The next morning as the twin yellow suns rose over the horizon forcing a dark purple sky to retreat across Shrkai city and the surrounding desert, a tall galley with a dark green sail was docking at the port on the wide river west of the city. The sail was decorated with the symbol of the Schilling family that had been in the shipping business and also the defense forces of Annuvin for generations. The wind puffed out the square sail with a broad amber stripe angled from top left to bottom right across a green background with a powerful black workhorse with three short horns on the top of its head in a triangular pattern stood on all four legs prominent in the center of the sail and a simple clay amphora set against the green field top right of the broad amber stripe and crossed swords on the lower left. The merchant sailors released the rigging lines and ceremoniously lowered the ship’s brilliant sail, as Otis sat on top of his bull rooghon waited for the gangplank to be lowered.
“Heyah!” the brawny half-dwarf hollered, as he rode his beastly rooghon down the gangplank and off the ship. With his bushy eyebrows with the outer edge of both hooking under his eyes set deep in his bony brow and distinctive black birthmark on his cheek, Otis was the most recognized warrior throughout Annuvin and even here in Shrkai lands. Fabled for his valiant deeds and unrivaled mastery of arms despite his moon-dwarf heritage, Otis was the one man respected perhaps even more in the Shrkai lands who placed such achievements on high honor, than he was in the northern territory of the Annuvian people. With his famed halberd strapped across his back, Otis nudged his bull rooghon and its deadly sharp horns through the crowd of Annuvian stevedores who quickly stepped aside and momentarily halted their work to gaze upon the stalwart hero.
As Otis guided his beast through the wooden buildings around the docks many of the Annuvian workers of varied northern heritage, mostly human, but many dagnaar, elf, and even a few hardy chelonians, were sure to hail him, as they knew he must be coming to do something to free Millorny, but the Shrkai soldiers whose numbers at the docks had increased considerably had a much different reaction. They also knew why he was likely here, but they knew it was their duty to try to stop him. They gathered around him, as he moved along the main path that led toward the exit of the dock area and out across the desert toward the market and the city beyond that. When Otis reached the edge of the dock area the Shrkai soldiers were there to greet him in a defensive formation. There were three mounted Shrkai with bows and polearms spread out in a semi-circle pattern, one to his left one to his right and one directly before him. Behind them was about a dozen or more infantry soldiers also with polearms and several archers behind them. The soldiers who had been following him through the dock area also formed ranks behind him and more were moving up from a camp behind the formation.
Otis halted his rooghon and dismounted casually. He patted his beast on its shank to calm it down, then moved a few feet to the right of it.
“I’m not here for a battle. I’m here to see my friend,” Otis commented in a calm reassuring voice.
“We have orders not to let anyone pass,” one of the soldiers stepped forward to answer him. As Otis stood before the ranks of Shrkai soldiers many of the Annuvian workers from the docks grabbed crossbows, swords and shields and moved up the road toward the area. Otis lowered an eyebrow and looked at the growing number of Shrkai soldiers gathering before him. He looked behind him and saw Shrkai soldiers behind him and the Annuvian workers of the northern regions taking up positions behind them. Otis removed his halberd from his back and looked directly at the soldier who spoke to him.
“You either let me pass, or we all die here today.” Otis slid his polearm out in his right hand until it was fully extended in a very aggressive offensive stance. Most of the Shrkai soldiers gathered had seen Otis in many peaceful demonstrations of weapon mastery at tournaments in the city before. He was often the featured presenter before the tournaments and he had displayed this type of stance before with leather padding mounted on the sharp edges of his weapon he had shown how he could take out some of the best Shrkai soldiers by aggressively spinning his weapon around him in a 360 degree pattern, but this time there was no padding on his weapon and they knew he meant to kill or maim as many of them as he could.
The twin yellow suns continued to rise behind the formation of Shrkai soldiers, as a deep quiet stillness settled over the forces gathered at the edge of the docks. The Shrkai had about twice the numbers of soldiers, and they were highly trained. The dock workers themselves would stand no chance against such odds, but they had Otis. After a long quiet moment where all eyes were on Otis waiting to see if he would make the first move, but he stood still only turning his head a little to keep an eye on the soldiers around him. His rooghon which was covered in shingled leather armor with attached metal plates crouched a bit in a position to charge forward.
