Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chapter Sixteen


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

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In the time that Gildegarde Brisbane II spent as the Squire of Sir Reginald Ironshield, he learned more about what it was to be a Knight of Farchrist than in all the time he had spent in the King’s School for Boys. In no man since the death of his father had the young Brisbane found the proper guidance and authority he needed to grow and mature into something akin to what his father had been. Under Ironshield’s tutelage, Brisbane learned about such difficult concepts as honor, faith, and charity, not through lessons and lectures as they had tried to do at the King’s School, but through action and observation. For Ironshield was a Knight of Farchrist, and there was no better teacher for a maturing young man than such a figure.

+ + +

The day had finally come. Roystnof woke Brisbane before sunrise and told him to get ready quickly. It was a needless reminder, for Brisbane had prepared everything he needed the night before. In less than an hour, as the sun rose out of the Darkmarine, he and a small group of friends would be marching southward in search of a legend.

He began to wash up at his dressing table, just washing his face and smoothing his hair, really. He had taken a luxurious bath the night before, figuring it would be the last one he was to have for quite some time. He tried to contain his excitement about setting off on this new adventure, but he had a hard time doing it. He had only two regrets about the upcoming journey. One, he wished Roundtower was coming along and, two, he wished Dantrius wasn’t.

Roystnof had gathered everyone together the night before and had informed them that, by his invitation, Dantrius would be accompanying them on their trek. No one seemed happy about it, Stargazer especially, but no one put up a major fight about it and the matter was settled.

Stargazer. She had spent the night in the guest room to facilitate their early departure this morning. Brisbane still thought about what had happened in the Shadowhorn, the meeting of Ellahannah and the way he and Stargazer had shared the tent that night. Nothing physical had happened then, but emotionally, Brisbane had reached the point of no return. He was in love with Stargazer, he knew that and he had no trouble admitting it to himself, but he was still fearful to reveal it to Stargazer or to anyone else. He hoped there would be plenty of time in the upcoming journey they could spend together, and in all that time, maybe he would work up enough courage to tell her how he felt.

Brisbane had also thought a lot about Stargazer’s belief that she was a medium through which Grecolus acted. Frankly, he didn’t believe it because, frankly, he didn’t believe in Grecolus. He thought it was a genuine magic power that she had, much like Roystnof’s, and because of her theological beliefs, she had rationalized it into something more acceptable. The only thing that bothered him was how she came to have this power. If it was magic like Roystnof’s, someone had to have taught her how to do it. But according to Stargazer, this was not the case. The first time she had healed someone, she claimed she had simply prayed really hard to Grecolus and the healing had just happened. Brisbane didn’t know. Maybe it had something to do with her elven blood.

Brisbane quickly changed out of his nightclothes and dressed himself for hiking. He was lacing his boots when there was a knock on his door. He sat up and told whoever it was to come in.

It was Shortwhiskers. The dwarf was already dressed for travel and he was lugging with him a heavy burlap sack. “Morning, Gil,” he said and he plopped the sack on the floor.

“Morning, Nog,” Brisbane said. “What’s in the sack?”

“A present,” the dwarf said. “Open it.”

Brisbane looked at Shortwhiskers suspiciously and moved over to the sack. He opened it and saw the gleam of metal inside. He turned the sack upside down and a quantity of chainmail fell to the floor. Brisbane picked it up and found it to be a poncho of sorts, meant to be placed on the shoulders and hang down to the thighs. There was even a belt to cinch it at the waist.

“Try it on,” Shortwhiskers said.

Brisbane placed his head through the hole and settled it onto his shoulders. It was heavier than his leather jerkin had been, but not burdenly so. As he was tying the belt, Shortwhiskers left the room and shortly returned with a helmet and an undecorated shield. He gave them to Brisbane and Brisbane strapped them on. Shortwhiskers took a step back and surveyed him.

“Now,” Shortwhiskers said, “you look like a warrior. Except that you’re too clean.”

