathers?”
“Near. Perhaps we should find them and see if they need help.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we could use a little help ourselves,” Dextmann threw in. He was looking around the chamber, as a thief would do, and was currently at Styric’s ‘desk’. On it there were many things, including a pyramid crystal under a cloth. “What do you make of this, Wizard?”
Kemann went to the desk and looked into the crystal. He could see Styric fleeing down the passage beyond the stone wall. “A divining crystal. No wonder he could see so far.”
“No doubt he is fleeing the Hold. We shall not catch him from inside. We should seek out Lord Gildenhanna,” Hannegelt said.
Genie took the cloth, which had covered the divining crystal and tied a sling for Hannegelt. She slipped it over his head and helped him set it in.
“Very kind of you, Genevieve.”
“You won’t be swinging that sword for a while by the look of this,” she said.
“But that’s what friends are for,” he answered. “We should go.”
The reduced Company made their way back out through the bodies and carnage. The open air felt good when they stepped from the main hall. Surveying the Hold from the steps, they could see that most of the opposition had been dealt with, either by the barbarians or the dragons. It was quite a relief to not have to continue fighting at this moment.
“Have you any idea where to look?” Hannegelt asked the group.
“They are outside of the wall,” Dannhelm reported. “We should hurry.” He led the way out through the dragon mess and pointed to the out-building. “They are there.”
They hurried around the wall, and Sam called Hazgorn with the Ringspeak.
“Skadiver,” Dextmann began, “the Were-Wizard hit you with the same green fire that slew Beamann, yet you were not harmed. How did you survive that?”
“I don’t really know, but when I looked at Master Beamann’s eyes, I was reminded of an ancient myth from Sky Hold. The hero had to kill Medusa, who could turn men to stone with a glance, so he fought her without ever looking at her. I don’t know why I thought of that. Maybe it’s just one last thing Master Beamann was trying to teach me. I think it got him through his eyes, like a deadly illusion.”
“I have never learned of such a thing,” Kemann said.
“A darker magic there is not,” Hannegelt said.
“Styric knew we had the Rings of Ingebriggt too,” Genie said. “He talked like he was going to kill everyone with a ring and collect them all for himself.”
Hazgorn and Vyrna had been worried and stayed close, so they came in for a landing between them and their destination.
“Hazgorn! How about a lift?” Sam asked.
“You are injured?” Vyrna asked Genie when she saw the blood on her neck.
“Yes, it seems we both are. How’s your wing?”
“There is a hole in it, but Princess Diedra put some oily medicine on it and it feels fine. And you?”
“I got knocked on the helm by a berserker. But look, we are going to find Lord Gildenhanna right now. Would you mind if we continued the search upon you?”
“By all means, get on.”
Sam and Genie both got on their steeds. Riding a dragon that is walking is not as pleasant or exciting as one that is flying, and Genie’s head was really starting to ache. She could only imagine how Hannegelt felt with his broken sword arm. But on they walked toward the little building.
Lord Gildenhanna was quickly reaching his limit. He needed to do something and do it soon. He had been pacing, which was a habit that usually irritated Dorsea, but the Wizard was very focused on trying to open the passage. His magical mumblings were having no effect, and his Lord could not take it any longer. His pacing had taken him to the outside door to see the dragons sitting in a ring around the enemy. The fires were but smolders, and the soldiers themselves had been content to sit down on the turf like prisoners of war.
There was suddenly a slight sound coming from the stone wall, on which Dorsea had been working. It was the high-pitched sound of air passing through a crack. Gildenhanna’s impatient countenance changed to a pleased and relieved expression.
“Well done, Wizard!”
“I have done nothing. The door opens from within.”
Immediately, the two men prepared themselves for whoever or whatever was about to come through. After the initial sucking of air, and the pressure of it eased from the physical door, it began to open more easily, and the sound of the rushing wind became more general. Dust from the stones around the opening fell and was instantly swept inward with the draft. And then, there, emerging from the sirocco, was the Were-Wizard himself.
He stepped through and the stones closed. All was quiet once more. He seemed surprised to see his two enemies there with him in close quarters, waiting, and Dorsea observed the arrow sticking out of Styric’s back.
“Welcome to my Hold, Father,” he said with a pained expression. The blood dripped from his wounds as he stood there.
