Talisman of Blood preview

book preview of Talisman of Blood


 


PAPERBACK
BOOKS

TALISMAN OF
BLOOD


In this first instalment of ‘The
Shadow of the Gryphon saga’, a series of events originating some ten years
earlier throw unwitting personalities together in a life and death struggle.
Elfish Oracles, foreseeing an attack on a remote village by an old enemy send a
messenger to warn the Kozargi King. He sends an elite band of Knights to collect
survivors.
Meanwhile, young love blooms in the village between two of privilege, but the
chaos born from the evil brutal attack separates them.
Torrance; the youngest son of a wealthy merchant tailor.
Talera; a councillor’s daughter from the northern town.
Traumatised by the attack, the survivors reluctantly electing a reclusive
Blacksmith to guide them. Among them are two adolescent brothers. The eldest,
becomes withdrawn, seeking a new father figure, while the younger brother is
seduced by rage born evil.
Conflict arises between the town’s Druid and the Blacksmith and the small band
is further torn apart by a deep division in loyalty. Truth forces the blacksmith
to reveal his true identity. This confession causes them all to make hard
decisions.
Talera is abducted by a wicked entity who delivers her to a power crazed wizard
bent on revenge for his exile. He knows her blood holds magical properties due
to her mysterious heritage and harvests it into an ancient talisman, a gift by
the Valkyrie.
The Elf Queen commissions a rescue mission for Talera as she is of significance
to the elves also. All the while the last Gryphon shadows them, watching
protectively.

In Store Price: $26.00 

Online Price:   $25.00

ISBN:1-9211-1809-1

Format: A5 Paperback

Number of pages:
186


Genre:  Fiction

 

Author:
Brad Higgens 

Imprint: Poseidon

Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2005

Language: English

HOME PAGE

Brad
Higgens – The Author  

I was born in New Zealand in 1969. Since the
age of thirteen I have always wanted to be a writer, such was the influence of
my English teachers through college.
Always as a silent hobby I wrote on various
subjects for the joy of it. It was while hitting on hard times a dear friend
encouraged me to take my talent seriously and have a go at turning a hobby into
a career.
 

My Influences were Philip Jose Farmer, Terry
Brooks and of course the Master of Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkein. Rather than try to
copy their styles I have found I was able to find my own unique style. Together
with my love of literature and history, once I read Lord of the Rings at age
twenty, I became hooked on the genre.    
 

Such research materials as ‘The Writer’s
Complete Fantasy Reference’ written by various writers including Terry Brooks,
the internet and interviewing individuals involved in medieval re-enactment
societies, contributed to form the background of my very own medieval fantasy
world.

Part One   

1
(part sample)

 

With
the voice of an angry god threatening violence, a great storm cloud boiled and
spread over a thirsty land. Alive with nature’s fury, it slowly crept away
from the high mountains and down the dry valley. Advancing southward, the
wrathful wind threw trees into a wild dance. With the uncaring malice of a
tyrant it tore through their branches, the power of nature’s mindless
aggression, the harbinger of a furious tempest.

The storm heralded the change of seasons. What was
brown from summer’s heat would be green from autumn rains only for its life to
be stolen by winter’s white ice. Life here was harsh. The valley was a
crucible of extremes; hot dry summers were typically followed by a succession of
squalls. Mountains cast an oppressive shadow over the valley leaving it mostly
dry year round, until the rains came feeding a raging river. Torrents flowed,
ploughing the parched lands. The river would swell and from far to the north
ice-cold glacial melt would join the rain in giving sustenance to man and beast.
In this way the new season was a cruel mother, giving birth to an unrelenting
force.

Beneath
this force raced a lone rider, cloaked in black and gold. To the rider’s eye
the river sped by as he urged his horse ahead of the brewing storm. The huffing
beast was obedient and true. The uneven land presented a challenge to his
journey. He had to beat the storm; he needed to reach his destination before it.
Onward and onward, over hills and down grassy valleys he galloped. He took care
to avoid trouble with roaming bandits, skirting hamlets and townships. Driven on
by dire urgency, a scroll wrapped with twine was tightly concealed in a satchel
that hung close to his side. His finely chiselled features remained hidden
within a hood.

Along
the riverside, encounters with small communities became harder to avoid. He was
coming into contact with the countryside of a great kingdom. Many different
peoples struggled to survive the onset of a cruel winter. The harsh, chill wind
continued to blow in from the mountains. The brooding overcast brought an early
dusk and the icy north wind bit to the bone.

