Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter Thirteen


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 46,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1990. All rights reserved.

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

Although some may claim that it is impossible for one so young to make such a commitment, young Gildegarde Brisbane II chose to become a Knight of Farchrist the day Nog Shortwhiskers told him of his father’s death. While his formal education would not begin until he entered the King’s School at the age of six, his mother read to him from the scriptures and taught him many of their lessons before that required age. When young Brisbane did enter the School, his masters were amazed at his knowledge of the holy works of Grecolus and the lessons they dictated.

+ + +

The name of the tavern was The Lazy Dragon. It was early December and the snows had begun to fall. Shortwhiskers and Brisbane sat at a small table in one of the corners of the common room. Each had a large tankard of ale set before him. The tavern was quiet and not crowded.

Brisbane had been spending a lot of time at The Lazy Dragon lately. Roystnof was still tied up with Dantrius, and now with Roundtower gone, Shortwhiskers was the only true companion Brisbane had. The dwarf liked to spend his winter days and nights next to the warm fireplace of the nearest tavern, so Brisbane invariably found himself in the same places.

Brisbane had not liked the taste of ale the first time he had tried it. All the years he had helped Otis in The Quarter Pony he was not allowed to sample any of the drinks he had served. Not only had Otis thought Brisbane was too young for alcohol, the older man had considered it beneath the station of a Knight-to-be. Pure body and pure spirit.

But the events of the past months and Shortwhiskers’ insistence had changed Brisbane’s outlook. Otis and The Quarter Pony seemed leagues away and Shortwhiskers had taken it upon himself to declare Brisbane old enough.

His first taste was awful. It was a bitter liquid that always felt like it was fighting against Brisbane’s swallow. After he had taken his first sip, he was dismayed at the size of the vessel he would have to drain. He thought it would take him all winter. But each drink he took was a little easier to down than the one before it, and soon he could take a healthy swig without wrinkling his nose or squeezing his eyes shut.

Whereas Brisbane was still not crazy about the way the drink tasted, he was certainly becoming a fan of the way it made him feel. He could understand why so many people drank the stuff and why so many people had trouble controlling how much they drank. He had seen people sick on the drink plenty of times, back at The Quarter Pony and here at The Lazy Dragon. Brisbane never wanted that to happen to him so he made Shortwhiskers promise to cut him off whenever the dwarf felt he had had enough. So far the system had worked, but it was often called very close. Brisbane had fought a lot of skirmishes and so far he had won them all.

For the most part, Brisbane enjoyed these times he spent with Shortwhiskers. The dwarf was a good drinking companion and Brisbane liked him. He only wished he could spend more time with Roystnof.

The drink tended to loosen Shortwhiskers’ lips, which Brisbane enjoyed, and often they found themselves discussing things freely that Shortwhiskers would have normally been close-mouthed about.

It was a day like any other they had spent in the tavern. Sitting around the fireplace, watching the snow fall, sipping ale, and listening to stories of past adventures told by Shortwhiskers and other regular patrons of the tavern. It was late afternoon and the sky was darkening when the door to the tavern swung open and The Lazy Dragon received a trio of the most unusual customers.

The first man who entered the common room was unusual in no other way except for the uniform he wore. It was dark blue, neatly tailored to fit the man’s body perfectly. He wore riding boots and a long riding cloak. The uniform bore no rank insignia but the visored hat the man wore bore a shiny silver badge on it. Behind him entered the two other men, huge and bulky figures dressed in chainmail, helmets, and red capes. They wore the Farchrist Crest above their left breast.

The three quickly surveyed the room and went over to the bartender. Everyone, including Brisbane, knew what the three men were here for. Brisbane had seen three similar men come into The Quarter Pony every year around the same time. The man with the badge on his hat was the tax collector. The other two were guards to make sure everyone gave Dalanmire his due.

Brisbane and Shortwhiskers watched as the tax collector went through a large account book the bartender had produced for him. He ran a stiff finger down a column of numbers, and when he had found what he wanted, he brought out a book of his own and began making notes in it.

“Every year,” Shortwhiskers spat. “And all over the kingdom. Sometimes I feel like it’s my fault, Gil. Did you know that before the expedition to Dragon’s Peak, the dragon tax came due only once every three years, and the King only had to tax the citizens of Raveltown to meet it?”

Brisbane nodded. He knew. Shortwhiskers had told him many times.

“Now it’s every year and all over the kingdom. All because the King defied Dalanmire and sent the two Knights to confront him. I shouldn’t have gone along, Gil. I shouldn’t have guided them there.”

Brisbane shrugged. “Someone else would have,” he said simply, taking a drink of his ale.

One of the guards had produced a small cash box and the bartender was slowly counting coins and dropping them into it. The tax collector kept a close eye on the procedure.