“I see you’ve met our Skadivers. That is one of their arrows, which decorates your hide,” Gildenhanna said.
“I ‘met’ a lot of your little band. Did you really think that they would defeat me? And I must say how disappointed I was in my brother Kemann. He died well, however.”
“Kemann has never disappointed me. Unlike you. You have been busy, Styric, since last we met,” Dorsea said flatly.
“I am on the verge of uniting all of the Holds of Hordann in an effort to raise Hordann out of the Karchic Age. What have you done in the last twenty years?”
“We have been protecting the freedoms that you seek to replace with your murderous ambition for power,” Gildenhanna answered.
“Fools. Yes, I have ambition, but I do not seek power. I already have power. Powers well beyond yours. I am using my power to create a new age for all.”
“It was so much power that drove Ingebriggt to madness,” Gildenhanna said, “and you are on the same path.”
“Your power drains as does your blood,” Dorsea quipped. “You are trying to create a new age for yourself. As for your condemnation, we were wrong to have banished you in your youth. You should have been destroyed for instigating the Terean War. We shall not make the same mistake twice,”
“And so, you have come. For what, to cut me down? Even wounded as I am, you are no match for me. This conversation is a courtesy, or maybe a curiosity.” He looked them straight in the eyes and concentrated on the arrow in his back. He whispered a word and it pulled itself out, and came around for him to see. “Interesting. This arrow is not of Hordann. Skadivers you called them? More of a demented Minstrel? I thought he seemed a bit off.” The arrow turned in the air and pointed at Gildenhanna. “You don’t seriously believe you will leave this room alive, do you?”
“We do not,” Dorsea replied. “You may be powerful, but you lack education. There is much of the Jaederon you have never learned. Immolation, for example.”
“Enlighten me, then, Father.” He turned the arrow toward Dorsea.
“It is a spell of cancellation.”
“Cancellation? You mean to link us all together for destruction. I prefer a different scenario.” The arrow flew at Dorsea, who waved his hand to send it flying outside.
“It is time,” Dorsea told Gildenhanna. They held a shoulder of one another and the spell began.
Light began to encircle them and extend outward to engulf Styric. The swirling beams seemed to sting him, but he resisted. He cast one of his green fireballs at the two of them, but their eyes were closed in concentration. (Sam had been correct—lucky, but correct—about that theory with the eyes)
The light increased and became more invasive until at last, the two Gelts were glowing like they were about to explode. And in a magical sense, that is what happened. Essentially, they joined for one last moment, which concentrated all of their energies into one single event. Metaphorically, it would be an entire war in a moment. Wars are waged, and won or lost. It was a gamble on the part of Dorsea, and he hoped their power was enough to cancel out the Were-Wizard, but there was a chance it would not be totally successful.
But the dice of Chance were now rolled, and Fate would soon be known. The Immolation took place in a huge flash of light.
The dragons of the remaining Company saw them outside of the Hold, and after having seen Hazgorn and Vyrna join their riders, they also came to do the same. Together, they walked toward the little out-building. At perhaps a hundred feet away, an arrow came sailing out of its door and stuck in the ground in front of Kemann.
“It is one of yours, Skadivers,” he observed.
“One of ours?” Sam asked. “How is that possible?”
“It’s mine,” Genie said. “The only one of mine that is not accounted for is the one Styric took with him when he ran off in that passage.”
“Styric is in there with our fathers,” Kemann stated. He looked at Hannegelt. “You know what that means.”
As they looked on at the building, light began to pour out of its openings. The brightness grew, reaching a culminating flash, then nothing. It had extinguished. Kemann and Hannegelt knew what had happened, and Dannhelm had an understanding too, but the rest had little idea of what had occurred.
“It is over,” Hannegelt said.
Bittersweet was the moment. The group moved forward again to see the result of the Immolation, if there was anything to see. Much to their chagrin, the sweetness of the moment turned more to the bitter side, for Styric slowly emerged from the door to the outside world.
