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The dishonoured

SetrusSetrus Senior MemberSwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
edited March 3 in Community Content
The boar snorted in challenge, hooves scrapping at the dirt as it prepared for another onslaught.

The forest itself seemed to lean in to watch, subjects of the foul creature's corruption. Where dappled leaves had before been glittering in he sun and the grass shone green, here, near its lair, they'd turned brown and sickly, foul growths spreading over the tree-trunks like a rash on the skin. The clearing the beast was making its stand on was covered by a carpet of wilting grass and patches of thorny weeds.

None of it compared to the corrupted beast itself though. Its fur had fallen out except for around its ears and behind its fat neck, the exposed flesh beneath criss-crossed by pale scars, corded muscle and large pulsing sacks of white pus. One of the sacks on its right flank was leaking profusely, a large horn of bone shaped like a rosebush's thorn jutting out of it. One beady eye, bloodshot,stared out from behind a tusk split in two like a fork, the other, the left, covered by a patchwork of pulsing blue veins.

And it was big.

Gloriously big.

Roland De Ferre pulled at the reins, making Paragon rear up, the black stallion's hooves stomping into the ground with enough force to crush skulls. Around them, the blue and red barding fluttered in the air, making the white sword piercing a black raven emblazoned upon it move like it was alive.

Challenging the beast for another go.

Growling, the boar levelled his tusks and charged.

Grinning, elated, Roland levelled his lance and kicked Paragon's flanks, a cry on his lips. “For Bretonnia! For the Lady!”

His stance was perfect in the saddle, his muscles singing with the need to exert the force they've been born, and later forged, to exert. The shield on his left shoulder and lance in his right seemed to weigh nothing at all, the chainmail hanging from his wide shoulders and slim hips felt more like his real skin than the unscarred flesh beneath it was supposed to protect.

He was invincible.

And so he mimicked the boar, steering right for his quarry, for a head on collision.

Beneath him, the ground heaved, grass pounded flat by weight of horse and rider, two beings merging together as one.

At the last instance Roland tapped Paragon's right flank, making the horse veer off in that direction even before Roland had time to adjust his aim.

The last moment before impact was like a lifetime.

And then not.

Roland was almost lifted off the saddle as the lance glanced off the beast's collar bone and slid on before finally punching into its side, snapping like a twig under the force of the impact halfway along the length, leaving at least two feet of wood and iron in the beast as Paragon and Roland hurtled on.

Yet boars were tenacious creatures, and the corruption gave it unnatural staying power. So Roland gasped more in surprise than horror when the beast swung its head after them, tusks swatting at Paragon's legs, tripping the warhorse. Roland's training kicked in, the manoeuvre was a reflex as he pulled his legs free from the stirrups and let go of the reins. He was airborne a moment later, flying as he curled into a ball as best he could.

Pain, familiar from his training, yet unfamiliar in its brutality and chaotic nature, rolled over him, first his shoulder, then spine and hip.

For a moment, there was nothing but white lights flashing in front of him.

Then there was pieces of grass and dirt.

Grunting, Roland rolled unto his knees, hand coming up to undo the clasp holding his helmet in place, the dirt stuck within chaffing against his face as he with a huff pulled it free and threw it aside, his coif falling off sweaty black curl. He found himself grinning, white teeth flashing as much as his blue eyes and drawn blade as he regarded the pierced boar turning to face him. Its remaining eye narrowed at the sight of him, its head pivoting until it could bite its powerful jaws into the lance stuck in it. Without a flinch, it pulled the wood free from its body, the blood flowing freely from the gap seemingly not bothering it.

“Well aren't you a tough one?” Flourishing his blade to ease the wrist into what was to come, Roland rose.

The boar growled, then turned to face Paragon as the horse rolled onto his hooves, tusks lowered like lances against the horse's belly.

“No, face me!” Panic gripped Roland at the thought of the boar goring his beloved steed, making him smash his blade against his shield with a resounding thump. “Face me, vile beast!” Huffing, the boar turned its head back to look at him. “Paragon, get Henri!” A neigh of frustration, and the horse set off, hurtling off like an arrow into the forest.

The beast was also hurtling forward, straight at Roland.

He charged it and leapt with his shield in front of him, trying to vault the boar.

It was too fast though, head looking up it struck true, tusk punching into Roland's shield until the tip was suddenly poking out the other side. The impact sent Roland backwards, legs pumping to keep him upright as the boar tried to bowl him over. Sensing rather than seeing the tree he was about to hit, Roland raised his legs higher...and suddenly he was standing on the tree-trunk, held up by the pressure from the snorting boar still trying to gore him.

Below, the beast glared at him with its one good eye.

Growling back, gritting his teeth, Roland thrust his sword over his pierced shield and laid it across the beast's face before pulling the blade back up with a slicing cut.

A slicing cut right across that glaring eye, making it disappear in an explosion of blood and mucus.

Instantly, Ronald was dropped back onto the ground, his shield freed from the boar's tusk as it squealed and whinnied, jumping back and tossing its head left and right while jumping and shaking like one of those beasts the Estalians enjoyed taming with their bare hands.

Rising, Ronald chuckled at the sight of the blinded monster.

The boar turned to face him, ears twitching, making Ronald grin.

“Well? Come then!” Ronald bashed his sword against his shield again, the sound enough to make the boar squeal with rage and hurtle towards him.

It was easy to gauge the approach of the blind beast, and so Ronald rolled aside at the last moment and laughed aloud as it crashed right into the tree. Staggering back, the boar shook its head, dazed and confused.

Ronald let loose a cry of elation as he lunged forward, throwing his entire weight behind his sword as he punched it into the beast's thick neck. Gasping in an almost human way, the boar was bowled over onto its side, blade sliding in deep, spitting it to the ground. Whinnying like a wounded horse, the boar kicked with it's small but powerful legs, but found only air as Robert lay atop the monster, worrying his blade back and forth to finish it off.

The boar clung on to life, moving its face left and right, trying to heave its body over to throw off the knight. Yet all it did was aiding him cutting into its vitals, and there was no rolling over with the blade thrust straight through it and into the ground beneath.

With a final gasp for air, the boar stopped moving.

Roland remained atop it for a moment, senses straining to feel or hear any sign of life from the beast, but there was none. Whooping, he leapt off it, grinning widely at the monster. It looked smaller in death, but was still an impressive quarry, more than adequate for an Errantry.

I knew I had it in me! I knew I'd prove myself! I knew glory was within me!

Placing a firm foot on the boar, Ronald gripped his blade anew and pulled it free in a welter of foul blood, grinning at the way his blade was stained by it.

I'm a hero.

Then a crash of breaking under-brush made him raise his shield and blade anew, spinning to face the new threat.

Instead he found a man in dirty and patched gambeson in faded red and blue crashing in, stumbling the last few steps as he hefted a worn falchion with a small buckler in front of him, held more like a religious ward than protection. Behind him, Paragon trotted, eyes wide and taking in the sight. Lowering his sword, Roland chuckled and shook his head. “Henri...”

The man was short, like most commoners, over a head shorter than Roland's six feet and more. Though thin the slight hunchback on his right shoulder made him look wider than he was. His blond hair was cut short and always reminded Roland of straw, rather than the real thing. Bowing his head, Henri's dull grey eyes stared at the marks of combat upon the ground. “M' sorre m'lord, Paragon found me, but I did nah know where m'lord had gone so Paragon had ta lead me m'lord and I had ta...”

“That's fine, Henri.” Roland grunted at the man's bumbling excuses. Henri was a good yeoman, probably the best, but he spoke more than he should. Ignoring the peasant, Roland strode over to Paragon and put a hand over his face, rubbing it down. “Hey, boy, did you worry for me?” Paragon shook his head. “No? My friend, you wound me!” Roland grinned at the answer though, Paragon had always believed in him. “And you? You're okay, right?” This time, Paragon nodded, snorting dismissively at the plummet he'd taken before. “Figures, you're tougher than me.” Roland grinned.

“M'lord!” Henri gasped, the yeoman having held his breath until Roland and Paragon finished. As such Henri's words almost burst out of him like an overflowing dam. “'Tis is a glorious kill! M'lord has outdone even his father's Errantry, surely the finest act of chivalry in Alencion for...for...years, many years!”

“I know, brilliant, isn't it?” Roland smiled, he'd always known he'd been meant for greatness on the field of valour, always, yet the feel of validation...it was euphoria. “The beast never stood a chance against the might of Bretonnia, it was just a question of finding it to deliver justice.”

“Of course, m'lord, of course, want me ta cut it's head off? Before it fouls or the muscles stiffens beyond helpin'?” Henri asked, making Roland and Paragon exchange a smile. The Yeoman was always about the practical things.

“Huh? Oh, yes, of course, get on with it, man.” Roland dismissively waved back, making Henri bow and heft his falchion like a cleaver. Leaning closer to Paragon, Roland grinned, with his Errant finished, a world of opportunities lay open before him. He'd be granted land, of course, a vassal of his father, but that held little interest to Roland, Alencion had not seen fighting for generations, there was no glory in defending lands that were never attacked. But there were other ways for him to find the glory he craved...

Ronald grinned, he knew what he needed to do.

Behind him, Henri huffed as he again and again hacked into the tough flesh of the mutated boar.

8
8
8

John Worringen was running, stumbling, clawing his way forward.

The grass of the hill was wet and slippery, the hill itself steep, exhausting John who had little experience with the world outside the cities of the Empire. His robes slowed him, his fine boots, bereft of proper grip, tripped him, the thick tome in his right arm, clutched close to a thin chest, weighted him down. Yet on he went, there was no other way.

Behind him, the bells of Bechafen's chapels tolled in earnest, in alarm.

His home was in uproar, over him.

It was terrifying. It was exciting. It was so wrong. Yet so right.

For so many years, Bechafen had been his home, he'd worked for the Elector Count, just another clerk in the machinery that was the state of Ostermark. Administration mixed with library duties, one melding into the other in a dreary drudgery of numbers and words, the search for truths among many scholars lost in the needs of the moment.

Yet there was no truth to be found there, not any more. For there was only one truth there, and that was clutched to John's chest like a talisman, the reassuring presence of it the only thing that kept him going where he'd otherwise would have been frozen in terror.

It had unlocked his potential, told him what needed to be done. The rituals, the covenants, the blessings that were now promised him.

Trembling in fear of retribution from them, John none the less sneered in contempt of the lesser men he left behind, they would learn, they would all learn, and sooner than they might think.

Yet for now, he fled, all too aware of how frail and easily snuffed out his life was.

Above, the ever-present forests of the Empire loomed. Dark, foreboding, they had always been something to fear for John, and he knew it hadn't been unfounded, even the soldiers of Bechafen he'd known shivered in fear when talk of patrolling them came up, and with good reason.

Yet now he ran for those dark shadows as a hunted man seeking the sanctuary of sacred ground. For what had once been corrupted was now the holy ground, and what had been holy, was an insult, a joke, a mirage.

He reached the top and, more dragging than climbing, forced himself over a fallen tree-trunk and into the shadows of the forest. Merely a few feet into the forest was not good enough, not nearly enough to lose any pursuers. Yet John collapsed none the less, resting his back on the reassuring trunk as he breathed a sigh of relief, his chest heaving with exertion.

He felt, after months of fright after finding out the truth, free. The shadows around him, once dark and brooding, were now welcoming, hiding him from the sight of the false light Sigmar once had cast over the Empire and still did with the flickering embers that were his champions. Hidden, he was safe, hidden, he was welcome, hidden he was free.

Then the shadows began to move, turning solid.

John had known they'd been there, prepared for their arrival, welcomed it since it meant he'd be protected. Yet despite this a part deep within him still made his hairs stand on edge and made him lurch to his feet, the instinct to flight or fight pushing at him until he could taste bile in his mouth.

The shadows were unnatural, some would say, and John would still say. They were not the perfection desired, not the promises made. They were refuse, accidents of powers beyond mortal comprehension. But they did know the truth, and so were useful tools.

Still, John felt more like the tool than the master of the situation as he watched them becoming real.

Beastmen.

The one closest to John was a man's body, but the neck and head was that of a swan, making the creature tower over John as it gazed down on him. The beak of the monster opened, revealing fangs that were licked by a serpent's tongue as it fixed a spear upon him. Behind it, a lizard in all but feet chuckled in a raspy hiss, curved blade of stone pointing at John as it spoke to the others in a guttural language more grunts than words, making more of them chuckle.

John, eyes wide, set aside his tome and drew his dagger.

For a moment, the shapes stopped. Then the swan laughed, followed by the others.

A beefy fist landed upon the swan's shoulder, hurling it back into another monster with a brutality foreign to a man of John's background, or any human, really. The beast responsible was almost as tall as the swan, but far wider of shoulders and gut, its bull-like head covered in flabs of flesh that almost made the beady red eyes within disappear under the folds of fat. The axe it hefted was larger than any John had seen though, and raised as it without a hint of humour looked at John's dagger.

His hands trembled as he moved his palm to the blade, making his cut sloppy and far deeper than intended. Wincing, John squeezed his palm even as the fat bull of a Beastman raised what might be considered his eyebrows by a generous interpreter.

The blood fell...and then stopped.

The droplets merged together, forming a larger orb of crimson, hovering in the air, then rising, coming level with the bull's eyes. Glittering, then shining, the globe spoke, John's master and teacher spoke.

John had not yet learnt the specific words of the language, wasn't sure if there was any. The language was deep, dark, cold. It pushed into John's mind like a cold blade, making him shiver and gasp in pain even as he eagerly tried to understand. He didn't understand the words, but those were not the important thing, the concepts conveyed within were though.

Protect, reward. Fail, die. Kill, suffer.

The fat bull hefted his axe higher, then let lose a lone bray, angry, but submissive.

Lowering his axe, the beast gestured to John, for him to follow.

Between them, the orb of blood fell back unto the ground, smoke rising from where it struck.

Swallowing, throwing a last look back at Bechafen, at civilisation, John took his tome and moved to follow the beasts into the forest.

To his destiny.
Post edited by Setrus on
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  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    edited February 26
    The place was too small to be called a village. While protected by a sensible palisade, the four buildings were dominated by the large inn in the centre, the reason for the rest even existing. In Ostermark, such places were generally easy prey for those hiding in the forests, human or otherwise, but this place had endured for a long time, or so the innkeeper claimed.

    It helped that so many travelled through that he could afford a good number of mercenaries to guard his investment.

    Maybe I should make a similar investment once I grow old.

    The thought made the knight for hire chuckle, he was already old, he knew it in his bones. His red beard and hair was still thick, but the odd streak of grey stood out in it, his green eyes flashed with intelligence but were surrounded by pale skin with the odd line of age that no beard could conceal. A little short under six feet, he was wide of built and strong of body, yet somewhere within, he knew he'd reached his peak and gone on.

    Still, there was work to do, wealth to acquire if he was going to make such an investment, he needed far more than he had managed to save in the Altdorf banks. As such, leaning back on the bench he was sitting on, enjoying the last draught of his pipe and the pale sun rising above, Bernard Grund was eyeing his opportunity for such a gain.

    The Ostermark halberdiers were thirty in numbers, standing in a perfect square in the centre of the little settlement, banner hanging limp in front of them, their purple and yellow uniforms spotless, their breastplates and helmets polished to a shine.

    Someone's trying to impress.

    Bernard largely ignored them in favour of the man riding an overly-prancing white steed in front of them. Dressed in full purple cloth covered by several pieces of silvery plate armour trimmed with gold and a yellow sash across his chest, neither which had surely ever seen a battlefield. He had a haughty look on his hawk-like face as he gazed down on the numerous guards the innkeeper kept. They were a mottled crew, many carried handguns, others hatchets and bucklers, most were dressed in leather armour, others simple clothes.

    None looked overly interested in his words.

    And why should they be? They got a safe and cushy job, probably well paid too. There would be none taking the man's offer, making the price for the services he required higher...

    “Hey, baby...” The pale arms suddenly snaking their way over Bernard's shoulders and across his chest were familiar and made him smile, he'd wondered when she'd get up. “...spotted us a new job?” Turning his head, Bernard found his smile turning into a grin mirroring that of the raven-haired dame as she leant close and kissed him.

    Emma Miloy had been made an orphan in her teens by Beastmen, and though that had been a little over ten years ago, she still looked like one in her gangly and somewhat awkward appearance. Her thin and pale frame was topped by a short and messy tangle of black hair, her grey eyes always either shining with happiness or going dull with brooding darkness in reflection of her mood, the clothes she wore were baggy and worn, the green leather vest over her brown shirt and hoses making her look like a teenage huntsman rather than a woman from a distance.

    She was also one of the finest shots Bernard had ever seen, and a daemon in the sack.

    “Of course he is, and I bet it's going to be a pain in the neck.” The next voice speaking up belonged to Carl Hessian. Dressed in a uniform similar to the Ostermark troops, but with the colours so faded none could tell which County in the Empire he'd come from, the breastplate long ago replaced by a few leather straps, he looked like some of he old veterans one saw on Altdorf's streets, begging for coin over whatever limb they'd lost.

    Carl lacked no limbs though, just a good mood. Though the same height as Bernard, his thinness made him look taller, the impression aided by a pale beard atop a narrow chin. With a viciously hooked nose and narrow brown eyes, the man seemed to always be frowning, which, to be fair, he always was.

    Just like he was now, watching the noble speaking to the crowd of bored mercenaries. “Always is a pain when they send out someone important like that...useless git, except when it comes to licking ar...”

    “Carl!” Emma chided with mock horror. “There's ladies present.”

    “The day I consider you a lady is the day Sigmar, hallowed be the corpse's name, returns on a flaming chariot wearing an orc's head for a codpiece.” Carl snorted.

    “And on that lovely note...lets put the poor man out of his misery.” Bernard grunted and pushed himself to his feet. He liked Carl, the man had his feet firmly on the ground and the ex-soldier's negativity was almost welcome when matched with Emma's positivity and perkiness, but his sacrilege, while fine among the group, was pushing it when near other people who might take exception to someone insulting the creator of the Empire and its foremost god.

    “As I was saying...” The nobleman was getting a little hoarse, but still staunchly continued, convinced that his proud words would somehow sway the minds of those before him if he repeated them enough times. For him, he was offering a chance of a lifetime, to them he was offering the risk of life and limb when they had a good thing going. Bernard, however, lived to risk big and gain more. “...the reward for assisting our beloved Count is substantial. The hunting of a clerk should prove easy for someone of skill and cunning, the reward would not be of simple coin either, but the blessing of of Sigmar comes to anyone who would stop a heretic such as your quarry, and return what he has stolen to its rightful place.”

    “Well, with such a glorious offer of salvation of my wretched soul, perhaps I could offer my services, my lord?” Bernard stopped half a dozen feet away from the nobleman, legs wide apart, hands on his hips and chest puffed out, putting himself for sale for someone clearly more interested in what was on the inside than anything else.

    The noble's horse snorted and took a step backwards, nearly stomping on the foot of an Ostermark halberdier who gritted his teeth while refusing to move, making Carl shake his head. The noble paid little heed to what he'd nearly done though and simply eyed the trio before him with doubtful eyes. His gaze moved over Carl with disdain, Emma with confusion before finally settling on Bernard, mollified by the proud bearing of the veteran knight in full plate armour.

    Which of course was the whole point of it.

    “Well you do look like the capable sort. Would you be able to track this scoundrel and bring him to justice, if were pointed in the right direction? My lordship has tracked the Clerk with some success but has been severely hampered by Beastmen activity.” The noble yet again looked to Carl and Emma, a frown creasing his brow.

    “Yes, I know I can, my lord.” Bernard spoke, raising his chin to once more call the noble's attention to himself. The fact that Emma were a superior tracker wasn't important, what was important was appearances. “However, with Beastmen apparently a problem and the hunt of a heretic no doubt being through the dark forests where many a man have been lost, while I have no fear for my immortal soul while doing the Emperor's work, the body would be more willing if it knew the recompense would be...fitting for such an arduous task.”

    “I have already told you that the reward would be ample, but I see your point.” The noble pulled free a small parchment rolled unto a wooden pole and threw it to Bernard who crisply caught it in one gauntleted hand before starting to unroll it. “The count's coffers are large and he spares no expense in this issue.”

    On the inside, Bernard gave a whistle, on the outside he kept all expression hidden under his beard. Wow, had he told them the exact number some of these guards might actually have been tempted. Instead, Bernard kept his tone neutral and courteous. “This is a generous bounty, my lord, you have my services.”

    The noble smiled then, a thin, mirthless smile. “I thought as much.”

    Rolling the scroll back up before Emma and Carl, barely literate, could read over his shoulder and give a too obvious hint to the mercenaries in the tavern of the amazing the generosity of the offer. Of course, that usually means it's going to be a pain to get the reward, but that's what cleverness is for. “When do we leave?”

    The noble's smile turned into a weary grimace. “Immediately.”

    8
    8
    8

    They caught the scent of it first.

    Churned mud, the stench of opened bowels, the tangy scent of blood, of cloying smoke, the acridness of gunpowder.

    Having been abandoned by the noble a mile back, perish the thought that he'd face the reality of war, Bernard and his group rode alone along the narrow path. Bernard rode at the front on his white courser, Emma behind him, her hands comfortably wrapped around his waist, the woman by now dozing against his back, though the smell wafting over them was making her stir. Meanwhile Carl, as always ungainly on a horse, grumbled of the chafing the saddle on his brown horse caused.

    Then, cresting a small hill, they saw it.

    The rolling landscape ahead was one of puddles of water and blood across muddy craters, tufts of grass that had survived the carnage looking beaten and shocked at the destruction wrought on their brothers that had been turned to nothing but ash.

    Bernard could see a tall hill on the left, a few stakes had been hastily driven into the soil, atop it men were still working on removing the artillery from their position, three mortars and a old-looking cannon. Most of the Ostermark army had already been withdrawn to the nearby village they had passed half a mile away, but an unlucky regiment of handgunners had been picked to guard the artillery's withdrawal. Even unluckier were the sweating soldiers huffing and puffing as they carried away the numerous dead Beastmen with improvised stretchers made of vines and spears to three growing pyres.

    “Well, looks like we were too late.” Carl grunted. “Not surprising, really, the reward was too good to be true. And now my backside sore and we got nothing to show for it.”

    “I wouldn't be so sure of that.” Emma said, a smile in her voice as she pointed past Bernard's head and to the rider waiting for them a little further afield. The man, in full plate, had a dozen knights in similar garb around him, though he was the only one without his helmet on and the spyglass in his hands was constantly moving as he searched the site of the battle. “Now, I'm no expert, but that doesn't look like a smile on his face.”

    She was right, the balding warrior with his bushy grey beard looked like he'd swallowed a lemon rather than crushed a Beastmen incursion, lifting Bernard's spirits as he guided his horse into a trot towards the man. Around him, the knights stirred, two drawing their blades and moving to block the passage. The moment the man lowered his spyglass and turned to face the small group though, they reined in their horses, sensing his unspoken command.

    Bernard reined in his horse and lowered his head, one mailed fist moving to his chest. “I'm Bernard Grund, I believe you have a mission for me, a heretic in need of catching?”

    “Yes.” The man's voice was gravel mixed with nails, the voice of a man that had spent the last few hours shouting a lot, and probably a lot of his life doing the same. “I'm general Groehl Shmidt. You have been briefed on the task at hand, of this heretic and his book, I assume?”

    “Yes, my lord.” Bernard nodded. “I presume the fool hasn't been found?”

    “No.” The general grunted, annoyed. “A small band of those creatures escaped with him, apparently giving him safe harbour, letting the rest die to buy him time to escape, clearly his heresies run deep.” He paused, looking back over the field of slain Beastmen. “They are of little concern, he is of little concern.” Looking back to Bernard, Groehl narrowed his eyes. “The book though, is of utmost importance. If the Beastmen run, if he escapes, it's no matter, but get that book back, and you will have your reward. Do I make myself clear?”

    “Like crystal.” Bernard looked over the battlefield with a look of distaste, no matter how used to it you got, there was no enjoyment in treading on one. “If you could point us in the right direction, we can do the rest.”

    “They were last seen fleeing south into that treeline.” The general pointed across the field towards the dark forest on the other side. “My men has scoured that area though, there is too much chaos caused by the battle to make sense of where they might have gone.”