Brisbane laughed and thanked Shortwhiskers for all the gifts. Shortwhiskers said it was no problem and told Brisbane to come down and meet everybody out front. He then left Brisbane alone.

Brisbane looked at himself in the mirror for a moment and he decided that he did look more the part of a warrior, but one essential piece of equipment was still missing. He went over to his bed and drew Angelika out from her hiding place. He unwrapped her from the cloth and strapped her to his side. When secure, he drew her slowly from her scabbard. He returned to the mirror and examined himself again, this time holding Angelika in a threatening manner.

Better, he thought. He sheathed Angelika and went downstairs.

Everybody was already gathered out front. Roystnof stood in his red and black traveling clothes, a large black hat placed on his head, shielding his face from the sunlight. Dantrius stood next to him, dressed plainly in earthy colors, his clothes hanging on his thin frame like tent fabric. He wore no hat and his black hair flapped around his sunken face like a tattered flag. He had a line of daggers tucked into his belt. Shortwhiskers stood between two laden pack mules, strapping pieces of his chainmail to his body, and Stargazer stood by him, dressed in warm hunting clothes and shouldering a heavy pack. Like Roystnof, she held a long oaken staff in her hand, but hers was topped with a metal holy symbol, the hand of Grecolus.

They were all rather quiet in the still morning air. Brisbane exchanged looks with each one of them in turn and then settled back to see who would make the first move. It was not going to be him.

It was Roystnof. “Well,” the wizard said. “It seems the time has come. We are off chasing a rumor. Nog says all he knows about the temple we are searching for is that it is reputed to be full of treasure and that it stands at the source of the Mystic River. Both are fine with me and I hope that both of them are true. Our way is obvious, we’ll just follow the Mystic into the Crimson Mountains, but that way will not be easy. The Windcrest Hills lie before the mountains and it is said the Hills are the home for countless orks. No doubt we will bump into a few along the way.”

“Orks are no problem,” Shortwhiskers said as he tied a heavy battle axe to one of the mules. “We should be more worried about the mountains. The southern branch is largely unexplored territory.”

“Quite true,” Roystnof said. “There’s no telling what we will encounter there. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today, I think we should set our sights on the walled garden in which we found Dantrius last fall. I would like to make our first camp on its southern side. Agreed?”

Everyone readily agreed.

“Fine,” Roystnof said. “Then let us be off.”

And then they were. They quietly left the sleeping town of Queensburg in the wee hours of the morning and started on their journey south by following the shoreline of the Sea of Darkmarine to the mouth of the Mystic River. It was the same route they had taken months ago when they had gone off in search of Ignatius Roundtower, except now they had Illzeezad Dantrius and Allison Stargazer with them.

With the sun rising out of the Darkmarine, they left Queensburg entirely behind them and struck out into open country. As they all settled into the pace that would regulate the long day’s march, Brisbane reflected on their situation.

First and foremost, he was not at all happy that Dantrius had weaseled his way into this expedition. He had never liked the way Roystnof had gotten along with the mage, but he had put up with it through the long winter because he thought it was to be a temporary situation. Roystnof had assured him they were only together to see what they could teach each other and then they would more than likely part ways. So why was Dantrius tagging along now? Admittedly, Brisbane had not followed them closely over the winter so he wasn’t really sure what kind of relationship had developed between the two men. Brisbane feared that Dantrius was becoming a permanent wedge between himself and Roystnof.

But as much as he hated to have Dantrius with them, he was that glad to have Stargazer along. He looked at her now and she gave him a smile. Brisbane was sure she was even more beautiful now than when he had first met her.

“Well now,” she said to Brisbane, eyeing his new armor. “Don’t you look menacing. Isn’t all that heavy?”

Brisbane looked at his chainmail. He shrugged. “Not really. Ask me in a couple of hours. Maybe the answer will be different.”

Shortwhiskers came up behind them. “That’s right, Gil. It sure doesn’t get any lighter.”

