Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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Prologue

Lord Celbex stood well back from the battle lines, tense with excitement. “My mages,” he pointed them out to his advisor. “Look at them. I told you recruiting them was a good idea.”

Behind a shield wall, fully protected from the advancing orcs, his warrior mages were firing wall after wall of spells splitting the advancing ranks. One was ripping orcs apart with whirling blades sending grey-green blood spurting from mortal wounds; the other was concentrating fists of stone on the orcs pushing them back into their oncoming ranks, toppling two sets of orcs with one thrown spell.

Above the shouts of the front line protecting the mages, Celbex could hear Harrolen’s screams of glee as blood flew everywhere.

“That’s my man,” Celbex pointed again. “That one there.” He licked his lips listening to him. “He glories in their blood, in ripping them apart.”

“And married to that fair wench, the one big with child?” Nelin, his adviser was an older man, keen eyed and well tested in battle. Mages, he had advised his lord, could be dangerous and needed to be controlled. Harrolen loved his wife dearly. Control her, Nelin had told his lord, and he would be easily managed.

“We’ll tie him to us with her and the child when it’s born, he’s ours.” Celbex stood and cheered encouragement.

On the field, the other mage was grim as he mowed down row after row of orcs, keeping them from the line of men in from of him. They were there to keep the orcs from reaching him with axe and club; he wanted them safe. He could sidestep the boulders orcs threw when they were close enough but if they broke the line he was vulnerable and he knew it. He battered them, keeping them from the men protecting him. Blood from Harrolen’s kills splattered his mouth and he spat it out.

At the rich tent above the field, there was wine as lord and his advisor watched the battle, enjoying the flow of orc blood. A man came up behind them. “My lord?”

Lord Celbex stood and turned, giving the man a slight bow. It was always appropriate to be courteous to a Master of the K’ish. He was robed and hooded but they could see his pale face and watery eyes as he turned to watch the battle.

“Ah, Master, please take a seat and enjoy some wine.” The K’ish shook his head.

“How soon? The blood must be fresh from a wound.” The voice was old and dry.

“The mages I recruited should be finished with them shortly. As soon as the rest turn, you can have your choice from the ones on the field and men to guard you.” The K’ish nodded and stepped away into the shadows.

Nelin shuddered as the man faded away

“I don’t like it, m’lord. Consorting with K’ish. Is it advisable?” He kept his voice low.

His concern was waved away. “The potions he promised will amaze you.” He jumped up and pointed. “Look, they’re driving them from the field!”

Harrolen was screaming as his shield barrier pushed forward. He was drenched in the blood of orcs and the red blood of some of his own wounded protectors. He didn’t seem to care about either as he pushed them forward over the dead and dying on the field.

Near him, the other mage was pressing forward as well, stopping to give a final stroke to the mortally wounded on the field, but concentrating his strikes on the retreating orcs. His bolts of stone and thunder decimated the enemy but drew no blood.

“My lord? That other mage? How do we hold him? A wench he fancies? Gold?”

“They both came for gold. It’s a strong enough tie. And his friend, Harrolen ties him. They are Brothers of the same Great House, together for years and pledged, on their honor, to defend each other when they agreed to join us here. No, he’ll never break his oath or leave his honored Brother. We have them both.” His smile was covetous. He stood and cheered as he watched the retreating orcs fall and die under the onslaught of the mages. He barely noticed when the K’ish began to move among the dying to collect their blood, their tongues, their eyes, but his advisor, Nelin, turned away sickened by the sight.

“Let my mages come forward!” Lord Celbex commanded at the feast after the battle. The tents were bright with lanterns, full of music; servants with wine and food made sure that cups and plates were always full. Harrolen had been sitting with his wife, enjoying the night and the honors that were being given him but his friend was lounging with two lovelies, stroking the neck and half-exposed breast of one, kissing her then turning to take wine from a cup held to his lips by another woman. Both stood at their lord’s command.

“My good men, my fine men, my warrior mages,” Celbex extoled them as they came forward, one a bit unsteady with drink, Harrolen’s arm under his, to kneel before their lord.

“The gold that was promised!” Celbex held the pouches high to cheers and then handed one to each of his warrior mages. “More wine for everyone,” he called. There was more cheering.

“Now, a private word with you,” he turned motioning his mages to follow, taking them into a private tent where advisors waited. Celbex lounged on a soft chair and set his glass on a table.

“I have another task for you and more gold to follow.”

“As our lord wills,” Harrolen answered with a greedy smile, dragging his drunken friend into a bow.

“That gold I gave you so freely comes from the taxes I collect from my tenants. Fine people, most of them, good farmers and herders who live under my protection. Now that the orcs have been driven back, with your fine aid, they will enjoy more of that protection and more land.” He waved to Nelin who spread a map on the table.

“Not all my lord’s tenants have been so quick to pay their taxes. These small settlements here?” he pointed on the map. “Three houses in one, five in the other. My lord wishes to send a message to the rest of the small holders that taxes are to be paid when due.”

“Tomorrow,” Celbex smiled and leaned forward, “you will give them a lesson in obedience. A lesson that will have the rest…biddable? I could send soldiers out to punish them but they could defend against soldiers and a lesson from you will be so much stronger.” He held out his arms, “You with your spells of fire; I think fire would be best and lightning to strike them if they try to run from you? Yes, when they have been punished I think it will ensure that the rest understand their duty to their liege lord.” He leaned back, waiting.

“To our liege lord,” Harrolen held up his goblet, laughing greedily, nudging his friend.

“Our liege lord,” the man joined in the laughter, then downed his drink and swayed. “If my liege lord wills,” he gave a drunken bow, “I left a wench or two alone and I think they need tending.” He made a crude gesture and even Nelin laughed.

Celbex waved a hand and he stumbled out hearing more laughter behind him as the rest leaned over the map. He took the arm of a drunken wench, tugging on her clothes, kissing her roughly his hand on her breast. Then he pulled her out toward his own tent, shouting, “Celebrations for everyone.” Course laughter and nudges followed him.

In private, he urged the woman to drink again, and spoke a brief spell to rid himself of the effects of the wine. When she was soundly asleep, he lifted the rear of the tent and crept out into the night to warn the local farmers. That done, he fled to a port and used gold to buy passage on a ship that was sailing at dawn. Safely away he tried to forget Harrolen, occupying himself with learning what sailors had to teach, but in private he wept for his Brother.

When he finally returned to the Great House, he wrapped himself in new studies and buried the past and his Brother. It would be more than a decade before he thought about him again.

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