He looked around to see himself surrounded by mounted dragons. He recognized the riders instantly, and he was none too pleased to see them again. In fact, he was quite angry, but he was also greatly diminished. Although he had survived the Immolation, it had sapped a huge amount of his energy. The Jaederon linked the powers of Lord and Wizard, so that there was a symbiosis, and both were stronger. Styric, on the other hand was a Were-Wizard, beyond the archaic structure of the Jaederon. He served as both Lord and Wizard in one. The amount of magic in his diverse ‘breeding’ had been significant, and everyone understood his power. But, it is better to have friends and be linked to others in love than it is to live apart, however great is one’s power.
So, there he was, angry, injured, drained, and defiant.
“It is over, Were-Wizard,” Hannegelt said with a new sense of command in his voice.
“I think not, Gelt,” Styric replied, and he drew back to launch the green fire.
“Close your eyes!” Sam shouted, and amazingly, Hannegelt took the advice.
The green fire hit its mark, but continued on to dissipate beyond him. The dragons took exception to the assault and drew back a large breath. The fire from half of a dozen dragons in a semicircle, focused on a single point is hot enough to turn sand to glass. When the Dragonflame was finished, there was nothing left of the Were-Wizard known as Styric. There was an area of black glass where he had stood, perhaps twenty feet across and in the shape of a shield.
“Now, it is over,” Hannegelt muttered to himself. “Thank you, my friends!” he called out.
“Let us see to our fathers, Hann,” Kemann said sadly.
They dismounted and solemnly walked into the building. There they saw what they had feared. Lord Gildenhanna and the Wizard Dorsea slumped to the floor against the wall, still holding each other’s shoulders. Their lives, extinguished in the attempt.
“Truly, my heart will never be whole again,” Hannegelt said as he lay his hand on his father’s cheek.
“They are at rest now. Their plan worked, and Hordann is now rid of the guilt they bore for so long,” Kemann said gravely. “Father, you still had so much to teach me.”
“We are alone now, my friend.”
Diedra and Eric had flown down and joined the Company again. They had given Hannegelt and Kemann a few moments alone with their fathers, but were now standing in the doorway, looking in.
“You will never be alone,” the Princess said. “For we will always be with you.”
“Hail the new Lord and Wizard of Gilden Hold!” Dannhelm shouted.
“Hail! Hail!” went the response from the Company.
“My friends, I thank you. Now is not the time to celebrate, but to mourn,” Hannegelt announced just loud enough for the gathering to hear.
He walked out to the center of the center of the dragons. He bowed low. “Thank you for helping us. You have greatly honored us and yourselves. The quest is now ended, but I would ask of you one more favor. Kondyr, would you be willing to help us fly back to Gilden Hold with our honored dead?”
There was much debate in Dragonspeak, and several minutes passed. Hannegelt was getting woozy, standing there with his shattered arm and feeling the heat from the still smoldering ground where Styric had met his Fate.
At last, Kondyr turned back to him and answered. “We will aid you in this task, but we ask for one thing in return.”
“Anything, my friends; I am and will always be at your service.”
“The Rings of Ingebriggt shall pass to us,” he said, but there was a slight hiss from behind him. “With the exception of the two worn by the Skadivers.”
Hannegelt was curious as to why Sam and Genie would be able to retain their rings, but it seemed a reasonable request, and a very honorable thing to do for human/dragon relations. “You shall have it.” He immediately took off his ring.
The other ring owners had heard the deal, and brought theirs forward. There were three missing, however. Hannegelt realized that they were worn by their fallen comrades in the Hold. He turned to Sam, who had the same realization.
“I’ll go,” he said and turned to Dextmann. “Would you come with me?”
“Aye,” replied the thief.
The two departed for the gate, and Sam saw Terry flying in to join Genie, now that the scary events were over. He was glad to see the two of them back together, for with all of the traumatic happenings of the last few hours, she needed the little guy to help scrub some of the images from her mind.
As they were just about to the gate, the Gelt marines and the barbarians, who survived the day, were coming out of the Hold to observe the denouement. The barbarians were decorated in trinkets of plunder, and smiled greatly as they passed.
“What of the Lord Gildenhanna?” the Captain asked.
“He has fallen,” Sam replied, “but Styric is destroyed.”
Inside the Hold once more, the two moved quickly back to Styric’s chamber. They did not really look forward to the grizzly scene they would face, but they had their duty. As they turned the corner to see the berserkers’ bodies scattered over the passage, three Styric guards were just coming out of the chamber where their friends lay dead. They had obviously taken whatever they could off of the bodies, because they were now wielding Gilden blades and wearing some of the finer armor that they could scavenge. It was a fair assumption that they also now had the rings.