    “Don't worry, sir, I have the means to catch that heretic's scent.” Bernard confidently smiled, jabbing a thumb back at a grinning Emma.

    “Then what are you waiting for?” The general guided his horse a step back, giving them room to move unto the battlefield. “You better move quick if you're to find that 'scent' of his before nightfall.”

    “Thank you, general.” Bernard offered a lazy salute, then clicked his tongue, guiding his horse down the slope and into the muddy mire that had so recently been a battlefield. His courser hesitated, nervous at the scent of corruption, but obeyed, as it moved down, Carl cursed and forced his more reluctant steed into motion, the soldier's grumbling indicating he was about as eager as his horse to go through it.

    It smelled fouler when they were in the middle of the battlefield and Bernard forced himself not to gag as Carl's curses took a more muffled quality as the soldier covered his mouth and nose as best he could. Behind Bernard, Emma held on tighter, but made no noise of complaint, she liked the scent of dead Beastmen, Bernard knew, and he couldn't help but shiver at the knowledge that she probably enjoyed the sight of so many slain beasts.

    Her hunger for revenge was never sated when it came to Beastmen, after all.

    Thankfully, the battlefield wasn't as long as it was wide, and so the group passed through the mire of corpses and mud relatively quickly.

    Once there, Emma dropped off the horse with practised ease. Though there were no Beastmen in sight, and likely most were now far off, she unslung her long rifle from her back and held it ready as she approached the battered undergrowth partly hidden under the shadows of the canopy. Dismounting at a more measured pace, Bernard grimaced at the sight before him. The forests of the Empire were a tangled and dark mess, and Bernard did not look forward to trekking through it. Carl was, unsurprisingly, in agreement. “This is going to be stinking mess even without encountering this John fellow and his friends, why are we doing this again?”

    “Because the pay is amazing.” Bernard grunted, watching Emma crouch near a bush covered in the blood from an ungor that still lay collapsed atop it, a gaping hole in its skull leaving part of the brain dribbling out. “Besides, do you really want to re-enlist and get a shiny new uniform, a few coppers and the promise of many more years fighting among the rank and file on the whim of whomever gets assigned to command you?”

    “Fair enough, but I still say hunting Beastmen in the forest at night is suicide.” Carl replied, making Bernard grunt. The man had a point... “Too many things beyond our quarry that would want us for a snack, I say.”

    “Don't worry, Carl, you're too sour for anything out there.” Emma chuckled, crouching lower to check something under the fallen ungor, then proceeded, her steps swift and sure as she found a whole plethora of marks in the mud. Bernard saw nothing special in them, but knew very well how good she was at reading them, it was the primary reason he'd taken her on as a partner, all else was a bonus. “So is our friend John as well, it seems, he's being escorted, roughly, but escorted none the less.”

    Bernard looked into the deep shadows around him, shaking his head. “How does he manage that? Those things can't speak, not with men anyway.”

    “They do have cunning though, and they do understand more than they let on.” Emma grunted back, shifting to follow one set of tracks, then changing her mind, her gaze checking the bushes around them. “They're wolves, not boars.” She paused, then knelt, her palm moving down to brush a fallen leaf aside, pressing down onto the earth as her gaze snapped upwards, like a hunting dog catching its scent. “I got the trail.”

    “Well...lets hunt some wolves then.” Bernard pulled at the reins of his horse, drawing the beast with him into the forest to follow the silently moving Emma.

    Behind him, Carl growled in annoyance. “Sigmar preserve me, this will be a pain.”

    “Hey, at least you don't need to walk through this in plate armour.”

    “Sure, and when the Beastmen archers start shooting at us you'll be oh so sad about wearing it.”

    “Are you ever happy with your situation?”

    “Am I in a tavern with an overflowing purse hanging from my hip while being served mead by a wench with a loose top?”

    “No.”

    “Then no.”

    Ahead of them, Emma chuckled. “We'll never make a Hochlander of you, Carl.”

    “Thank Ulric for that, bunch of bark-eaters, the lot of you, no civilisation.”

    “Hey!”

    Groaning, Bernard realised it would be a long trip.
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    The castle of Alencion stood proud atop a wide hill, the numerous turrets sporting the De Ferre banner, the blue and red fabric flapping hard in a strong gale.

    The village around Alencion was small, a number of huts for the servants, fletchers, blacksmiths and labourers servicing the castle, rather than dedicated farmers. All were now coming forth though, laying down their tools for a moment to stare and cheer at the procession.

    And they did so with good reason, Ronald thought, chin held high, struggling not to grin as he calmly rode up the road to his family home. The head of the corrupted boar swung from Paragon's saddle, the horse easily carrying the prize Henri had hacked off to show Ronald's accomplishment.

    “Praise De Ferre! Praise Ronald, boar-slayer!” An old washerwoman, her back crooked under the weight of a bundled baby, cried out, her ugly face alight with excitement.

    Henri, riding behind Ronald on his old nag, took up the cry, enthusiasm contagious. “Praise De Ferre!”

    Servants, blacksmiths, men, women and children started clapping, cheering, some even going as far as crying as they saw the son of their lord returning from his errantry with his prize.

    “M'lord, that's amazing!”

    “Eww, look how ugly it is!”

    “Finally, the beast will trouble us no more, thank ye, sire!”

    “It never stood a chance!”

    By the time Ronald was cresting the hill to the castle the grin was no longer suppressed, and it merely grew wider as he found the castle's drawbridge coming down and the grate behind it rise in one smooth movement. Above, trumpeters gave voice to a deafening call to glory as the guards on the parapets raised their blades in a cheer. Urging Paragon on, Ronald hurried on through the gatehouse, his gaze soaking in the sight before him, heart thumping with pride.

    Flanking his path, the castle's finest men at arms with polished shields and spears stood at attention, an honour guard guiding him towards the centre where they all stood. His father's knights were all wearing their finest tunics and hoses, their ladies, hanging on their arms, were clad in gold, silver and silk. Even their sons and daughters looked as fine as if taken straight out of a painting. It was a dazzling display of colour, wealth and largesse, a reflection of De Ferre chivalry and strength, as well as their respect for his eldest son.

    And in the centre, his family.

    Jacques De Ferre was like an older Ronald, the wavy dark hair now iron grey, his wide shoulders slumped by age, yet still powerful, his bright blue eyes calmer and wiser than that of his heroic son, old, but age had been kind to him. He had an arm over Ronald's mother, Marie, a woman short of height but wide of face, her greyed red hair properly hidden by a wide bonnet, her tearful green eyes fixed on her son. Between them, grinning wider than what should be humanly possible, little Alexis, merely six years old, struggled to hold up a new shield with the De Ferre heraldry as he stared at his bigger brother with eyes clearly inherited from his mother.

    Behind him, Henri dismounted and led his horse away, but Ronald barely noticed, all her has eyes for was his happy family and the even happier announcement he has ready for them.

    This was his moment.

    Once he'd reached the customary distance to them, Ronald reined in Paragon and lead the horse in a little circle, letting all see and gasp at the sight of the head strapped to his saddle. Only once he was sure all had seen it, Ronald dismounted with the smoothness only years of practice could assure and knelt into the ground in front of his family, head bowed in the customary sign of humility.

    Right now he felt anything but that, he was relishing the moment, yet he still appreciated the moment to steady his thoughts and breathing for what was to come.

    After a deep breath of relief, his father spoke, voice solemn and proud. “And so our son returns. Ronald De Ferre, noble of Couronne, is your errantry complete?”

    “It is, father.” Ronald raised his head, and met his father's smiling gaze. “In front of all these witnesses here, I declare my errantry over, the Fell boar is no more.”

    “And so, before all these witnesses here, I declare this truth and fact.” For a moment Jacques looked across the crowd of nobles, knowing none would question his word. When he looked back to Ronald, it was with blue eyes alight with a father's pride. “You are no longer a knight Errant, Ronald de Ferre. Rise as knight of the Alencion, rise as a knight of Couronne, rise as a knight of realm.”

    Ronald rose. Behind his proud father, he could see his mother beaming and his brother dropping the shield to clap his hands, unable to contain himself. “Thank you, father.” Around them, more nobles joined in, the clapping rising into a crescendo, forcing Ronald to raise his voice. “But I'm not yet done!”

    The clapping ceased.

    Around them, nobles and men at arms alike looked at him in surprise. Ahead, Alexis looked up in confusion at his mother, who simply stared at Ronald, as confused as her son. Jacques, however, frowned, eyes flashing with suspicion. None of it gave Ronald pause as he proudly declared his intent: “The Lady has sought me out, I feel her presence, her urging of me to serve!” That wasn't exactly true, but who honestly heard her whispers anyway, besides the damsels? “I therefore eschew the lance, symbol of duty, and take up the sword, symbol of the quest.”

    Utter silence descended on the castle, as if suddenly being frozen in time, making Ronald shiver.

    He turned to look at the assembled nobles, forcing his voice to grow louder, to shatter that silence. “I will find the Grail, I will sip from it, and I will be the first De Ferre Grail knight in history.”

    That brought the desired reaction. It started with Alexis crying out, in his childishly high voice. “For Alencion!” A cry instantly taken up by several of the noble ladies, then echoed by their husbands until the entire courtyard was alive with cries of approval of Roland's brave attempt at glory. Roland, momentarily closing his eyes, savoured the cheers, the sounds reverberating through his soul. Then he turned back and opened his eyes.

    And found himself staring into the hard blue eyes of his father. It was a gaze Roland was painfully familiar was, it was the look of anger and disapproval, held back by iron discipline.

    Roland, confused, found his heart drop.

    Why would you not approve of such honours, father...?

    When the cheering finally died down, Jacques waited a moment longer, then spoke up. His voice was not angry or upset, not even neutral. It carried far, and was that of a proud father. “So the declaration is made, before all of you present! Roland, my son, kneel.”

    Roland, confused by his father's voice contrasting so sharply with the look he'd given his son just a moment, obeyed, one knee dropping onto the hard stone as he placed his hands on the other, he looked down at the ground, frowning.

    Before him, his father stood, lowering his tone, turning solemn. “I set down my lance, symbol of duty.”

    Roland swallowed, licking his lips. “I set down my lance, symbol of duty.”

    “I spurn those whom I love, I relinquish all...” There was a waver in his father's voice, making him pause before he continued. “And take up the tools of my quest.”

    “I spurn those whom I love, I relinquish all and take up the tools of my quest.” Roland forced himself to clear his throat. The vow was so familiar to him, he could recite it in his sleep, but something in his father's gaze made him struggle with it.

    Behind Jacques, Marie was crying, a torn look of fear and pride on Roland's mother's face, giving Roland fresh confidence as his father kept intoning the vow. “No obstacle will stand before me. No plea for help shall find me wanting. No moon will look upon me twice lest I be judged idle.”

    “No obstacle will stand before me. No plea for help shall find me wanting. No moon will look upon me twice lest I be judged idle.”

    A sigh escaped Roland's father. “I give my body, heart and soul to the Lady whom I seek.”

    Roland found himself grinning as he finished it. “I give my body, heart and soul to the Lady whom I seek.”

    “Then rise, Roland De Ferre, rise as a Questing knight.” Jacques took a step back, allowing Roland his space.

    Roland rose with a flourish, turning about to face the attending nobles around them and raised his hands high. He was met with a loud and happy cheer from them, elated noblewomen looking ready to swoon even as the noble knights happily cheered for a man daring to aim for the goal they'd only dreamt of.

    It was just as Roland had imagined it would.

    Then Jacques hand landed on his shoulder. Roland's father was not the epitome of knighthood, he trained the required amount, but he was more a lord of the land than a Gilles reborn. As such, Roland was surprised by the strength of the grip on his shoulder. There was anger in it.

    The voice was a low whisper in his ear, shaking with anger. “You've had your moment, come with me, now.”

    8
    8
    8

    They'd entered the keep, then proceeded in silence into it's depths.

    Down, always down, past the vine-cellar, past the storage of salted food prepared for a siege that would likely never come, past the empty prison, past the torture chamber an ancestor had built and which had now been sealed off due to the uneasy spirits within. On, down, until Roland was sure his father was bringing him to a tunnel leading to Cathay itself.

    There were no more carpet or tapestries here, it was only cold stone, and getting rougher as they went ever deeper. They seemed to have left the civilised land of Bretonnia and entered some cold cave, for all Roland knew.

    It was getting colder, by now Roland could see his breath with every exhale.

    With a rattle, Jacques pulled a key free from his belt and pushed it into the keyhole to a iron door covered with a thin sheet of frost. Roland moved to follow, but while the door opened, Jacques stood still, his shoulders sagging with a deep sigh. Roland, sensing something was wrong, reached out. “Father...”

    “Do you have any idea what you've done?” Jacques angry question took Roland aback. He'd realised something was wrong, that perhaps his father was angry back in the ceremony, but this was more than anger, his father was coldly furious, and something else... “I said, do you have any idea what you've done!?” Jacques turned to face Roland, glaring at his son.

    Roland, feeling his ire rising, squared his shoulders. While this was his father speaking, his liege, Roland was a Questing knight now, that demanded a modicum of respect from a mere Knight of the Realm. “All I did was take the natural next step, a step that's right for me.”

    “Natural? Right for you?” Jacques shook his head, a hint of despair in his eyes. “No, you really have no idea, do you?” Fixing his gaze back onto Roland, his eyes flashed with fresh anger. “You're going to get yourself killed.”

    Roland felt his shoulders sag in relief, he'd thought it had been something worse. Just paternal fear... “No, father, I won't. I'm the finest swordsman of the barony, my horsemanship rivals anyone in the castle, I'll be-”

    “Stop bragging, it's unfitting a De Ferre.” It was chiding words Roland had heard far too many times from his father, but this time they had more verve to them, more punch. Jacques took a step closer to his son. “How many Questing knights succeed in their search? Do you know? Well I do...” Jacques held his son's gaze for a moment before speaking again. “...one of two hundred, at best.” Roland shifted, but didn't look away, he'd heard worse odds, and however much his father thought it to be bragging, his previous words hadn't been wrong. “Some live on their entire lives, questing, before they die of old age. Most die, far away, forgotten.”

    Jacques was close now, his hard eyes filling Roland's vision, his cold and furious words making Roland feel as if someone was squeezing his heart with a vice. Yet Roland was accustomed to his father's intense attempts at dissuading the youth from seeking his destiny, and he wasn't about to stop now. “I won't fail.”

    “Very well.”Jacques sighed, taking several steps back, then he folded his arms in front of him and leant back against the doorway, eyes cold. “How long will it take?”

    “I'm sorry?”

    “How long will it take? Your quest for the Grail? Most I hear succeed in finding it after twenty years, but it's not unheard of for it to take thirty.” Jacques shook his head. “Son, you've got no idea what you've done...”

    Ronald shook his head and swallowed. Twenty years was a long time, but it would be doing what he was best at, it would bring honour and respect to his name, there few downsides. “So? I realise that's a long time but-”

    “How much longer do you think I'll live?” Jacques question cut into Ronald like a barb of cold ice. “Do you think I have fifteen more years? A whole twenty?” Ronald swallowed and shifted, finding himself on uncomfortable ground. “I think I have ten more, personally, and so does my healer. A long life, all things considered...”

    Ronald didn't know what to say, his mind trying to consider the information he'd for so long ignored but was still painfully aware of.

    “Ten years...your brother will be fifteen, too young to take up the mantle of lord of the land.” Jacques kept still, intensely watching Ronald now, his anger replaced by cold calculations, detached from the grim reality it implicated. “Your mother will have to remarry, that noble will be the lord of the land then and can easily angle to deprive your brother of his inheritance. He'll be a household knight, at best. And you, if you succeed, will be a Grail knight, but with no home but what which is given to you. You'll be okay, of course, you'll be a Grail knight, after all, but for what remains of your family...” The words faded.

    Suddenly, the dark chamber they were in felt even colder.

    “No, you didn't know what you were doing.”

    Roland's mouth moved, but he didn't speak, no words came to him, the barb of ice in his heart turning into bath of ice, submerging him.

    Shaking his head, disappointed, Jacques turned away from his son and started to walk through the doorway into the darkness beyond, making Ronald follow. “I was thinking of doing it myself, you know. Ten years is not long, but I'd at least die with honour and with a chance at the greatest reward. More importantly, you'd been free to take over the lordship, learn some responsibility. Then you could have gone on to your own Quest, had you so desired, when your brother had grown up.” A sigh, and Jacques proceeded. “You were never one for patience or thinking though, I guess that's my fault, when it comes down to it...I encouraged your talents with the blade early on too much.”

    Ahead, there was a light, different from the fading lamplight his father had brought with him, pale and cold like the room, emanating from a corner ahead. It made no difference to Roland though, crestfallen, he shook his head, for once dissuaded by his father. “I...we'll get a damsel over here? M-maybe I can renounce my oath before her and she'd-”

    “Too late now, the oath is taken, son, you know what that means.” Jacques interrupted, not slowing down nor looking back. “You're bound on this journey now, no matter how foolish.”

    “Father, I know we've not always looked eye to eye but all I've ever striven for is making you proud...” The words sounded pathetic in the deep chamber.

    “And you've always succeeded, whatever reserve I've held for your accomplishments.” Jacques stopped and turned, anger gone from his face, now there was only weariness in it, making Ronald see much clearer just how old his father really was. “You're a great warrior, son, despite your youth.”

    Ronald swallowed, he sensed the other foot coming.

    Turning around once more, Jacques reached the corner and beckoned Ronald on. “Hopefully, one day, you'll be a good knight.”

    It was like a punch in the gut, making Ronald reluctant to follow, to close the gap with his father who so easily made him feel small and unworthy. As such, he was even more reluctant to obey his father and overtake him to see the path around the corner.

    Yet there was no path there, it ended just a few feet ahead. The rough walls and ceiling around them contrasted sharply to what had been carved out of the rock here though. While the stone was crude and dull, the craftsmanship of the carving was exquisite. The knight might as well have been a living man, cursed to stone by some spell, for all Ronald knew. His cloak fell behind the kneeling noble and looked as real as silk, his armour had visible scars on it, his face was old and weathered, missing an eye.

    Yet he was stone, his raised hands never tiring, never wavering, holding up a long and narrow blade from which the pale blue light was emanating.

    Ronald had never seen the like, his eyes bulging and his jaw dropping.

    “Our ancestor, Henri De Ferre, the one of our ancestors closest to finding the Grail, some say.” Jacques muttered. “For in his quest he didn't find a quick end, he searched for many years and slew many beasts, he was even rewarded with this blade by a damsel.” Jacques sighed. “Of course, he still died, as so many before him.”

    “Wh-why have you taken me here?” Ronald barely dared breathe.

    “I love you, son, and I might be mad with you...” A hand landed on Ronald's shoulder, gently squeezing. “...but I want you to survive this, I was you to be as safe as possible. Now, I have never managed to keep you safe, you're too stubborn for that, but I can at least raise your chances.”

    “You don't mean...”

    “Take it, and may the Lady bless your endeavour enough that you one day may bring the blade back to me.”

    Ronald grasped the weapon, his throat dry. Instantly, the light emanating from the blade begun to fade, making him feel more unsure about his quest than he had until then. Still, when he replied, he managed to do so with conviction.

    “I will, father.”
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    love it contiue please
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    L'Vielle was a beautiful sight from a distance.

    As the biggest producer of wheat in Alencion lands, Jacques De Ferre had allowed the village to expand its farmlands nearly every year and the yellow fields stretching out before Roland was a testament to the wisdom of that decision. Only a narrow path, barely wide enough for a cart – and so forcing the few they'd passed to roll into the fields to allow Roland to ride on without delay – cut a path through the ripening fields.

    The peasants had another name for the village, the White Rock. It was a curious name, fitting yet not.

    For while the village itself was centred around a huge rock, one of the few landmarks in the flat land, it was almost black in colour. Green moss was growing on it wherever there was the slightest crevice and red ivy was climbing up using the smallest of purchases in its striving to cover the immense boulder.

    It was anything but white.

    Yet the chapel atop, however crumbled and worn down by age and wind, remained pristine, a shining white that sailors were said to be able to see from the coast on sunny days.

    Yes, L'Vielle was beautiful from a distance.

    Yet, as he came closer, freshly polished helmet under his arm, Ronald could not ignore the rest of the village and grimaced, he'd never gotten along with peasants like his father did...

    There was a crude but high palisade erected around the village, two flimsy-looking towers flanking its open gate. Beyond, clustered around the rock, then spreading out between it and the palisade like warts, the homes of the villagers were built in a haphazard fashion. Ronald could see a few long-houses that wouldn't go amiss in a Norscan village, if his tutors had told him rightly, as well as numerous huts made of mud and straw vying for room against wooden structures that looked somewhat askew, as if they'd tried copy Empire architecture but didn't know quite how to build two-storey houses to start with.

    While smoke was rising from some chimneys, most of the villagers were of course out in the fields working. Most were thankfully out of sight, those that weren't bowed with proper reverence for the son of their generous lord. It was a perfect time to visit.

    Behind him, Henri on his nag cleared his throat. “Beggin me pardon m'lord, but why we' here?”

    Ronald was pleased his father had given leave for Henri to come with him. While a mere commoner, he was at least some companionship. He was quite handy in a scrap for a man of his station as well as a competent enough servant that Roland could focus on his questing, all in all, a good yeoman to tend to his lord's needs. “I'm going to see the Hermit knight that lives here.”

    Ronald had only met the holy warrior that lived on Alencion lands once, and then he'd been so young he could barely remember anything but a pair of white eyebrows. To see the man had been his mother's idea, something she'd managed to choke out between her bouts of crying. While she had no great gift like the one strapped to Paragon's saddle to give, she did have the gift of pointing out the obvious thing Ronald had overlooked. For with no understanding of where to go to find the Grail, what better place but to ask one who'd found it already?

    “Ah, I see. Awain's a holy warrior, makes sense m'lord.”

    Ignoring Henri stating the obvious, Ronald rode on, watching as the guarding men at arms on the towers flanking the gate looked to one another, fretting and unsure how to greet the noble approaching. In the end they settled for a sloppy salute, making Ronald sigh.

    He needed to visit at some point in the future and teach the commoners how to greet a noble, no matter how rarely it happened. Hadn't Awain taught them anything?

    Passing through the gatehouse, Ronald grimaced. There was the scent of freshly baked bread, but it was struggling against the pungent smell of offal and human waste that a disgusting-looking peasant was shovelling from the 'street' onto a rickety cart.

    Urging Paragon into a trot, Ronald did his best to ignore the man pulling off a cap, and so making it yet filthier, while bowing his head to the noble. Riding on, he found children running his way, only to be shooed off by a rotund peasant woman. Other women, hidden behind shawls and brown dresses, left their houses and lined the road, heads bowed as they stared in wonder at Ronald from behind tresses of loose hair. Behind him, a titter was growing, making him unsure if he should scowl at their disrespect or enjoy them realising how impressive he was compared to their sons and husbands.

    In the end, he settled for a uncomfortable frown.

    The main 'road' of the village was the only one Ronald dared using considering the filth surrounding him, and so he found himself going round and round the place as it circled the village in ever closer turns on its way to the ever more grand-looking rock with its beautiful chapel. In the end, they found the base of the rock, here the houses were built at a respectful distance from the base of a set of narrow stairs carved into the rock. The steps seemed worn with use, the walls on either side covered with ivy to which small pieces of bone and trinkets had been tied to, no doubt the product of some peasant superstition.

    Dismounting, Ronald tossed Paragon's reins to Henri, the peasant dutifully bowing his head in obedience at the silent command.

    Giving Paragon a final pat, Roland turned to the steps ahead and gingerly, then more confidently, marched up the solid staircase. It was narrow – forcing him to push his shoulders together to avoid scrapping the ivy-covered walls – and the steps short – he easily covered three with each step. His helmet was awkward under his arm, but he couldn't bear not bringing it with him, it was a fresh badge of honour, beautiful in its full glory.

    It was further up than it had looked from a distance, and Roland found himself breathing heavily by the time he reached the top. Taking a moment to compose himself, taking two long breaths and straightening his tabard, he eyed the chapel with fresh eyes.

