Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty


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

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In the next couple of years Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II carried on a secret relationship with the young peasant woman named Amanda. He would continue on his missions of conquest away from Farchrist Castle, preparing himself for the day he hoped to face and defeat Dalanmire, but each time he left and each time he returned he would secretly go into the City Beneath the Castle to visit the girl with whom he was quickly falling in love. She became everything to him and the more they learned about each other, the more perfect their coupling seemed. She was beautiful, intelligent, loving, passionate, and had a great love for her creator throbbing in her heart. Indeed, the only problem they faced, the problem that forced them to carry their affair on in secret, was that she was a commoner, and a Knight was forbidden to socialize with one so far below his station. Time and time again, Brisbane said he would leave the knighthood for her, but Amanda would not hear of it. His knighthood was as important to her as it was to him.

+   +   +

The fifth day out from Queensburg was an eventful one. Before the sun set on them, they had fought a massive battle, uncovered a great deal of treasure, and had found the temple for which they had been searching.

The day itself, however, started like any other. They arose at dawn, woken by Shortwhiskers, who had stood the final watch the night before, ate a quick breakfast, packed up their camp on the two mules, and continued their journey up the Mystic. The river was noticeably thinner now, really only a stream, and Roystnof predicted that at their present pace, they should reach the source of the Mystic within a day or so. The mountains around them were also growing taller, creating more and more shade and shortening the length of time they could walk in daylight.

They marched for most of the day in peace and it seemed that another day of quiet journey would come to a close when the small party stumbled across the cave.

It was in one of the mountains on the north side of the river, the side they were following to the source. It was a huge gaping maw in the rockface, shaded by the mountain it bore into so that near the entrance it was almost like night. When it was spotted, the party was called to a halt to talk about what should be done. A vote was called for and, surprisingly, everyone agreed that at least one of their number should take a peek inside.

The arguing came about when the decision was to be made of who should go in and, of course, the main instigator of the argument was Dantrius. Brisbane noticed how the mage was seemingly incapable of going along with any suggestion that was not his own. The obvious choice for the job was Shortwhiskers, who had spent a good deal of his life living in underground caverns and who had the corresponding racial attributes to aid him in the task of slipping in and out unseen by whatever might lair in the cave. But Dantrius said he did not trust the dwarf and he felt he should be the one who scouted out the cave.

But, as usual, a vote was taken and Dantrius was silenced by democracy in action. The party moved silently up to the cave and Shortwhiskers went in alone.

Brisbane peered into the blackness hopelessly. His eyes were too weak to penetrate the dark. Dwarves, on the whole, had much better night vision and were actually able to see the glow given off by warm objects or bodies. It was a trait developed over years of living in caverns more finely crafted than this one, or it was, as some people said, a gift given to them by Grecolus to aid them in their lives beneath the earth. Brisbane wondered what Shortwhiskers, who worshipped his supposedly pagan dwarven gods, thought of his special eyesight. But regardless of from where the talent had actually come, Shortwhiskers had it, and with it he was exploring a place in which Brisbane would get lost, two feet away from the door.

They waited. They waited for a long time until Brisbane began to get worried and wanted to know what was taking so long. If Roystnof hadn’t demanded total silence for the time Shortwhiskers was inside, he would have voiced his frustration. Brisbane could only look helplessly at Stargazer and she could only shrug her shoulders back.

Finally, Shortwhiskers emerged from the cave. He quietly put an index finger to his lips and crept slowly away from the cave. The party followed. When they were back down by the babbling of the river Mystic, the dwarf gathered everyone close and told them what he had seen.

“The cave,” Shortwhiskers said, “extends a far way back into the mountain before opening up into a large cavern. This cavern’s floor is cluttered with boulders and has a ceiling about thirty feet above it. Right now, sleeping among those boulders are three large humanoids.”

“How large?” Roystnof asked.

“Large,” Shortwhiskers said. “Standing, each one would easily be over ten feet tall. They’re dressed in rough animal hides and they look rather primitive.”