A
defiant affront to nature’s relentless wind and rain stood the castle Kozarg.
Soon the storm would hit the castle keep and the surrounding lands would become
drenched. A fortress and sanctuary for the lowly peasants stirring and hurrying
about with evening chores, they gathered wood to light fires and herded
livestock to safety. In protest the beasts of burden expressed themselves
defiantly against their human masters. Reluctantly being pulled along, mules
brayed, hogs squealed and dogs barked. The animals could be heard over the
distance boom of thunder. The initial wind had died away and one might be
forgiven for thinking nothing more would come of it.

High
above the busy town folk, a solitary crow soared overhead and came to rest upon
the tall granite wall of the Castle Kozarg. It flew against the wind, awkwardly
trying to find a perch. Where other birds had flown to escape the coming storm,
it alone seemed to defy sense, yet it had purpose in its eye. Careful to remain
unnoticed it found better shelter within the castle grounds. From there it could
see everything. Children played games with sticks and balls while parents toiled
for the King. Hay brought in from the village outside to feed the Knights’
horses was carted in to dry stores. Men laboured at blacksmithing weapons, and
the careful crafting of chain mail for the Knights who in turn for their work
gave stern protection from the rival nations of man beyond the Kozargi boarders

The Kozargi were a strong and proud
people who owed their safety in part to treaties signed with their neighbours.
Their neighbours paid tributes to the King or faced certain consequences.
Despite of possessing the strongest force, its King wasn’t heavy handed or
hungry for conquest. The surrounding city-states were at times troublesome and
jealous. Controls had to be set or face the wrath of the Kozargi kingdom. The
Knights of Kozarg were legendary. Each Knight commanded a legion of a hundred
loyal fighting men who fought under their Knight’s banner. The total count of
fighting men numbered five thousand strong. If war became imminent, any foe
would be crushed. Luckily the Kozargi weren’t a warlike people, loving peace
and trade with the other nations of man, so long as that healthy respect was
maintained. In might and wealth, Kozarg was without equal.

There was also to the south, a wide
expanse of land populated by wild tribes. They would raid the outlying villages
under the Kozargi protection. It was another factor the Knights of the realm had
to contend with. Warring amongst themselves on most occasions, until one tribe
became dominant. Once resources exhausted they would muster a force and attack
less well defended communities until the Kozargi stepped in, exacted punishment
and ultimately restored order.

The figure cloaked in black and gold,
swiftly cantered through the people allowing them time to move. Once confident
to do so he brushed back the hood to rest at his shoulders. The hood had
concealed more than his fine handsome features. Now people raised their eyes in
humble recognition. First it was the expected sudden surprise, then the other
strange attitude that was due to old wives’ tales. He felt their stare and
heard the odd sharp intake of breath and mumblings. They were simple people who
meant well. His kind seldom ventured to these parts. When they did it caused
superstitious alarm. Ignoring this, his face set strong with mission. 

The mothers gathered their young ones
inside respectfully and bowed their heads. Men tipped their forelocks or the
brim of their hats, carefully avoiding his gaze. The people’s collective angst
betrayed his foreboding. When he arrived it was seldom as the bearer of good
news and never for social visits. No one desired to speak welcome. They were
lowly peasants in service of the King. He was like a prince, and from a foreign
land – a foreigner with ill tidings.

He reigned in as he arrived at the
castle. The gatekeeper gave a shout, “He is here!” and the drawbridge was
lowered. While he patiently waited for the great portcullis to rise he glanced
furtively about, attentive for the chains to stop. He rode into the barbican
still nervously alert before he dismounted. The tower guards watched him enter.
Through the gatehouse then beyond the portcullis also checking he wasn’t being
followed. Expressionless, his face still set like stone, with purpose he strode
in. Once within the castle walls he relaxed and became assured as he led his
white steed into the castle grounds. He did not see the crow that watched him
crossing to the stables.

A balding pot-bellied man dressed in a
dark dusty green tunic and calico breeches waved to him as he stepped out of the
evening shadows. He too, knew the nature of the dark rider’s mission. He was
as grim and stony faced as the rider. This man was Raspon Dute the King’s
stable master. Dute received the horse and without a word took him away. Next, a
weaselly character, Tueper Griss, the King’s castellan, led him down a corridor
and made him wait outside mighty double doors. The names of these men he knew,
he had been here before. They also knew him.

“You must wait here, Sir,” the
castellan insisted, “The King will see you shortly.”

After a moment he was granted audience.
His reason for being kept waiting was an irritating mystery. 