    It was more ruined than he'd understood from a distance. It had been an impressive building once, with multiple spires and a long central aisle. Now all but one spire, the one furthest at the back, had tumbled into dust. The aisle remained, but there were gashes in it, like some great dragon had torn slices out of the ceiling and walls.

    Yet it was...beautiful. An elegance remained to it, the stone itself almost like mist given form.

    Even Ronald could sense magic about it, or an echo of it, at the very least.

    Slowly, hesitantly, Ronald approached the still standing gates. He felt like a naughty child being somewhere he shouldn't all of a sudden.

    The left door gave way without a hint of a sound the moment he touched it, almost inviting him. Encouraged, Ronald stepped in, spinning slowly as he eyed his new surroundings with big eyes.

    There were slots where windows once had existed, yet somehow their loss didn't take away from the beauty of the place. It had been built ages ago, perhaps before Gilles himself, yet there was not a speck of dust or grime on it, as if such impurities couldn't enter the room. The ceiling had collapsed here and there, yet still managed to support a chandelier of blackened iron – that was clearly a newer addition – whose candles were snuffed out. Below his feet, brilliant blue stones lay in intricate yet nonsensical patterns, a few had been shattered and replaced by lush and healthy grass.

    Ahead, at the end of the aisle, a bundle of neatly folded clothes lay atop a wooden bench in one corner, in the other a book covered in golden filigree lay closed atop a small stool. Between the two, a simple roll of cloth lay atop a thick matt of straw. It was a curious sight in the otherwise empty chapel.

    All in all, it was a soothing mix of purity and nature.

    A bit too quiet for Ronald though. He shifted, making his chainmail clink. He'd never been comfortable in the chapel back home in the Alencion castle, there was nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to gain within it. Done sightseeing, he was already getting impatient and spoke up, shattering the quiet. “Hello?”

    For a moment, nothing but the scrapping of his own boots on the floor greeted him.

    Then, a throaty voice. “Ah, I thought I heard something.”

    Whirling about, Roland found a man appearing from behind an alcove, his hands stained by ink as he laid a scroll aside on the broken foot of a pillar. The man was shorter than Roland, and slimmer, his shoulders straight but thin. His tabard was frayed, displaying nothing but the grail as his heraldry, yet the mail underneath glittered with a hint of magical silver. The sword on his hip was unadorned, the sheath leather and worn with use.

    His face was familiar, despite the long time since Ronald had last seen him. Gaunt, worn with lines of age, a narrow goat-beard and bushy eyebrows white as snow standing in stark contrast to the dark blue eyes hidden under a deep brow. He looked older than even Ronald's father, more of a kind grandfather than a fabled warrior of legend.

    As Ronald took in the sight of the Grail knight, the man looked back, kind eyes glittering as his white teeth appeared in a pleased smile. “Ah, Ronald de Ferre, no? I remember when you were but a babe, here for your naming ceremony. And now...well look at you, you wear your heraldry well!” Cocking his head to the side, the man caught sight of the helmet couched under Ronald's arm. “And it seems congratulations are in order!”

    Ronald straightened at that. The new helmet was beautiful, but the golden boar pierced by a silver lance atop it was not just great craftsmanship, but a fine reminder of his success, it was something to be justly proud of.

    “So what brings you to these parts of your father's realm? Here to pray to the Lady in gratitude of your accomplishment?” Awain asked politely, gesturing for Ronald to follow him deeper into the chapel.

    Slowly following, gently setting aside his helmet on yet another pillar that was nothing but the base left, Ronald shook his head. Why would he pray in gratitude for something that was his own doing? “No, sir, I actually come here for advice.”

    “Oh? Whatever of? I'm afraid that while I'm undoubtedly the oldest of within the barony...” Awain let Ronald sit down on the bench at the one end not occupied by clothes, then gently moved the tome on the stool over to the bedding of straw before sitting down on the stool with a sigh. “...I'd hardly call myself the wisest.” Ronald suppressed the question, but Awain's eyes glittered with amusement as he continued. “A mere two hundred, by the Lady's will.”

    Ronald shook his head in amazement, the man before him was ancient!

    “But I digress. What advice may the young heir to the De Ferre fortune need that he would come all this way?”

    “I...well...I...” Ronald shook his head, he hadn't actually given much thought to his words before now, and was unsure how to proceed. But when in doubt, a knight like him had only one recourse. “I seek the grail and wish your advice in how to find it.”

    For a long second, there was only silence.

    Then Awain's bushy white eyebrows arched high, his gaze looking Ronald up and down once more, as if it was the first time he'd seen him. “You are...young for attempting such a thing.” The Grail knight tasted the words, then glanced back at the helmet Ronald had left behind. “How long since you accomplished your errantry?”

    “Two...no, two and a half day.” Ronald answered, feeling his cheeks flush as Awain's eyebrows somehow shot even higher.

    “Well aren't we ambitious?!” Awain chuckled.

    “I'm not a fool, if you'd think so!” Ronald felt his ire rise, straightening as he glowered down at the Grail knight. “I'm the equal rider of any knight in Couronne, my swordsmanship is better than anyone in the barony, I think I could even best you!” He coughed, realising how he sounded when speaking to a superior knight. “...no slight intended.”

    “None taken.” Awain raised a hand, waving it off, watching Ronald with the slightest hint of a frown. For a moment, the knight hesitated, as if unsure of his words, when he did speak next, it was softly. “Tell me, why do you want to become a Grail knight?”

    Roland blinked, to be asked such a question had never occurred to him, wasn't it obvious? “Well...it's the greatest honour a noble of Bretonnia can be bestowed, no? It would bring me and my family honour, none would doubt our chivalry...” Roland found himself tugging at the hem of his tabard, sensing he wasn't giving the right answer. “Long life-span is of course a great plus, the might to destroy the forces of evil, to become the ultimate warrior...what knight of Bretonnia wouldn't want that?”

    Awain smiled, but it was a polite smile not quite reaching his eyes. “Being a Grail knight is more than being great with a horse and sword, my young friend.”

    “Well, I'm great with a lance too, I just don't think I'll have much use for it when I'm out on my travels.”

    Awain laughed, it was polite and checked, yet none the less it made Roland grit his teeth, feeling like he was being viewed as a child. Then again, given Awain's age, who wasn't a child in comparison? “That wasn't quite what I meant.”

    Feeling his patience running low, Roland found his voice terse. “Then what 'did' you mean?”

    Awain's smile faded. One moment he had been a kind old man, the next there was an unearthly glow in his eyes as he leant forward, his voice turning deeper, inhuman, as if resonating against something deep within his chest. “You should already know, child. Since you don't, this journey will be painful for you.”

    Swallowing, Roland leant back, away from the glowing eyes that seemed to bore through him like a spear would gore a boar. “I-I'm s-sorry.” To his immense relief, Awain leant back, the glow fading from his eyes. “I...can handle pa-pain though.”

    “I'm sure you can. But there's physical pain and then there's...” Awain was once more the kind old man, pondering his words. “...festering pain.”

    Huh?

    Rising, Awain offered his hand. Taking it, Roland blinked in surprise at the iron strength in the grip hauling him to his feet.”You wish to find honour? To prove yourself for the Goddess? I believe you can, but only by being taken out of your comfort zone, by being forced to face the world through different eyes.” Awain, still gripping Roland's hand, lead him to one of the holes where there had once been a window. “Once you do that, I believe, the Lady will find you, rather than the other way around.”

    “I...thank you.” Roland blinked, the advice sounded genuine and good, yet confusing at the same time. “How would I go about that, though?”

    Letting go of Roland's hand, Awain gestured out past the expanse spreading out before them. Beyond the fields of wheat and the grassy plains of Alencion and even Couronne itself, beyond the mountains themselves, and further on. “Go east, my young knight, cross the border. The Empire is full of monsters, bandits and beasts to face and slay, enough to even challenge you, I'm sure. More importantly, it's a melting pot of cultures, it's so different from our realm...” Suddenly, he slapped Roland on the back. “It'll do you good, young sir.”

    Frowning, unsure about the advice that would leave him entering that strange land of little honour, Roland politely nodded. “If you're sure...”

    “It's the quest for the Grail, sir, nothing is sure.” Awain chuckled. “But if you survive, I think it'll do you good.”

    “I'll leave at once, then.”

    “That's the spirit.”
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    edited March 2
    MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
    seriously very good @Setrus
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    Thanks, man! :grin:

    __________________________________________________________________________________

    Lieske was a strongly fortified village, its palisade topping a foundation of stone at least six feet high and Sigmar only knew how deep into the ground. The numerous towers were covered with red tiles and covered by thick planks with dark holes drilled into it, making it impossible to tell if anyone was in them or not, ready with a gun or crossbow.

    Being in the heart of Talabecland, near the river, it needed to be. Not only were the dark forests all around, heralding the promise of beastmen, greenskin or worse at any time, but while the river was the village's lifeline, it could bring the odd raid of bold norscans that left weaker settlements in ruins.

    Still, the inhabitants had been slow to deal with the trees around them, leaving the treeline dangerously close to the walls.

    By design or not? Was hard to tell, and Bernard wasn't about to trust the captain of the militia.

    Which of course was why he was outside the village and not inside.

    Sitting on his haunches, glad he'd gotten rid of the bottom half of his plate back in the nearby village they were using as a base, Bernard frowned and stroked his red beard as he watched the village intently

    They had hunted John for a good while now and nearly caught him several times. In the end though, all they'd gotten out of their troubles were some bruises and the odd dead beastman. Which of course was enough to keep Emma's spirits high, but wasn't about to put food on the table.

    Next to him, Carl grumbled and shifted. It was raining, ever so softly, and while the trees above gave them good cover the old mercenary somehow still managed to make himself look like a half-drowned rat. He was glowering at Bernard by now, as if the weather was somehow the ex-noble's fault. “We could just go into the village, you know? Wave that paper the count's lackey gave you into the captain's face, have the boy arrested?”

    Bernard shook his head, Carl was being willingly forgetful now. “We've already been over this. You saw how many the beastmen delivered this John fellow to, who knows how many more are practising a little foul worshipping on the side in there? How many militiamen are still true to Sigmar? Is the captain?” Bernard shook his head, brushing off a twig stuck to his pauldron. “No, lets grab the boy first, then make our excuses if need be.”

    Carl's quiet grumbling made Bernard sigh, though he could only agree with the sentiment of frustration. They'd been hunting to boy for far longer than needed. Emma was an expert hunter of beastmen and they'd had several shots now on getting the tome back. Yet for all his faults, the former clerk of Ostermark had a curious amount of luck that could only be attributed to some fell power. Something was helping him...

    And now he'd found a coven of chaos worshippers in the heart of the Empire, people hiding him somewhere within the village of Lieske until he could be safely transported out.

    Helping? No, guiding.

    Bernard once again found his gaze going from the village, past the muddy path made sturdy by wooden planks laid across it and to the wide wooden dock leading halfway into the river. The sturdy-looking barge, a rectangular construct built for little but trade along the river, was a new addition, moored to the dock it seemed abandoned, but Bernard knew better.

    He was convinced John would use it. The boy was not built for traipsing through the forest and he would sooner or later be caught by his pursuers, not to mention that the river was a natural choice for anyone wanting to take a longer journey.

    And so they waited. Bernard had been clear with the other two, they would have to strike hard and fast. John seemed to have far too many allies in the village for Bernard's comfort, and though mere villagers, he had a feeling they'd not give up so easily when confronted. He didn't like the situation, not one bit, but there were few choices...

    “Hey! There!” Carl suddenly grunted, grubby finger shooting out to point towards the village. There was indeed movement there now. The gate was open and Bernard could see several shadowy shapes lurking within, carefully looking left and right as they inched forward.

    There was nearly a dozen of them, making Bernard's heart sink even as his brow furrowed. Turning his head, he spoke in a hiss of anger. “Emma! I thought you were the lookout this hour, not Carl!?” He had a hard time believing that she'd missed such a sight, her eyesight was frighteningly good.

    The reed of a woman didn't look at him though, her uneven dark hair plastered to her head as she stared out into nothing, her rifle sheltered under her thin frame and a by now sodden cloak, leaving her tunic-clad frame soaked in favour of her weapon staying dry. Bernard, frowning deeper, was about to repeat his question louder, but stopped as the woman raised a hand, then brought it to her lips.

    Uh oh.

    Carl, grumbling forgotten, was suddenly silent as stone as both he and Bernard watched the woman slowly gesture to her left, towards the fallen tree they'd made their lookout next to.

    Cursing under his breath, Bernard felt his knees protest as he, still crouched, moved toward the tree, the thick green pines still growing from its branches making it effectively a wall to shield them from the wind. Next to him, Carl edged forward even as Emma turned, a moment later all three had their hands in among the branches, pushing them aside to look through it.

    Beyond, the ground dipped for a few feet, then evened out into a root-covered plain where only a few obstinate weeds managed to grow. Bernard was more focused on the group they'd made their lookout post so close to though.

    Beastmen, and familiar ones at that, the few that had survived escorting John.

    Bernard wasn't sure why they were still around, perhaps hoping for some kind of reward, but there were six of them, all leaning against another fallen tree as they gazed out towards the village, as Bernard's group had done a moment ago.

    One of them was a by now familiar leader of the beastmen. A bull-like creature with as much fat as muscle on him. Next to the monster, another slimmer creature stood, a horse's head covered in etched scars, its furry human torso festooned with pieces of bones and charms. The shaman of the monsters had nearly killed Bernard in their last encounter, and he had no intention of letting it cast another of those sickly yellow spells on him.

    Still, they were not the target. Bernard gestured for the others to pull back, it was best to focus on John before the man escaped.

    Unsurprisingly, Emma gestured back an emphatic no, the woman frowning angrily. Bernard shot her an angry look, this was no time to repay a grudge she never felt satisfied. Yet the woman's frown quickly turned into a clever smile as she gestured at the sky, then a circling motion. Cursing silently, Bernard realised she was right.

    The wind was shifting towards the beastmen.

    Already, the shaman with its horse head was turning to look towards them. It couldn't see them, but their scent was starting to shift towards the beasts.

    Cursing, Bernard rose, stepped onto the tree they'd used for cover and heavily landed on the lower ground behind it, crushing old roots under his boots with a loud crunch. Next to him, Carl landed with the grace he never seemed to display outside of combat, the old state trooper hefting his spear with a grim smile.

    Instantly, all the beastmen turned to stare at the invaders, nostrils flaring. The bull brayed and hefted his axe, the command enough to make the creatures leap to action.

    A moment later Emma's long rifle boomed, smoke rising from the fallen tree's branches even as the shaman among the beastmen crumpled into a pile, parts of his skull spraying across the ground behind him. There was no time to compliment the shot as the smaller and swifter beastmen rushed at them though. Bernard, slower than Carl, took his time and carefully approached a charging pair ungors. The swifter was veering off to flank him with its flint-axe, the other hefted a mace of stone as it stared intently at Bernard's un-armoured knee.

    Sure, go for it, little beastie...

    Next to him, Carl had charged straight at two other beastmen, a gor and an ungor, both wielding a pair of cudgels.

    The gor, roaring in confidence, knocked the ungor back to get the killing blow on the smaller human...who suddenly stopped, then leapt back, his spear lunging forth like a striking snake as the hand holding the back of it shot forth. The weapon dug into the hip of the beast and made it stagger sideways rather than complete its charge even as the whetted spear shot back, then thrust out again a moment later, digging a deep wound into the gor's belly before coming back and facing the now warier ungor.

    The mace coming for Bernard's knee took him out of his admiration for Carl's skill. Taking a step back, Bernard let the mace strike nothing but air as his greatsword chopped down with a neat diagonal slash. The ungor brayed in anguish, its arm suddenly on the ground as the beast fell onto its knees and tried to grasp for the lost limb with its other hand, only to slip on its own blood and fall over, its struggles already faltering.

    The other beast was now closing in, only to find itself bending forward as Emma's thin shape crashed into its back, her legs wrapping around its waist, securing her onto its back. Straightening, the animal tried to throw her off, then cried out as a long dagger pushed in deep between its right ribs. Growling, the beast grasped at Emma's hand, as it tried to turn its in the direction of the injury.

    It never saw her other dagger as its serrated side cut across its windpipe and sprayed its foul blood over the woman's left arm.

    The leader of the beastmen was heavier than his kin, slower, but was now dangerously close to Bernard as it barrelled forward, big axe raised in front of it as it kept a wary eye on Bernard's bloodied sword.

    Lowering the blade, Bernard's left hand left the grip and went for the green sash across his breastplate. Within, he drew out his pistol, levelled it, and fired in one swift move.

    The shot smashed through the animals' left collar bone, making it bray in horror as the bullet no doubt continued through its body. Grunting, blood spurting from its nostrils, the beastman fell to his knees, left arm limp as the right defiantly struggled to raise its now useless axe.

    Bernard, taking no chances, took a step closer, pulled free his second pistol and levelled it at the beast.

    It stared up at him, fear in its eyes, a glitter of tears running down its mutated features.

    Shaking his head, Bernard fired.

    Eyes now covered in gore, the beast fell over, unmoving.

    Looking up from it, Bernard found Carl pulling his spear free from the fallen ungor's mouth, the mercenary looking slightly more cheerful as he whistled a tuneless song and walked after the wounded gor trying to crawl away. Careful not to unduly damage his weapon of choice, Carl put his spear aside, drew a hatchet he mostly used to gather firewood and buried it into the back of the beast's head.

    Emma, meanwhile, was smiling that smile Bernard always found both frightening and lovely in equal measure, the smile she saved for slain beastmen. She'd freed and cleaned her daggers already and was now busy with the lengthy process of reloading her long rifle, made all the more difficult by the drizzle of rain.

    It had been a quick skirmish, but while the other two seemed to have enjoyed finishing off their quarry and slaying the hated beasts of the forest, Bernard found himself almost in a panic as he brushed past Emma and leapt to where the beastmen had moments ago kept their vigil. His gaze went to the barge first and breathed a sigh of relief as he found it still there. None was moving towards it either, and to top it all off, the gate to the village was yet again closed.

    Thank Sigmar...

    “Well?” Carl grunted, then muttered a curse under his breath. “What's the situation?”

    Turning, Bernard was just in time to see Carl put his foot on the gor and use both his arms in his effort to free the axe from the gor's thick skull. “Seems our little fight here spooked them.” There was a little extra activity on the walls of the village, but none seemed too worried, the sounds of the odd skirmish was common in the Empire, after all. But for those with something to fear for, such sounds were loud indeed, it shouldn't have surprised Bernard that they'd opted to retreat back into hiding. “They won't try again tonight, tomorrow night though...”

    Groaning, Carl shook his head. “Are you joking? You mean we have to go all the way back to Radische, in the rain, wait until tomorrow night, then go back here!?”

    “Yes, is that a problem?”

    “Oh no, I love doing these trips, gets me closer to nature so I can...oh for fu...hate it even more!” Grunting, heaving, Carl finally freed his axe, slipped on the slick corpse of the gor and fell onto his back. Shaking her head, Emma laughed at the mercenary who, still on his back, glowered back. “I hate you, woman, I hate you so much.” He turned his gaze to Bernard. “Next job we take better be in a city.”

    “Only if it pays well, you know that.” Bernard didn't offer to help the mercenary up, not only because the man was an ungrateful sod, but because grumbling about something like that put the mercenary in a better mood. “Anyway, we have a bigger problem than your wet backside.”

    “Nothing's more important than my backside, Bernard.” Carl grumbled, rubbing the small of his back as he glowered at his employer while retrieving his spear.

    “Because it's so large, you mean?” Emma sniggered.

    “I'll end you one day, wench.” Carl growled, though the corner of his mouth twitched ever so slightly.

    Emma's response was a very mature raspberry blown in the direction of the ex-soldier.

    Sighing, Bernard rubbed his forehead. “The problem is that there's a lot of people that seems to be allied to John in that village, and who knows how many wait on him in that barge?”

    “So what do you suggest?” Emma's question was laced with worry, one mirrored in Carl's face.

    “We might have to employ some help.”

    Groaning, Carl shook his head. “I hate sharing the profit, Sigmar spit on 'help'.”

    “Don't worry, guys, have I ever led you astray?”

    Emma and Carl exchanged a look, then looked back to him.

    “Yes.”

    “Yes.”

    “Hey, the time with the goblins doesn't count!”

    “Totally does, love.” Emma smiled, amused.

    “Well that's...” Shaking his head, Bernard held up his hands to quiet the other two. “Look, I'll figure something out, okay?”

    “Fine.” Carl growled, annoyed. “But good luck finding someone useful back at camp. That village is full of drunks and idiots.”

    “So you are right at home there then.”

    “Emma, I swear by Sigmar's codpiece, I'll...”

    Sighing, Bernard realised it would be a long walk back.
  • ShigawireShigawire Senior Member Norway, BrønnøysundPosts: 3,493Registered Users
    Wow! You have serious writing talent!
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    yes I like it
    MOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR
    [sorry for being so demanding]
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    Awww, cheers, guys. :blush: :grin:
    ________________________________________________________________________

    The tavern in Radische was a clean establishment.

    By that, it meant no brawling, no gambling and no smoking allowed within the walls.

    It made it somewhat dull, though with almost everyone in the village coming in at some point for a pint of beer, the place at least had a pleasant enough atmosphere with the sound level an even murmur with the odd laugh added to the mix as weary villagers turned in from a hard day of work or layabouting, depending on the fibre of their character.

    Drinks were at least flowing and all of the round tables were taken up by at least two people. The tavern-owner was clearly having a good business going and had been the most welcoming of the locals as the less-used rooms above saw some use for his guests.

    The other locals were, of course, less welcoming and Bernard, flanked by his friends, easily spotted the odd suspicious look thrown his way by 'subtle' locals. Still, most ignored them, they weren't the first visitors of curious profession, and wouldn't be the last. Bernard was still glad to have his back to the wall though, out of armour, he knew he was a good mark for a mugging or worse from people thinking a man owning plate had to be wealthy, and so worth despising, which in turn made him fair game.

    Currently, he wasn't exactly looking for threats though, nor was Emma or Carl, who both looked rather glum as they eyed their half-empty glasses as much as they did the people within the tavern.

    Bernard, sensing their mood, sighed.

    “Not much to pick from eh?” Carl grunted, shooting the villagers a derisive look.

    “No, no, we have some real choices here.” Emma interjected with a snort. “How about that guy over by the bar? The one nearly crushing the stool he sits on? We can roll him down a hill at our foes. Or how about that boy over there? Who says you need a whole hand to hold a blade? That clubfoot over there looks strong...you know, in the wrist, considering his success with that barmaid.”

    The woman in question yelped at the last man's interest being expressed by a pair of fingers, and gave him a ringing slap, making him and his chair totter over and fall to the floor, much to the delight of his table-mates.

    Carl, shaking his head, groaned in frustration. “Maybe we should hire the barmaid?” Then he lit up. “Hang on! What about that guy at the other end? Big, looks strong, doesn't look like he's afraid of blood and...” His elation faded in a moment and he thumped his head into the table. “...and he just pick-pocketed his drinking buddy.”

    “Not exactly someone you want guarding your back, no.” Bernard agreed with a grimace. Finding help had proved problematic indeed, and they were running out of time. The only able members of this village seemed to be the militiamen, and their captain kept a tight leash on them, there was no chance of making any of them go rogue for an evening.

    “Berny...” Bernard sighed, he hated Emma's nickname of him, and what her using it meant. He was not surprised when her right hand left her drink and slid under the table before coming to rest on his thigh. “...lets go to beeed.” Her voice was a soft purr now. “We're not going to find anyone, and we need to...hmmm...rest.” Her hand rubbed up and down, inching its way upwards.

    Bernard glowered at the woman, making her pout back. He wasn't really irritated with her, they'd been there for ages and they were indeed tired, there didn't seem to be anyone of worth in the tavern and that hand did feel bloody good...

    He hated himself for it, but pretty women had always turned his head the wrong way.

    It was why his father had sent him out to make his fortune and picked his more faithful younger brother as heir. It was why he was no longer with the knights Panther chapter house. It was why he could no longer show his face in the northern half of Estalia.