Otis turned his head sharp before him, as the formation of soldiers parted to let a higher ranking soldier step through, armed only with a short-sword sheathed at his side. With a turn to his right and then to his left, the commander gestured for his men to lower their weapons.
“The prisoner is allowed an advocate,” the commander began to speak. “Do I have your assurance that you are here in that capacity?”
Otis stared at the man and thought long and hard about his answer.
“Yes,” he said as he returned his weapon to behind his back. “but if after talking to him and learning the circumstances behind his arrest I find anything I don’t like, that will change.” Otis re-mounted his rooghon, as the commander stepped aside and ordered his men to break ranks. The dock workers relaxed their stance and cheered, as Otis kicked the side of his beast and charged forward through the soldiers, as they scrambled to make a path for him to go through.
As Otis trudged eastward from the docks across the desert toward the rising suns, Trajev stepped out onto a wide stone balcony to view the rising suns. The suns have always been an integral part of a priest’s training and many priests start their day meditating at sunsrise. One main difference between a mainland Shrkai Grand Chancellor and a tribal leader like Ralomar and even Patrah both of the Dragon Clan is that the successor is always chosen from within the ranks of the priests. While Trajev’s duties were now much more administrative in nature he was very much still expected to continue in spiritual guidance and to be the spiritual leader of the community as well. As he looked out across the desert to the east to witness the suns rise over the tall mesas, he couldn’t help but notice their appearance. As the seasons have started to change the blue sun should be hidden behind the twin yellow suns, which it certainly was, the blue sun was nowhere to be seen, but the twin yellow suns appeared a bit unusual. Their normally perfectly round shape with a separate glow from each of them seemed quite different, they appeared much closer to each other and their roundness was distorted, whereas the end that was nearest the other twin sun was more elongated and egg-shaped than ever seen before. Trajev went to sit on the pile of pillows set on the balcony deck, and study the suns. He knew that the temperature should be cooling down by this time of the year, although it certainly wasn’t unusual to have a warm transition of the seasons, he couldn’t help but feel that the heat was actually rising a bit from day to day.
Otis trotted his rooghon into the city limits with the few people who were out in the heat turning to look his way. The adobe-styled homes spread out along the hillsides on both sides of the wide hard-packed road Otis trotted his rooghon across headed for the same council building where the fate of the dragons was debated just a few short weeks ago. Patrah stepped past the two guards stationed at the descending steps to the underground portion of the three-story mud building leaning as usual on his walking staff. The guards changed their posture and took an aggressive stance the moment they saw Otis trotting up to them.
“Relax,” Patrah spoke in a soothing manner. “He was sent for as an advocate for the defendant.” Patrah stood poised a few paces ahead of the guards near the entranceway, as Otis halted his rooghon and sent a cloud of dust toward Patrah and the guards. “Thank you for coming so quickly.” Patrah said to Otis and started walking to the east away from the council building. Otis dismounted and walked beside him holding the reins to his armored beast that trailed behind them swishing its long spiked tail.
The two walked together along a narrower path which led a bit away from the main part of the city. The tall mesa with the academy built on it was ahead of them in the foreground, but the path veered through the desert amongst short hardy shrubs and tiny reptiles that scurried ahead of them or rested beneath the shade of a bush with their mouths open. Otis stood quite a bit shorter but much more solid and was sure to match the walking pace of the slower and less agile retired sovereign of the Dragon Clan. A short distance later with the suns rising in the sky heating the mid-morning air of the desert city Patrah started to speak. “The situation has become quite dire.” Otis listened to the elder Shrkai with his head hung a bit. “I am officially trying to stay neutral, but I have sent for you to do whatever you must do to save him.” They continued to walk steadily along the path headed just south of the rising suns and behind the hills with residential units built into it facing the center of the city . “The dragon clan has become quite entrenched in politics here and my son Ralomar wields greater influence than I would have expected. I still have the ear of many members on the council, but the planted evidence is overwhelming. Now that you’ve arrived, their attention will be on you and we can be free to conduct an investigation of our own.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to be as robust as your reputation builds you to be, if not more. I want all concerned eyes on you.”