This hooded rider in black and gold was
no ordinary man. He commanded all manner of respect just by the way he walked.
Though some of it was born from the people’s superstitious ignorance the cut
and hue of his cloth displayed wealth and status. He was an elf. His pointed
ears were shaped like a foxes but hairless. His fine angular features and slant
eyes on a long face. He was slim and of average stature. No ordinary elf either
because his demeanour and the way he carried himself expressed one of high
birth.

“Gemmel of the Elvin House,
Tedraken, Sire,” the castellan announced him in.

King Willard III received him in,
“Glad to see you made it safely to us. What news do you bring from the
north?” The big man boomed from his impressive throne.

“The north fares well your majesty
but I bear bad news from our shared kin to the south.”

There was a pause and a deep heavy
breath from the King,

“How so?” the stoutly King
leaned forward. His smile in greeting melted to a frown of concern and was
suddenly solemn.

“Our enemy rises once again. We
must quickly take action.”

Gemmel handed a scroll to the King’s
castellan. He in turn handed it to the King. The King on receiving it broke the
seal, unravelled it and took time to read. The wax was golden and the seal bore
the mark of the Elf Queen, an oak leaf. Over his shoulder stood the chamberlain,
Cedrov, a tight fisted old squirrel of a man. He was hook-nosed and sniffed a
lot, suffering perhaps from a constant cold or allergy.

King Willard III, a sturdy built man
who reminded Gemmel of an ambling old ox, ready to charge. His usual bombastic
temperament was stricken grim after reading the message in the scroll.  

“Very well,” he stroked his
wild, thick brown beard once and twice, breathed a deep breath again, huffed
decisively and stood up from his ornate throne like a lion roused from slumber.
He then gave to pacing, with a furrowed brow. Slowly he passed by the Elf
handing him back the scroll without looking up, his royal mind on the pressing
matter.

“Something has to be
done…obviously.” He stabbed the air with his stubby finger.

“We can’t afford another war,
Sire,” chirped Cedrov.

The King looked up at his purse keeper
questioningly, “Then a council of war must be arranged.” Then to the
castellan he ordered, “Summon the Knights forthwith, Griss!”

“Sire, if I may be so bold,” added
Cedrov, “This old foe can be met with an elite squad.”

“Then I will call for those
Knights! At once!” 

“Very well, Sire,” the Castellan
complied bowing and walking backwards before vanishing through he doors.

“Elf, you will join us of course!”

“Yes, my Liege,” Gemmel bowed
compliantly.

“Chamberlain you will come also.”

“Yes my Lord,” he also bowed.

“We will decide on our course of
action when my best knights are present. You see these people safely here, you
understand. Here they will have refuge and sanctuary until such time as they can
be resettled elsewhere.” He said now stabbing at the ground with his finger.

“Yes my Lord I will do as you ask.”
Gemmel bowed again.

“Feel welcome among my courts, Sir
Elf. I will send someone to collect you when it is time for us to gather. Where
might we find you?”

“If I may, Sire, I wish to be by my
horse’s side.”

“The stables then? It is well. I will
send for you when you are required. Agreed?”

“Agreed, Sire,” Gemmel bowed once
more, “I am truly honoured.”

“Yes, yes, be gone.” The King
gruffly dismissed him. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts.

Gemmel went to see after his horse,
Steadfast, his ivory stallion. He didn’t need to do this of course. The
King’s stable hands were the best in the land. He loved his horse. Steadfast
was more than a carrier of his noble self. Steadfast was
steadfast, a trusting dependable friend with whom he had seen many battles.

Once he was stolen from him. Gemmel was
never concerned for Steadfast, as Elf trained horses would never let a stranger
ride them. It happened two years earlier in the northern town of Druiss, just
south of the mountains, which was also south of Tybrogaan, land of the elves.
Druiss is a rough, town of outcasts and outlaws who lived and died by the sword.
A question begged Gemmel as he reminisced with his horse why he ever had to be
there.

Then it came to him. It was an errand
of rescue, as he recalled. It seemed Shallimara, the daughter of Queen
Kitazia’s Captain of the Guard, had fallen for a human. Gemmel had been
commissioned to retrieve this wayward girl. Firstly because the scandal would
hurt the Captain’s good name, and secondly she was genuinely in need of
Gemmel’s help. The rogue had seduced her to make off with him. In truth it had
been a bet made to impress a gang of outlaws with whom he wished to earn favour.
Gemmel tracked them down and cornered the young rogue. While Gemmel fought off
the wiry youth, who as it happened was not averse to swordplay, the gang stole
Steadfast. They led him on down an alleyway where they sold him to a farmer to
replace their lost wager.

Left without a horse to carry them out
with haste, Gemmel and Shallimara were forced to flee on foot.