    Emma's hand was now dangerously far up his leg, making him sigh as he felt himself re-evaluating the value of staying a little longer, rather than turning in early for that rest Emma was offering. To make matters worse, she was now leaning closer, her lips close to his ear. “I'll do that thing where-”

    Then the door opened, making Bernard blink as the gust of fresh air and the bang of someone pushing far harder than needed against the door reverberated through the tavern. Pushed out of his revere, Bernard looked past the shouting barman and the mix of annoyed and angry-looking guests and to the door itself.

    It was like a piece of ancient history had walked in. Pieces of plate fastened to limbs, simple chainmail covering the rest of the body, a blue and red tabard with some ancient heraldry featuring a white sword piercing a black raven in its centre.

    “Eugh, Bretonnian.” Carl grumbled and spat. Quite a few in the bar seemed to share his assessment and wrinkled their noses in distaste at the sight of the foreigner that wasn't even a citizen of Karl Franz. One of them guffawed, another checked the dagger in his belt. “Oh no. Bernard, please, no, those stuck up pigs are worse than the Emperor's family...”

    Bernard barely listened to his companion as he eyed his target though. The sheathed blade in the man's hand was a long one, the one on his hip shorter and the dagger on his right side clearly one meant for combat rather than eating. Without a doubt, he was Bretonnian nobility, his primary weapon suggesting he was on that weird pilgrimage some of them took, if Bernard remembered his history lessons correct. With them refusing aid from mercenaries, he had had little direct contact with them. “You've never met any of the Emperor's family, Carl.”

    “Maybe so, but come on, Bernard, they turned us away at Axe Bite pass once, remember? We nearly starved that winter.” Most fascinating was the man himself though. His black hair was wavy and his blue eyes clear and bright. Tall and wide of shoulders, he looked to his very fingertips like a warrior born and bred. Most striking though was his youth. He couldn't be yet twenty!

    Emma's lingering hand forgotten, Bernard leant forward as he watched the youth look around himself with the self-assurance that came from being born to silver and gold. There was clear distaste written in his face as he eyed the clientele, he didn't even try to hide it, but a glance back at the morning rains, lingering with its drizzle, made him make up his mind and stride into the tavern. One of the tables, seating two old men, was swiftly vacated, the pair grimacing in disgust at the idea of being near the foreigner. Acting as if they'd moved aside for his benefit, the man brought out a silken cloth tucked into his belt and swept it across the table with a casual flick. “Well you know what they say, don't judge a people based on the actions of a few.”

    “Bah, who said that? Bet they got knifed by some Border Prince trash, would serve them right...” Carl grumbled, realising he wouldn't convince Bernard. The Bretonnian was perfect. As a afterthought, another man entered and closed the door to the weathers. Grimy, even by Radische standards, he was bent and dressed in a tattered gambeson with faded colours similar to the knight who had just entered. Head bowed, the man moved close to the knight, clearly his servant of some sort. After a few curt words, he moved over to the barman who, once seeing a hint of a silver in the servant's hand, became less hesitant about serving the already disliked outsider.

    Grasping Emma's hand and decisively putting it aside, making her sigh in frustration, Bernard rose, eyes fixed on the noble so brazenly sitting in the middle of the tavern, seemingly not noticing, or perhaps not caring, about the daggers glared in his direction. “Trust me, Carl, you're going to like this...” Shifting, Bernard shimmied past Emma's legs, ignoring her pinching his backside as he set course for the Bretonnian noble.

    By now the servant was standing behind the noble, one hand nervously fingering a falchion in his belt as he furtively glanced at the other guests surrounding him. The noble himself was busy staring at the glass of beer in front of him though, clearly not eager to try and sup the local brew. Then, he looked up and noticed him, the noble eyed Bernard's confident approach with a mix of confusion and curiosity, pointedly he remained seated though as Bernard stopped on the other side.

    “Sir, I welcome you to this...picturesque establishment, though I realise it's hardly worthy a man of our station.” Bernard smiled, not too wide, not too coldly, his stiff legs protesting as he effected a Reikland-style bow. It would make everyone in Radische distrust him even more, but the effect was immediate on the youth who recognised the practised move of a fellow noble, albeit from the other side of the Grey Mountains. “I'm Bernard Grund, of Grundburg, son of Bernt and Hilde Grund, former knight Panther, now knight of...” Bernard hesitated, he could not say he was a mercenary. “...the order of Rose and Mirror, hunters of the corrupt.”

    The younger man rose, smooth as a cat. He flourished his hand in front of him while effecting a bow Bernard couldn't hope to replicate without hurting his back. As a Bretonnian noble, he was well versed in language, yet his accent was still pronounced, rolling every vowel in his mouth as he spoke. “I bid you welcome, Bernard Grund. I am Roland De Ferre, son of Jacques and Marie De Ferre, heir to the lands of the barony of Alencion, Questing knight.” Ah yes, now Bernard remembered, a quest to prove themselves further...perfect. “Please, have a seat, I'm dreadfully in need of proper company. No slight intended, for I have not met any of your equals, but your commoners are rude and uncouth, more so than even our own, so I'm glad to meet a fellow noble.”

    Bernard shot a glance up at the still standing servant standing behind the Bretonnian noble, but the man made no sign he'd found the words of his lord insulting. “Well...it's true, I suppose. The independent spirit in the Empire undermines the...deference of our common classes.” Bernard shot a glance around, he really didn't feel like being knifed today, he was fortunate that Carl and Emma were close at hand. “How do you enjoy it here? Are you faring well in your...quest for...a cup, is it?”

    “A grail, sir, the Grail.” Roland corrected Bernard with a surprised look on his face. Then he shrugged, grimacing, his frustration clear. “As for how it goes...poorly, I must admit.” He gestured at the beer in front of him, grimacing. “I subsist on this...drink, it feels like. The food I've been served so far is tasteless, which I by now use to wash away the taste of the drink, rather than the other way around. Henri here had some spices and wine at the start of our journey, but that didn't last long.” He shot a thumb back at the servant behind him, who was alertly looking around for threats, one hand close to his blades at all times. At the moment he looked more capable than his master, or at least like someone who would survive for longer in the real world. “By the Lady, what I wouldn't give for a grilled swan washed in white wine and spiced just right.”

    “Err...yes, I understand that Bretonnian cuisine is quite impressive.” Bernard managed. He'd never been a fan of eating birds, and eating a swan like that sounded strange indeed. “But surely, given the dangers within the Empire, you have at least found challenges on the field?”

    Please say no, please say no...

    “Sadly, no.” Roland shook his head, much to Bernard's secret delight. “Sure, I've slain the odd beastman, hunted down a few goblins, rescued an immodest damsel in distress as she was chased through the woods...” The noble's frown deepened. “...who then told me to go do horrible things to my mother.” He leant closer, confused. “Are all women here as insane?”

    Bernard chuckled. “Immodest? What chased her?”

    “Well her hair was loose, of course, what else?” Roland's reply just added to Bernard's mirth. Emma was going to have a field day. “And just some man with antlers on his head and little else. I roughed him up a bit to teach him manners and the woman started shouting at me!”

    Ah, to be young and in love...and beaten up by some idiot thinking himself a hero.

    Bernard, glad for his beard hiding most of his amusement, effected a sympathetic voice. “That must have been hard. I know you Bretonnians take pride in your martial accomplishments above anything else...”

    The man looked dejected as he nodded, as if the lack of fighting was causing him actual pain. It reminded Bernard of a norse berserker he'd once worked with, he had been easily led, which was a encouraging sign. “It's worse than poor luck for me, if I don't prove myself, I won't find the Grail, and if I don't I'll...” He bit his lip and shot Bernard a pained look before he shook his head. “Never mind, I'm sorry, sir, did not meant to lump my problems on you. I'm...not properly courteous. Can I offer you something? Maybe one of this establishment's...drinks?” He grimaced at his own beer.

    Bernard nodded, and Ronald gestured at his servant who instantly moved to the bar, coin in hand. Glad for the additional privacy, Bernard leant closer, set on getting his hooks into the Bretonnian noble. “Perhaps, noble sir, we could then help each other...?”

    “Oh? I'm listening, if you know of any deed worth doing for a man of my station, I'll gratefully take it.” The young man replied, not looking much convinced that it would be worth the hassle, projecting an air of dejection, as if ready to give up.

    “Well I've been sent by my lord, the count of Ostermark...” That wasn't exactly true, Bernard had never met the man and was certainly not one of his subjects, but such details were not necessary, especially near Bretonnians and their archaic understanding of service. “...to find a traitor most foul, one who's thrown in his lot with the evil powers of Chaos and stolen a tome of great import from the count's most sacred library.”

    The young man's eyes lit up at that and he was suddenly sitting straighter in the chair. “Truly?”

    “Truly, yes.” Bernard held Roland's gaze, projecting the urgency of the task through his eyes, not even acknowledging the drink the servant put before him. “Better yet, I know where he is hiding, but I cannot tackle him and those sheltering him on my own. However, with the might of a fellow knight at my side, one from Bretonnia no less...”

    “He can be defeated!” Roland exclaimed, looking excited as if he was a child that had just solved a complex riddle.

    Bernard, pleased, nodded. “Exactly. So what say you? Will you join me in this noble task to rid this world of a great evil and slay the enemies of order and nobility?”

    Next to Roland, his servant looked suspicious, eyeing Bernard with understanding, seeing through his offer.

    It didn't matter though, for his lord's word was what mattered, and his was resounding as he slammed a fist into the table in excitement. “By the Lady of the Lake, yes! Together, sir Bernard, we shall ride down this foul wretch and his cohorts!”

    Bernard grinned and raised his glass, making the Bretonnian grimace as he did the same. “ To honour, then.”

    “To honour, friend!”

    The glasses clashed and Roland winced as he moved to drink from his glass.

    Behind his own, Bernard drank deep with a grin.

    To honour...and a free sword.
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    I am hyped thanks to the story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    FOR SIGMAR FOR THE LADY FOR ULRIC
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    edited March 9
    The silence was awkward.

    Shifting in Paragon's saddle, Roland quietly shook his head, his insides in turmoil. Not about what he was about to do, for that was straightforward, but with whom. He had been so glad to meet Bernard at first. A fellow noble, a veteran to learn from bringing news of a deed Roland could perform, it was too good to be true.

    Turns out, it really had been too good to be true.

    Roland had toasted with the man, sworn by the Lady to aid him in his task, probably a decision motivated by the swill the imperials thought to be a drink settling in his belly. He'd been in good spirits, finally finding a task that might prove worthwhile, now not only motivated by a desire for personal glory but to complete the quest so he could assure the Alencion lands would remain in his family's possession.

    Then, Bernard had introduce his...allies.

    Carl was clearly a veteran soldier, but a mere footman. The gaunt man had given Roland a look hostile enough to make Roland wish he could kick the commoner into the dirt for his rudeness, but his respect for Bernard had kept him back. Luckily, the man had then, exchanging a look with Bernard, offered to take Henri aside to the bar for a shared drink. Happy to let these commoners be away, Roland had allowed Henri to go with the imperial.

    Emma had been even more problematic. Roland was still struggling to adjust to Empire women walking with bare hair, but Emma had then proceeded to drape herself over Bernard like only certain camp-followers in Bretonnia would have. By then he'd assumed her to be a harlot, and his opinion of Bernard had dropped. Carefully speaking out against it, though, he'd found the woman laughing at his face even as Bernard let slip she and Carl were his companions!

    Roland hadn't been sure what was worse. The fact Bernard was cavorting with commoners or that they behaved as if the trio were equals.

    Clearly, Bernard wasn't quite what he'd originally claimed to be. He had the bearing of a noble, and he could certainly speak like one, but considering Emma and how at home he seemed to be in the base tavern they'd met in, he had a fair amount of common in him. Roland wasn't sure if it was through blood or just lengthy exposure to it, but he didn't like it, and worried slightly that he himself would be infected with it.

    Then, somehow, it had gotten worse.

    Still struggling to figure out Bernard and Emma, her claim of being a warrior was laughable at best, and he told her as much, Roland and the couple were not exactly seeing eye to eye...when Henri punched Carl. The moment later the two were fighting, making the tavern-keeper roar in anger and threaten to throw them all out. A single sharp order from Roland had been enough to make Henri obediently back down, but it took both Bernard and Emma to drag Carl off the yeoman.

    In the end, the group had gone to their separate rooms. Roland was not happy about sharing a room with Henri, but considering the clientele beneath in the tavern, he'd judged it prudent as he could sleep most of the day away while Henri kept guard. Within, Henri had explained the reason for the sudden fight. Apparently Carl had the audacity to suggest Henri, after their task was complete, could come with him and leave Ronald. Clearly, Henri was holding back just what Carl had called the noble, but judging by his heated cheeks and clenched fists, it had been something worth a hanging.

    Henri had by then suggested Roland should leave the tavern. Surely, an oath made to someone who'd deceived you had no power? Surely, with Bernard's nobility in question, a promise meant nothing? Surely there were other things they could do than follow these crude imperials?

    Roland had sensed Henri had practised his arguments for a while, perhaps he'd even figured out Bernard's ruse before Ronald had. It was an embarrassing thought, and Roland had been tempted to punish the commoner for it, but realised that doing so would only add to his own shame, rather than make him feel better. Instead, he'd refuted Henri's arguments, he wasn't about to go back on his word, binding or not. If nothing else, because he was in desperate need of proving himself before the Lady, and that required testing himself against the enemies of chivalry. He needed to progress.

    And that had been when the moaning and thumping against their wall from the next room begun, Emma in particular so loud it was like she was shouting in Roland's ear.

    In the evening, as it was time to leave, he'd been happy to hear from Bernard that she and Carl had left early. If she hadn't, he wasn't sure how if he'd been able to look her in the eyes when he slapped her for her unseemly behaviour.

    So the silence was indeed awkward as he and Bernard quietly stared out from the edge of the forest towards the sleeping village ahead.

    Once they were done here, Roland would ride on, in the opposite direction of Bernard and his companions.

    Behind him, Henri's little draught horse snorted, the commoner nervously fidgeting in his saddle. While Bernard bothered hushing the yeoman, Roland ignored him and leant forward in his own saddle, eyes narrowing as he fixed his gaze on the gate facing the docked barge Bernard believed to be John's target. “Bernard, it's opening!” Eagerly, Roland drew his sword. It no longer shone like it had back in the castle, but there was a definitive film across the narrow blade that, if you didn't knew better, could be mistaken for simple oil.

    Bernard raised a gauntleted hand though, shaking his head, his voice low. “Wait, please, let them get out of the village properly...”

    Seeing the sense of it, Roland reined in Paragon with a grumble and instead eyed the gate with eager eyes. There were two guards there, he could see the shimmer of their helms, but after but a brief talk with those facing them, they let the other group pass. “Traitors, you were right, Bernard, Chaos has gripped the militia.”

    “Huh? No, that doesn't mean anything, just looks like old-fashioned regular corruption to me.” Bernard grunted back, face a mask of concentration as he too eyed the group leaving the village.

    Regular corruption? Roland grimaced, a bad taste in his mouth, the Empire seemed to consist of nothing but commoners, and the result was devastating. It was a miracle they hadn't been overrun already.

    The group had left the village now, and the gates were slowly being closed. Bernard cursed at the sight of them, but Roland merely found his heart sink. There were nearly two dozen of them, sure, but by the look of them, they were but peasants. There would be little honour in killing them, and so Roland would have to contend with the mere act of retrieving a dangerous tome from a pathetic thief...not exactly a deed of legend.

    He shot Bernard a glare, then gently tapped Paragon's sides, urging the horse into a trot. Bernard made a noise of protest, but seemed to swallow it as he nudged his less impressive steed to catch up. Behind them Henri kept to the formation, the yeoman experience making him one Ronald could rely upon. He wasn't so sure about the others, not even Bernard after his trick.

    His heart beating a little bit faster, Roland realised he was looking forward to the fight, if nothing else but to vent his frustration on some traitorous riff-raff. He barely needed to urge Paragon into the canter, the horse knew his master's mood and felt it too.

    The mounted trio were getting close now. Despite the darkness, with twin moons looking down upon them, Ronald could see them clearly. The thin man in ripped robes was clearly their target, considering the big book he was embracing while almost surrounded by villagers. These wore no armour and were clad in mostly dull clothes that had seen better days, though of better quality than what Ronald had seen in Bretonnian villages. Clearly treason paid well. There were a few spears among them, a few cutlasses, some hammers, a big maul, a few pitchforks and a single crossbow...Roland sneered in disdain at it all.

    Then one of the villagers swivelled around, white eyes almost glowing in the moonlight as he stared towards them. The blackness of the forest had kept the riders nearly invisible for a good half of the distance, but could do nothing against the sound of hooves, nor stop armour from glinting as they moved out of the shadows cast by the trees. Pointing a long finger at them, the man shouted a wordless warning, his right hand freeing a short hammer from his belt.

    The response was a flash and a puff of smoke from the forest on the other side, then a loud crack as one of the villagers standing next to John fell, spraying the treasonous clerk with bones and brains as the large group came alive with alarm.

    Ronald squeezed his knees around Paragon's sides as the horse broke into a charge, Bernard and Henri but a breath after him. One of the villagers squealed in fright as an arrow thudded into the ground between his feet, he wiped his forehead...then fell as Henri's second arrow struck true and dug itself deep into his gut.

    A crossbow's bolt whizzed at him and Roland, unable to spot it until the last moment, could do nothing but grimace as the missile struck his helmet before grazing off to the side, no doubt leaving a scratch on the until then pristine surface. Behind him, there was a crack as Bernard let loose with a dishonourable pistol, sending the reloading crossbowman reeling and clutching his shoulder. A second later, a second discharge let loose, but none of the villagers fell. Most were now surging towards the riders as John and five of his guards ran for the waiting barge.

    A second shot echoed from the forest on the other side and one of the men guarding John fell...and then Ronald found himself meeting the onslaught of peasant filth.

    The man who had spotted them first never got to swing his puny hammer, instead Paragon knocked him over with his shoulder before trampling the man underneath powerful hooves. Roland, leaning to the right, left the spearman to his left to thrust at nothing but air as he swung his sword widely. A gaping villager, not quite understanding who he was facing, was too slow to get out of the way and the enchanted blade struck just above his temple and effortlessly cut on through, sending the cap of his skull flying as his body tumbled.

    Then Roland was through the peasants and wheeled about to charge them again. He saw Henri veer off, sending an arrow straight into the mouth of a screaming villager, meanwhile Bernard horse whinnied in pain as a pitchfork cut into its side. The offending foe found his arms cut off a moment later as the veteran noble's greatsword came down in a sharp turn. The cut turned into a thrust, cutting deep into the chest of another villager rushing to grappled with the warrior. Bernard was untouched, but his charge had been stopped and he was now struggling to get free as the villagers rushed at him from all sides. The one with the maul took a deadly swing, smashing the crude instrument into Bernard's plate-armoured side and made the man sway dangerously close to falling off his horse.

    Roland, torn, threw a glance back at the fleeing John heading for the barge and saw yet another of the clerk's guards fall to the unseen sniper. Meanwhile Carl had appeared at an intercept course, the soldier moving with surprising speed while hefting a spear high. It was uncertain if he could prove able to stop all of those, veteran he might be, but he was no knight.

    A grunt of pain coming from Bernard settled matters though. The man might not be the honourable knight he once tried to portray, but Roland was.

    Wheeling Paragon into a good position, he charged yet again. This time right into the thickest concentration of villagers. Paragon jumped at the last moment, flailing hooves crushing a chest like it was matchwood while Roland's arching blade cut open the man wielding the maul from collar to hip, sending internal organs pouring unto the ground. Leaning back in his saddle, Roland parried a thrusting cutlass upwards as the owner of the weapon tried to grasp at the reins of Paragon at the same time. Roland's riposte, thrusting the blade down as it retained the binding of the foe's blade, ended the attempts when it slipped in through the man's collar.

    Sensing, rather than knowing, the charge coming from his right, Roland tore the blade out of the dying swordsman and swung the blade wide over his head and then down to his right. The man coming at him with a dagger never saw the descending blade and fell without a word as his skull was split in twain. Ahead, meanwhile, Paragon swung his head away from a thrusting spear, then lunged forth, strong teeth finding the neck of the shocked spearman before biting down and swinging his head, sending the man flying into his comrades as his lifeblood sprayed over them.

    The gap caused by the impact and slaughter, as well as the fear, made the villagers inch back. It was enough, and Bernard grunted a reluctant thanks as he and Roland urged their horses on and free of the press of men.

    Both now looked over towards the dock, making Bernard curse aloud as he shouted. “Get him!”

    Carl's spear had gotten stuck in one of the villagers that had peeled off to rush him. The soldier was about to be faced by the next man, wielding a hatchet, unarmed. Yet somehow he leant back, bent the spear and jabbed the blunt end like a cudgel into the grinning villager's face, stunning him. With a wrench, Carl freed his spear, swung it low and into the enemy's knees, knocking him onto his back. The man screamed as he held up his hands, but the soldier was in no mood for mercy as he thrust low.

    It was of little consequence though as John and the last villager escorting him reached the barge. From the woods, there was another crack of gunpowder, but somehow the villager stepped in front of John at the last instance, and flailed in agony as he fell into the water while the lucky clerk jumped onto the boat that was now swarming with activity as large men moved around with brutal efficiency as they readied to cast off.

    Around him, Roland found many of the villagers fleeing, some running for the barge, others for the forest. Ronald, eyes narrowed, kicked Paragon into a gallop.

    The dock was approaching with lightning speed even as Bernard shouted at him something Ronald couldn't pick up with the sound of his own heartbeat drumming in his ears. Ahead, one of the fleeing villagers turned to face him, rat-like eyes narrowed in hate as he angled his spear at the knight's horse.

    Then Henri's arrow caught him in the side. Staggering, the man dropped his weapon and moved to clutch his wound.

    He never managed even that as Paragon sent him flying with aside with a disdainful snort. Another of the fleeing villagers raised his sword and charged, then glanced over at Henri as the yeoman readied another arrow. Rushing past the distracted villager, Roland let his blade flick out, severing the foolish peasant's arm at the elbow.

    Then they were on the dock, thundering towards the barge now freed of its moorings. On it, John looked like a tiny insect compared to the massive bare-chested men tending to the barge.

    Norscans.

    Growling, Roland urged Paragon on even as a final crack of the gun in the forest echoed through the night.

    This time John's luck finally ran out, and the clerk looked down at his chest in shock as he fell onto his knees, dropping the tome onto the deck as his blood poured over it.

    None of the norsemen seemed to care as the readied long poles with which to push the barge down the river.

    Yet one of them looked up and dropped his pole as he stared at the dock and the charging knight.

    There was a good six feet between the dock and barge now, and it was growing rapidly.

    An impossible distance even for Paragon.

    Roland had no intention of being denied though.

    “For Bretonnia!” Freeing his feet from the stirrups of his horse, he urged the horse to leap even as he brought his feet up unto the saddle. A moment later they were both airborne, the horse swiftly descending towards the water as Ronald kicked off, launching himself yet higher.

    The norseman, staring, was too slow to retrieve his weapon.

    Smashing into his chest, blade first as his knee smashed into the warrior's gut, Roland grunted in pain as the air was nearly knocked out of him from the impact. The norseman, however, was silent, dead on impact.

    Rising, foot stomping into the norscan's chest, Roland freed his blade, the enchanted sword cutting a wide curve as the nearest warrior, have drawn his axe, was too slow to get out of the way and found both it and his right leg severed.

    Grinning under his helmet, Roland brought the blade about with a flourish and faced the other norscans who had now pulled back from him and drawn their weapons, a few even finding their shields hidden under blankets covering most of the barge's railings. “Come, face me, you wretches! Face me and die!”

    The norscans grinned and one moved to oblige, their corrupted sense of honour stung by the barb.

    Then there was a rumble from within the barge, stopping the man dead in his tracks. Barring his teeth, the man inched backwards as one of the hutches leading bellow swung open.

    “Whelp...” The words echoed within a helmet with no visor, appearing from within the bowels of the ship, two curved horns rising from the sides like it was an armoured beastman. “...get off this sad excuse of a ship while you still can.” Black plate armour bedecked the warrior walking up straining stairs, a filthy hide from some strange beast covering his shoulders, a sword that looked more like an oversized cleaver, covered in softly glowing runes that were difficult to look at, in one large gauntlet held low, unthreatening. At the front of the warrior's breastplate, now level with Roland's head, there was a familiar symbol, the star...