Shortwhiskers put down his ale. “Would they have?”

Brisbane nodded. “Of course. The King was so much in favor of the mission nothing could have stopped him. You’ve said so yourself. If the dwarves had refused to help, the King would have found some other way if he had had to go there himself.”

“Yeah,” Shortwhiskers said, picking up his ale again. “I suppose you’re right. I still feel guilty about it, though.”

“Drink your ale,” Brisbane instructed.

One of the guards snapped the cash box shut and the tax collector spun on his heel to leave. The two guards followed him out the door and to the next place of business. Soon, Brisbane supposed, the trio would show up at the cabin they had rented and demand a percentage of whatever money was on hand. It didn’t worry Brisbane much, he was broke, living off the charity of his friends. He didn’t know how much gold Shortwhiskers and Roystnof had accumulated over their travels, but he assumed it was quite a bit. He also believed it was the kind of income that no one really kept track of and which would be hard to tax.

Shortwhiskers called for two more ales and the bartender, who had seemed defeated at the loss of his hard-earned money, hurried over with hopes of keeping this year in the black.

“Someday, Gil,” Shortwhiskers muttered. “Someday I’m going to go back to Dragon’s Peak and put an end to this tax nonsense.”

Brisbane chuckled. “Okay, Nog. Just don’t leave without me. We’ll skin that dragon alive.”

Brisbane was joking but he could tell by Shortwhiskers’ eyes that the dwarf was serious. “Yes,” he said resolutely. “We’ll make daggers out of his teeth and shields out of his scales.” The dwarf drank his ale.


The voice was feminine and came from over Brisbane’s left shoulder. Shortwhiskers looked up and Brisbane turned in his chair to behold the form of Allison Stargazer. At first, Brisbane didn’t recognize her, but he soon placed her face in his memory and let a smile escape him. She was dressed much as she had been when Brisbane had first met her, in a simple blue dress with intricate lacing at the bodice. Her honey hair fell loose to her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled in the firelight.

“Hello, Allison,” Shortwhiskers said. “You startled me. Won’t you sit down?”

“Thank you,” Stargazer said, taking a seat between the dwarf and Brisbane on the other side of the table.

“You remember my friend, Brisbane,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Yes,” Stargazer said. “How are you, young Gildegarde?”

“I’m fine,” Brisbane said. “Please, call me Gil.”

Brisbane was suddenly nervous, but he thought he had handled that first exchange well. Stargazer was the prettiest woman he had ever seen.

Stargazer smiled at Brisbane and then turned to the dwarf. “Nog, I heard you were back in town and figured you would be in one of the taverns. How many have you had today?”

Shortwhiskers shrugged, pulling his ale a little closer to himself. “Who counts?”

Stargazer turned to Brisbane and her gaze reminded him of the way she had referred to alcohol when she had been treating that old man. He suddenly felt ashamed about all the ale he had been drinking.

Stargazer looked at Brisbane but spoke to Shortwhiskers. “Look what your influence has done to your young friend here. Really, Nog, I wish you would be more aware of what is going on around you. Young Gil simply admires you.”

There was no malice in her voice and as soon as she had said it, Brisbane realized that it was true. It wasn’t something he could have decided or admitted to before, but after Stargazer had said it, Brisbane saw it had never been any other way. He did admire Shortwhiskers.

Shortwhiskers laughed. “Well, there’s no accounting for taste, so I guess I won’t hold it against him.”

Stargazer turned back to the dwarf, smiling. “So anyway,” she said. “How was your little adventure? Profitable?”

Shortwhiskers shook his head. “Educational.”

Stargazer’s eyebrows flew up. “Now that’s a new one. How so?”

“Something you may be interested in,” the dwarf said. “Did you know that only one day south of here there is an ancient shrine of Grecolus?”

“Nog, don’t kid me.”

Shortwhiskers reached out and took her hand. “No kidding, Allison. One day south.”

Stargazer eyed him suspiciously. “How do you know it’s devoted to Grecolus?”

“Ignatius confirmed it for us,” Shortwhiskers said. “You know, Ignatius Roundtower. You’ve met him, haven’t you?”

The conversation was staying away from Brisbane but he didn’t mind. If he had to talk, he would be too nervous not to come off sounding like a dope in front of Stargazer. He was content to just sit there and look at her.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m surprised he’s not here with you.”

“He’s gone on to Farchrist Castle to try for the knighthood,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Wonderful!” Stargazer exclaimed. “I will pray for him.”

“I’m sure he would appreciate that,” Shortwhiskers said.

“And he said this shrine was devoted to Grecolus?” Stargazer asked, looking doubtful.

Shortwhiskers nodded. “Said there were ancient worship symbols or something on it. One he recognized had a circle with a bunch of wavy lines crossing it.”

“Safe passage,” Stargazer whispered.