The conversation throughout the day remained mostly in the same vein, as all were in good spirits about the prospects of their adventure. Brisbane purposely avoided Dantrius during the march and, unfortunately, that meant he had to avoid Roystnof as well, as the two wizards were practically inseparable. Brisbane again wondered what Roystnof saw in Dantrius that was worthwhile and discreetly kept his distance.

Around noon they stopped for lunch and Shortwhiskers told Brisbane that they were feasting upon the same hill on which his battle with the ogre had taken place.

“How can you tell?” Brisbane asked. The hill looked like any other to him. There weren’t even any remains left of the ogre he had killed.

Shortwhiskers tapped his nose with a stubby finger. “I can smell it,” he said mysteriously and went back to his meal.

Stargazer was very interested to hear the story of this battle and Brisbane sat quietly by while Shortwhiskers recanted the events as he remembered them. When the dwarf was finished, Stargazer came over and sat next to Brisbane.

“That was very brave of you,” she said. “Taking on that ogre alone like that.”

Brisbane shrugged it off. “It had to be done. It was either me or no one.”

“It was still brave,” she said. She put a hand on Angelika’s scabbard. “That must have been before you got this.”

Brisbane pulled away from Stargazer to get her hand off his sword. The action was too severe and he was immediately sorry he had done it. Stargazer looked hurt and Brisbane quickly apologized, saying he didn’t know what had come over him. And he didn’t. It was irrational, but something inside of him did not want Stargazer touching Angelika. But he overrode the irrationality and drew Angelika from her scabbard to show her to Stargazer.

“It is a lovely weapon,” Stargazer said, admiring the large emerald and the intricate carvings on the pommel. “Did you say it used to be Roundtower’s?”

“Yes,” Brisbane said. “He, uh…he gave it up when he left for Farchrist Castle.”

“Why would he leave behind such a wondrous blade?”

Brisbane met Stargazer’s eyes.

Careful, young Brisbane. She may not want to hear the truth.

It was Angelika’s voice, echoing eerily in his head. It was the first time she had said something to him in many weeks.

But Brisbane decided not to lie. “She is a magic weapon. A Knight would not carry her.”

Once again Brisbane was struck by the irony of the situation. No Knight would carry Angelika because she was magical, a trapping of Damaleous. But, if what Roundtower had said was true, then Angelika bore the enchantment of Grecolus. Like Stargazer’s healing power, Angelika was supposed to be some kind of good magic.

“She?” Stargazer asked, not understanding Brisbane’s use of the word. “Her?”

Brisbane nodded. “Her name is Angelika.”

Stargazer gave him an uncomfortable look. “How do you know ‘she’ is magical?”

“She told me,” Brisbane said, hating how ridiculous it sounded. “She can talk to me. Ignatius says she has the enchantment of Grecolus.”

“Grecolus?” Stargazer said, seeming astounded. “Gil, don’t tease me.”

“No, Allie, seriously. That’s what Ignatius said.”

“I have heard of such swords,” Stargazer said. “Ancient legends speak of three of them. They were supposed to have been crafted by ancient clerics of Grecolus for use against the forces of evil. Are you trying to tell me this is one of those swords?”

Brisbane had never heard of these legends. “Allie, I don’t know anything about it. All I know is that Angelika talks to me inside my head. After I killed that demon in the shrine she—”

“Wait a minute!” Stargazer interrupted. “I just remembered. Those ancient legends describe the three swords, and each has a gem set into its pommel. One has a ruby, another a sapphire, and the third an emerald. Gil! This is one of those swords.”

Stargazer suddenly took Angelika from Brisbane and held the weapon up in front of her. For just a moment, as Stargazer took the sword from him, Brisbane had an almost overwhelming desire to hit her.

“Gil,” Stargazer said as her eyes bulged in awe. “Roundtower should not have given this sword to you. He should have taken it with him. With a sword like this at his side, he could rise to be Captain of the Knights. No evil could face him!”