“Where is your horse,” she whined.

“He will turn up, don’t worry,”
he said trying to regain her confidence.

Outside the town the next morning in a
barn on the edge of a chicken farm Steadfast found them dirty and dishevelled,
tired and hungry. They mounted him and sped off back to Tybrogaan, thankful but
tired.

And so Steadfast was stolen and
returned. Gemmel smiled at the memory, “Sleep well my friend,” he whispered
in the great steed’s ear. As he patted him down lovingly, he remembered what
happened. Steadfast, loyal to the bitter end, had broken loose and simply
returned to his rightful master.

“Gemmel!” a heavy hand rested on
his slender shoulder, startling Gemmel out of his reverie. It was Mengan. He was
as tall as a door and built as solid as a brick wall. His cruel looks were
broken and transformed to a grizzly look when he smiled. He had two teeth
missing from a blow he took, fighting against a mighty foe of humanity along
side his fellow knights some years back. In spite of his savage image he was a
true and trusted friend.

Gemmel turned to face him with a sleepy
smile.

“When are you two going to get
married,” he chuckled heartily, “I thought I’d find you here my friend,
you really love that horse.”

“That horse and I? Yes. We have seen
a lot you know,” he said.

Mengan and he had a strong bond forged
from battles, spanning years. Both Knights in loyal service to their respective
sovereigns were of equal status. As Gemmel was in elf terms, so Mengan was in
the Kozargi lands. In fact Mengan was a Captain of his own banner now. However,
their friendship went deeper than mere status. They had fought this re-arising
foe side by side then. Both were squires, fresh hot-blooded young bucks eager
for adventure. They met for the first time during the Kozargi/Ostchenmor War
fifteen years ago and were fast friends since. In battle, they were like a
whippet and a bullmastiff harassing an even bigger dog.

How the years had passed. Gemmel
remembered to ask Mengan after his affairs.

“How fares your son?” he asked
fondly.

“Trondor? He is good,” he slumped
to his side. Hand on hip grinning proudly as Fathers oft do. “I heard he wants
to join up one day.”

“Truth?” smiled Gemmel.

“Truth, yes,” he straightened and
folded his arms. “My sister is raising him. She tries to dissuade him.”

“How old is he now? Five? Six?”

“No,” laughed the big man. “It
has been a while. My boy is almost nine years old.”

Happy to see the other, they clasped
arms like long lost brothers. Quiet and comfortable in the others presence so
deep ran their comradeship.

“Come my little friend, it is time.
Some other old friends will be there.”

“It will be good to see them.”

On every wall, ten feet apart hung
caged torches to chase away the gloom. The thick walls of stone helped to
insulated against the chill rain outside. To the left of the throne was the door
to the war room. The scent and cosy warmth of burning pine were comfortingly
civilised. Logs were being consumed by fire within a massive hearth. A
protective iron grill kept sparks from flying out and setting animal skins from
catching alight.

‘How strange,’ thought
Gemmel.

He recognized a bear in one
corner, in the other a big cat of some sort. This was curious, as Gemmel knew of
no big cats in his travels. Possibly it was from the far eastern mountains. It
was not unusual for the protectorate fiefdoms to honour the King’s birthday
with exotic gifts. On the wall opposite the entrance to the war room, above the
King’s seat hanging trophy like, outsized weapons and armour. The helmet would
fit a mighty giant, yet it hinted femininity. Tapering around the chin and
adorned with a horsehair plume, yet ornate and well crafted. Gemmel’s keen
Elvin mind calculated the size of the wearer at ten feet. Much had changed since
his last visit. Where did King Willard get such an odd thing?

 The
King himself had changed too. His manner seemed more sombre than his jovial
bombastic nature of old. Something very deep and disturbing had changed him,
caused by more than Gemmel’s news. Maybe it was the many years passing.
Reminding him he was getting on, yet without an heir or a Queen to bare him one.
He had a son and heir. The young prince Travis IV was lost in battle with this
great foe they now faced again. His dear Queen Katerina had fallen ill from
grief and consequently died from a broken heart. It was all too clear Gemmel
couldn’t have come at a worse time. Too busy to think beyond defending the
Kozargi people and the many affairs of state, finding time for a new wife had
passed him by. What self-respecting young maiden would want to be with a crusty
old man? He was tired, worn out – the fatigue of age had jaded his mood to a
cynicism. Gemmel wondered if joy would ever return to King Willard. He was a
good King and deserved to be happy. It had been years since those two tragedies
and he buried himself in governing the Kingdom. Or so it would appear.