“You brought me down here to be a distraction?” Otis asked with more than a little showing of dejection in his voice.
“I can do that,” he responded with more enthusiasm.
“I have a way planned to keep in contact with you without detection. If our plans require something more aggressive, I’ll need you to be ready.”
“Oh I’ll be ready.” Otis answered with a broad grin on his face, as they approached a small building built into a short jagged mesa.
Inside the building Millaney rose up from her cot. She sat with her face in her hands and a plate of untouched food sitting on a small table nearby. The thick-moist air inside the small chamber dampened her otherwise curly blonde hair into strands of clumped dangling hair that she neglected her usual methodic brushing despite the brush sitting just a few feet away on the table near her food. Her father will soon be executed for a murder he did not commit. She was being held simply as a precaution to keep her from interfering with the eventual verdict. After a moment, she lifted her head from her hands. She tilted her ear towards the door. She could hear steps coming up the nearby stairwell, but not only steps, she heard the soft click of a staff striking the stone. She got up from her bed and walked to the small window of her cell door, just as the doorway to the stairwell was opened and Patrah stepped in.
She was about to call out to him, when he raised his hand looking her in the eye. She seemed confused by his gesture that apparently was to keep her silent, then she saw Otis step out behind him and wanted to call out to him with all the air in her lungs, but held her voice. Patrah and Otis stepped up to the cell across from hers where two guards stood. Otis stood staring the guards in the eye, but the soldiers did not twitch a muscle.
“This visit is sanctioned by the council; the prisoner is allowed an advocate.” Patrah directed, but still the guards didn’t move.
“Your weapons sir,” one of the guards recited without looking away from a fixed point across the room.
“You just try and take them,” Otis responded with a growl in his voice. The soldiers finally broke their gaze and twitched a bit looking at the burly half-dwarf standing before them.
“No weapons will be passed to the prisoner. I take full responsibility.” Patrah added before anyone could react.
The guards looked to each other, then after a short moment unlocked the cell door and stepped aside so that Patrah and Otis both could enter. Millorny lay on his cot with his empty plate of food sitting on the table nearby.
“Otis,” he spoke in a strong but still a bit raspy voice. “I’m glad I finished my breakfast knowing your appetite.” He laughed and pulled his legs over the side of the cot. “Come sit down. I’m thankful for the visit.” Patrah leaned his staff on the wall and sat in the one chair in the room. Patrah and Otis exchanged a glance and mild shake of the head with a half a smile that they couldn’t keep from sharing at Millorny’s jovial attitude toward his predicament.
“You do know what’s happening don’t you?” Otis asked of him, as he moved a bit further into the room.
“Ahh I’m sure something can be worked out,” Millorny chimed, as he ran his hands over the growing beard on his face. “I could use a shave though. You have steady hands Otis, see if you can get me some soap and water and scratch this itchy hair off my face for me.” Otis just raised his bushy eyebrows and looked again to Patrah.
“I think maybe he’s still under the effects of that potion the high priest gave him.” Patrah responded.
“let’s not talk about that, although it was some really good stuff.” Millorny reveled, as he lay back again on his cot.
“You don’t remember anything about what happened in the priest’s chamber?” Otis asked of him.
“Oh so you’ve been filled in? No I can’t remember anything other than the room spinning and the priest dropping his fittings, that was funny.” Millorny chuckled, as he recalled the priest.
“You must remember something beyond that. Was there anyone else in the room?” Otis continued to inquire.
“No Patrah asked me that too. Everything was a blur after he hooked me up to those wires, but don’t worry everything will be fine. I always manage to find my way through situations like this. I’m sure I will again. Now come on tell me you brought a deck of cards.” Millorny flung his legs back to the side of the cot and rubbed his hands together. Otis shrugged his shoulders and again looked at Patrah.
“You might as well oblige him. We’ll get no more out of him.” Patrah responded and Otis reached into a pocket in his tunic, then sat on the floor in front of Millorny’s cot.
