Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chapter Five


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 33,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In Farchrist Year twenty-five, the son of the Peasant King founded the Knights of Farchrist. The King dubbed his son a Knight, and Sir Gregorovich Farchrist II began to teach three other young men the knightly virtues he had mastered. First and foremost, essential to the knightly way of life, was an undying faith in Grecolus, the creator of the universe and most holy god. One of the three young men—called Squires—was found to own a small magic book that contained pictures that moved as if they were alive. It was called a grave sacrilege and he was expelled from the Order immediately.

+ + +

The small party left Queensburg early the next morning. They were dressed and ready for battle. Shortwhiskers wore his chainmail under his dwarven cloak. In his left hand was a small unadorned shield and his right hand firmly gripped his belt, from which hung his jeweled-scabbarded sword. He wore his broad-brimmed hat and led his pack mule laden with supplied and spare weapons. Brisbane was garbed simply in his studded leather jerkin, tan pants, and boots. He walked with his blonde hair untethered and it fell loose past his shoulders. He held a short sword that the dwarf had lent him. Roystnof was, as always, dressed in red and black, his attire changing little for combat. He needed no blade to kill an opponent and no armor to protect himself.

They followed the shoreline of the Darkmarine until they reached the Mystic River. There, they turned southward and into the Windcrest Hills. The August sun was hot and soon the march became tiring and tedious. To pass the time they made conversation among themselves, but all seemed to avoid the topic of what lay ahead for them and for Ignatius Roundtower.

“What did Stargazer mean about your ribs?” Brisbane asked the dwarf at one point, referring to the night before.

Shortwhiskers grunted. “I took a nasty fall once and broke a few of them. She patched me up.”

Brisbane nodded. “Have you known her long?”

Shortwhiskers paused before he answered. “Yes.”

“How did you meet?”

“Listen, Gil,” Shortwhiskers said. “The tale of Allison Stargazer and myself ties in with the tale of your forefathers that I promised to tell you. I can begin that tale today if you like.”

Brisbane nodded. “I wish you would.”

The dwarf looked at Roystnof who was walking on the other side of him. The wizard nodded his head once as if granting permission. Shortwhiskers then turned back to Brisbane.

“It is a long tale, Gil,” he said. “And parts of it are painful for me to tell. I will begin today and stop when I choose, and I do not want to hear you begging me for more. You will hear it all, but only when I am ready to tell it. Agreed?”

“I think I can discipline myself,” Brisbane said.

“Very well then,” Shortwhiskers said. “Your grandfather, Gildegarde Brisbane, became a Knight of Farchrist in what you would call Farchrist Year fifty-four. He was the first of the Risers, select boys taken from the lower classes and trained to be a Knight from youth.”

That reminded Brisbane of his own boyhood. Had his father remained a Knight and lawfully married his mother before his conception—but no, wait a minute, his mother was of the lower class and Knights were in the upper class, whether they started as Risers or not. Their union was and would be forbidden regardless. Brisbane had often found this restriction silly, but it seemed that social standing was more important to members of the upper class.

“I know little of your grandfather’s history before this time,” Shortwhiskers said. “He was born and raised in Raveltown, and was chosen as a Riser because of his service to the temple of Grecolus. He was a bit of a prodigy student there, and the priests looked favorably upon him. He served his squireship under Gregorovich the Second, the then heir to the Farchrist throne and the traditional Captain of the Knights.”

Brisbane understood this. Since the conception of the Knights of Farchrist, it had always been the heir to the throne who acted as Captain, leader of the Knights. His knighthood was usually granted at birth, but still had to serve a token squireship at the proper age. At the current time, Gregorovich IV sat on the throne and his son, Gregorovich V, was Captain of the Knights.

The dwarf continued. “Now, although the Knights formally consider themselves a happy brotherhood, there were and still are personal conflicts and rivalries among them. Throughout his squireship and knighthood, your grandfather carried on a rivalry with Gregorovich the Third. They competed with one another in all their duties, but unlike some others in the Order, their competition was born out of the purest friendship and love between the two men. They felt that constantly challenging each other only increased their skill and bettered their values. When the Peasant King died in Farchrist Year fifty-eight, Gregorovich the Second became King and it was Gregorovich the Third’s turn to assume the position of Captain. His first official act in that office was to name Brisbane his second-in-command, Commander of the Knights of Farchrist.”

Brisbane knew that his grandfather had held this rank, but he did not know of his close friendship with the then heir to the throne. It explained much of how his grandfather could rise from a small peasant boy to perhaps the most famous Knight of the realm.