“Yes, safe passage,” the dwarf said. “That’s what Ignatius said. “Didn’t he, Gil?”

Stargazer suddenly turned to Brisbane. Her eyes were anxious, glowing with an intensity all their own. The color was high in her cheeks and for the first time Brisbane noticed that her ears came to a slight point.

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “Peace and safe passage for all loyal to Grecolus.” His voice was cool and confident. “That’s what Ignatius said. We went right in.”

Stargazer smiled and turned back to Shortwhiskers. “I would very much like to visit this shrine, Nog. Do you plan on going back there?”

Shortwhiskers nodded. “In the spring. We will be going south to investigate rumors of a forgotten temple at the source of the Mystic. We can take you by the shrine on the way.”

“Is it a temple of Grecolus?” Stargazer asked.

“I don’t know,” Shortwhiskers said. “It could be. There’s really no way to tell until we go there.”

Stargazer nodded. “I think I will be coming with you in the spring, my friend. I have been settled here in Queensburg for perhaps too long. It’s about time for a sabbatical. If that’s okay with you.”

“Fine by me,” Shortwhiskers said. “It’ll be nice to have you along. Could have used your skills once or twice on the last excursion. What do you think, Gil?”

Stargazer again turned and looked at Brisbane.

Brisbane remembered how she had taken that old man’s pain away and the various injuries his friends had sustained on their trip. “Yes,” he said. “Her services would certainly have come in handy.”

“But, Allison,” Shortwhiskers said. “There’s more. We saw some things you may not like.”

Stargazer sobered. “Like what?”

“Like Illzeezad Dantrius.”

“Illzeezad Dantrius?” Stargazer said. “Where have I heard that name before?”

“He was Gregorovich the Second’s chief advisor,” Shortwhiskers said. “You remember.” Shortwhiskers turned to Brisbane, gave him a very strange look and then turned back to Stargazer. “The one who argued against the expedition to Dragon’s Peak and then disappeared from the kingdom after the party left.”

“Yes,” Stargazer said oddly as she too gave Brisbane a strange look. “I remember you telling me about him. Where did you find him?”

“He was standing before the shrine as a statue of rock. He was the victim of what Roystnof called a basilisk. Do you know what that is?”

“I believe so,” Stargazer said. “It is a large lizard that can turn people to stone.”

Brisbane sat helplessly as he wondered what was going on. Both Shortwhiskers and Stargazer were talking guardedly in front of him and both of them had given him a strange look at the mention of Dantrius. They were sharing some kind of secret and Brisbane wanted to know what it was.

“That is how Roystnof described it,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Roystnof?” Stargazer said, searching her memory. “Oh yes,” she exclaimed. “The wizard you travel with.”

Brisbane did not like the way she said the word ‘wizard.’ She made the word sound like a curse. She said ‘wizard’ almost the way the demon from the shrine had said ‘paladin.’

“Wait a minute,” Brisbane said, trying to think of something of some consequence to say.

“Nog,” Stargazer said before Brisbane could collect his thoughts. “Perhaps we should discuss this another time.”

Shortwhiskers looked at Brisbane. “Yes, I think that might be best.”

“Fine,” Stargazer said. “Another time, then. I regret that now I must leave.” She rose from her seat.

Brisbane and Shortwhiskers awkwardly got to their feet.

“I have business across town,” Stargazer said. “But I’ll be sure to see you again before our departure.”

“You know where to find me,” Shortwhiskers said.

Stargazer gave the dwarf a slanted look. “Yes,” she said. “I’m afraid that I do. Farewell, Nog.”

“Farewell,” Shortwhiskers said.

Stargazer took Brisbane’s hand in her own. “And farewell to you, Gil,” she said, trying his informal name for the first time. “I hope to see you before the spring as well. Take care.”

“Take care,” Brisbane repeated as Stargazer turned and left the tavern. Brisbane and Shortwhiskers sat back down.

“Nog?” Brisbane said.

“Yes, Gil?” Shortwhiskers said, picking up his ale again.

“Do you think that was really such a good idea?”


Brisbane lowered his voice. “Inviting Stargazer to come along. Won’t it be dangerous?”

“Allison?” Shortwhiskers seemed shocked.

“Yes, Allison,” Brisbane said, raising his voice. “What the hells was that just all about?”

Shortwhiskers hid behind his drink. “What do you mean, Gil?”

“Okay,” Brisbane said as he quickly leaned back in his chair. “So don’t tell me what’s going on between you and Stargazer.”

“Gil, please,” Shortwhiskers said. “Don’t get all worked up. I’ll tell you but must promise never to repeat what I am about to say. Not,” the dwarf stressed, “even to Roystnof.”

Brisbane swallowed hard and leaned closer to the dwarf. “I promise.”