Millaney watched and listened near the small opening in her cell door. She smiled, as she could hear her father’s laughter and occasionally argue over the rules of the card games the three of them played. She turned and walked over to sit on her chair and eat her breakfast, as the voices filtered across the room. She felt more content than she had previously in her seclusion and even ran a brush through her tangled hair. After only a short time, Patrah stood and stretched his back.
“I really must be going,” he started to say and looked to Otis who stood up as well and started to collect his cards, but then decided to leave them for Millorny to use. Otis watched, as Millorny picked up the playing cards and piled them together on the table. Although he was his commander, Millorny was really his closest friend. He had known him for years and although their lifestyles had clashed as Otis although quite younger had matured differently. Unlike Millorny, he had slowed his ‘wild ways’ and started a family. Millorny had not changed to any noticeable degree even after he recently found out he was Millaney’s father. When back in Annuvin he still very much enjoyed the frequency of taverns and the crowds within.
“Alright you two come back whenever you feel the need to give me some more of your money, I’ll be waiting,” Millorny stood to shake hands with them both, only to be pulled in for a bear-hug by Otis’s strong arms. “oomph easy on the sore muscles.” Patrah knocked on the door and one of the guards came over to open it and let them out.
In her cell Millaney heard the key in the lock of the other dell door and jumped to her feet. She pressed her face against the small opening in the door and Patrah looked her way and nodded.
“Otis!” she cried out of the opening. Otis turned to see her near tearful face looking through the opening and reaching out her open palm toward him, as he stepped out and the guard closed the door to Millorny’s cell. With fire in his eyes and flared nostrils, Otis charged over to her cell door.
“Why wasn’t I told of this!” he demanded of Patrah who lingered behind a short distance.
“I wanted you to see Millorny first and with an even keel,” Patrah replied.
“Open this door!” Otis commanded of the two soldiers, who were hesitant to move. “OPEN IT NOW! Or I’ll tear it down!” The guard with the keys fumbled a bit to find the right key, then charged over to open the door and was sure to keep clear from Otis and stay behind the now open door, as Millaney ran out and threw her arms around Otis melting his temperament instantly. “Why would they lock you up? You’re just a child.”
“They want to keep me from interfering,” she responded while still embracing the stout half-dwarf around his shoulders who was really about the same height as her.
“Tell me the truth,” he said, as he gently broke off the embrace, so he could look her in the eyes.
“Well… I sort of threatened Ralomar when he showed. I know he’s behind this. Father would never kill anyone much less the high priest who was helping him.”
“Grab your things, you’re coming with me.”
“Oh thank you! I knew you’d help.” Millaney threw her arms around Otis again kissed him on the cheek then turned to go back into the cell to grab her things. Otis was sure to step in front of the heavy wooden door so that the guard couldn’t close it behind her.
“You can’t just take her with you,” the guard holding the door pleaded.
“It’s not unprecedented,” Patrah interjected. “He is a dignitary and a soldier. The court could be petitioned to put her in his care.”
“But we would need approval first,” the guard continued to plead, as he held the door and Millaney stepped out with her items in a small leather satchel.
“Do you swear to follow my every instruction while in my care?” Otis asked of her in a stern way to be sure she knew he was serious.
“Yes… You’re every word,” she responded with a huge smile on her face and her shoulders straight as she could.
“Get your approval!” Otis said to the guard as he turned to leave with Millaney in step behind him. “I won’t be hard to find.”
Millaney hesitated, as they walked toward the exit door. She looked to her father’s cell door and could see him standing near the door smiling through the opening. She darted over to reach in and touch his face. She pulled him as close to the door as possible, so that she could kiss him on the cheek.
“Everything will be alright,” she whispered with a distinct sincerity in her voice actually believing her words. It’s easy to see the light on a bright day, but when you’re in the dark, you have to make a point to search for it. She smiled and turned to follow Otis with a newfound spring in her step.
Outside the small building that housed the prisoners the suns neared their peak over the thirsty city. With cracked soil for them to tread upon, Otis and Millaney walked on either side of the rooghon while Patrah sat in the saddle. The beast’s hooves busted up the dry soil spreading a cloud of dust all around it, as they delivered Patrah to some housing in the hills then headed for the market.