Brisbane became suddenly aware of the eyes of Roystnof, Dantrius, and Shortwhiskers upon them. He stood up, took Angelika roughly away from Stargazer, and sheathed her. Stargazer looked up at him with hurt eyes, still kneeling on the ground.

“It wasn’t up to Ignatius,” Brisbane said. “There was no way they would let him become a Knight with a magic sword.”

“A holy sword,” Stargazer corrected.

“No one would see it that way,” Brisbane said, all of his frustration suddenly coming to the surface. “All magic comes from Damaleous, that’s what theologians say today. They would take one look at Angelika and say she was a tool of the Evil One, disguised as a relic of Grecolus, and all who use her are his servants. Why do you think people at the Temple in Raveltown sent you to Dragon’s Peak? You say your healing power comes from Grecolus, but they must have thought you were a sorcerer of dark magic, and they saw the quest against Dalanmire as a good way to get rid of you.”

There was absolutely no noise on that hilltop for perhaps as many as ten seconds. Stargazer stood up in front of Brisbane, her bottom lip trembling and her eyes brimming over with tears. Brisbane realized he had said too much and he opened his mouth to apologize, but nothing came out. Stargazer suddenly turned away from him and ran down the hill to the Mystic.

“Allie, wait,” Brisbane said, starting to go after her, but there was a strong tug on his arm that held him back.

It was Shortwhiskers. “Let her go, Gil. You’ve said enough.”

Brisbane turned to the dwarf. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, Nog. She just started talking about Ignatius and Angelika and I just…I mean, the way she was talking was so…I just…”

“You just told her the way things are,” Shortwhiskers finished for him, “and the way things used to be. You weren’t very gentle about it, but that’s all you did. I think she’ll see that, eventually. Give her some time alone.”

Brisbane turned away from Shortwhiskers and saw Stargazer kneeling down by the river bank. He had not meant to hurt her. That was the last thing he ever wanted to do. It’s just that she was kidding herself if she thought Roundtower could have taken Angelika to Farchrist Castle. They’d have burned him at the stake. Times had changed. No longer did Grecolus and Damaleous fight their battles on earth, each with their own champions and wizardry. Religion had changed. It had become more cerebral and idealistic, and the magic Grecolus might have once worked had been abandoned by the pious as disadvantageous to their position.

But Stargazer would not change with the system. She maintained the religion of Grecolus according to the ancient legends, and ran away from the changing mindset of the day. In her own way, Brisbane knew Stargazer saw herself as justified in her insistence on the old traditions. In her mind, her healing power, Ellahannah, and even Angelika supported her position. To her, they were proof that things hadn’t changed, that Grecolus still had his own kind of magic that would one day drive Damaleous to his doom.

And suddenly, seeing the situation through Stargazer’s eyes, Brisbane realized that perhaps it wasn’t Grecolus who had changed after all. He had always been taught that the holy creator was infinite, immortal, and unchanging. If this was true, then why do the ancient legends no longer apply? Why do the priests and clerics of today consider all forms of magic an evil warping of Mother Nature when, centuries ago, the counterparts to these priests and clerics worked healing spells and forged enchanted weapons in the name of Grecolus? It was not the immortal who had changed, perhaps it was only the mortals running his religion.

Brisbane felt a hand drop on his shoulder. He spun around to meet Roystnof’s eyes. Over the wizard’s shoulder, several paces back and seemingly out of earshot, Dantrius stood with his thin arms folded across his chest.

“Nog is right, Gil,” Roystnof said. “She will see you meant no harm.”

“I don’t know, Roy,” Brisbane said. “I just don’t know. There’s something about her. It’s like she’s living in another time. She doesn’t understand how most people see magic. Any kind of magic. It scares them.”

“She’s a relic of another time, Gil. Perhaps the last of a dead race.”

“But she’s more than that,” Brisbane said.

