The Wedding Invitation
The Wedding Invitation
It was a relief to be flying for Sam and Genie. The air was clean and cool as it rushed by. The only sounds were of the rushing wind and the occasional banter between their steeds. They had not flown over these lands before, so to get such an overview of the countryside was good. At the beginning of the journey, after leaving the island, the mainland was very green and lush, being very jungle-like, with rather tall, rolling hills covered in unknown foliage. Every so often, they passed over a village and could see the inhabitants looking up at the sight of dragons overhead. They were too high, however, to see who the villagers were, but mostly they were Were-folk and Jawann barbarians.
The dragons liked to keep the shoreline in sight as they made their way around toward the north, and since they had not started out that day very early, they would have to put down at Jawa Point for their first night to camp. The sun was setting as they lighted on the beach and left their passengers to set up for the evening, while they flew off to find dinner in the waves.
It was just the three of them and Terry, and they had brought enough food for several days of travel, so all they needed to do was gather some firewood and lay down some bed rolls. Sam left the girls to set up the camp, and he went to the trees at the edge of the beach to gather some wood. It was nice to walk around and stretch his legs after straddling Hazgorn for many hours. He was enjoying the quiet of the setting, although he could still hear the waves gently finding the shore. As he bent down to pick up a branch, his cloak was pulled as an arrow pierced it and flew beyond. Sam got low and tried to figure out which direction the attack was coming from, and he was regretting taking off his helmet on the beach. He had retained his sword, however, as it would come in handy for fire wood gathering, but it wasn’t too much help against arrows. Another arrow came in just to the side of Sam’s head through the underbrush he was couching in. Sam got lower, and made his way to a nearby tree for cover. He peeked around it to try to spy anyone, but only saw another arrow as it landed in the tree trunk just above his head. It was a Raustorn arrow, which he knew from his encounters in Raustorn. That was curious though—a Raustorn arrow on the shores of Jawa.
After the death of Styric (and Gildenhanna and Dorsea), the marines had told the tale of the Raustorn Galley being taken by the Sea Monster off the Jawan Point. Sam was piecing the information together and making the assumption that there had been survivors from the Galley’s destruction, and they were now here. Terrific. And one of them was a decent shot with a bow. That was an incorrect assumption; there were two, who were good with the bow. Another arrow came in from a different direction and caught Sam right on the ‘X’ of his armor. It did not pierce the mail, but it felt like he had just been hit by a hammer in the chest. He gave out a yelp, and in an instant devised a plan. He grabbed the fallen arrow and held it up like it was stuck in his chest and laid down, peeking through squinting eyes, and holding his sword ready, but hidden under his sprawled right leg.
The deception worked and drew out the two Raustorn archers. They cautiously approached and came upon the fallen interloper from two directions. They had never seen armor like Sam’s and one bent down to touch the deep blue links of it. Sam immediately returned the archer’s arrow into the man’s neck and sprang up at the other with a flashing sword taking the bow hand of the second man. Blood spurted as the bow fell to the ground, and the man let out a howl that attracted the attention of Genie and Diedra. Before the man could even grasp his gushing stump, Sam had ended his misery with a lunge to land an upward strike into the man’s torso.
Quickly as he could, Sam sheathed his sword and took up one of the bows and both quivers of the two Raustorn archers and kept low once more. He could hear Genie calling for him as she ran towards his location. “Stay back!” Sam yelled at her, and she stopped obediently in her tracks, bow at the ready. He felt like an idiot when he glanced down at his ring; he could have called for aerial backup, which he did. He did not want to put Hazgorn into danger of getting hit by arrows, so he asked him to just see if there were any more ‘unfriendlies’ nearby. Sam could hear someone in the trees maybe fifty feet away, so he stayed put. He glimpsed through the canopy that Hazgorn was passing over, and he reported that there was someone in the trees about fifty feet from Sam and a small camp with several men a hundred yards or more inland, up the hill.