    That's more like it! “Foul champion of chaos! Face me!” Roland shifted his grip, holding his sword over his head, he angled the tip towards the warrior, ready to thrust at the few gaps he saw in the unholy armour. “I will slay you where you stand!”

    A chuckle emanated from the helmet, and though it lacked any visor, the monstrous warrior still seemed to see Roland, and regard him with amusement, rather than justified fear. “It seems you do not understand who you're dealing with, boy. I am Jan Striborg, I've walked this world for longer than your lineage has existed, and will walk it still when it's but a memory.”

    “Big words. Come then, you wretch.” Snarling, Roland advanced, then lunged.

    Swifter than his eye could see, the warrior before him parried the blow, his free hand shooting out as he advanced, smashing into Roland's chest like a battering ram, pushing him back.

    Gasping, his ribs aching almost as much as his pride at finding him turned aside as if he was a mere child, Roland found his eyes widen as he saw the warrior approach, weapon once more held casually at his side.

    “As I said...” The warrior raised his weapon for a high blow, making Roland wince as he raised his own for what he knew would be a painful parry. “...get off my ship.” The boot of the chaos warrior came from nowhere, the giant in plate seemingly moving with the speed of a dancer. Again, Ronald's chest was struck, and again he staggered back.

    Yet this time there was nowhere to go back, only a low railing impacting with his chins, not enough to stop him, only enough to trip him.

    He fell.

    Then he was in darkness, water flooding his helmet as he gasped, then spluttered out the water filling his mouth and throat. Horrified, he kicked, but his boots were heavy now, his armour an anchor, even his sword seemed to try and drag him down. For one terrified second, Roland considered letting it go.

    Then he pushed upwards with all his might, straining his every muscle to swim upwards.

    He broke the surface, gasping for air even as he felt himself being dragged back down, the weight of his equipment was constant and too much even for him. He was aching all over, tiring fast, so tired...

    He slipped back under the water, his futile kicking not enough to lift him, his body unable to fight the weight pulling him down.

    Then he saw flashing hooves next to him, a familiar caparison...and his left hand shot up, grasping hold of it.

    Struggling, the sword in his right hand making it difficult, Roland climbed up Paragon's side. For the second time, he found himself gasping for breath as he broke the surface. A tired whinny escaped the horse as it begun to kick, pulling them both towards the beach as Roland could do nothing but struggle to hang on.

    Shaking, terrified as he realised just how close he'd been to be killed, and in such an inglorious way, he stared over at the rapidly disappearing barge, unable to fathom how easily he'd been bested.

    Bested...the word stung like a dagger of ice, making Roland squeeze his eyes shut as the cold of the night air dug into his sodden clothes, making him shiver as he finally let go of Paragon and fell unto the beach, his whole body seemingly a bruise.

    A moment later Henri was sitting next to him, gently lifting his head as he brought forth a skin with water. “Drink m'lord, praise to Manann, he did na claim ye.” The yeoman looked pale, frightened, and whatever he saw on Roland's face made him look even more so. “Si-sire...?”

    Brushing aside the offered water, he'd had more than enough of that, Roland struggled to sit up and felt himself flush with shame as Henri had to help his aching body to rise. “Yes, Henri?”

    Up on land, he could see Bernard and his companions standing, though none had come to look at Roland since they were all facing towards the village, now alight with lamps, and a furious-looking man on a horse along with at least forty men with shining breastplates and levelled spears.

    “Sire, ye...be crying.”
    Post edited by Setrus on
  • Ancient_RuffianAncient_Ruffian Senior Member Posts: 2,324Registered Users
    Excellent!

    Roland is such a prat. :)
    OSWALD: This ancient ruffian, sir, whose life I have spared at suit of his gray beard,--

    KENT: Thou whoreson zed! thou unnecessary letter! My lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this unbolted villain into mortar, and daub the wall of a jakes with him. Spare my gray beard, you wagtail?
    - King Lear, Act II Sc. ii

    The entity previously known as The Weaver.
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    I suggest you start writing books they will become bestsellers in no time
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    blaat said:

    I suggest you start writing books they will become bestsellers in no time

    I doubt that, but thanks. :lol:

    Excellent!

    Roland is such a prat. :)

    Perfect characters are boring. ;)
    _______________________________________________________________________________________

    It felt good to be out of his armour.

    And clothes for that matter, they needed airing.

    Standing by the window on the second floor of the Lieske tavern, Bernard looked out with a weary sigh. He should be sleeping, considering they would need to leave at dawn. He couldn't though, his body ached, his mind was racing, his heart yearning.

    Yearning for the gold that had slipped out of his fingers.

    Outside it was still dark, but the village was alight with torches along the palisade and Bernard could see several houses had lights still lit by grieving or fearful villagers. They had almost lynched Bernard and the others, only the swift reaction by the captain of the militia had saved them by coming to face the group first. He had been almost as ready to kill Bernard as the others, but at least he had listened. At least he had let Bernard rip off the shirt of one of the dead...Bernard didn't like to think of what would have happened if the slain hadn't sported a tooth-covered boil on his stomach, revealing his corruption and proving Bernard's claims.

    The captain had, ever so reluctantly, admitted that Bernard and his companions might have acted in the right and offered them protection for the night, as those that were family members or friends of the slain might not be as understanding. They would surely abandon those revealed to be corrupt later on, if nothing else but out of self-preservation, but at the moment their blood was running hot.

    Now, outside, the militia was on full alert. Men were patrolling the palisade, most carrying crossbows, keeping an eye out for the villagers that had fled into the forest and perhaps what other threat their imagination was conjuring up. Others were clustered around the gates, as if expecting some kind of siege. Meanwhile, others walked in pairs along the streets, ensuring none were trying to break the imposed curfew. Another pair were posted outside the emptied tavern the group had been put in, stomping their feet and looking none too pleased about the posting.

    Bernard was glad the captain would let them leave in the morning, not only was it necessary if the group was to catch up with the norse warriors, but staying further was risky. Clearly, the man wanted rid of Bernard as soon as possible, and he couldn't argue with that.

    He had a quarry to catch, after having been so close...

    He felt old, and it frightened him.

    “Hey, come back to bed.” A naked body gently pressed up against him. “We're not finished, you and I.”

    Bernard chuckled, then winced, a hand coming down to his right side where a heavy blow and caused an ugly bruise. When he'd been younger, it wouldn't have bothered him much, now it was like a knot of iron, making every move he made stiff and careful.“I don't think I'm up for that, Emma. Besides, you should be sleeping, we leave early tomorrow if we're to catch up to the norsemen.”

    “Oh we'll catch them, you know the river Reik well.” Emma replied, nibbling on Bernard's ear, pressing into him. “Then we'll take that tome and go back to get rich, yes?”

    Bernard shook his head, thinking back to their encounter with a frown of worry. “If we can take it, you mean? You saw that Chaos warrior, yes? That was a real champion of the dark gods, he could probably kill us all on his own, you know.”

    “Nonsense.” Emma snorted, one pale hand brushing across Bernard's hairy chest. “All I need is a good line of sight to the mail between those plates. I'll line up my shot...” Her hand slipped downwards. “...and grasp the opportunity.” Bernard hissed at her analogy, yet refused to turn. He was too tired, too aching, ten years ago it might have been different, a knowledge that made his shoulders slump. Sensing his mood, Emma let him go and chuckled, tone cheerful. “Or, hey, we let oh sir Roland the first or whatever he calls himself try to get even, snatch the tome and run? I'd pay to see the look on his face.”

    “If he comes along, that is.” Bernard shook his head. “He's not exactly been thrilled with us when he realised I wasn't offering him one of those fairy-tales their nobles seem to grow up with...I half expected him not to come with us this evening, to be honest.” He grimaced, fingers tender on his bruise. “Good thing he did though, saved my behind.”

    “True, boy knows how to ride and fight.” Emma snorted and stepped away from Bernard. “He looked quite dazzling, you know? If it wasn't for his personality, you might have reason to worry. And what was that thing at the end? Who's dumb enough to leap onto a moving boat full of enemies like that? On his own? Boy was lucky he only got wet.”

    Bernard chuckled, not about to point out that Emma was pretty much the same age of the Bretonnian, she was far more mature, after all. “Told you, fairy-tales.” Turning, he found Emma heading towards the bed with a youthful strut to her steps. Her story was one of sadness and revenge, yet Bernard was always amazed with how cheerful she'd escaped through it when others in similar positions turned grizzled and grim. He was also amazed with the pertness of other aspects of her strut.

    Maybe he wasn't too tired after all...

    The knock on the door was quick and almost instantly followed by it swinging open.

    Bernard was deft in pulling a pillow to cover his nakedness, Emma, less bothered, was more slow, giving Roland a good eyeful before pulling the thin bed-cover in front of her. Her tone was a mixture of amusement and irritation as she regarded the knight. “Yes?”

    The man had been wearing a scowl when he'd so rudely entered, forehead set in deep ridges, ready to speak. Now, however, he was blinking and turning a slight hint of red as he stared at Emma's sheer cover, then turned almost crimson as he looked to her ruffled black hair. “I...ah, my lady, ahem, I mean...woman? Pardon me.”

    Shaking his head and ignoring Emma's chuckle, Bernard glared at the intruder. “Yes? What is it, Roland?” He was done being polite to the fop, now that his usefulness was at an end while he was still acting like he was. “We're trying to sleep here.”

    “So I see...” Roland was still flushing, but at least managed a sarcastic tone in his voice. “...glad I live a few rooms away.”

    “So help me, Sigmar, I'll drop this pillow.” Bernard threatened, he was too tired and bruised for fencing with words, especially when his tongue had already saved them all, including Roland, from the gallows. Emma and Carl had known it and appreciated it, but the Bretonnian was of course oblivious and Bernard had been grateful the knight had been too tired to speak for his own defence, lest he'd make things worse. “What do you want?”

    It was a slow process, but Roland managed to pull his gaze from Emma's hair – Bernard was by now considering suggesting she'd wear a hat – and turned it towards Bernard. His flush was disappearing and the original scowl returning. “I was coming to ask you if you intend to give chase to that champion of the dark gods, come the morning. Or, if not, you think it's possible for a swift steed to catch up to him?”

    Huh...

    Bernard cocked his head to the side, intrigued. “Yes, we do. I know the river well, if we use some of the less-known paths and keep a good tempo we can probably intercept them near Worlitz, the rocks and narrowness of the river until then makes for a slow pace, otherwise we would be doomed. After that, there's no chance of catching them. So it won't be about swiftness, but cleverness.”

    Ergo, the knight was doomed to fail if he tried to go at it alone.

    The framing of the reply seemed barely needed however, as the knight nodded, as if expecting it. “Then I'm coming with you.” Bernard couldn't help but notice the way the knight held the handle to the door at that moment, his knuckles whitening as he tightened the grip...

    “Ah, well, good.” Bernard managed a small smile. The Bretonnian was after all a good and free sword, however difficult he might be socially. “We leave at first light.”

    “Excellent, I'll be joining you then.” Roland nodded, then shot Emma a last glance, a mix of revulsion and desire in his young face, then slammed the door shut with far more force than necessary.

    Chuckling, Emma dropped the covers back onto the bed as Bernard joined in, casually throwing his pillow back with it. “Seems someone's feelings are hurt.”

    Bernard, casually moving closer, shrugged. “You know what they say, pride before the downfall...” He smiled. “Carl will complain, but it's good to have someone expendable with us. Plus, that yeoman of his is a good shot and seems to have a better head on his shoulders.”

    Emma snorted a laugh. “That's not hard.” Turning to face, Bernard, she arched an eyebrow at the look on his face.

    “Oh I was just thinking that it's a long time until dawn.” Grinning, Bernard moved closer, his arms encircling Emma's waist. “And you did talk about grasping your opportunities.”

    Smirking back, Emma braided her hands into his beard, her forehead resting against his as she tugged him down towards the bed. “That's more like it, old man.”

    At the moment, Bernard didn't feel the years, however.

    8
    8
    8

    Roland felt cold.

    It was as if the plunge into the water was still affecting him, as if the chilling wetness had permeated his body and was still digging into his bones, refusing to go away.

    Even his blush at seeing the naked commoner, shaped more like a noble of Bretonnia rather than the stunted woman of the peasants, and her ruffled hair wasn't enough to make it go away.

    It was in no way crippling, Roland would never allow it to go that way, but it lingered within him, a cold that made him cringe at the darkness of the room.

    It had been dark in the river as well...

    Secretly, he was glad Henri was there. With the run of the tavern, they could easily sleep in separate chambers, but that felt risky considering the hostile behaviour of the villagers. Normally it would be inconceivable for a commoner to strike at a noble, but clearly they were not in Bretonnia. Plus, Henri's snoring was oddly comforting.

    Roland, bothered by his own feelings, shot the yeoman a glare as he passed the man and flounced on top of his bed. The moment he was seated and started pulling his boots off the yawning commoner begun rolling out his bedroll on the floor next to him, the man's movements sluggish.

    “I've decided to go with our companions a bit further, Henri. That champion of Chaos must be stopped.” Roland wasn't sure why he told Henri of his decision, the man was obedient to a fault, there was no need to inform or warn him. It was a good quality in a commoner soldier, hence why he'd been promoted to yeoman. “They are not ideal, but we need them if we're to find that Jan creature and regain my honour.”

    “Aye, m'lord.” Henri muttered sleepily, his thin blond hair like straws now that he'd taken off his helmet, though he seemed too tired to deal with anything else. “And your honour be nae damaged m'lord, he struck cowardly.”

    “He beat me, like I was a child.” Roland growled, there was no denying it, and the taste of defeat, something he was unaccustomed to, was bitter.

    Shaking his downcast head, Henri's reply was cheerful. “M'lord will beat 'im, I know it. I did nae manage me horse the first time I rode, but I do now, m'lord will do the same.”

    Roland smiled, the thought of the commoner comparing himself to Roland was laughable. Yet the sentiment at least had some merit, as long as Roland lived, he could fight, and as long as he could fight, he could win.

    Below him, Henri moved to lay down, a groan escaping him as his spine cracked. He wasn't exactly as malformed as many peasants, but the spine was obviously an issue. Still, the peasant smiled as he stretched on his bedding, content.

    Shaking his head in wonder at commoners and their perceptions of luxury, Roland followed suit and lay down on his bed, the stopping lumped and hard, making him mutter a curse under his breath. Still, at least it was warm and away from the rain that seemed to plague the Empire so often. Sighing, one arm under his head, Roland stared up and the dull ceiling. “I'm not best pleased with these people we're riding with though. Had she been a spellcaster, I would have understood, but this woman following Bernard around is...well...a woman, and she uses one of those undignified gunpowder weapons to boot!”

    Henri grunted in sleepy agreement. “And dat man Carl is a villain, sire, he brazenly speaks treachery with every other word. Nae respect.”

    Roland shook his head, Henri was right, true, but Roland had a bigger issue that perturbed him. “And who else uses them? Bernard himself! He's supposed to be a noble yet cavorts with her like a rutting pig and seems to only put on an appearance of nobility when it suits him.” Roland grimaced. “I've seen Bordelaux merchants with more honesty in them.”

    “Aye, m'lord.” Henri yawned, loudly, his jaw cracking with the sound.

    Shaking his head, Roland suppressed the urge to follow suit, he had his dignity to consider. “This country is in shambles when a man like that is considered a noble. Although by now I doubt it, I sense disgrace there, at best.”

    “True, m'lord.” Henri yawned again, his voice a low mutter. “Although...ma'be it's like some of dem questing knights?”

    Roland, curious, found himself forced to ask. “What do you mean?”

    “Like dem who's done some bad thing? Lost their position? Dey go on the quest ta wash the dishonour away?”

    “If so, he's doing a bad job of it, he wallows in it.” Roland snorted, the idea was ludicrous. Above, the ceiling seemed to spin.

    “You right, m'lord, dunno what I wus thinking.” Henri muttered, seemingly half asleep. “Ma'be he's just then...” The man yawned once more. “...tryin ta survive? You do things you never thought you would then, yah?”

    Roland swallowed, the room spinning more and more as his eyelids grew heavy. Within him, he felt dread well up, remembering how he'd almost let his ancestral blade sink to the bottom of the river in his efforts to survive. “I...suppose.”

    “Right then, m'lord, g'night.”

    “Good night, Henri...”

    Roland felt the dread turn into outright fear, but he was too tired, to exhausted, to fight it.

    Sleep took him.

    He dreamt of being under icy water, an anchor in the shape of his heraldry dragging him down by the ankles. Above him, Morr towered, mocking the knight as he clawed at his burning throat.

    And of the Lady of the Lake, walking away from him.

  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    by the lady MORE
    BRAVO BIS BIS
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    edited March 14
    It was morning, but no sunrise, for the sky was steel grey with rumbling clouds.

    The group barely saw even that though, for the yet darker trees of the forest loomed above them, Roland, mood dark, felt watched. The trees in the Empire held a malevolence he never saw in Bretonnia, rather than gracefully twisting branches, these were knotted and bent like the claws of some giant spider. The path Bernard had found was wide enough for two horses to ride next to one another, yet the group was forced to ride slowly, the horses stepping carefully over ferns that were large enough to be considered bushes and a twisted carpet of roots that would break the ankle of the unwary traveller.

    Yet despite their pace, Bernard seemed confident they would intercept the northmen in time.

    Roland shot the 'noble' a glance. The shaggy man's face was fixed straight ahead, narrowed eyes taking in the path ahead as if he saw something Roland didn't as he guided his smaller horse onwards, ignoring the dark-mooded Bretonnian. Paragon, of course, needed next to no guidance and easily trudged on, carefully stepping past some roots while crushing others under his hooves as he judged best. Almost smugly, the horse shot Bernard's mount a snort.

    Behind them, Henri was staunchly ignoring Carl as the two commoners were forced to ride side by side. The empire man had a surly look on his face and was glowering at everything and everyone, though both he and Henri were constantly glancing at the trees around them, searching for threats.

    It was a tense group riding along the little path.

    Yet not everyone seemed to sense it. Emma was whistling and acting as unbecoming as possible. Her hair was bared, she was wearing trousers, straddling a horse and her hands around Bernard's waist as she sat behind him always seemed to dip too low for modesty's sake. All that was missing was one of the crude songs Roland had heard some men at arms sing and she would be the perfect example of immodesty.

    Roland found it repulsive, yet the taboo of it all together was at the same time overwhelming, making him uncomfortable under his armour.

    As if sensing his discomfort, Emma turned a dazzling smile his way. “Hey, Roland, I never did thank you for saving Bernard here, you're quite good with that sword.” Bernard grunted and nodded in agreement, but didn't deign to look at Roland, his eyes fixed on the path, frowning in concentration.

    “Um...thank you?” Roland answered. It was still strange to be addressed directly by a commoner without them having any permission to do so. That she was a woman doing so with her hair bared, having bared more than that not a few more hours ago, and addressing him as an equal was all too much for Roland, it threw him off balance. “I've trained since the age of seven.”

    Quite good wasn't nearly enough praise, even if it came from a someone who's opinion was of little concern.

    “No kidding? I understand now why people joke you Bretonnian knights are better at riding than walking.” Emma chuckled.

    Not quite sure why the sentence had triggered a thin smile from Bernard, Roland shrugged. “It's not far from the truth, to be honest, me and Paragon here are inseparable.” Affectionately, he patted the steed's neck, making him huff back. “Knights of Bretonnia are good warriors, my father use to say, but it's our horses that make us great.”

    Emma grinned. “Behind every great knight is a greater horse, huh?”

    Behind them, Carl guffawed.

    Frowning, sensing he was perhaps being made fun of, Roland felt his already fragile mood teeter upon the edge of anger. “I suppose...”

    Smiling, Emma brushed the topic aside. “I've only heard of Bretonnia from the odd merchant. They say you have a few impressive ports, but small cities, your castles are tall and glittering white? With high towers, sometimes with gilded roofs? I always thought that sounded too fantastic to be true.”

    “It is true, actually.” Roland looked down at the path before him, mind drifting across the Grey Mountains to the realm he held above all else. “I've seen some of the castles here in the Empire, they're squat and sturdy construct, designed to fight from the walls and turrets. Ours are taller, and those spires are essential, it allows us to see far across the land and sally forth against any threat.” He shrugged, personally thinking the Bretonnian way was superior, but with mood as it was in the group, he eschewed stressing the virtue of facing your enemies face to face.

    Emma blinked, one eyebrow arching up in surprise. “Really? I thought they were yanking my chain.”

    “Oh it is, our walls are generally white, but I've seen one built from blue stone on the L'anguille coast.” Roland replied, warming up to the topic. “When the sun shines down on the walls, they sometimes shine like silver.” He glanced at the trees around him, that shine seemed so far away now, as if consumed by the dark forest. “And they tend to be built on hills and cliffs, making them dominate the flat landscape. Here, in the Empire, you have plenty of rivers, roads pushing through these forests. In Bretonnia, however, we have few roads, but our lands are open, the forests are fewer, smaller and...brighter.” He eyed the trees around them, seemingly bending down towards the group, as if wishing to pull the riders out of their saddles.

    At least they weren't anywhere near water.

    Roland shivered.

    “Oh that sounds wonderful!” Emma said, looking genuinely elated. “I'd love to visit at some point!”

    Roland, unsure, smiled. “Maybe you will, at some point...” Personally, he wasn't sure the Bretonnians there could handle the insane commoner, or if she understood that she'd hardly be a guest at a castle, but be bedded in some village.

    Then a cold wind made the trees rustle, making Roland shiver, feeling the shiver in his bones grow.

    Jan had kicked him into the river so easily...

    8
    8
    8

    His bottom sore, Henri was glad to be off his horse and seated on a much softer grass rather than the wooden saddle of his mount. He was carefully nibbling on a crusted piece of burnt bread, a much finer loaf, alongside some cheese, lay on a cloth in his lap, ready to be eaten by his master when the man wanted it. He was also drinking from a skin of water, Henri had the skin with the fresher liquid hanging on a strap from his knee, it too waiting the call from Roland.

    Yet the knight, normally quite quick to demand his midday meal, had not asked for anything.

    Instead he was busy using their break to exercise.

    Henri knew why. His young lord's confidence had been jarred, something that until now had never happened, and while Henri was convinced Roland would next time butcher the unholy champion of Chaos, the young man was clearly less sure of it.

    He was so young...

    Quietly, in the back of his mind, Henri wasn't so sure Roland should be out on his quest. He believed in the young master, and worshipped the man's father, but while there was no doubt in Henri's mind of Roland's potential, he also knew such things needed time before fully blossoming. Still, such heretical thoughts were easily squashed, after all, what did he know about the ways of the Lady of the Lake or chivalry? Nothing, so who was he to question young Roland's path?

    Of course, his father had asked him personally to look after his son...genuine concern in the older man's voice.

    Henri shrugged such thoughts aside, he was there to serve, to give it all for the family that had given so much to him and his kin, nothing more.

    Having found a small clearing next to the road, Roland was busy running along its circuit. Every circuit he had to leap over a fallen tree, every time he ducked under a low-hanging branch, every time he stopped to do twenty swift push ups next to a tree-stump, every time he stopped near a by now thrashed yew tree to practice a dizzying number of blade-techniques against its trunk before proceeding.

    In full armour, helmet on, shield on his back, arming sword on his hip, greatsword in his hand, the man kept running.

    Henri had lost count of how many times the man had run through the self-imposed gauntlet, and though the knight was showing signs of tiring, he was showing no signs of stopping.

    Grunting, a man sat down next to him, and Henri grimaced in revulsion as he realised it was Carl.

    The empire mercenary shot him a smirk and rubbed his long nose. “Nice to see you too. Not going to punch me again, I hope?”

    “No.” Henri grunted, biting his bottom lip. “M'lord Roland has forbidden it.”

    “Good.” Carl leant back, looking smug as he eyed the practising noble. “You got a good cheap shot on me, but you wouldn't want a real tussle.”

    “I'm sure.” Henri dryly replied, clenching what remained of his meal in a tight fist. “What da ya want?”