They turned and ran in the opposite direction, not wanting a confrontation. So, Sam and Dextmann pursued them. Sam was able to run them down with his increased agility, and so he darted ahead of them to stop their retreat and to allow Dextmann to catch up. The move had taken the guards by surprise as they had been scampering away, and they were forced to confront Sam, who now blocked their way.
It didn’t take long for the three to recover from the shock of Sam’s maneuver. Swords were drawn, and they approached him cautiously, fanning out in the wide passage. Sam did not like the odds here, and pulled his boot knife out with his left hand and sword in his right. He had the presence of mind to go for the man on his right first, hoping to skewer him quickly and have the knife to fend off the blade of the center guard, which would most certainly be coming in.
What Sam had not taken into consideration was that these men were still alive because of one of two reasons: they were cowards and had been hiding or they were the best of the Styric’s swordsmen. He would not like the truth of it. They had killed every barbarian that had threatened them doing sweeps of the Hold to clear out the opposition. They may not have been quite as good as the Terean soldier, whom Sam had fought below the Sanguin Mountains, but they were skilled.
Sam went first on the offensive against the man to his right, as he had planned, but the man parried the thrust easily despite Sam’s momentum carrying him past. His riposte was a high arc, which landed his blade solidly on Sam’s helm. The clang rang Sam’s ‘bell’, but he managed to turn and defend himself from the thrust of the center guard’s blade. Unexpectedly, Sam stepped in close to the first man and gave him a backhand slash with his knife before the man was able to step back to create room for his own sword. He was badly cut, but had the reflexive instinct to pommel the side of Sam’s helmet for a second blow. The force of that hit caused Sam to spin to his right, and as he did so, he swept his sword around waist-high and cut deeply into the center man’s leather armor. Unfortunately, Sam’s blade was stuck in the armor and wrenched from his hand as the man fell.
What this left was a huge opening for the third man to come in behind his fallen comrade with a straight thrust directly at Sam’s heart. Having only his boot knife, Sam decided to jump. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of the fight, but he miscalculated the height of the ceiling and the quickness of the man’s thrust. The thrust caught the leaping Sam on the thigh, and the leap carried him to the ceiling with enough force to ring his ‘bell’ for the third time, which in this case, was the charm. Sam could just make out the approaching floor before he lost consciousness.
The Company was trying to move the bodies of the fallen Lord and Wizard respectfully, and debating on how the transport would happen. This was not a mode of transportation that the Hordann folk were familiar with. Genie was helpful in explaining how such things were done with med-evac helicopters using stretchers.
Kemann was quiet the whole time during this, as he was trying to keep an ‘eye’ on Sam and Dextmann inside the Hold. With the destruction of Styric, the magic that he had woven around the Hold, and indeed throughout Hordann, had lifted. This allowed the young Wizard the freedom to use his powers normally again. He did not like what he was seeing.
“Samuel is in trouble—guards,” he announced. “We should go to him quickly.”
Genie spun around at this. “What?” she exclaimed, and immediately began sprinting for the gate. The others followed. She was going much faster than the Hordann folk, and they could not believe her speed. She too had the increased agility, but this was the first time her friends had seen her open up like that. Even Terry was having trouble keeping up with her.
Vyrna became concerned about the happenings and bugled at Genie, who answered back through Ringspeak as she flew around the open gate and disappeared into the Hold.
She was just going up the steps to enter the main hall, when another lone surviving guard popped up from behind a gargoyle above. He stretched his bow and let loose an arrow at her back. The arrow did not find its mark, however, as Terry had flown into its path. The little flying lizard crashed to the ground near the door. Genie was unaware that her little pal had just saved her life and now lay helpless in a heap against the entrance, and she rushed onward toward her Sam.
The archer behind the gargoyle was not aware either of the angry Vyrna swooping down upon him. He had just enough time to look up before being incinerated.
Vyrna landed and gently lifted Terry and flew out to Diedra, who waited with the honored dead. Diedra had tended her wound earlier, and Vyrna hoped that she could also help the little flying lizard, of whom she had become quite fond. The wound was bad, but Diedra went straight to work with Genie’s first aid kit to try to save the life of their little friend.