Shortwhiskers paused. “It’s something she doesn’t want to be widely known, but I don’t think she’ll mind if I tell you.”

“What is it?” Brisbane begged.

“The expedition to Dragon’s Peak. I told you your grandfather, the Prince, myself, and a High Priestess of Grecolus made the journey.”

Brisbane was confused. “Yes?”

“Allison Stargazer was that High Priestess.”

Brisbane sat back. “Stargazer? How can that be, Nog? That was forty-two years ago. She doesn’t look a day over twenty-five.”

“Keep your voice down,” Shortwhiskers admonished. “I know how long it’s been. Allison Stargazer is sixty-seven years old.”

Brisbane felt like he had been slapped. He felt like he had when Shortwhiskers had said that he was a hundred and sixty-three years old. But Stargazer was no dwarf.

“How can that be?” Brisbane asked.

“She’s not wholly human, Gil. It’s not that noticeable, but she has elven blood running in her veins. Her mother was an elf, her father a human.”

“Elven?” Brisbane said, looking back at the door as if Stargazer was still standing there. “How could she be a High Priestess of Grecolus if she was a half-elf?”

“Well,” Shortwhiskers said evasively, “she wasn’t a High Priestess for long.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

Shortwhiskers sighed. “Whenever Knights go on long journeys away from the kingdom,” he explained, “a High Priest or Priestess is sent with them to tend to their spiritual needs. When news of the expedition to Dragon’s Peak reached the Temple in Raveltown, none of the clerics there were willing to go along. They thought no one would ever come back from such a mission. So they took little Allison Stargazer, then more of a girl than a woman, gave her the title of High Priestess, and sent her off with me and the Knights.”

“Did they know she was of elven stock?”

“They might have,” Shortwhiskers said. “It might have helped them decide to send her. But she took her new position seriously. She actually thought she had earned the promotion, even though she had previously been serving the Temple as a simple Acolyte. It wasn’t until after we got back that she realized they had sent her only because they were all too afraid to meet Dalanmire themselves. Too weak in their faith, Allison called it.”

“What did she do?” Brisbane asked.

Shortwhiskers drained his mug of ale before he answered. Brisbane watched him take the swallows, his adam’s apple bobbing up and down. Brisbane didn’t think he could ever drink that much so quickly. It would certainly make him sick.

“She left,” Shortwhiskers said. “She said she was through with organized religion and went off to worship Grecolus in her own way. She’s been traveling ever since. She settled here in Queensburg just a couple of years ago.”

Brisbane thought about it. He had never known an elf before but had heard a lot about them. But they were a very reclusive people so Brisbane figured most of what he had heard was probably rumor. There were no full-blooded elves living in the kingdom, though. At least none that anyone knew about. They were slender, wilderness folk who were said to live impossibly long lives, some a thousand years or more. If Stargazer were indeed a half-elf, Brisbane supposed she could very well be sixty-seven years old and appear no more than thirty.

But if what Shortwhiskers had told him was true, and Brisbane had no reason to doubt it, that would mean that Stargazer was yet another person who had known his grandfather. He remembered a time when Stargazer had said she respected the name of Brisbane, and that memory now made Brisbane feel oddly proud. The more he traveled, it seemed, the more he learned about his family’s past. It was strange, in Scalt, Otis had always told him to revere his family name but he had never told Brisbane much of his family’s history or tradition.

“Bartender!” Shortwhiskers called out. “You want another?” he quietly asked Brisbane.

“No,” Brisbane said, still having half a mug of ale left.

“One more ale,” Shortwhiskers said when he could tell he had the bartender’s attention. The man brought the drink, placed it in front of Shortwhiskers, and left before the dwarf and Brisbane exchanged any more words.


“Yes, Gil?”

“How do you think Stargazer will react to traveling with Roy?”

Shortwhiskers shook his head. “She won’t like it. But she’ll put up with it if I know her. She really wants to see that shrine.”

“She’ll think Roy is evil, won’t she?” Brisbane still found the idea ludicrous.

“He works magic,” Shortwhiskers said. “That will be all the proof she needs. If you want to stay on her good side, I wouldn’t let her see that medallion you wear.”

Brisbane pulled on the chain around his neck and drew out the silver pentacle that had been hidden behind his shirt. “Nog,” he said, “I don’t wear this because I worship Damaleous. I wear it because Roy gave it to me.”

“I know that and you know that,” Shortwhiskers said. “Allison doesn’t. If she sees it around your neck, she’ll draw her own conclusions.”

Brisbane examined the small piece of metal. “Does it really mean that much?”

“To her, yes. Trust me, Gil. Keep it inside your shirt.”

Brisbane pulled on his collar and dropped the medallion inside. Shortwhiskers returned his attention to his ale and Brisbane moved his chair a nudge closer to the fireplace.

No comments:

Post a Comment