“Yes,” Roystnof said with obvious second meaning. “She is much more than that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are in love with her,” Roystnof said. “That is plain for all to see.”

Brisbane took the defensive. Later, he was not sure why. “Is there something wrong with that?”

Roystnof laughed. “Of course not, Gil. Love catches us all eventually. I am actually happy for you. She is quite lovely.”

“Yes,” Brisbane said, looking back at Stargazer by the river. “Yes, she is. Did you know that she is sixty-seven years old?”

Roystnof nodded. “Her elven blood. I understand she will live much longer than that.”

“Do you see anything wrong with that?” Brisbane asked. “I mean, I’ll be dead and buried and she won’t look much older than she does now.”

“Love is for the moment,” Roystnof told him. “Never forget that. If you have love for the moment, hold it tight and treasure it as much as you can. The day you start expecting and planning to have your love always there is the day you will lose it.”

Brisbane was looking at his feet. That sounded awfully pessimistic and cruel to him, but then he realized that life could be pessimistic and cruel. Was it any wonder that love could be, too?

“Come on,” Roystnof said, clapping Brisbane on the shoulder. “It’s time we got going.”

They packed up their supplies and got ready to continue their march. Shortwhiskers went down to the Mystic to tell Stargazer they were leaving. Brisbane had wanted to do it, but both his conscience and the dwarf thought better of it. Shortwhiskers came back and reported that Stargazer needed some time alone and, when they left, she would follow at a discreet distance.

Brisbane felt miserable about the whole affair. As they continued on their journey and Stargazer continued to stay ten to fifteen paces behind the group, his stomach began to churn more and more uncomfortably. Why did she have to take so much offense to what he had said? Why did he have to have said it all? Roystnof and Shortwhiskers had said she would eventually see that he meant no harm by his statements, but Brisbane wasn’t so sure. He wondered if he and Stargazer would ever be as close as they had been.

Forget her, Angelika’s voice rang in his head, dark and sultry. She will only get in the way of your true crusade.

Brisbane mentally told the weapon to shut up and that she was the cause of the whole problem. Angelika did not talk to him again that day.

They arrived within sight of the walled oasis and still Stargazer had not rejoined their group. Roystnof stopped the march and called everyone together for discussion. Stargazer remained apart.

“We should strike camp on the other side of the garden,” Roystnof said. “In the morning Miss Stargazer can go in and explore what she wants, and then we can be on our way again.”

Dantrius looked at Stargazer. “Maybe we should send someone out to the princess to see if that’s all right with her,” he sneered. “Perhaps the Ambassador,” he said, turning to look at Shortwhiskers, “can say something to her so she won’t become even more estranged.”

Shortwhiskers curtly told Dantrius to shut his trap.

“I’m only concerned for the girl’s welfare,” Dantrius pleaded innocently. “If harsh remarks can cripple her so, I would hate to see her reaction when others start making decisions for her.”

Shortwhiskers took a menacing step towards the thin man but Roystnof interceded. Brisbane watched the whole scene like a distant observer.

“That’s enough,” Roystnof said to Dantrius. “It’s been a long day. Let’s just go make camp.”

They marched around the walled garden, with Stargazer silently following behind, and struck camp when they reached the southern side. While they were all busy constructing the tents and securing the mules, Stargazer quietly came in and set about preparing a meal. Brisbane thought about going over to talk to her but quickly thrust the idea aside. He had no idea what to say.

When all the work was done and the sun had set, Stargazer dished out plates of stew for them from the kettle hanging over the campfire. When Brisbane came to take his from her, he softly said he was sorry and then quickly moved away to eat his meal. Stargazer showed no reaction.

They drew lots for guard duty. Brisbane lucked out and was given the chance for a night of undisturbed sleep. It took him some time to fall asleep, however, even though he was exhausted from the day’s march. He was worried about what Stargazer thought of him now, and he could only hope things would be better in the morning. When he finally did fall asleep, it was with this thought heavy on his mind.

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