When he came to, Sam could barely see through bleary eyes. There was a strip of cloth tied tightly around his own throbbing thigh, and his ears were ringing. Dextmann was sitting quietly beside him, relaxed.
Dextmann said, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Sam blinked hard to focus. “Three,” he answered. Then he could see that the fingers the thief was holding had belonged to the three guards and wore the three Rings of Ingebrigt. Dextmann had cut them off of the dead men, and waited to spring this joke on Sam.
“Very funny. I take it you caught up in time to save my life?”
“Nay, but to see you jump like a flieghenn in a passage with a low ceiling.” He smiled. “The look on that guard’s face when you jumped was precious. I was still laughing when Gensonn came in and finished him.”
Gensonn stepped in from the shadows.
“Gensonn! I thought Styric broke your neck,” Sam half-shouted.
“I’ve had worse,” the Xeltic replied, stretching his neck over to one side with a crunch.
“I’ll bet. Thanks, though. I owe you. Really jazzed that you’re okay”
“You owe us nothing, Son of Sky Hold. You have been the only person I have ever known to trust me, when no trust was warranted. For that, I will ever be at your service,” the thief said sincerely.
“And I at yours,” Sam replied. “Could you help me up?”
“Give yourself another minute. Here.” He retrieved Sam’s sword and knife, wiped them off on the dead guards’ garments and handed them to him. Suddenly, they heard footsteps coming toward them quickly.
“Get me up, now,” Sam demanded. The footsteps stopped around the corner from them, where the berserkers lay. Swords were drawn in readiness for whatever was going to come around that corner.
“Sam?” Genie shouted, and it echoed through the passage.
Sam sighed in relief that it was not another enemy, but his love. “Genie, we’re back this way!” he answered.
She came tearing around the corner and saw the three of them standing in the middle of more carnage. They were putting their swords back in the scabbards when she jogged up to them. She saw the blood trickling down from his helmet, and more coming from his leg.
“What am I going to do with you, Sammy?”
“Well, we could start by getting out of this Hold.”
“Good plan,” Genie said. “Gensonn, you’re alive. Wow, I was sure I heard your neck snap.”
“He gets that a lot,” Sam smirked.
They were helping Sam down the hall when the others came running to meet them. They met before the door to what had been Styric’s chamber.
“Out of danger?” Hannegelt asked. He saw Sam’s leg. “That does not look good.”
“About as good as your arm, I’d say. What a pair we make,” Sam quipped. He looked at Dextmann and with a nod suggested that he present the new Lord of Gilden Hold with the remaining three Rings of Ingebriggt. They were sticky with blood when he handed them to Hannegelt.
“You have done well, Dextmann. I am at your service,” Hannegelt said. This was the first time he had acknowledged the thief as a friend, and Dextmann’s eyes became just a little misty.
“And I at yours, Lord Hannegelt.”
Sam cleared his throat. “I hate to interrupt this touching moment, but, Kemann, now that Styric is dead, do you think you could open that secret passage?”
“I could try, but why?”
“Just a hunch I have. When Styric opened it, there was this rush of air getting sucked into it. Made me curious to see what’s in there. I mean, while we’re right here, you know.”
“You think the Rent exit is in there?”
“Well, if it exists, it has to be somewhere.”
Genie interrupted, “Sam, you have to get your leg looked at.”
“So, put me up on the table and look at it,” Sam said, “but these guys can go have a look. First Kemann has to get the door open.”
Sam got onto the table and Genie began to tear his pant leg open to get to the gash. He winced a couple of times during the process, but he was really trying to watch Kemann work on the door. It took a few minutes of conjuring, but slowly the door began to crack open and the whistle of wind rushing through the initial slit became a deeper roar as the door opened farther.
“Nice going, Kemann,” Sam shouted over the noise, but then Genie poured water over his wound to clean it. “Ahhh! Yeah, okay, that hurts.”
“Let me just wrap it until we can get outside to our gear.”
“Why don’t we get our gear in here? I don’t think I’ll be flying anywhere with this leg.”