“Anything else unusual about them?” Roystnof asked.

“Thought you’d never ask,” Shortwhiskers said. “Each one has two heads. Both of them ugly.”

“Two-headed giants,“ Dantrius scoffed. “You must be kidding.”

“Go check it out for yourself, weasel,” Shortwhiskers said.

Dantrius scowled at the dwarf and then turned to Roystnof, begging with the look on his face for help with the peons that surrounded them.

“No,” Roystnof said. “I have heard of such creatures. They are called ettins. I’m not sure how, but they are supposed to be related to orks.”

“Well,” Dantrius said. “I’ve never heard of them.”

“There’s something else in there, too,” Shortwhiskers said, bringing a coin out from his pocket. “Gold.”

“I knew it!” Dantrius said, raising his voice. “How much did you steal for yourself?”

Shortwhiskers flipped him the coin and the mage bobbled it a few times before he caught it. “Just the one,” the dwarf said. “Why don’t you hold it for me?”

“How much gold is in there?” Brisbane asked.

The dwarf looked at him. “A lot. Some gems, too. They have it in their sacks, but one is torn and some of the gold has spilled out.”

“You’re sure they are all asleep?” Roystnof asked. “All six heads?”

Shortwhiskers shrugged. “None of them moved while I crept among them. There was a lot of snoring.”

“What are we going to do?” Brisbane asked.

Roystnof looked at all of their faces. “We’re going to get that gold.” He turned to Shortwhiskers. “Nog, can you get their sacks without waking them up?”

Shortwhiskers looked uneasy.

“Ettins are nocturnal,” Roystnof said. “They’re probably sleeping deeply at this time of day.”

“I’ll give it a try,” Shortwhiskers said.

“Now wait just a minute…” Dantrius said.

Roystnof turned on the mage. “Shut up, Dantrius. Just shut up. I’m tired of your complaining at every move we try to make. In case you haven’t noticed, you’re not winning any popularity contests around here. So if you can’t get with the program, why don’t you just leave us alone and go back down the river?”

Dantrius eyed Roystnof maliciously. “I was only going to suggest that someone go in with him,” he said smugly. “The less trips in and out the better.”

Roystnof did not apologize for his outburst. “Who else can see so well in the dark?”

“Allison can,” Shortwhiskers said.

All eyes turned to Stargazer.

“Her elven half,” Shortwhiskers explained. “Elves have even better eyesight than dwarves, so a half-elf should see at least as well as a dwarf.”

“Well, Miss Stargazer,” Roystnof said. “How about it?”

“What will we do with this gold?” Stargazer asked.

“Divide it up equally,” Roystnof answered. “You may do whatever you like with your share.”

Stargazer pondered. “You say these ettins are related to orks?”


“Then, I will do it.”

The party, decided on a course of action, went quietly back to the cave mouth. On the way Brisbane moved closer to Roystnof and asked him if he thought what he had said to Dantrius was the wisest thing he could have done. Roystnof said he doubted it, but he couldn’t have held his anger at Dantrius back any longer.

Brisbane was not too happy about Stargazer going into the ettins’ lair, but there was very little he could do about it. He tried to reassure himself by remembering how well she had fought against the orks. In any case, Brisbane planned to stay ready at the cave mouth with Angelika in hand in case anything went wrong.

Shortwhiskers and Stargazer disappeared into the cave and left Brisbane and the two wizards standing outside, waiting again. Brisbane’s head was filled with images of Stargazer being trampled and torn apart by the two-headed giants and it took quite a bit of willpower to keep himself from rushing in to save her.

And so he waited, waited outside for either Shortwhiskers or Stargazer to come creeping back with the sacks of gold, or for the sounds of slaughter to come pouring out of the cave. Brisbane did not have to wait long.

Angelika spoke to him milliseconds before the noises started.

Help them, Brisbane. They need your help against the evil beasts.