    “Well Emma asked me to try and talk to you and see if we couldn't make friends.” Carl chuckled. “We both know that ain't going to happen, but I got to look like I'm making the effort or Bernard will be a pain. Besides, I'm curious...all I offered was a chance for a better life, why the anger?”

    Henri stared at the imperial, baffled. “Ye asked me to abandon my lord and master.”

    “Yes?” Carl blinked, looking confused. “So? He's just another schmuck who doesn't care for your life.”

    For a moment, Henri raised his fist, making Carl raise an amused eyebrow and glance at Roland. Growling, Henri instead brought the bread in the fist to his mouth, the crust crunching under his teeth. Swallowing the piece, the thing almost jamming into his throat, Henri shook his head. “The de Ferre's 'ave been good to me, I 'ave a horse, I...”

    “Serve your lord for a pittance, are considered expendable by him and all those like him and seem to have learnt most of your fighting from the real thing, rather than any practice.” Carl shook his head. “What little value they put in you seem to rest on your own ability to survive. Why serve them?”

    “Ye wouldn't understand.” Henri turned away from the despicable imperial.

    “Not good enough.” Carl put a hand on Henri's shoulder as he leant closer. “Why? I don't understand, why!?” The soldier shook Henri. “At least in the imperial army they feed you all right, you don't even get that.” With his free hand, he gestured at the crumbs left of Henri's meal.

    “Me family lives well and are protected by the De Ferre family, we owe our lives to them.” Henri growled back, turning further away, wanting nothing but for the questioning imperial to go away. He shook off the hand on his shoulder. “I swore an oath, an oath of duty.”

    “Just another way of controlling you! Your family works their fields, yet I've heard the stories, you're worth less than dirt to these people!” Carl spoke heated now, with conviction. “And that oath...I made one similar when I was in the army. It's just another way they keep you controlled, a good pet fighting for a cause – their cause – rather than for your own interests! That oath is worth nothing when-”

    Whirling to face Carl, Henri's voice was a snarl. “I gladly took it! And you would too, had ye been in my position!”

    Unimpressed, the imperial snorted. “What? Starving and in need of a warm meal? I think-”

    “Nay! Happy to serve those greater than yerself! Ta aid them however much ye can, to humbly do what ye can to protect those ye love, even when ye're not a hero!” He shook his head, Henri was no knight, and knew he knew nothing of honour or chivalry, but the filth he spoke to knew even less. “Duty is more then a demand, ya know. Fer us who see why we do it, it's a privilege.”

    For a long moment, he and Carl were staring at one another, seemingly separated by a chasm, unable to understand one another.

    “Henri?” Blinking, looking up, Henri found that his lord had stopped his exercises. Instead he was standing in front of the two sitting soldiers, helmet off, an odd look on his face. “Is everything okay?”

    “Yeah, we're fine...m'lord.” Carl snorted, twisting the last word to sound more like Henri's as he rose. “And Henri, for what it's worth...I think you're more of a hero than that one.” Facing Henri, Carl jabbed a thumb in Roland's direction, making the noble's face flush in righteous anger. “Just remember...heroes are idiots.” With that, Carl jammed his hands into his pockets and walked away.

    Shooting the retreating figure a final glare, Henri rose to his feet, only catching his lordship's bread in the last instance as it almost rolled off his lap. “Sorre m'lord, did na notice ye be done with yer training. Thirsty? Hungry?”

    “Yes, sure...” Roland took the offered food and water, the strange look still on his face as he eyed Henri.

    Dipping his head, not sure what to make of the look on the noble's face and so choosing to avoid it, Henri fussed about Roland, straightening his tabard and belt. “Paragon's been brushed, m'lord, and watered, ready for ye.”

    “Ah, good...”

    “Want me to brush ye blade, sire?”

    “No, I...I'll manage, thank you.”

    “Sire, ye nae eating enough, have some more.”

    “I'm...not hungry. Here, you have the rest.”

    Henri brightened, the unexpected bounty suddenly in his hands. “Oh sire, thank ye!”

    “No reason to thank me, Henri...” A strong hand landed on Henri's shoulder, then released a second later, as if burnt. “Just...eat it before we leave.”

    His steps awkward, perhaps strained from his exercise, Roland walked away to start training once again.
    Post edited by Setrus on
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    MOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRR
    keep it up please
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    I literally just finished, dang it. ;)

    ___________________________________________________

    Mannslieb was high in the sky, casting a harsh white light over the river below.

    The dark waters glittering, the Reik river reminded Emma of a snake slithering through the underbrush. Around it, the forest was ever-present, dark and brooding, branches leaning across the water, as if trying to block out all light from reaching the slow-moving water. Emma knew from her talks with the Bretonnian that he found the forests of the Empire dark and foreboding, and there was no denying it, nor was it all bluster, there were a lot of dark things to fear in them.

    Yet they were her home, where she had hunted for so long. Within them, horrors that had ripped her childhood apart lived, within them, death waited. Yet she would never dream of leaving them, of hiding away in some city and pretend that you were safe. No, better to be aware of the dangers, better to embrace them, to live!

    In her lap, her brothers old long rifle lay. Though lovingly cared for, it was worn and scared from heavy use. The butt had been worn down from many a push against her shoulder, not to mention the odd swing at someone's head. The flintlock mechanism was flawlessly cared for, but what engravings had once been made to it were now nothing but a faded shadow. The outside of the barrel, though cleaned religiously, was by now stained by hundreds if not thousands of discharges.

    It was, like the forest, a dark memory, yet her livelihood, something she embraced and which made her feel alive.

    She'd never let it go.

    And tonight the gun would be let loose again. Though Emma was very deft at reloading the complex weapon by now, Bernard had stressed her need to hold with the first shot until she was sure of where it would go. The Norscan marauders were bad enough, but the important foe was their champion clad in the black armour of his. If he fell, the group might have a chance of snatching the tome back.

    They were sitting atop a heavily forested hill with a dominating view of a crook in the river, on its right side. Surrounded by thick trees, with a felled trunk in front of them as an improvised cover, Bernard's chosen spot was a good one. With the bend in the river and a few rocks in it, the northmen would have to slow down, and with it narrowing there was a high chance the boat would be close enough to be leapt upon, drawing out the chaos champion as the men on deck were caught by surprise. As plans went, it was simple and relied on a bit of luck, but that was Bernard's style, and they didn't really have many other options at the moment.

    Deployed at the front, ready to run up and leap onto the barge, Bernard and Roland were crouched and grim-faced. They were so different...

    Older, grizzled, cunning, Bernard was clad in full plate this night, taking no chances. The dull metal had to odd dent and scrape on it that he hadn't afforded to mend. In his hands he held his pistols, ready to shoot them at the earliest opportunity before opting for the worn greatsword loosely strapped to his back. His red beard jutted out from an open sallet, the helmet the one component the man almost never wore, him wearing it now meant he was ready for a tough challenge. Emma wasn't sure she exactly loved the much older man, she certainly felt affection for him, and since he'd hired her on so long ago they'd had plenty of adventures. But sometimes she sensed he was ready to stop adventuring, while she still had a full appetite for it. She almost dreaded completing this job and get that great reward the count had offered.

    Next to him, Roland was young, naïve and strong. His armour a strange mix of simple mail and plate, something that too Emma looked like it belonged in a museum about the Empire's ancient history. Yet on the other hand it was barely marred, and fitted perfectly to the slimmer warrior, gilded engravings at the edges of the plate and atop his old helmet all spoke of wealth, of wanting for nothing but better metallurgy. The man was all blades, the fine longsword in his hand seemingly shimmering in the moonlight, another sheathed blade on his left hip and a dagger on his right. A younger warrior in older equipment.

    The two had clashed at Bernard's decision to wait on the hill. Roland had, with typical Bretonnian arrogance, spoken harshly against the cowardliness of an ambush and that while it had been bad enough doing so against some peasants and traitors, at least there had been little honour in killing them. These northmen, however, we warriors and so should be faced in open combat.

    Bernard had ignored Emma's and Carl's amusement at this foolish notion and instead suggested they'd do as Roland suggested and then hope that the Norse champion would honour such a challenge and come off the barge to fight them, rather than simply row on, mocking Roland and taking their only chance to face the vile warrior with him.

    Roland had, gritting his teeth, withdrawn his objection.

    So now the two men sat there, veteran and youngster, silently bitter towards one another as they waited for the northmen to approach.

    A little behind them, on each flank, Henri and Carl crouched, almost looking like their squires. Henri, humpbacked and wearing a tattered gambeson in faded colours of his lord, had his bow strung and ready, sword at his waist as well. Emma quite liked the little man, sure, he was a little deformed, which usually meant some chaos corruption where Emma was from, but he seemed to mean well and his generally quiet but attentive manner was a strength in the group. Carl only had his spear and a hatchet in his belt, but Emma had no doubt he was the more lethal of the pair. Under all the complaints and bitterness of the mercenary, there was a core of a warrior that knew no pity nor remorse, with fear something nearly unimaginable.

    They were definitively fewer than the northmen, but Emma figured they were in some ways more dangerous.

    Of course, until one figured in that Chaos champion.

    What kind of name was Jan Striborg anyway? She shook her head, Emma had never understood the Norscans and their customs.

    Emma had already pondered her target. The armour was clearly something not quite natural, and so it was hard to judge its effectiveness, but the gaps were there was only black chainmail would surely be the best option? There was no vision slit to aim for, after all...

    Emma shivered a little at the thought, her target was no mortal man. Hence she had made her second bullet from a silver button. Perhaps, if the man survive a bullet to the throat that would probably brake the armour, a second shot going into the hole made of another material, one considered holding strange properties by some, would do the trick?

    She had no idea what to expect.

    Then her thoughts were interrupted by a his from Carl and Henri as the two in unison pointed towards the river. Appearing around a gentler bend than their own, the barge was slowly approaching. Emma's good eyes could see seven northmen on the deck, three were on each side, pushing the barge along with slow and patient pushes. The seventh was at the front, his pole thrusting at the bottom of the river ahead, feeling his way forward in the unfamiliar waters.

    Soon that wouldn't be necessary, soon the Reik river would widen and run faster, letting them outstrip any mounted pursuit.

    But not tonight.

    Emma cocked her rifle and ran a hand over it, assuring herself all was in order a final time.

    There was no sign of the chaos champion, and Emma was sure he was not alone below deck. She wasn't sure how many were in it, the barge could technically hold over fifty. All she could do was hope they weren't too many or the assassination of their leader might not mean as much as Bernard was hoping.

    Around her, the group tensed, taking deeper breaths as they mentally prepared themselves. Any one who claim they weren't nervous before a battle – likely only Roland would try – were liars, and Emma was sure nervousness gripped them all by the throat as much as it did her.

    Licking her lips, she rolled her shoulders, loosening up for what would likely be a difficult shot. The chaos champion was a big man, but she'd seen him move...

    The barge was coming closer, but none aboard seemed to have sensed the coming ambush, though they were surely wary, considering they were in the heart of the Empire. By now they were halfway between the bend they'd left and the one where the ambush was waiting. Watching intently their progress, Emma felt her body tense in readiness, adrenaline pouring into her.

    Then the northman at the front fell into the water.

    Damn fool! Emma felt herself shaking with frustration, the tension of her muscles having now turned to growing impatience to simply get the fight over and done with.

    One of the other norscans swore, two of them laughed as another tried to reach for his fallen comrade, saying something in an angry tongue.

    Then he too fell overboard.

    The laughter from one of the men turned into a grunt, the man tumbling over and crashing into a corner of the barge before he collapsed. Another staggered and fell backwards into a wall, his head hanging limp, yet something kept his body from falling over.

    “What in Sigmar's name!?” Bernard growled as everyone stared at the odd sight.

    Narrowing her eyes, straining her vision, Emma finally saw the reason.

    Black, smaller than even bats, swifter than eagles, bolts were shooting out from the forest and into the barge, the shooters hidden in the underbrush on Emma and the group's side of the river. “Another ambush!?” Emma gaped, watching as yet another northman fell, his fingers clutching at a bolt stuck in his eye.

    “By who!?” Bernard snapped, but Emma only shook her head, unable to see into the darkness.

    Shouting out a warning of an alarm, the only still breathing northman held up a round shield now full of fletched bolts and hurled a javelin into the forest, triggering a shriek of agony. Then he too fell, clutching at his groin.

    From the hatch leading into the barge, northmen poured out, the first two dying in an instant despite their raised shields. Even as they did so, Emma saw thin ropes ending in barbed hooks fly out from the forest and land onto the barge's deck before pulling taut as the hooks caught onto the railing, pulling it in.

    Roaring, many of the norscans ran at the rope, axes cutting several off, though only after several blows. Others took up javelins or even hurled their axes into the forest. The bolts were like a constant hail, slaying several more of the northmen as they struggled to free themselves, yet their efforts were starting to have an effect as the ropes became fewer and fewer and a few brave northmen started to use the abandoned poles to push back and try and force the barge back into the middle of the river.

    Then a pale purple light appeared in the forest, a light that grew bright and wider. Within it Emma could see a lone shape, thin and with fluttering hair, arms cast out wide, slightly feminine in form, though with the strong light in Emma's eyes, it was hard to tell. Around the glowing shape, darker figures moved, almost hidden in the shadows, glossy black armour reminding her of beetles as they lay down a ceaseless barrage.

    Then the light arched out like a lightning bolt of purple, striking the flank of the barge with a deafening detonation.

    Northmen were hurled in the air, the one closest to the blast simply ceasing to exist as the flank of the barge opened like a ripe melon spilling water inside with enough speed to make the entire ship start to instantly list.

    “Lady protect me.” Roland's whisper was a distant thing as Emma and the group watched the barge starting to sink.

    From within, Jan finally appeared, his head craning left and right to take in the devastation, seemingly untroubled as bolts bounced off his armour, illuminating him with sparks. At his belt, Emma spotted the tome chained fast. A guttural order, and his hands shot out, grabbing two of his men by the neck before brutally hurling them overboard towards the other side of the river.

    They were never going to make it and landed in the water with loud splashes. A moment later their heads appeared as they obediently began to swim against the safe side of the river.

    Jan had never intended for them to make it though.

    Leaping off the barge, Jan slammed an armoured boot into the head of the nearest northman with a crunch, sinking the concussioned man. The champion of Chaos moved with amazing speed though and didn't sink himself as he leapt on, his next landing being right on the back of the remaining northman, sharp edges of his boots flaying the man to the spine as Jan launched himself onwards.

    He landed heavily, but with no difficulty, on the opposite beach and turned, his barking orders angry and swift.

    Howling in frustration, the rest of the northmen, almost thirty, Emma realised with shock, turned and leapt off the sinking barge before they started to swim towards the other beach.

    Several stopped swimming as they went, dark bolts stuck to their backs as they went limp or flailed about in agony. But when there was but a quarter but the way left for the swimmers, the bolts ceased, the attackers realising their targets were out of effective range.

    Shaking themselves like wet dogs, the Norscans went up to their champion before forming up behind him, facing the other beach with defiantly raised shields and axes, as if expecting an assault to be attempted.

    Instead, a lone shape appeared from out of the forest.

    Smaller than the norscans, slimmer, the person was clearly a man, shoulders wide and hips narrow for such a small person. His armour was midnight black and tightly fitted to his frame, an almost transparent blue cloak billowing out behind him. He was leaning on a long sword, slightly curved and single-edged, it was as black as the man's armour, though shimmered unnaturally under the moonlight. His face was uncovered though, almost marble white, it was framed by pitch black hair tied back in a long tail, thin lips were turned into a smirk as he regarded the Chaos champion on the other side, oddly slanted eyes amused.

    And his ears...

    Near her, Carl cursed. “What in Ranald's name is an elf doing here?!”

    “I don't know.” Bernard grunted, the veteran's gaze glued to the pack of northmen now turning and heading away inland, making Emma wince as she realised crossing the river would be a pain, never mind tracking the northmen. “But I'm not willing to give up yet.”

    Next to him, Roland growled. “Agreed.” Henri, of course, instantly nodded in agreement with his master.

    Staring at the river, then one another, Carl and Emma groaned. “Fiiine.”
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    nice plot twist
    great really
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    Hidden in the treeline, Roland was getting sick of hiding like some bandit, the group were watching their quarry with growing frustration.

    They'd pursued the norse for days after having managed to cross the Reik. Only Emma and Henri seemed able to track their quarry, much to Roland's frustration, he'd never been a great hunter. Worse yet, Emma had at one point offered that she and Henri would teach the frustrated noble!

    The horror on Roland's face had only been matched by the shame on Henri's. Worse yet, seeing their faces, Emma had laughed!

    Roland had ridden on in cold silence since then.

    His anger had been growing all the while. After his failure to catching Jan at the river, Bernard had grown increasingly reluctant to pursue, muttering that the cost was too grave for the rewards it entailed. Seeing and hearing it had filled Roland with disgust, there was only one word for such a man.

    Mercenary.

    Like any man of honour should, Roland despised mercenaries, and while he so far had suspected and endured the company of the imperial trio, the fact that some difficulties exasperated their status and exposed their nature as cowards at heart was frustrating to say the least.

    At least there had been no sight of those elves at the river since then, they had disappeared. Roland would of course gladly test himself against those creatures as well, they were clearly up to no good, but he had decided that the champion of Chaos would be enough for the moment.

    Jan Striborg...despite his eagerness to prove himself and clean the stain on his honour, Roland felt a pit of apprehension in his gut as he watched the giant warrior striding about like a caged wolf in impatience, dwarfing even the tall northmen around him.

    They'd finally found their target, but now, on the cusp of victory, Bernard was holding them back.

    Midden Moors, the imperials called it. It was, as most of the Empire, a depressing place of little virtue and beauty. Surrounded by dark forests, one which the group was still hiding in, the moors themselves were moss-covered mounds surrounded by still black waters lit up by a flickering moths that cast an unearthly green light across the landscape.

    Hidden near the river Kristall, Roland could see the river on their left, though most was concealed in a thick mist. Near the waters, Jan and thirty of his monstrous pirates waited, the unholy tome strapped to the waist of their giant leader. What they were waiting for was obvious, a new transport, and given that they were all standing up, some stomping their feet to stay warm, it was close.

    “We need to hurry!” Roland hissed, glaring at the one supposed to lead them.

    Bernard ignored him, frowning deeply as he stared at the open landscape between them and their target.

    Crouching close, Emma eyed Bernard with curious eyes, as if knowing what the man was thinking. “We can sneak around, go for the forest on the other side, would get us much closer.”

    “Would take several hours.” Bernard shook his head, gauntleted hands clenching tight in frustration. “And wouldn't matter. Look at them. I didn't think there was that many left...he must have had more allies somewhere. Look at that giant one of them, he wasn't there before. Must have been off somewhere with more supplies.”

    Further off, Carl sighed and sat down, back against a wiry old tree, spear casually laid across his lap. “Well that's that then, I guess.” Shaking his head, the man scratched the back of his head. “We're fairly close to Carroburg, anyone up for a drink? I know a good place.”

    Roland sneered at the man in disdain. “You're giving up? After all this?” He looked over to Bernard and Emma, the later at least had the decency to look away, but Bernard glowered back, unashamed. “You swore to your count to retrieve this tome! The enemy is right in front of us but might escape if we don't act! Yet you sit here and refuse to act!?”

    “There's not only that champion down there, Roland, but thirty other-”

    “Who cares!? Honour demands-!”

    “Honour!?” Bernard growled back, leaning closer as anger lit up in his eyes. “Honour is for the living, yet you ask us to die! And for what? Not honour...” He leant back, glaring at Roland. “...just your wounded pride.”

    The words stung, making Roland stand up tall, a sneer on his face. “You are a coward. I'll go out myself if I have to.”

    Bernard's eyes flashed at the accusation, but he didn't rise to challenge the accusation, the imperial seemingly not bothered by the insult. “Look, kid, I once was as reckless as you, selfish even, if I might say so myself. I too went out myself once, ignoring the greater good. That cost me my station and all respect of my former brothers in arms. Now, I lost much that day, but if you go out there now I can nigh guarantee that you'll die.” The words were calm, measured and made something in the back of Roland's brain shiver. Yet he shrugged it off and glared back at Bernard as the man offered the young knight a sympathetic look. “There's not enough time to get where we can take them by surprise.”

    No!

    Arms crossed over his chest, Roland growled. “So we attack.”

    “They outnumber us six to one.”

    “So we charge!”

    “Are you even listening to me?” Bernard's patience was clearly running out, the man glaring at Roland. “We're not going out there to be killed. If you try to do so, you do it on your own. If you do that, you're going to be killed.”

    Roland glared back for a long moment.

    Bernard's gaze didn't shake for a moment, seemingly willing the knight to stand down.

    Then Emma's voice called out. “Hey, boys, not to interrupt, but I see a ship.”

    With relief, Roland turned his head and saw it too. Far in the distance, almost a part of the mist, there was a square-sailed vessel slowly crawling forward. Over by the water's edge, the northmen around Jan raised their fists in a cheer.

    “Now or never, Bernard!”

    “Don't speak madness, Roland, let this one go.”

    For a moment, indecision.

    Then, a lump in his throat as his palms under his gauntlets went sweaty, Roland spun around and grabbed the reins of Paragon. “Fine, stay and quake like a peasant, then!” A moment later he was atop the massive warhorse, the beast snorting in eagerness, sensing the combat to come. Reining in his friend, Roland shot the staring imperials a last look. “When I have the tome, I'll return it to you, as my honour demands, but no more.”

    “Yeah...” Glancing back at the northmen in the moors, Carl chuckled, then leant back against his tree interest lost. “...good luck with that.” Emma and Bernard was silent and staring, one stunned, the other shaking his head. Snarling in anger, and a shiver of fear in the back of his mind, Roland pulled his helmet on and fastened it with expert tugs before kicking Paragon into a canter, then a gallop.

    In the span of two seconds, he was out of the forest, trundling towards the northmen.

    Behind him, Henri cried out, half in alarm, half a plead. “M'lord, perhaps-!” Roland silenced him with a swift swing of his arm, making the yeoman veer off from his pursuit, his assistance not wanted nor required.

    This was Roland's fight.

    Drawing his long sword and flourishing it, he watched his foes grow in size as Paragon carried him towards them.

    His heart was beating so fast he could barely hear Paragon's hooves thump into the ground.

    Finally, the norscan's were noticing him, pointing fingers and axes turned to a swift drawing of weapons and readying of shields. In seconds, Roland was staring at a wall of round shields, the giant Bernard had pointed out before at the back with a giant two-handed axe ready in his hands. At the front though, weapon not drawn, Jan waited, observing Roland from behind his helmet with no apparent way to look out.

    Licking his dry lips, Roland managed to cry out. “Jan! Jan! Jan Striborg!” Pulling hard on Paragon's reins, Roland slowed their approach to a trot, shimmering blade held out in challenge. “Face me!”

    Several of the northmen bared their teeth in amusement, but none laughed aloud as Jan did, the enormous champion of Chaos stepping forth, still unarmed. “Gladly, child, gladly.” The warrior cocked his head to the side, a smirk in his voice. “Will you face me on foot or on...that beast?”

    Roland winced, his legs pulling tighter around Paragon. Atop the horse, he had the advantage, atop the horse he knew he fought better...and that was the problem with such a challenge. Reluctantly, he dismounted. Paragon snorted at him in protest, but a gentle push against the horse's nozzle made the beast understand and begin to canter back.

    Honour demanded a fair fight.

    Turning to face Jan, Roland saw the approaching ship in the corner of his eyes. Silently, the longship that would take Jan and his warriors glided on. The warriors had no eyes for it though, all were focused on the duelling pair as the champion of Chaos stepped closer, chuckling low within his helmet. “On foot then? A shame, I had hoped for something at least close to a challenge. Did your previous dip in the river not teach you anything?”

    Swallowing, blade held in front of him like a shield, Roland shot a glance at the nearby river.

    “So, what will my reward for slaying you be then?” Jan spoke casually, making Roland even more nervous as the large unholy warrior calmly circled him. “You obviously want your life and this tome I carry on me, but for me...what could you possibly offer to make me want a duel of honour rather than have my men slay you? I'd say...your soul.”

    Roland, swallowing, nodded. “Just get this over with, fight me!”