“We are all too weary to leave tonight, and the dragons do not favor night flight,” Hannegelt began. “But we must make for Gilden Hold in the morning light. It will take us two days for the journey, and we must get our fathers home. Also, we have no way of knowing what is going on there. For all we know, Styric’s forces have taken Gilden Hold, or there could be the siege force still in front of the walls. In either case, the dragons understand that they will be needed beyond just the flight. We hope to see that, with Styric dead, the hold he had over his legions has weakened to the point that they have given up the task of taking Gilden Hold and have simply gone home.”
“I would not depend on that,” Sam said. “I’m sorry that I won’t be there to help you.”
“You have done more for us than should ever have been asked of such new friends. On behalf of Gilden Hold, we thank you for your service. If we had drinks, we would toast to you and rap cups.”
“Thank you all too,” Sam replied, “but right now, I’d really like someone to tell me where all this wind is going.”
“Dextmann and Dannhelm, it would be of great service to the Skadivers if you would go and investigate that passage.”
“As you wish, Lord Hannegelt,” Dannhelm answered.
“Here,” Sam said, tossing him his little flashlight, “you might need this. And be careful down there. I don’t trust that Were-Wizard even in death.”
Dextmann blocked the door open with a stout stool. He turned and winked at Sam, and they disappeared into the passage. Kemann began to look around the room. There were hide-bound books that looked ancient. He opened a few of them and tried to decipher the language briefly, but quickly gave up the task to a later time. Gensonn lingered on the volumes, however.
“Kemann, do you have some kind of magic where you could see hidden things?” Genie asked. For some reason, despite the real injuries and gore all around, she felt strongly as though she were in a D & D game.
“Perhaps,” he replied. He got quiet once again and concentrated. Slowly he began to turn around, looking deeply at the walls and cases to see if he could discover anything of value. He must not have been getting anything, but he paused as he scanned the door that he had just opened. “That is the only thing meant to be hidden in this room,” he said turning to say it to Sam. Then he stopped short. Looking down at the table on which Sam lay. “And that…”
He got down on his knees and mumbled over the stones that made up the floor beneath the table. They began to move upward and fall off to the side, revealing an ancient chest. Genie hefted it onto the table next to Sam. It was rectangular and maybe one foot long, clad in steel, which had rusted long ago.
“What type of metal is that?” Hannegelt asked.
Sam pulled out hid boot knife, which had a magnetic piece on the end of the handle. He brought it close to the chest, and it pulled to the metal and stuck.
“Iron,” Sam concluded, “from Earth.”
“Should we open it?” Genie asked, “Or is it booby-trapped?”
“We should maybe wait for Dextmann, unless Kemann can see if it is safe,” Sam said.
“There is great magic in this box. Old magic,” Kemann said.
“Like the old magic in the Sanguin Hold where we found the rings?” Sam asked.
“Yes, like that. But I do not see a danger.”
The box was locked, but the iron was so corroded that Sam’s knife inserted into the lid and popped it open. Everyone jumped back, except Sam, who still lay on the table, up on one elbow. As he slowly lifted the lid with his knife, he could see a dark jade vessel of some sort inside. When the lid fell back to the table, and the box was fully opened, the jade piece began to rattle on its own. In the next moment, it flew from its mountings. Sam’s reflexes took over, and he caught it. It began to drag him off of the table and attempt to fly to the open door of the passage. Genie and Kemann both jumped to help him, and together, the three of them muscled it back into its box and slammed the lid shut.
“Okay, that was weird,” Genie said.
“Whatever magic is in it, it wants to follow the wind,” Kemann said.
“It’s old magic, in a box from Earth, and it wants to go with the wind. To where?” Sam pondered.
“The Rent exit would be my guess,” Kemann said.
Dannhelm and Dextmann struggled against the wind to exit the passage and return into the chamber. Between them, they carried another small chest, similar to the one on the table.
“Can we close that now?” Dextmann asked. They had just been battling gale force winds for the last ten minutes, and he had had enough. He kicked the stool out of the way, and Kemann muttered some words at the door. It closed obediently, and the wind was ended.
They brought the chest over on the other side of Sam and set it on the table opposite the other one.
“What’s in your chest?” Hannegelt asked.
“We chose not to open it, my Lord,” Dannhelm said.
“Did you open that one?” Dextmann asked.
“Yes,” Kemann answered. “And now with the passage shut, we should try to open it again.”
“What type of metal is that?” Dextmann asked.