Sam peered through the brush to try to see the third man, but could not locate him. The man, however, located Sam and let loose another arrow in Sam’s direction. It narrowly missed Sam’s ear, and Sam ducked out of reflex and did not see the man grip his chest as Genie’s arrow found its mark. He toppled from his sniper’s perch and landed with a thud.
“So, there is a small camp of these guys up the hill, eh?” Sam thought to himself. It occurred to him that they probably didn’t know the ‘war’ was over. Maybe they had been marooned in the jungle here for over a week and were starving to death. Or maybe they were just bad guys. The chances are if he were to approach that camp, they would try to kill him. They had just tried and with no attempt to parlay.
Apparently, Sam’s thoughts carried through to Hazgorn, and the dragon simply swooped down on the enemy camp and incinerated it, killing all there. Okay, problem solved.
Sam came out from cover and met with Genie, thanking her for coming to his aid. She was naturally happy he was okay, and just asked that he return her arrow when he came back with the firewood. He was amazed by her. The way she had adapted to this new world, her fierce defending of him at so many turns since their quest had begun and her calmness were all something of a wonder. But how, he could not help but also wonder, looking at the slain man, as he drew out her arrow from the corpse, how had they come to be such casual killers? The thought of killing anyone had never really crossed their minds before this mis-adventure, and now…she just wanted her arrow back. Survival is a harsh teacher. Sam kept the Raustorn bow and took also from one of the bodies a fancy knife the man had carried. He slipped it into his boot before continuing with the chore of gathering wood.
The next morning, the small group got an early start and quietly winged their way northward. There is a lot of time, when one rides a dragon over a long distance, to think. Sam could not help but wonder how Dextmann and Gensonn were getting on in their task.
And at that moment, the thief was looking at the flashlight that Sam had loaned him. He had been warned that the batteries would only last so long, and that he should use the light sparingly. As the first door closed behind them, leaving them in darkness, Dextmann was really hoping that he would have no problem. Sam had given him his little lighter as well, so that he could ignite conventional torches if the flashlight failed. The thinking was that the flashlight would not call any attention to the two raiders, but the torches might be ‘smelled’ or otherwise detected by the ant-lizard creatures. Their best chance of success was to get in and out without having to confront those monsters.
Gensonn switched on the headlamp that Genie had loaned him, so Dextmann did not waste the power on the second light yet. Quietly, they padded on downward into the mountain carrying the long ladder-like structure they had made. They remembered the hole in the floor of the treasure cavern, and knew they needed a way to bridge it, so, from saplings cut from where they had spent the night at the site of their previous encampment, they fashioned this structure.
The bodies of the fallen ant-lizards were no longer blocking the passage, so their friends must have hauled them away somewhere. At any rate, their progress was going smoothly. They had made it through the first large cavern and over the stream, through the second door and were headed for the lower labyrinth without any sign of the locals.
Dextmann remembered in great detail each turn along the way down—part of a thief’s talent. He was happy to be getting to the last door, which would lead to the ‘treasure chamber’. He was not happy to see that the door had since been blocked with none other than the body parts of the ant-lizards that the Company had dispatched on their first foray into the mountain.
There were no live monsters around, so the two men began to move the pieces as quietly as they could. The legs were manageable, but the thoraxes were too heavy for them. They found though, that if they used leg parts as levers, they could move the large parts one end at a time, although not quite silently. There was a sickening sound of exoskeleton scraping over rock. They could only hope that the creatures were in the lower levels and that the noise would not be heard.
It was a relief when they had cleared the way enough to get into the chamber and still be alone. They wasted no time in getting through, standing on the narrow ledge before the deep pool of water. Dextmann was happy to see that the ‘bridge’ structure he had designed and built was just long enough to make it over the gap to the opposite side. One at a time, they carefully crossed it to the safety of the sandy floor of the cavernous room.
There, as before, was the large chest at the far end of the room. Dextmann had briefed Gensonn about the traps during the dragon flight up to the Sanguin Mountains, so there was no need for extraneous talking. They safely retrieved the bundles that they had sought and packed them into shoulder slings for carrying them not only out, but also for carrying them on the flight to Olden. Three of the bundles were obviously leather-bound journals of some antiquity, but the fourth bundle was not; it was hard and heavy. Upon a quick unwrapping and examination, they found it to be some kind of ancient dagger of substance. Into the sack it went, and they silently made their way to the exit.