“It was at this time,” Shortwhiskers said, “that I entered the picture. The Kingdom of Farchrist began formal relations with the dwarven nation to which my clan belonged in the mountains not far from the plateau on which Farchrist Castle stood. I was chosen as an ambassador of my people and journeyed to the castle to meet with the King and his court. The reception my aides and I received was gracious, and we began to discuss what our people could do for each other. We spoke of trading goods—our metals for their agriculture, for example—and mostly of things my clan had anticipated and were ready to comply with. But the King surprised us with one request for which we were completely unprepared.”

Brisbane took a moment to look at Roystnof. The wizard seemed to be staring off into the distance at nothing in particular. Brisbane returned his attention to the dwarf.

“You see,” Shortwhiskers said, “Gregorovich the Second grew up in the aftermath of Dalanmire’s attack in Farchrist Year four. His young and impressionable eyes had seen the years of feeble harvests that the dragon-burned fields produced. He had seen the rubble-filled streets of Raveltown and the slow rebuilding done by the over-worked peasants. He had seen the poverty, hunger, disease, and despair that followed Dalanmire’s attack. But most of all, he had seen how the dragon tax took a gigantic bite out of what little his people managed to collect from year to year. He had made an oath to himself at a very young age; an oath that, when he had the power to do so, he would see the evil lizard who had cause so much pain skinned alive.”

Brisbane looked again at Roystnof. He was still staring off into the distance.

“The King wanted the dwarves,” Shortwhiskers continued in a quiet voice, “to guide an armed party through the Crimson Mountains and across the Desert of Despair to Dragon’s Peak, where the party would destroy Dalanmire.”

“Nog,” Roystnof interrupted, pointing into the distance. “Look. Atop that hill at ten o’clock.”

Shortwhiskers and Brisbane looked in the direction Roystnof had indicated. Brisbane saw two fuzzy figures standing atop a hill ahead of them. He could make out no finer details.”

“Ogres,” Shortwhiskers said. “And we’re upwind of them. If we can see them…”

“…they can smell us,” Roystnof finished for him.

Roystnof put down his pack and his staff. He brought out his red book and began flipping through it. Shortwhiskers drew his sword and tightened his grip on his shield. Brisbane looked off into the distance and saw the two figures quickly descend the hill in their direction.

“What’ll we do?” Brisbane said.

“Stay put,” Shortwhiskers said.

“What?!” Brisbane realized he was more than a little scared.

“Gil,” Roystnof said. “We cannot escape them. This is their country and they are much better at chasing than we are at running. We will stand atop this hill and wait for them to arrive. They will tire themselves running to us and, when they are within range, I will let one of them have it. The other I trust to Nog’s skill with his blade.”

Brisbane looked at Shortwhiskers.

“No problem,” the dwarf said.

“You just stay behind us,” Roystnof told Brisbane. “Now don't interrupt. I have to prepare this spell.”

Brisbane took his place behind his companions like a frustrated child. He stared out over the dwarf’s head and saw the approaching ogres top a nearer hill and rush down its other side. Now he could see that they were big creatures, much taller than he and burly as well. Dressed in tattered skins and furs, they were covered in yellowish-brown hair. Roystnof had put his book down and now had his eyes closed and was mumbling to himself. The dwarf was standing still.

“Don’t you have a crossbow or something?” Brisbane asked Shortwhiskers.

“No,” he said curtly.

The ogres were closing the distance rapidly. They crested the hill directly adjacent to the one Brisbane stood upon. Their hair covered their heads and backs while their chests were bare with dull yellow warty bumps covering them. Each carried a massive wooden club in its hand and their features were twisted and grotesque.

Suddenly, Roystnof flipped open his eyes and threw his arms into the air. Red lightning crackled out of his fingertips, shooting through the warm air and striking one of the ogres in the center of its warty chest. There, the lightning exploded with a flash that knocked the ogre off its feet. When the smoke cleared, one ogre stood over the crumpled form of its comrade. The remaining ogre let out a roar and rushed its attackers.

It seemed like the ogre was upon them in an instant. It charged at the dwarf with ferocity, and Brisbane saw just how large the creature actually was. It made him look like a child and Shortwhiskers like an infant. Brisbane did not see how the dwarf could stop it.

The ogre charged up the hill impossibly fast. Shortwhiskers set himself against the charge, swung his blade at the proper time, and cut deeply into the abdomen of the monster. The ogre, however, did not stop. It had its club held high as it ran over the dwarf, trampling Shortwhiskers under its feet. It was upon Roystnof in a second, who quickly bent down to pick up his staff. The ogre brought its club down on the back of the wizard and Roystnof crumbled flat under the blow.

Brisbane’s short sword was in his hand as if by its own volition. Brisbane did not have any time to think. He knew only two short and sudden things. One: if he did not stop this ogre, all three of them were going to die and, two: the short sword Shortwhiskers had lent him felt good in his hand. Brisbane leapt into battle with shocking grasp the last thing on his mind.