“Iron, from Sky Hold,” Hannegelt answered as if he was an authority.
More cautious on the second opening, Sam was ready to catch the ornery artifact, should it try anything. But with the door shut, it was content to stay in its cradle and continue to wait for its next opportunity.
Now able to look at it more closely, nobody knew what this shape was. It looked like it could have been a gravy boat or a little pitcher of some sort. There was a mark upon its side, a strange symbol.
“So, what is it?” Hannegelt asked, looking both at his Wizard and the two Skadivers.
“I am not familiar,” Kemann told him. Sam could not tell what it was either.
“It is a lamp,” Genie said. “Like a really old oil lamp, and a fancy one.”
“Really? A magic lamp?” Sam said. Genie and he had the same idea, but neither wanted to venture forth such a silly idea. “What’s in the other box?” Sam looked to Kemann, who nodded that it was safe, and so he handed Dextmann the knife to pry it open.
“Well, first we could only manage one of the boxes. There are a lot of them in a room down there. Right across from another room, which had nothing in it,” Dextmann said as he fiddled with the locked box.
“Nothing but wind,” Dannhelm explained. “The wind was being pulled into that room from both directions in the passage, from this way and the other beyond.”
Dextmann popped the lid. Once again, everyone jumped back, but this time, nothing came flying out. They looked into the chest and saw the gleam of gold and jewels.
“Well, that should make you happy,” Sam said glibly.
“What are these things?” Dextmann asked.
“Well, the coins are gold,” Sam said picking one up to examine it. Ancient coins were not perfectly made, the discs crudely stamped. These coins had stamped on them the profile some lion facing a bull? “Wow, what was the name of that king in the Aesop play we were in?”
“Croesus,” Genie answered.
“Yes, that was it. Could this be Croesus’ gold? He was the first guy to coin gold, right? Even if it’s not, it’s very old, like B.C. old.” He laid back and stared upward at the ceiling while he thought. It began to spin a bit.
Genie continued, “The red stones are rubies, the white are diamonds, the blue, sapphire, and the green emeralds. I don’t really know the names of some of the others, but I’m sure they are precious.”
“These things are not known on Hordann,” Hannegelt said.
“There are mentions in some of the old texts,” Kemann commented. “Wars were started over such things.”
“They are extremely valuable on our world. I don’t know how they got here, but I’ll bet they were stashed here by the same people who sent all of your ancestors here,” Sam speculated.
“You think our ancestors come from Earth?” Kemann asked. “Interesting. Why do you think that?”
“Hordann folk are human, like us. Your customs, attire, and your speech are all similar to what was on Earth centuries ago. You have adapted to Hordann, but you most certainly came from Earth originally. You said you have history here for over five thousand years. With the time differential between the two worlds, that would put your ancestors arriving here during the Crusades. Those wars took place in the Middle East, and that would explain why there is a hint of Arabian architecture here in this Hold. If the original—let’s say ‘Wizard’—was an Arab, he would have captured Europeans and dispatched them by throwing them into Rent, which somehow he had control over.”
“I think you hit your head on the ceiling too hard, Skadiver,” Dextmann said.
“I can’t disagree with you there.” Sam said. He had begun to get a little woozy, thinking he might be going in to a mild shock, between the wound in his thigh and the knot on his head. Genie sensed this.
“We need to get you somewhere more comfortable and get you patched up,” she commanded. “Let’s get him out of here. Is there a healer in this hold? Do we know?”
There was a large Crusader shield hanging on the wall, and the men took it down and got Sam onto it for the carry as Genie insisted. The only thing they could think of was to take him back outside, but Sam requested to be taken to the kitchen. He figured there would be a table there that he could be put upon, and there was likely to be some wine.
Hazgorn had informed the rest of the Company that there was some trouble inside, and by the time the wounded Sam had been carried down to the Great Hall, the rest of the group met them. There, from out of one of the passageways to the side, came Derrick. He was an average-sized man, who had been in charge of the Hold’s day-to-day functions. He immediately took charge of the details, ordering some off to the kitchen, others for furs, water, and to ask summon the healer amongst the Hold folk.
Derrick had been enslaved by Styric for years. In his higher position, he had not been dominated by Styric’s will so that he was free to make decisions that affected the Hold. He had understood the cost of betrayal or failure, so he simply did the job. All that aside, he had enjoyed his job. Now that Styric was gone, he was hoping for a more agreeable Lord.