Dextmann went first, since he had the amulet/key to open the door. He inserted it, and the door opened as Gensonn had begun to cross the homemade bridge. That lashed-together piece of engineering was adequate for their initial crossing, but now they were more heavily laden. Gensonn stepped just right on one of the ‘rungs’ and it gave way. His leg splashed into the dark water and the sound echoed through the cavern while the light of his headlamp reflected off of the disturbed water and danced around on the walls. The two men looked at each other and held their breaths. Slowly, Gensonn pulled himself up and got to the open door.
Still, all was quiet, and the two raiders moved as quickly as they could upward through the curving passage. They made it up the ladder and into the stream cavern. This was where things had gone bad last time. The stone door closed behind them as they stood still, listening, and the dull grinding of the stone moving over stone was unnerving. Then all was quiet again, apart from the faint trickling of the slow-moving stream. Dextmann figured that they could make it back into the sunlight in a matter of minutes if they were not hindered in some way.
Satisfied that there were no denizens close by, they jumped over the stream and began to make their way across the sandy floor, tracing their foot prints coming from the other direction. That was when Gensonn saw the other tracks. Ant-lizard tracks. The beasts had encountered the men’s footprints and followed them for a dozen yards or so before breaking off the tracking. There was a larger number of their prints, apparently circling and then going separate ways. It was logical to assume that their presence in the mountain had not gone entirely unnoticed.
The only thing to do was to quicken the pace, and they did, noticing that one of the beasts had followed their prints towards the exit. There was still one more door before the final passageway, and unless the ant-lizards had a magic amulet, there were only two possibilities in this immediate circumstance. The first is that it could have tracked them until it could go no further, and the other, that it was still at the door, waiting. As the men moved closer to the door, Sam’s flashlight revealed the answer.
The beast reacted to the light with a clicking squawk and charged. Dextmann drew his sword and went straight at the legs. He was able to dismember one foreleg on his first pass, but missed the hind leg when he swung around. Gensonn simply moved out of the path. The injured monster was still agile enough to turn and sweep Dextmann’s feet out from under him and bear down on him with his awful mandibles. A quick thrust upward lodged the sword in the mouth of the ant-lizard, but did not kill it.
Suddenly, its head went straight up, with its body following until it flipped over and convulsed in the most hideous way, clicking and screaming. Dextmann looked up to see Gensonn pulling the ancient dagger out of the upper joint of the thorax of the creature.
“That was unexpected,” Gensonn said, looking at the dagger, which had got warm in his hand. He was not sure what had just happened. Yes, the beast had been killed, but Gensonn felt something else.
Dextmann recovered himself enough to pull his sword from the gory jaws. “Thank you, Priest. We should get out before his cries cause the others to gather.”
“At your service,” answered Gensonn, blowing on his hot palm.
“Aye, and I at yours.”
After clearing the chamber’s door, they began an enthusiastic sprint upward for the last door that would release them to the daylight at last. Again, they could see their own footprints in the dust had been trampled by more of those creatures. At a sharp noise behind them, they paused to listen. Their pause, was all too short, for what they heard was the scraping of many large legs making their way upward in pursuit.
Their timing was better on this second foray into this same mountain than it had been on the first. This time, they made it to the last door before being caught. Dextmann employed the amulet one last time and the door opened. The men gave a huge sigh of relief to feel the warmth of the light on their skin.
All at once, Gensonn pushed Dextmann hard off to the side, and he himself leapt far in the opposite direction as one of the ant-lizards had emerged from the entrance before the door had closed. A second one was half-way out when the door shut on it and it screamed under the pressure of getting pinched in half.
The first beast, however, was still whole, and he was angry. Gensonn swung out on the old chain to escape the attack, but Dextmann was cornered. He pulled his sword and was prepared to defend himself when a huge ball of flame engulfed the ant-lizard, who squawked and convulsed in the flames right over the edge and almost landed on the Xeltic Apprentice.