Brisbane started in. He could no longer help himself. He ran blindly into the cave, racing down the dark tunnel to the chamber Shortwhiskers had said was there. The first sound to reach his ears was that of gold coins spilling all over a rock floor, the second was the roaring of the awakening ettins, and the third was a battle cry sounded out in Shortwhiskers’ strong voice.

Brisbane was still blind and he thought to slow down before he plowed into something or someone just as the cavern filled itself with a bright light that seemed to have no apparent source. It took him less than a moment to figure out Roystnof had cast a spell, but his thoughts were quickly focused on the scene he found before him.

Shortwhiskers stood over the struggling body of one ettin, chopping at it mercilessly with his sword, while Stargazer guarded his back, her staff braced against her thighs, as the other two ettins rose to their feet, picking up heavy wooden clubs, one in each of their hands.

The ettins were monsters indeed. They stood well over ten feet tall, their hardened bodies covered loosely in filthy animal skins, each of their heads an ugly rendition of a sickening mix of orkish and human. Low foreheads, pig noses, sharp tusks; if savagery had a pure form, these ettins had to come close to it.

Brisbane rushed into battle, hoping Roystnof was coming in soon behind him. He swung Angelika at one of the ettins closing on Stargazer and managed to draw it away from her. Up close and in combat, the ettin was much larger than Brisbane had first thought. The creature was larger than both the ogre and the demon he had fought before, and each of its two huge hands expertly wielded clubs that looked like they might once have been tree trunks. Each of its two heads had mouths slobbering with white foam and gnashing with sharp teeth.

Brisbane quickly realized he had his hands full and had no time to look around to see how his friends were doing. He knew he could help them best by killing this ettin as quickly as he possibly could.

I’ll help you, Brisbane. This evil giant cannot stand against us. He shall be vanquished.

Brisbane let Angelika weave her spell about him. It boosted his confidence and tuned everything else out of his universe. Suddenly, Brisbane found himself trapped in the battle with the ettin, and the only way out came with the death of his opponent. He had to kill the ettin, if he didn’t he would never escape from this prison.

Yes, young Brisbane, that’s the way. Throw yourself at him. Evil is your enemy and it must be destroyed.

Brisbane felt himself lose control of his body. His reflexes became quicker and his strikes became more deadly. He dodged away each time the ettin brought one or both of its heavy clubs down on his head. He was in a combat trance, his body working like a perfect machine apart from his mind. His consciousness sat up in its high tower and watched the action through his eyes as if it was watching a chess match.

Angelika guided him now, striking the ettin time and time again in the abdomen and upper legs until its blood poured out of it like a waterfall. Brisbane sliced Angelika though the ettin a final time and the monster collapsed to its death.

Brisbane was suddenly in control of himself again.

There are more to fight, Brisbane.

Brisbane spun around and saw the results of what had transpired while he killed the first ettin. The ettin Shortwhiskers had been hacking away on had managed to get to its feet and was trying to fend the dwarf off bare-handed. The ettin absolutely towered over the dwarf, but it was unarmed and Shortwhiskers was using his sword with the skill of a veteran warrior. The sides seemed evenly matched. As Brisbane watched, they traded blows, the ettin with its powerful fists and Shortwhiskers with his blade. The other ettin had its clubs and was using them in combat against Stargazer and Roystnof. The slow-moving giant was no match for Stargazer and her quick-moving staff. She would dodge away from the heavy clubs and quickly rap the ettin somewhere on its body with the iron hand of Grecolus that topped her staff. But these contacts were light and not troublesome to the ettin. If Roystnof had not been behind her, casting his offensive spells, Brisbane was sure Stargazer would have been crushed long ago. As Brisbane watched, another burst of red lightning flung out of Roystnof’s fingers and slammed into the ettin, driving the monster back a pace or two. Dantrius stood at the entrance of the cavern, a pair of daggers in his hands, but he was doing apparently nothing.