In a short time, accommodations had been arranged and Sam was able to quaff some Gutsenberry wine, which he said had a familiar flavor that he had tasted in New Doranstea. But Kemann weaved magic on him, and as passed into sleep he thought he heard his dragon call. He dreamed of the wind on his face and the feel of riding Hazgorn through the clouds.
When he awoke, he was disoriented. He was not in the kitchen, but in a bed of furs. His bleary eyes could make out few details in the dim chamber, and something made him start. He gasped and sat up quickly, which was perhaps not the best move. His head began to throb at the same time his leg objected to the sudden jolt and sent him the message. Even so, he knew where he was.
Genie had been asleep by his side, and was now awake as well. “Good morning,” she said. “Or is it afternoon?”
“Why are we in Styric’s chambers?” Sam asked.
“Derrick said these were the Lord’s chambers. Styric is dead. He had an army of townsfolk clean it up a couple of days ago. Where else would the Lord of New Sky Hold stay?”
“New Sky Hold?”
“Well, we couldn’t keep calling it Styric Hold,” Genie smirked, “And who else would be Lord of New Sky Hold?”
“You said Hann left a couple of days ago? How long have I been out?”
“This is the third day.”
“And you are lucky to be alive.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Apparently, there was some kind of poison on that guard’s blade that got you. Kemann put you out, and the healer in town patched you up.”
“And had some kind of antidote?”
“No, not exactly. It was one of Styric’s potions. No cure.”
“So, how am I?” He could not explain it, but he suddenly had a sinking feeling. Hazgorn. What was it? Was Hazgorn okay? He looked in his mind’s eye, but there was nothing through Ringspeak. “Hazgorn,” he said, “I dreamed I was flying.”
“Hazgorn fell ill on the day you went out,” Genie began, “and the other dragons did some ritual thing around him. Relax; he is better now, and so are you.”
“What are you saying?”
“We think there was some connection between you two that somehow drew out or diluted the poison. Nobody knows, not even the dragons.” She paused to consider. “You must be starving.”
“I could eat,” Sam answered.
“Let’s call room service,” Genie suggested. She put her two fingers in her mouth and let out a loud whistle. The door opened immediately, and Dextmann’s concerned face looked in.
“He’s fine. And hungry.” Genie told him.
At this, the concerned face of the thief turned into a giant smile, and he closed the door while loudly proclaiming Sam’s status down the hall. Trays of food were arriving in minutes, delivered by town folk, who humbly set the table and tried to see their new Lord without looking like they were trying too hard to see their new Lord.
Sam and Genie took their time, and enjoyed a very nice meal of flieghenn and wine. Styric, apparently had a lot of food imported from New Doranstea after his forces had taken the city. Great quantities had been discovered in the cellars beneath the kitchen. They had not quite finished their meal when the impatience of their friends could no longer be quelled, and, one by one, they began to assemble in the chamber to talk. Several of them had the same idea and came with flagons. That suited Sam just fine.
Hannegelt, Kemann and Dannhelm had departed back to Gilden Hold the day after the battle, and they had sent no news. But it was just about the time when news could be getting back, since Gilden Hold was two days dragon-flight away. That left Derrick, Eric, Gensonn and Dextmann to figure out all of the mysteries of New Sky Hold. Diedra had also stayed behind at New Sky Hold, because Hannegelt did not want to have to worry about her being with them if they were to get into a battle. She was also, unofficially, the Company nurse. She had splinted Hannegelt’s arm well enough, and was still in charge of the wounded remaining at New Sky Hold.
The few of them chatted easily, not wishing to burden Sam with too much in his convalescence. One thing they all agreed on was to praise Sam’s choice of Derrick to take control of running the Hold, for he had been doing wonders already. Sam explained that Derrick had, more or less, chosen himself, but agreed to his value.
Once everyone was satisfied that the Skadiver was indeed getting back to normal, they took their leave to let him rest. That was good. Soon Genie and he were alone in their new chambers again, and she began to tease him by undressing slowly in the torchlight. Sam was a little concerned that he might not be able to ‘perform’ with his leg as it was, but she simply laid him back and took care of him. Slowly, gently, lovingly.