Dextmann got up and looked down at the scene to see his friend and the two dragons standing near to the roasting beast.
“I heartily thank you, my friends,” he said, as he swung over to descend the chain.
The dragons were sniffing the smoldering ant-lizard, and one of them broke off a leg, cracked it open and ate the contents. “Well, it’s not shark,” he said, “but it’s not bad.”
Dragons do need to eat on these long trips, and this was the first thing that they had found to eat of any substance since their departure from New Sky Hold. They were still nearly half a day’s flight from Olden, and they decided to eat and rest for the evening. That would give Gensonn some time to look over the journals that they had recovered. The dragons looked at the dagger, which they were shown in the course of telling the story, and they could sense that it was full of ancient magic. Perhaps, they would learn more about it from the texts with which it had been hidden.
From the great height, Hazgorn could see the evidence of the dragon fire on the field in front of Gilden Hold. There had obviously been some resistance when the Company had returned, but, seeing the Flight of dragons leisurely sunning beside the Hold, it was deduced that it would be safe to put down. Their approach had not gone unnoticed by their friends, and the previously lounging shapes were suddenly leaping into the air to greet them. The whole affair was actually quite elegant; there was bugling and circling, and one could really see the bonds of friendship as something almost tangible.
The aerial greetings went on for several minutes, and by the time they all lighted down upon the field before the Hold, the gates were open, and many Holdfolk had begun to emerge with greetings of their own. Among them, Hannegelt and Kemann.
Diedra began to cry tears of joy at seeing Hann, and Terry flew down and landed on Kemann, which was uncharacteristic of him, but still fun to witness. Sam and Genie slid down off the necks of their friends and thanked them kindly, bowing before turning to greet the Holdfolk. They didn’t get a chance to greet Hannegelt before the Princess Diedra was on him with a huge kiss that she seemed unwilling to end. His arm was still in a sling, so he could not defend himself (not that he wanted to, particularly), but at last he was able to reclaim his lips enough to greet the Skadivers and welcome them.
Sam had been waiting to greet him using the new title of Lord of Gilden Hold. He and Genie bowed before him. “Lord Hannegelt of Gilden Hold,” Sam said loudly so the Holdfolk could hear, “We are at your service.”
“Lord Samuel, and Lady Genevieve,” Hannegelt answered, “Skadivers both, and Lord and Lady of New Sky Hold, we welcome you, and indeed, we are at yours!”
There was a cheer from the crowd, which had grown in the few short moments before the walls. The Holdfolk parted to allow them all to pass in to the Hold and bowed low as the brief procession went by.
Tales had been told and histories written in the days after the Company had liberated the Hold and begun to restore it to its former glory. The Holdfolk already knew very well of the contributions the Skadivers had made toward the liberation of all of Hordann and the end of the tyranny of Styric. In the Company of their own Lord and his Wizard, there were no greater heroes in known history.
So, naturally, the announcement of the upcoming nuptials was received with great gladness. The invitation extended to the Company to attend the wedding in New Sky Hold was accepted by all, but Hannegelt and Diedra said that they would only be there if the Skadivers would agree to return to Gilden Hold for their own wedding.
This was also news to the folk of Gilden Hold, and they could not have been happier. It was traditional at this Hold that a wedding could only occur after two months of ritual activities. So, in a way the date was set. Sam and Genie’s wedding would wait a couple of weeks to allow enough time for Hannegelt’s arm to heal and to allow time to get to Olden and discuss the journals before going back to New Sky Hold.
With so much to celebrate, evening was rife with festivities. All was right with the world, or so it would seem. In the morning, Sam and Genie collected all of their gear, which they had brought from Earth but had not taken on the quest. They were given some more provisions for the next leg of their journey, and shortly after the morning meal, the two Skadivers and their dragons were aloft again. Hazgorn and Vyrna didn’t care much for the addition of a harness for carrying the extra gear, but they did not complain too much. It was their equivalent to ‘helping friends move’.