The ogre lifted its club and swung it sideways at Brisbane’s head. Brisbane ducked under the heavy wood, and then sprang up, burying his sword right below the protruding chin of the ogre. Blackish-red ogre blood rained down upon him. The creature had swung too hard, expecting to connect with Brisbane’s head, and was now losing its balance. It began to fall over as Brisbane pulled his weapon out and took another swing at the ogre’s neck.

Roystnof, although hurt, was still wise and able enough to scramble out of the way of the falling ogre. Shortwhiskers was shaken, and was just regaining his feet as Brisbane chopped into the side of the ogre’s neck. The ogre crashed to the ground and Brisbane brought his blade down a third and final time on the creature’s neck, this time severing its head. Brisbane kicked the grotesque thing and it bounced and thumped down the hill.

Brisbane stood at the crest of the hill with the short sword clenched in a white-knuckled fist. His arms and the front of his leather jerkin were soaked rich in ogre blood. Shortwhiskers stood on one side and Roystnof sat in the sparse grass on the other, both silently watching him.

Brisbane shook off a chill and crouched down beside Roystnof. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

“Yes,” was the only reply the mage could manage.

Brisbane helped him off with his shirt and he laid the wizard face down on the grass. His back was already black and blue, and by poking and pressing Brisbane judged that no bones had been broken. Shortwhiskers was scratched and sore, but no worse for the trampling he had received. His biggest injury may have been to his pride. He rummaged through the bags on his mule and, when he returned, he had a small jar of ointment with him.

“Something Allison gave me some time ago,” the dwarf explained as he rubbed the salve on Roystnof’s bruises. “It’ll ease the pain and quicken the healing.”

“What happened, Gil?” Roystnof’s voice was muffled by a face full of grass.

“What do you mean?” Brisbane said.

“I think he means,” Shortwhiskers said, “that not only did you forget to use the spell he taught you, but you used my short sword like you and it were old friends.”

Confronted with it, Brisbane thought about what he had done for the first time. It puzzled him even more than it did his friends. He had never used such a weapon before. Thinking back, he saw that the use of arms was the only part of his knightly raising to have been left out. But he had used the short sword like he had been trained in its use. The hilt of the blade had felt not only good in his hand, it had felt reassuring. Like it was all he needed to make sense out of things and separate right from wrong.

These thoughts made him shudder a little, and then he remembered Roystnof and Shortwhiskers waiting for his reply. Brisbane lamely shrugged it off as a heat-of-the-moment thing and quickly excused himself to wash the gore off himself in the river.

Brisbane went down to the Mystic, removed his leather jerkin, and began washing it and himself in the cool water. Most of the ogre blood was washing off his armor, but it was going to leave a stain between the metal plates. Brisbane started to reflect on his actions again. He had murdered. Regardless of whether he had done it by sword or by spell, he had taken a life. His knightly disciplines told him this was wrong except in self-defense or against inherently evil creatures. Brisbane knew his situation was a case of both of these conditions, but these rationalizations were not enough to account for how unremorseful he actually felt. If, at any time in the past, someone had given him the hypothetical kill or be killed situation, and had wanted to know what Brisbane would do in such a circumstance, Brisbane would have said that he would protect himself the best he could and, if the death of his opponent resulted, he would feel strong pity but a wavering justification about it. But now that the hypothetical case had occurred, Brisbane was shocked to find himself feeling no pity at all—only strong justification. What he had achieved with his blade had been right. The ogre had deserved its fate and Brisbane was forced to admit that he had only been too glad to deal the cards.

Shortwhiskers called to him from atop the hill. Brisbane threw on his dripping jerkin and scrambled back up the hill. Roystnof was now clothed and stood stiffly next to the dwarf, leaning heavily on his staff. The three looked each other over for several silent moments.

Finally, Shortwhiskers spoke. “Well, Gil. I don’t know what it was that possessed you to fight like you did, but if I had any doubts to your heritage before, you and this ogre have helped me to overcome them.”

Brisbane smiled, feeling oddly proud of his true family name. He looked at the wizard with caring eyes.

“Yes,” Roystnof said murkily. “You have certainly shown what color blood runs in your veins.”

Brisbane looked pleadingly at Roystnof, like a scolded pup.

Roystnof shook his head and placed a hand on Brisbane’s shoulder. “No, Gil. You did what you had to do. You can do no less.”

They resumed their march south after the dwarf searched the bodies of the ogres, first the headless one at their feet and then the charred form on the next hill. He turned up a handful of gold pieces and a small opal gem. Shortwhiskers put them all in a sack on his pack mule, saying that he would keep them safe.

As they walked, Brisbane tried to get Shortwhiskers to continue his story about Brisbane’s family history, but the dwarf gruffly said that he had told enough of it for one day. He reminded Brisbane not to pester him about it and walked on in silence.

Brisbane spent most of the rest of the day wondering if ogres had a god to whom they prayed.

No comments:

Post a Comment