    “No, no, no, young one, I need more than that. Swear it, swear that I have your soul once I've butchered you.” Still unarmed, Jan wagged a finger at Roland as if he was a mere child.

    A cold drop of sweat was by now rolling down his spine, making his voice quaver. “Fine, I swear it! If you defeat me, you'll have my soul! But when I defeat you, I'll take that tome and bring it to where it belongs! Now fight me!”

    “Where it belongs?” Jan stopped his walking, arms slack at his sides. “It belongs with me, mortal.” Roland shook his head and advanced a step, his whole body tense, ready to lunge or leap. “Do you know why...?” Suddenly, Jan was advancing, shoulders swaying, hands down, seemingly untroubled by the sword aimed at his neck. “Because I wrote it.”

    Enough!

    Shouting a wordless cry of anger and frustration, his nerves frayed to pieces, Roland rushed forth, blade swinging at his foe's neck.

    Jan swayed back, a suddenly raised gauntlet deflecting the blade as a casually thrown punch made Roland duck away before it could connect. “Do you even know what it does, mortal? Why your kin try to keep it from me?” Speaking in a casual tone, not the least fazed by their first exchange, Jan advanced yet again. “No? It details how to bind daemons, ones of rot and despair, specifically. For too long I've been without it, but when I have it again...oh your people will suffer. And I'll ensure your soul has a good seat to watch the show.”

    Roland charged, swung, then held the blade as he completed the feint and turned it into a thrust.

    The blade struck just between the warrior's hip and chest, where plate had to give way to chainmail. The warrior had already twisted though, letting the blade do nothing but carve a silver line across the armour as two massive hands closed around Roland's wrists.

    Twisting, then lifting, Jan's hands pulled up until Roland felt his feet leave the ground, Roland's fine blade falling uselessly from numb fingers.

    Suddenly, he was face to face with the black plate armour that covered all of the chaos Champion's face. Even so, he felt the creature's evil eyes on him, eyes of an amused deity in flesh, a hawk compared to the moth held before him.

    Roland felt his bladder give.

    “You fear me now, finally, though too late.” Jan crooned, loudly inhaling. “But I want more, before you die, I want to feel your soul flicker in terror as it's wrenched from that weakling shell of yours.” He started to walk forward, Roland held before him like a limp toy. “I felt it from you before, did you know? Oh you were so afraid...lets visit that fear again, shall we?”

    “Wha-?”

    He was thrown backwards, his back striking the soft moss of a mound, the back of his head loudly splashing against the water of the river behind him.

    No. No. No. No. No!

    Roland's right hand, still numb, shot down to grab for his arming sword, only for him to miss as agony shot through him when Jan's full weight stomped down on his left arm, pinning him to the ground. His right foot on Roland's arm, Jan stomped his left unto the sheathed blade, loudly snapping it within its sheath. “And you thought you, a boy, could find the Grail...?” Jan chuckled. “Arrogant fool.”

    With horror pulsing through his every vein, paralysing him, Roland watched as the warrior's left foot rose from his broken blade and then slowly came to rest upon bottom edge of Roland's great helmet.

    Then, slowly, the warrior began to push down.

    Lady, Lady save me!

    Roland strained his neck, pushing back, but it was like pushing against a mountain. Slowly, Jan not at all hurried, Roland's head begun to tilt backwards.

    Please! Please help me!

    There was a sucking noise around him now, ice cold liquid pooling against the back of his head.

    No! No! I can't..! No!

    His right hand still free, Roland clawed and scratched at Jan's greave, but found no purchase, nor could he shift it an inch as it kept pushing down. Cold water was suddenly in Roland's eyes, then it poured into his nose, then inched further up. His breathing ragged, Roland tried to twist his head inside his helmet, but to no avail as he sunk further and further into the water. A moment later he was holding his breath, water now filling his helmet as Jan kept him there with painful ease.

    Father! Lady of the Lake! Shallaya! Anyone, please!

    Above him, Jan was leaning forward on his knee, watching Roland with what had to be amusement.

    Air!

    Roland gasped, only to splutter as water instantly poured down his throat. He felt his body twitch as black spots begun to dance before his vision, but there was no budging the weight pressing down on his chin.

    Crying out, his right hand darted down, found the knife in his belt and lunged.

    It punched into the mail just behind Jan's knee with a crunch even Roland could hear.

    Roaring more in anger than in pain, Jan took a step back, his hand shooting down to grab the knife ripped from Roland's weak grasp.

    Roland barely saw it though. Rolling onto his bruised left arm, he clawed at his throat as he pushed his head out of the water, his whole body convulsing as he coughed out water and mucus, only for it to splatter the inside of his helm, making him retch.

    Above him, Jan pulled the dagger free and threw the weapon aside with a snort. “That should be a lesson to me. Never play with your food.” Slowly, he drew finally drew his blade, the cleaver of a sword hissing as if alive. “I suppose your soul will be enough, my ship's arrived anyway.” Roland, unable to move further, unable to fight, could only stare in horror as the blade rose up into the air...

    And then the arm holding it exploded.

    Knocked sideways, Roland rolled, his vision swimming as purple dots danced before him, roars of anger and pain filling his ears. Looking up, he found Jan still standing, staring at his lost blade as smoke rose from the stump that now was all attached to his right shoulder. Behind him, ten northmen lay dead, scythed down by tiny black missiles.

    For while the longship had arrived, it didn't carry reinforcements for Jan.

    Instead the deck was full of black-clad elves whose strange crossbows spat death at the flanked and shocked norscans. At the bow of the ship, an elf woman, pale but with glowing green eyes and a mane of black hair leading all the way down to her calves stood, her sparse clothing seemingly more for show than for combat. A javelin was hurled at her though, and it simply evaporated before it reached her, the staff held in her hands glowing purple.

    From the stern of the ship, an elf in more elaborate armour leapt, purple eyes flashing with eagerness as he hefted a long black blade before him.

    The man at the river...

    Staring, his hands numbly reaching out until he found his lost longsword, Roland watched as Jan, seemingly untroubled by his lost arm, grasped his cleaver with his left hand before launching himself at the elf that had leapt the boat.

    The elf was fast though, a mocking laughter escaping his lips as he dodged back, parried a blow and then leapt past Jan's thrust before launching his own, pushing it right into the warrior's charred stump and into his chest. Even as the two stood there, interlocked as the massive warrior of Chaos begun to die, the elf's hand shot out to cut into the bindings of the book strapped to Jan's hip, loosening it until it fell into the elf's hands.

    Behind them, the northmen were dying. They had few missiles and couldn't reach the elves through the hail of missiles. The giant with the two-handed axe made a good attempt of it, shrugging off several bolts stuck in his flesh as he rushed forth...only for the strange lady at the bow to aim her staff at him, a bolt of purple light shooting out and ripping the man's legs off at the knees.

    Staggering to his feet, Roland mutely watched as Jan fell, the seemingly invincible warrior slain in moments. The elf, meanwhile, casually put the tome in under his cloak, then turned his alien purple eyes to Roland. “Well...what is this?” The elf slowly pulled his sword free from his foe and languidly began moving towards Roland. “Lost, are we? Or are we on a trip?” Grunting, Roland forced himself to adopt a defensive stance, despite his every bone seemingly aching.

    “No further, stranger!”

    The elf stopped, blade held out to his side, ready to lunge, yet his casual smile implied otherwise. A smirk was playing on his lips. “Stranger? I suppose we are. For now, at least, De Ferre....”

    Roland's blade wavered, his eyes widening. “H-how do you know my name?”

    “It's written on you.” The elf gestured at Roland's tabard and grinned, it was like the face of a shark. “But don't worry, I might introduce myself...later.”

    Behind the elf, the northmen now lay dead or dying, his companions moving around them, finishing them of with quick thrusts. Suddenly, flames flickered no the longship, then grew as the vessel was set aflame. Nearby, another vessel was approaching though, angular, black, like the blade now aimed at Roland's throat.

    “Now, I suppose I really should finish you off, human.”

    Before Roland could reply, another voice shouted out in warning. “M'lord!”

    Both man and elf turned to stare, watching as Henri galloped towards the pair, Paragon at his side. The warhorse pulled hard as Roland saw it, after three tugs, Henri understood and let go of the horse's reins. A moment later the warhorse was past Henri and his smaller draught horse, pounding towards Roland.

    “Get on, m'lord!” Henri's shout was followed by him loosening an arrow at the elf before his master, but the man sidestepped and swung his blade with a casual flick, sending the missile wide with a sneer of disdain. Then he turned his gaze to Roland, smirked in...and made a mocking salute before taking a step back.

    Puzzled, Roland stared at the elf, waiting for a lunge that wouldn't come.

    Then he grabbed Paragon's reins and jumped upon the steed, letting the steed guide itself in racing back from whence it come, Henri close behind them.

    Turning his head, Roland watched the elf wave, then turn around and begin his walk towards the angular black ship now docked to the blazing longship.

    All Roland could think of was how the elf had known his name though.
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    WE WANT more
    roland against hellbron or makleith or morathi?
    yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    B-but Mass Effect A-Andromeda...? :open_mouth: ;)

    ____________________________________________________________________

    Carl was still chuckling.

    Turning the spit carrying two roasted hares, Bernard shook his head, too depressed about the loss of money to share in the ex-soldier's amusement as they sat in their little camp in the darkness. The tome was gone, not exactly in the expected way, but gone none the less. They had spent a fair amount of cash, risked their lives and wasted their time hunting the golden goose, as it were.

    They'd gambled and lost.

    Next to him, leaning on one of his shoulders, hands around his arm, Emma sensed his mood and shared in it. The woman was more about the hunt than the reward, but being denied the victory stung her.

    Carl's chuckle grew louder, turning into a laugh.

    Opposite him, on the other side of the fire, Henri's face was dark, glaring at Carl with lethal intent. It was amusing to watch the yeoman, clearly viewed – both by himself and his lord – as the inferior of the two Bretonnians. The soldier was sitting almost protectively next to Roland, watching over him as a father might be with a sulking son.

    Roland was a most fascinating sight though. The man had almost been killed, twice, yet while he looked afraid and shaken, it didn't look like it was over his own experience. Rather, he seemed to be pondering the future and fearing it. Sitting, his brow creased as he stared down at his open hands, the man looked older, troubled.

    Perhaps his arrogance had simply taken too many blows, leaving him broken, but Bernard didn't think so.

    Nor did he care.

    “Carl, that's enough.” Snapping at Carl, Bernard shot the protest about to emanate from the footman down with a rarely used glare. “It was a foolish attempt to gain the tome, but it was at least a try. It's over now.” Sighing, Bernard poked at the dying fire under the rabbits and shook his head. “I guess we'll go north? Nordland villagers always need help with this or that mutated beast.”

    “Sure, babe, I'll go for some beast hunting, you know I do.” Emma muttered, eyes on the rabbits with badly concealed hunger. “What about the Bretonnians?”

    “I think they're done with us. Am I wrong, Roland?” Bernard looked over to the noble, but received no answer but the human's gaze dipping lower, staring at his own chest.

    “I think he's finished with his little quest thing, buddy.” Carl sniggered. “Aren't you, boy? You got slapped around like a child and now you'll go home to cry into your mother's skirts?”

    Uh oh.

    Suddenly, Henri was on his feet, hands forming fists. But Roland, still not looking up, was faster, a hand shooting up and grabbing the yeoman by the arm before bodily pulling him back down to his seat. Carl and Bernard exchanged a surprised look at the odd behaviour, meanwhile, Emma was leaning forward, tone inquisitive. “Roland? What are you thinking...?”

    For a long moment, there was nothing but the sizzling of the rabbit meat and the crackling of the fire.


    When Roland spoke, it was a low whisper. “How did he know who I was...?”

    Bernard blinked. “Excuse me?”

    Still not looking up, Roland continued, frowning. “The elf, he knew my name, or rather, my family's name. Said it was written on me...” The knight gestured at his tabard, now clean thanks to Henri's efforts. “Which I suppose it is.”

    Ah.

    Emma shook her head. “So?”

    Before Bernard could answer, Roland looked up, at Emma with an intensity that even made Bernard paused. “How did he, some elf raider from a faraway land, know my family's heraldry? We are not the great house of a duke or king, we are a minor vassal in our kingdom, unknown for anyone past Bastonne. Yet this elf knew it and laughed? Why laugh? What would be so funny about meeting a De Ferre?”

    “He'd seen it before.” Bernard summarised.

    “Exactly.” Roland's gaze shot over to Bernard, bright blue eyes flashing. “And he told me he would introduce himself...later? How could he, unless...”

    “Unless he's intending to go to your lands, and has already planned to do so.” Bernard finished.

    Between the two, Carl, Emma and Henri all stirred, not sure what that all meant for them in practice.

    Roland faltered then, frowning down at the ground, looking young and lost all of a sudden. “My honour forbids me to ask...” He bit his lip, then forced himself to speak on. “...the tome will be there, and my father will reward anyone coming to his land's aid.”

    “Wait, are you-” Carl clamped his mouth shut as Bernard held up a palm, stopping the man from putting his foot into it.

    Roland could barely ask, and he would NEVER allow himself to offer payment, Bernard had understood that long ago, and even more so after meeting the lordling. Asking clarification would mean the offer would disappear, Roland would feel compelled to remove it.

    Still, it was a dangerous thing to consider. The champion of Chaos had been dangerous enough, and the one who'd defeated him had been cunning and skilled. And if he was going to Roland's land, he might have many warriors under his command.

    But the tome was still within reach, whatever reward might be awarded for aiding the Bretonnians would be a simple bonus, or a salve on the wounds if the tome was impossible to retrieve.

    Roland and Bernard stared at one another. Bright blue eyes steady, yet silently pleading. Dark green eyes steady, thoughtful.

    “Roland de Ferre.” Bernard rumbled the name and took a deep breath. “It would be my honour to aid you in defence of your home.”

    Instantly, Roland's shoulders slumped in relief. “I...know that it's not exactly, I mean that you are, that is that...” In the end, the man only managed a weak, but genuine smile. “Thank you.”

    “We leave at first light.” Bernard answered, not about to embarrass the youth further. “I assume you have a plan to confirm your suspicions and save the tome?”

    Roland grimaced. “I...sort of.”

    This time Bernard made no effort to silence Carl as the mercenary groaned.

    “Oh, great.”

    8
    8
    8

    With a shuddering gasp, Malavach pitched forward, his lean and toned shaped covered by a thin sheen of perspiration.

    Under him, Ivranna crooned softly, cool hands brushing across Malavach's back, curves pressing into his spent body. Unlike him, didn't show a sign of exertion. Of course, she had never really enjoyed their couplings, not truly, and a lesser man might have found that insulting. Not Malavach though, he was a perfect specimen of his race, he took what he wanted for his own gain and pleasure, no one else's.

    Sighing in pleasure, Malavach reluctantly rolled off the sorceress, his flushed skin swiftly cooling under the gentle wind caused by a fan above. The blinded Asur holding the heavy item was trembling by now, exhaustion and starvation making him struggle. Clearly, he needed a whipping, but for now Malavach was too comfortable to stay where he was.

    “Happy, my love?” Ivranna's emerald eyes didn't smile along with her supple lips, darting from his face to the tome resting on a small plinth next to the struggling elf slave. Her hand moved up, pushing a strand of Malavach's hair back into place. “You've been smiling the entire way here.”

    “Oh I'm very happy.” Rolling onto his back, Malavach put his hands behind the back of his head and grinned. “The tome is in our possession, Malekith will reward us well for it, we'll rise high when we return home.” Of course, Malavach had every intent of ditching the sorceress before that, but for now she was too useful to get rid of.

    “That is true, my love, we've already won before the raid has even begun.” Ivranna rolled onto her side, one arm propping her head up as she gazed at Malavach with curiosity. “Yet I sense more, what are you so smug about? And why did you save that human whelp?”

    “That human lives in these lands.” Malavach grinned. “Now, they might be dumb cattle, but even that one should have understood what I said, should understand that his home is in danger.” Sneering, Malach continued. “Ursain, that Morathi boot-licker, will find himself with a tougher raid than he might expect. I figured Malekith might appreciate that.”

    Ivranna's free hand moved down, caressing Malavach's chest as she chuckled. “Oh you're a clever one...Malekith has never liked Ursain, only his ability to succeed has saved him. A failure, however...”

    “Indeed, my dear, indeed.” Malavach smirked. “Humans might turn to dust faster than a noble's full training takes, but they'll still be able to put up a bit of a fight if forewarned, they'll play their part.”

    “Oh this will be deliciously painful for him.” Ivranna moaned, suddenly rolling over, straddling Malavach, her lips finding his, biting down hard, breaking skin. When she finally let his lips go, she turned her head, smirking. “Slave, more wine. Your lord will need it...”

    Smirking, still leaning back in the bed, Malavach felt himself respond to the sorceress ministrations.

    His career was about to skyrocket.
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    great especially the DE part
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    discontinued? :'(
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    edited March 31
    blaat said:

    discontinued? :'(

    Nah, I'll get to it, sorry, just a bit...caught up in Mass effect Andromeda right now. :tongue:

    I'll try to get to it though, shouldn't leave you hanging.
  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    Setrus said:

    blaat said:

    discontinued? :'(

    Nah, I'll get to it, sorry, just a bit...caught up in Mass effect Andromeda right now. :tongue:

    I'll try to get to it though, shouldn't leave you hanging.
    no problem take your time
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    @blaat

    _____________________________________________

    Emma was staring.

    She was aware of it, but she couldn't stop.

    She'd never been to Bretonnia, never desired to, never really thought about it, and while the description of it sounded too good to be true, her meeting Roland had convinced her that indeed was the case. That there was nothing to see.

    Yet here she was.

    And it was beautiful.

    The sea to their right was supposedly able to throw quite a storm, and she knew it did so more often than not across the imperial coast. Here it was an undisturbed mirror of dark blue though, glittering in a sun that somehow seemed to shine brighter than she was accustomed to. Along the stretch of land they rode along, cliffs of pale white stone rose like a wall, almost stinging her eyes with their brilliance at certain angles. Similar stones, though covered in green, rose out of the sea at points, and though no doubt feared by seamen, they too had a certain charm to them, like hands beckoning you welcome, rising from out of the blue.

    They were riding along a narrow path of well-worn earth, rising slightly above the ground to create a gentle slope on each side of it. It was no paved road, primitive and simple, yet idyllic.

    And then there was the grass.

    It was everywhere! Great fields of it, with only the odd tree jutting up like a lone sentinel, rather than the thick forests of most of the Empire. It was bright green, bereft of thorny bushes, crevices and ivy, as if some great god had swept his hands across the landscape and created something no imperial would believe natural.

    She could see a forest far off to the left, but it looked small in comparison to what she was used to, and these trees were almost as bright green as the grass, swaying slightly with a steady and pleasing breeze.

    It was like a dream.

    Next to her, riding his own horse as she held her arms around a quiet Bernard, Carl chuckled. “Emma, you might want to close your mouth.”

    With a click, her jaw slammed shut as she found her face suddenly burning. Shooting the smirking mercenary a glare, she then glanced over to their locals. Henri offered a gentle and proud smile while Roland didn't seem to really notice what was going on behind him, though given how he straightened in the saddle, she could only assume he felt a certain amount of pride.

    He and Bernard had both been quiet as of late.

    Emma knew her man. He was worried, he'd seen the power that stood between them and their reward and he didn't like the odds, he didn't want to waste his time. Yet, at the same time, he didn't want to stop having come so far, he wanted to see it through, even if he wouldn't acknowledge that, even to himself.

    Roland, however, had lost something back in the moors. He looked a little smaller, less sure of himself...a frown of worry had appeared on his face more than once and he was constantly touching his hip where his now discarded arming sword had hung. Given the circumstances, Emma wasn't sure if it was a good thing.

    Yet the welcoming weather and land around them was doing them some good. The group looked fresher, they were better rested and with Roland seemingly convinced of where they needed to go, they had little to trouble themselves with.

    Emma hated to ruin a good thing.

    “So, if the tome isn't where you think it'll be, if these elves aren't-”

    Roland shook his head. “They'll be there, I'm sure of it.”

    Emma blinked. “Well...good.”

    The man shrugged. “Not really.” Then he turned his head, eyes narrowing as he suddenly lead his immense steed to the right, off the path and past a stump of what had once been a large tree, Henri but a heartbeat after him “This way.”

    Bernard guided the pair's horse after the Bretonnians, his voice grave. “You are sure of this?”

    “I am.” Roland muttered, not turning to look at them. “These are my father's lands, my lands, I know them well. I used to play where we are going, much to my nurse's horror. Me and some other boys hunting down evil beasts, slaying pirates...” A sigh. “...who knew I'd do that for real one day?”

    “There's a lot of coast, you sure they'll be where we're headed?” Carl grunted, looking across the white cliffs with a frown.

    “The Alencion lands have had little trouble from raiders before, because of these cliffs here, but there is one place where they are broken up. Sometimes we have smugglers there, or some fell beast, but not often, it's not easy to find.” Roland grunted. “They'll be there, I feel it.”

    “Okay, so we go to retake this tome, sneak off with it, then...?” Emma looked about herself, while the landscape was gorgeous, there was little place to hide.

    “We move for the village of L'Vielle after we have the tome, then summon my father.” Roland grunted. “If we manage to get the tome though.”

    Bernard's growl was low. “That was our agreement, Roland, I need that tome to make this worthwhile. I need to at least try.”

    Roland didn't turn, though his shoulders rose like the hackles of an animal. “And I swore to honour that.”

    The awkward silence descending upon the group made Emma regret she'd ever opened her mouth. Clearly, Bretonnian and Empire customs didn't quite get along, and never would.

    No wonder Sigmar had let the Bretonnian ancestors leave.

    “We're here.” Emma blinked, Roland's announcement puzzling her as she looked around.

    “What do you mean? All I see is...woah!” Suddenly, the ground dipped before them, the endless sea of green grass providing a form of camouflage against an eye expecting nothing else. Jolted forward in her seat, Emma felt herself press tightly into Bernard's armoured bulk, holding on tight, she stared at the basin before her. Flanking it, the white cliffs rose high while in the centre a thick forest of windswept trees rose up. From atop the rim of the basin, the group could see the trees surrounding a few white boulders. They reminded Emma of the cliffs, though while the rest were standing like a palisade against the water, these had seemingly been uprooted though, knocked over and into a pile of rubble.

    “You think they're hiding in there?” Carl sounded sceptical.

    “Those rocks are collapsed around a hill that's been dug through.” Roland pointed at the fallen rocks even as he urged his horse into a trot, making the others follow suit. None wanted to be spotted by any potential inhabitants of the place ahead.

    As they rode towards the treeline, Bernard turned his head left and right. “Not much room for landing a fleet, I see how your land hasn't suffered much in way of raids.”

    “Alencion is blessed in this, yes. Other parts of Couronne, not so much.” Roland muttered, reining his horse in at the edge of the treeline. Finally, he turned his gaze back to the rest of the group. He looked painfully young at that moment as he bit his lower lip. “Bernard, any suggestion how to proceed? I know my way within those tunnels like the back of my hand, but I never faced a band of elves defending it.”

    “We dismount.” Bernard motioned for Emma to slide off first, after which the man heavily landed onto the ground. Next to them, Carl was already on the ground, spear ready in his hands. “Roland?” Grimacing, the knight reluctantly obeyed, Henri quietly following the moment his lord was on the ground.

    Roland, handing the reins of his steed back to Henri. Shrugged. “I gather then that you have a plan?”

    Bernard chuckled at that, making Emma grin. “I always do, I always do.”

    8
    8
    8

    Crouched in the tall grass, under the shadow of a tree, Roland was almost invisible.

    He cared little for the sneaking around, but if it assured he wouldn't be unchivalrously shot down by the elves and allow him to save the tome and aid his lands, then he would have to accept it for the time being. As Bernard would have put it, he needed to get a little dirty.

    The plate armoured veteran was crouching right next to him, grim faced and constantly shifting his grip on his sword as he regarded the situation ahead. Nervous, just like Roland had started to feel. He wasn't overly worried about the regular elves, commoners were the same wherever they were from, but their leader was...frightening.