The ettin fighting Shortwhiskers was the one closest to him, so Brisbane charged into combat with that one. He slipped, easily this time, into the trance that Angelika provided, and he watched as the ettin grew weaker and weaker before his deadly blade. He attacked so aggressively that Shortwhiskers had to back off to give Brisbane room and to avoid the seemingly wild swings of his sword. But each swing, no matter how sweeping and wild it seemed, scored a dire wound on the body of the two-headed monster. Its four eyes were wide in amazement and fear at the ferocity of its small attacker and, before long, those four eyes bore only the glassy stare of death.

And as the second ettin fell under his blade, Brisbane, watching coolly from behind his own eyes, thought, for just a moment, that he might very well be invincible and that he could defeat anything.

The deed is done. Praise Grecolus for his wisdom and Brisbane for his courage.

Stargazer and Roystnof together had defeated the third ettin and the battle was over. Brisbane tore off a piece of the ettin’s clothing and began cleaning Angelika. He felt good, calm, and confident. Shortwhiskers thanked him for the help against the ettin and then asked Stargazer to come over and tend to his wounds. They were mostly bumps and bruises and Stargazer simply rubbed some of her ointment over them and covered them with strips of clean cloth. When this was done and all had caught their breath, they gathered about the pile of treasure they had won.

Brisbane eyed Dantrius smokily as he joined the circle, a little upset the mage had done nothing in the battle, but he decided to forget about it. The less Dantrius did for him, the happier he felt he would be.

Shortwhiskers dumped out all the sacks and, for a moment, no one said anything as they all stared at the glittering pile of gold and gems.

“Wow,” Brisbane said finally. “That’s a lot of gold.”

“Damn sack had a hole in it,” Shortwhiskers said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t even have had to work for it.”

Everyone laughed nervously at that. Brisbane decided it was too spooky in the cave, with the fresh dead surrounding their newfound hoard. He suggested they pack it up and get the hells out of there. There were no objections and that is what was done. They bagged it all up and Shortwhiskers tied it securely to their pack mules, this time, without any complaint from Dantrius. It seemed that the mage had decided not to be such a pest and that was fine with Brisbane.

Then, they were on their way again, following the thinning Mystic deeper and deeper into the mountains. The farther he got away from the incident, the less Brisbane could remember about the way Angelika had actually controlled him in the battle with the ettins. When he did think about it, he remembered himself playing a larger part in the proceedings and, personally, was shocked at the bravery and skill he had shown in defeating the monsters. If Roundtower had been there, perhaps he could have helped Brisbane sort through these unusual feelings, but probably not even he could have protected Brisbane from the danger of using Angelika in combat. She was one of the finest swords in the realm and, armed with her, anyone with the strength to lift her could defend himself against aggression. But Brisbane’s natural and learned talent of weaponry combined with Angelika’s magic in a special and potentially dangerous way. Armed with Angelika, Brisbane was not invincible, but it became increasingly likely that he would begin to think so.

The battle with the ettins took place late in the day and the party only had an hour or two to travel before they were forced to make another camp for another night. Nearly as soon as they had left the cave of the ettins over their backward horizon, they began to hear a noise that at first none of them could identify. It started low, but as they walked on, it grew louder and louder until it was positively roaring in their ears. No longer could there be any doubt as to what was making the noise. They rounded a curve around a jagged peak and saw the waterfall they had been hearing for miles.

The water fell from a cliff high above their heads, gathered into a small pool, and began to flow down the mountain slopes to the sea. Here was the source of the Mystic and sitting beneath and slightly ahead of the falling waters was a low stone building. It had two major wings, one on each side of the virgin river, and a wide section connecting them, spanning over the surface of the water. It faced them like a squared letter C, and at each of its ends was an opening like the one at the shrine so far down the river.

The members of the party exchanged triumphant glances and quickly went about striking a camp for the night. They had found the temple they had been searching for and tomorrow was going to be a very big day. 

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