    Roland despised his own weakness, but for once he hoped he wouldn't face his foe today. His attempts to tell himself he hoped so so he had a greater chance of warning his father rang hollow even in his mind.

    Behind them, Paragon and Bernard's horse stood side by side, the later's steed's bridle tied to the more intelligent Bretonnian breed. Even Paragon had his part to play in the events to come.

    A quick getaway if things turned poorly, yet another thing that would blemish Roland's honour were it made public knowledge.

    Though even he saw the reason with Bernard's plan.

    Ahead, three elves in dark plate and chain were sitting on various rocks, a larger one between them as they exchanged muttered words in a smooth-flowing tongue while playing a strange-looking game of cards.

    Roland was of course aware of elves from before, had seen a tradesman at a distance once, read and seen pictures of them, but these were the ones were the first he'd gotten a good look at.

    Their eyes, having the colours all from purple to blue, were more intense than any normal human, making their expressions seem all the more extreme whatever kind they made. Finely chiselled faces and slim of stature, their women looked like humans in need of a few meals more while their men, slightly broader across the shoulders and even more angular in the face, made Roland think of some effete diplomat rather than warriors.

    Yet their movements were crisp, swift, even at a casual game of card it was hard for Roland's eye to keep up with the shifting fortunes of the sentries.

    Behind them, the dark hole leading down into the bowels of the cave gaped wide.

    Roland knew it well. Within, the wide gap would split into several narrow tunnels leading towards the central chamber. That place had always fascinated Roland, with part of the floor swallowed up by the water leading out into the sea, it was a natural harbour, or at least designed to look like it. There was no doubt in his mind that they'd find the tome there, if it was still on the mainland.

    Of course, he also knew there were quite a few elves down there. Something that would have to be dealt with before they proceeded.

    As if on cue, one of the elves raised his hands wide and cried out in victory as the other two slammed their fists down in frustration...and then the victor pitched backwards, an arrow in his shoulder and his cry of victory turning into one of agony.

    His two friends hesitated, then one spun around to stare at the forest further to Roland's left just as a puff of smoke and a crackling boom escaped it. The one that hadn't turned instantly began clawing at his throat, incredible bright blood gushing from the sudden wound across it.

    In but a moment, the still standing elf leapt over the now prone warrior struggling to breathe, shouting down into the cave even as he pulled free a shield leaning against the cave wall just in time to deflect an arrow aimed at his face. Crouching low, the man was nigh on invisible behind his sharply pointed kite shield and though he cursed, he didn't fall when Emma's long-rifle smashed a bullet into the thick protection.

    Behind him, there was a loud rattling of armour and weapons as dark-armoured shapes appeared. The sentry, crying out in anger as another arrow struck his shield, this time embedding itself into the surface, drew his blade and charged in the direction of the missiles, gesturing widely at the other elves to follow as they formed up a hedge of shields and spears, other elves behind them readying vicious-looking crossbows.

    Looking back at his comrades, the charging sentry never saw Carl suddenly lunging out from the treeline, his spear shooting out like a serpent's tongue, striking the elf in the abdomen and letting his own momentum do the real damage.

    The sentry faltered, then fell to the side, the spear already pulled free from his ruptured organs as Carl raised it up into the air defiantly, a crude grin on his face. “Not so immortal now, are you, you heathen scum!?”

    At the cave entrance, the elves stood motionless, untroubled by the taunt.

    All save one.

    Pushing his way past the line of shields, the elf leader stood out not by virtue of his more elaborate armour or a slight height advantage, but by a cruel and harsh presence that would not be denied. The man threw a single glance at the dead elves around him, then looked back up at Carl.

    The mercenary's smile faltered.

    With a flourish, the elf drew his blade, the unnaturally black surface of the sword seemingly making everything around it turn a little grey. “I will use your skin for a rug, elf.”

    Arrow and bullet answered the threat, yet neither struck true as the elf bent backwards while twisting his spine, letting both missiles harmlessly pass overhead.

    The smirk on his face when he straightened back up was terrifying. “Get them.”

    Instantly, their leader at the fore, the elves started charging down towards Carl and his hidden missile support, those with crossbows already letting their missiles fly.

    Carl, ducking with unexpected agility, turned and ran, shouting at the others to get a move on as they loudly turned and begun their flight towards their waiting horses.

    Barely had the elves reached the line of trees before Bernard tapped Roland's shoulder.

    Instantly, both men were moving, crouched and ready for anything, they made their way towards the cave as quietly as possible, Bernard a breath ahead, drawn sword and pistol held at the ready.

    Within, the air was cool and slightly damp, the narrow paths splitting apart at the entrance all covered in soft pebbles that clattered against the rock wall with a loud echo, making Roland wince. Bernard stopped within the shade cast by the cave and shot Roland a look. Needing no words, Roland gestured to the rightmost path. It was the longest way to the central chamber, but the preferred one for a boy playing hide and seek since it had no floor of pebbles.

    Nodding, Bernard took the lead, and Roland let him. He might know the path better than the older man, but Roland had to reluctantly admit that Bernard had not only more experience, but was a more clever warrior in general.

    Not that Roland would ever admit that aloud.

    The path was narrower than Roland had remembered, no doubt due to his age when he'd last been there, but by shimmying along sideways both warriors kept up a decent pace as they as quietly as possible hurried on. They were not quite in darkness either, for whatever light reflected out from the water in the cavern had a tendency to play across the walls of the entire system, dimly lighting their way.

    As such, they found the central chamber faster than anticipated, making them both inhale sharply at the sight.

    The elves had made themselves right at home. Anchored to the cave, their sleek ship was facing outwards, ready to cast off and sail away at a moment's notice. Though given the amount of barrels and even furniture set up on the floor of the cave, lit by a few lamps of oil, they didn't seem to think the precaution necessary. Several pillars had been raised, purple gauze hanging between them, creating a thin sort of wall around a rug-covered section of the cave. In the centre of the surprisingly luxurious space a bed dominated among the other furniture. The pillows white, cover a shimmering dark blue and the framework of some seamless black wood, the pieces wouldn't have been amiss in a nobleman's house.

    Gesturing, Bernard brought Roland's attention to a small desk next to the bed. Atop it, a lone candle still burned, but more importantly, lying atop a few pieces of parchments, the tome lay.

    Exchanging a relieved grin, Roland and Bernard moved forward, swords parting the gauze as they entered the elf nobleman's little sanctum. There was a scent of jasmine in the air, rising from the candle, making Roland hold back the sudden urge to sneeze even as Bernard pulled the tome to his chest before swiftly pushing it into a bag strapped to his side. Both breathed a sigh of relief as the tome disappeared into it even as they turned to leave.

    “Well...” The voice was hushed, a soft purr from the back of a woman's throat. “...I didn't think you would make such a tactical and strategic blunder...”

    Spinning, both warriors were ready to fight. Bernard didn't even bother to issue a challenge as he levelled his pistol and fired.

    The shot pushed past gauze with ease, then evaporated in a puff of black smoke as it struck something that only briefly shimmered purple before disappearing, leaving the target unperturbed. The elf woman was familiar, the staff in her hands almost more so. Up close,her emerald eyes were downright glowing with power as her long black hair swished behind her, almost as if with a life of its own. Her glowing purple robe was open across the entire front, leaving but underwear of brass and silk to cover her modesty, though if her state of undress bothered her, she didn't show it as high heeled boots confidently clicked against the ground as she advanced. “...seems Malavach was right though, you humans really are cattle ready for the slaughter.”

    Grunting, Bernard dropped his pistol, drew his second and fired.

    Again, it disappeared in a puff of smoke, this time but an inch from the elf woman's face, making her smirk as she sniffed the air. “Oh, I'm going to enjoy this...”

    “For the Lady!” Roland, hefting his sword high, charged, Bernard wordlessly roaring too as he followed suit, though sideways so as to try and flank the elf.

    Chuckling, the elf swung her staff in front of her.

    As if buffeted by an impossibly strong wind, Roland was forced to a stop, then pushed backwards before the force became strong enough to hurl him across the cave. Grunting in pain as he was rolled across the uneven ground, Roland tried to move with the impact as best he could, then pushed upwards as his face scrapped across the ground, sending him up onto his feet, albeit unsteadily. Sword in hand, he found himself twice as far away from the woman has he'd been when he'd started his charge. Next to him, Bernard, having landed upside down, groaned in pain and grasped at his side as he slowly struggled to his feet.

    Before them, the elf once more begun to advance, unhurried, staff held to her side, licking her lips, as if in preparation to enjoy a meal.

    Bernard and Roland exchanged a glance, neither sure what to do with a foe they couldn't even hope to close with, never mind try to outrun. Swallowing, Roland took a shuddering breath and squeezed his eyes shut.

    Lady, for all I've done wrong, forgive me. I am but your wretched servant and unworthy of your protection. I am yours, please look after my soul and that of my family's. I-

    The sudden cry of rage, pain and misery made Roland's eyes fly open as he looked back up. He was just in time to see another elf appear, this one dressed in but a tattered pair of rough-spun trousers, his ribs standing out from a starved frame like blades. His matted blond hair was dirty and unkept, his cracked lips split by a hateful cry and his eyes nothing but crusted craters of congealed blood.

    Leaping from behind his hiding spot under the bed, the elf took the mage completely by surprise, making her spin to face him with a sneer of disdain on her face.

    She was not quick enough though, for while the starving elf lunged blindly, he did so with the fervour of the desperate with what looked like nothing but a long needle.

    Crying out in rage and pain, the elf woman staggered back, her staff knocking the blind elf away even as crimson blood begun to pour from her hip and along her thigh. “You will pay for that, slave!” Her staff shot out, black fire pouring out of it towards the scrambling elf. Despite his weakness and blindness, he somehow managed to turn to face her, two fingers raised creating a narrow blue sign before him, splitting the fire in two.

    Growling, the elf mage took another step forward, hair rising as the air crackled with energy, her rebellious slave staggering as a low moan escaped him from the effort of protecting himself.

    Gripping his blade, Roland moved to attack only to find Bernard gripping his arm. Shaking his head, the veteran begun to pull Roland back. “Don't be a fool! We're here for the tome! And remember the others!”

    “Damn you, Bernard! Damn you and your sense!” Cursing, Roland sheathed his blade and moved to follow the imperial, his cheeks burning with shame as they begun running back the way they'd come.

    Behind them, the elf slave started to scream.

  • blaatblaat Junior Member Posts: 612Registered Users
    GREAT THANK YOU SO MUCH
  • Aman3712Aman3712 Posts: 280Registered Users
    Oh my... This is really good...

    I can't wait to read more :smiley:
  • SetrusSetrus Senior Member SwedenPosts: 17,553Registered Users
    The sun had reached and passed its zenith by the time the group managed to join back up.

    With the blazing source of heat behind them, the sweaty riders were silent at first, alone with beating hearts and aching limbs. Despite lacking horses, the elves had hounded their retreat with admirable skill, casting a wide and quick-moving net, trying to force the humans into making a mistake.

    In the end though, not even their persistence and speed could match that of a horse, even though one was carrying two people and was by now moving on shaky legs.

    Emma felt uncomfortable riding behind Carl. Though he was leaner than Bernard and gave her ample room, and hadn't even bothered to be obnoxious, it wasn't the same as being snuggled up close to her man. Still, there was no time to switch horses and besides, Bernard looked worried, too worried to be distracted by such minor issues.

    “Hey, what's that?” Looking ahead, following Carl's pointing finger, Emma easily caught sight of it. A lone chapel, almost glowing white in the light of the setting sun, atop a large rock settled in the centre of a still hazy but obviously palisade-sheltered village. “Thank Sigmar, I need a drink.”

    Leaning closer, Emma couldn't help but smirk as she whispered back. “We're in Bretonnia, Carl, they probably only have wine.”

    The muttered curse uttered by the mercenary was surprisingly creative.

    Answering the man more properly, Roland's grunt was a tired one. “L'Vielle village, or White Rock, as the commoners call it.” The tired knight offered a wan smile. “We'll be relatively safe in there. It harbours Awain, a Grail Knight.”

    Carl, Emma and Bernard exchanged a look, the woman speaking aloud what the others were thinking. “A what now?”

    Turning in his saddle, Roland stared at the imperials in shock.

    Before he could speak though, Henri gasped, pointing ahead. “M'lord! The holy one is waiting for us!”

    Looking back to the village, Emma spotted a lone figure standing outside the gates, a lone sentinel of shimmering white clothes covering glittering mail as the setting sun glowed down on him. Squinting, Emma managed to bring him into focus as they got closer, the sight making her frown in confusion.

    The supposedly holy one was neither tall nor wide, cutting a slim figure in polished but old armour covered by a white tabard with a single golden chalice emblazoned upon it. His bare head was lined with age and the white hair atop his head receding, the small beard on his chin just adding to the appearance of grave age.

    For such a martial people, Emma had expected a holy knight to look more like a...warrior.

    To her surprise Roland and Henri were both dismounting, the former almost hurriedly so as they then continued on foot towards the waiting old man. A glance from Bernard, and Emma and Carl followed suit, the imperials lingering behind the locals as they proceeded, not sure where things was going.

    “Sir Awain, you honour me.” Roland stopped a dozen feet away from the old man and surprised Emma yet again as he dropped onto one knee, head dipped. Behind him, Henri was practically on all fours in submission, making Carl grimace in disgust even as Emma and Bernard exchanged puzzled looks.

    “There is no need for ceremony with me, you De Ferre.” Awain strode forward, the old face twisting in a gentle smile. ”I was told of your arrival and am glad to see you safe and sound.”

    “Told?” Bernard echoed, glancing up at the palisade where there seemed to be little in the way of movement. “That's some sharp-eyed sentries you have.”

    “There was no need for sentries, imperial.” The old man rebuffed Bernard, though kindly, friendly. “I am glad you decided to keep following Roland. I cannot condone your motivations, but as long as life beats in your breast, honour and good deeds can be achieved.”

    Emma stared, not quite sure how clever the knight before them was all of a sudden. Perceptive, that was for sure. Bernard wasn't fazed though, standing straighter the man offered a polite smile. “I'm glad you think so, friend.”

    “Oh I know it, it and many other things, Bernard Grund.” The Bretonnian Grail knight replied. “There is hope for you yet.”

    Emma and Carl froze where they stood, staring in shock even as Bernard visibly swallowed. “I...we didn't tell you our names.”

    “As I said, I know many things.” Awain chuckled even as he took another step forward, hand coming down to the still kneeling Roland. The younger knight hesitated, then took the hand and was quickly pulled back onto his feet. Though he towered above Awain, he somehow looked like a child in comparison as he stared at the calm Grail knight.”For instance, why you've come, Roland De Ferre. You seek sanctuary.”

    “Y-yes sire. We are pursued by elves, and I believe they're coming for us, for we took what they raided the imperial lands for.” Roland gestured at Bernard who pulled forth the dark tome from his belt. “Bernard and I think, given that they made camp here in Bretonnia, that they might also plan something more...ambitious.”

    “Yes...” Awain nodded, then closed his eyes, head tilting backwards as he took a deep breath. Once he looked back down there was but a flicker of silver light fading in his eyes as he spoke, a distant echo in his voice that made Emma shiver. “...you are right, they are coming for us, and soon, very soon.”

    Shifting where they stood, Emma and Carl took a step backwards. It was all well and good that Roland trusted Awain, but as far as Emma was concerned, she was seeing something terribly close to the witchcraft the priests denounced back home.

    Who is this guy?!

    Roland, stepping closer, spoke swiftly and with worry. “With the tome with us, they'll come here, but my father must be warned! I...my lord, tell us what to do.”

    Awain quietly regarded Roland for a moment, the smiled. “No.”

    “No!?” Emma blinked, unsure if she'd heard correctly.

    Awain chuckled, glancing at her. “No, I will not.” Looking back to the equally puzzled Roland, he put a hand on the knight's wide shoulder. “This is part of your Quest, young man, not mine. The trials the Lady sets before you are not merely that of your might, but spirit and mind as well. You tell us what to do, and we shall do so.”

    Next to Emma, Carl made the symbol of the hammer before himself, his voice a low mutter. “Sigmar preserve us.”

    “I...but...” Roland stared at Awain with pale horror, then back at his imperial comrades. Carl was staring back with something equalling horror, Emma could offer nothing but hesitation, Bernard a grim frown of disapproval. Swallowing, Roland then turned and looked the Henri. The yeoman was only now pushing himself off the ground, but did so with a trusting smile aimed at Roland.

    Somehow, the knight managed to turn a shade paler.

    “I'm no...” Turning back to Awain, the knight's protest died on his lips as he found the Grail knight frown back. Shoulders slumping in defeat, Roland nodded. “Very well, sire.”

    “Excellent.” Awain clapped his hands together, the strange magic surrounding him seemingly gone, the old man back before them. “Then lets hear it, young man.”

    “Well the tome must stay here, in the chapel...?” Roland started, looking unsure.

    Awain nodded quickly, holding his hands out. “I'll guard it there, in case of the worst.”

    Even as Bernard hesitantly handled over the tome, Awain grimacing in disgust the moment the book was in his hands, Roland frowned in worry as he glanced back. “Henri, you make haste to my father's castle to warn him. Bernard, you go with him.”

    As one, the three imperials arched their eyebrows in surprise.

    Roland grimaced, words reluctant. “Henri knows the way and Bernard...the elves are no doubt watching us by now, you're more clever than me, Henri will have a better chance with you than either if he's alone...or with me.”

    Bernard smiled, but it wasn't a taunting one. Instead he simply nodded and moved to brush down his horse and take off any saddle bags for the journey ahead.

    Emma couldn't help but shake her head though. “That's great, but why not give Bernard the tome so he could take it to your father's castle? Surely it would be more safe there.”

    Before Roland could answer, Bernard spoke up without turning. “Because there's a good risk we won't make it, and if we don't, the elves will have the tome back.”

    Oh.

    Throwing Roland an accusing look that the knight struggled to ignore, Emma moved up behind Bernard and pressed into his back, arms around his waist as she breathed him in, all else suddenly forgotten.

    Near her, the knight's words were like a mumble. “I, Carl and Emma will stay here, ready the militia...and pray.”

    Awain's voice was as calm as it was distant. “Do not worry, young De Ferre, the Lady is with us.”

    Emma didn't hear Roland's reply as Bernard reluctantly turned to face her, his greying beard skewed in a little smile, his voice a low rumble. “Hey, don't worry, we do this all the time, right?”

    Emma stifled a sniffle. “Yeah.”

    “So what's the problem?”

    Emma grimaced, dipping her head. “Because we then do it together.”

    “Hey, hey...” A rough hand moved up, gently cupping her chin and forcing her head up. Bernard's face was covered with old lines of worry, yet he was smiling. “Don't worry, I'm smarter than Roland, remember?”

    Emma couldn't help it, she let loose a laugh.

    Then she kissed him.

    8
    8
    8

    Malavach was the ideal Druchii noble.

    Cold, controlled, proud and haughty he swept through the growing camp of elves with the assured steps of someone that would squash anyone in his path, were they foolish enough to bar the path of a man of his lineage.

    On the inside, he was boiling with fury.

    And part of him was shaking with fear.

    He had let the human live so he could warn his people, so he could at least damage Ursain's reputation when the real raiding party arrived. He hadn't expected the humans to act so foolishly as to choose to attack him first in a foolish gambit to take the Chaos tome from him. Yet even when they had, he'd seen through their ploy with ease, he'd taken their bait and left Ivranna to slaughter the fools sent retrieve it. Then at least the survivors would still have been able to send a late warning to the lord of Alencion.

    Instead the humans had somehow escaped, their dumb plan somehow succeeding!

    All because of an Asur slave with a hint of pride left in him.

    Malavach had promised Malekith himself a great boon, with the implied promise of a great reward for his service in return. The tome had been his ticket into the highest order around the king. Without it, he would not advance anywhere, and since he'd made a promise, him returning without it meant he was a mere step from a visit from an executioner.

    Malavach had been undone by poor fortune alone, and under his armour he felt cold sweat run down his spine.

    He needed to take back the tome, and preferably without anyone else noticing.

    Which meant he would have to lead the assault on the dirty human village nearby.

    Which was not the kind of fight he liked, one where his enemy was prepared and ready to fight. For while Malavach was a great warrior, he was smart enough to recognise that survival hinged on more than mere brawn.

    Which was part of why he disdained Ursain, lapdog of Morathi.

    And why he hated having to go to the brute to ask to risk his life in the first assault.

    Passing by a cart full of spears, Malavach set his face as neutral as he could as he climbed the slight hill leading up to the raiding party's command tent. Surrounded by veteran corsair's who with drawn blades regarded the noble with cold eyes, Malavach felt his bile rose as he closed in on the large black pavilion they guarded.

    Just outside, leaning over a simple table with the map of northern Bretonnia etched into the human skin used for its leather, Ursain stood alone, gaze fixed on a dot on the map. He swiftly noticed Malavach's approach however and straightened, rising to his full height as he fixed his fellow noble with a look of disdain.

    Tall and wide, Ursain towered a head higher than any elf there, his stark white hair cropped short, not even trying to hide the loss of half his left ear from a skirmish with the Asur three years ago. His pale grey eyes, glittering cruelly under a high brow, made Malavach take pause, for there was more than the regular brutishness today, there was a glee that made Malavach ill at ease. Smirking back, as if sensing his rival's unease, Ursain put his hands behind his back, tone neutral. “You've failed me, Malavach. You were supposed to scout the Bretonnians, not alert them to our presence. Even a regular militiaman would have been able to pull that off against some simple humans.”

    “There has been complications, yes.” Malavach admitted, biting down on a more vicious reply, knowing he could ill afford it at the moment. “I wish to make amends though, let me lead the first attack on that human village.”

    “Ah, yes, to undo your mistake, I can understand that.” Ursain nodded with a frown, a frown that a second later turned into a smirk. “What better way to regain control of that tome than to be the first within the walls, no?”

    Malavach felt himself go cold, his hand instantly moving to grip his sword.

    Before him, Ursain remained with his hands behind his back, arching an eyebrow in amusement at the thought of Malavach trying him in a fight.

    Slowly, reluctantly, Malavach eased his hand off the blade.

    Suddenly his throat was dry.

    He didn't want to die.

    Chuckling, Ursain shook his head. “Oh look at you, finally realising that big old Ursain is not as dumb as you thought. Even if I was, did you really think you'd get anything past Morathi?”

    “Or me?” A new voice spoke up, a sultry purr that was all too familiar.

    “Ivranna.” Malavach stared in hatred and shock at the sorceress as she languidly appeared from within the tent. Smiling back, licking her lips, the woman moved to Ursain's side and draped herself over his armoured frame, one hand over his breastplate, the other toying with the edge of his cloak. “You treacherous viper.”

    “Treacherous?” Ivranna's eyes widened and her mouth formed a big 'o' in mock horror...then she flashed her teeth in a vicious grin. “Oh no, Malavach, I've always been loyal to Morathi.” Cocking her head to the side, she offered Malavach a smirk. “Don't take it too personally. You're clever, really are. But you think you're better at this game than you are, you're too arrogant for your own good.”

    Malavach forced himself to breathe through the nose, his insides boiling with rage.

    Ursain shook his head. “Enough of this. Malavach, your life is in our hands, make no mistake.” Suddenly Malavach heard the corsairs around the tent turn, their short swords poised against him, making him sweat as he struggled not to visibly swallow before his rival. “So here's what you're going to do. You're going to lead the attack, yes, with the forces I give you. You're going to take back the tome and you're going to hand it over to me.”

    Bending forward, Ivranna chuckled. “And then your ours, Malavach, you're going to be Morathi's, and therefore our, pawn.”

    Malavach hissed in rage, but there was little else he could do as Ursain shrugged. “Or go home without her protection and see how forgiving our good king is...your choice.”

    Growling, gritting his teeth, Malavach bowed his head. “Fine.”

    “I'm sorry? What was that?” Ursain chuckled.

    “I said fine!”

    “One more thing...” Ivranna muttered. Even while looking down, Malavach could sense her approaching, a moment later he could see her boots before him as the woman stepped in close. “...please kneel, my dear.”

    Gritting his teeth, clenching his fists, Malavach submitted and fell to his knees.

    Powerless, desperate to survive.

    Shamed.
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