‘Well,’ thought Gemmel, ‘Here we
are in the war room.’ He had never before been in this place. Never before had
his visits warranted such an honour. Sure enough he was a Knight, though
foreign. His Queen had sent him on many such errands to Kozarg, but they were of
a more benign nature such as trade issues, and information about more minor
threats than the one now confronting them. Thus was the reason for this meeting.
Not only did the severity need careful diplomacy in its communication, but also
the right measure of action required careful council.

Gemmel was not used to dwellings made
of stone and iron. Though he came here often enough and travelled extensively,
he still could never get used to the stark cold lifelessness of which humans
were so fond. In their architecture, in their arts and clothing, he found no
imagination. At least it was not the imagination of elves. It was all purely
functional and hard-edged. The walls and construction was to keep the warmth in
when winter came and keep out summer’s heat. From the outside the castle was
blocky and masculine. It was built as sturdy as a mountain, dominating the
landscape with its commanding presence.

By comparison, the elves of Tybrogaan,
had harnessed natural magic that is so apart of every day life to elves. Wood
was shaped and formed into dwelling places, market canopies and various other
sheltering structures. All the wood that was used this way was not even chopped
or removed from the trees. They were living structures.

Elf magic was an experience of which
humans were twice ignorant. Not only unfamiliar with but some had even the
audacity to proclaim as myth. Some human people refused to believe in magic at
all. This astounded Gemmel but he tried to think little of it. How can a folk be
both superstitious and unbelieving? Curious breed these stocky, round eared
ruffians with dirt coloured skin.

Three such round-eared ruffians were
called to gather at dusk. They met around a table that curved to one point from
both sides to a single seat; the King’s place at the axe head shaped table.
Gemmel noted this and raised an eyebrow as he sat down at the far left. Three
men bounded in like adolescent boys, reeking of ale. They were Jarneg, Boll and
Biorz who joined Mengan and himself at the ‘blade’ of the axe head. Rough,
tough and loyal. Gemmel gave them a broad smile, he knew them and well. They
were the biggest bunch of rogues this side of the Dragon River but in the heat
of battle you could find no better men dependable. Tenacious fighters, they’d
battle at your side to the death. Jarneg had a scar across the bridge of his
broken nose that gave evidence of a close brush with his own mortality.

“Your Highness,” Biorz gave a deep
bow that caused him to loose his balance and topple over.

“Hey it’s our Gemmel,” shouted
Jarneg boisterously.

Leaning on Jarneg was Boll, bleary eyed
and merry. “Hey yeah, Gemmel. Look lads it’s our friend Gemmel!”

He clasped arms in greeting with each
of them and they were seated. The drunken Knights of Kozarg had been celebrating
the anniversary of that battle when in their youth they first clashed with this
powerful foe of the realm.

It was the battle of Hogstock. It was
ten years ago when Gemmel was but a squire himself. It was a different world
then. The riders still flew and King Willard II, the present King’s father,
was still alive. The town of Hogstock was the focal point of this struggle.
Raddan the Black Duke of Ostchenmor had allied himself with dark forces set
against the Kozargi people and their sovereign. This Duke led an uprising
against them, vainly thinking himself a match for the powerful Kozargi. A five
year war ensued, ending in the now famous Battle of Hogstock. Gemmel was there
with a small contingent of elf archers lent by Queen Kitazia. There as an
adolescent, he met for the first time Mengan and the others. There also did he
earn his Knighthood.

In anticipating his inevitable demise
Duke Raddan made a deal with the other five independent duchies. They were under
a treaty of non-aggression with the Kozargi people. Cowardly, Raddan formed an
alliance with them hoping to also fall under the edicts of that treaty. The idea
was to preserve all his lands by joining them. Instead he lost half his fiefdom
in the counter invasion. What remained of Ostchenmor became the sixth duchy to
join the Southern Alliance. Consequently Hogstock fell under Kozargi rule.

The Duke’s son, Parran, was now heir
and it did not look likely that he would be as foolishly ambitious as his
father, Raddan. The son was a weak willed simpleton, whose only goal in life was
the pursuit of sweet decadence. As long as his lusts were kept satisfied he
would remain harmless. Once Raddan died his son would be ruler only in name. The
real power lied with Kozarg and its crafty King. Though treated as a separate
entity from Kozarg, the Southern Alliance owed their illusion of sovereignty to
a cold balance of power.

The years following were not kind to
Willard II. Age and grief tore at his soul. The burden of leadership eventually
took its toll. He was found dead on his throne, drooling. He had tried to drown
the sorrows of losing four out of five sons with much ale…he died in his
sleep. Thus the burden was passed on to his son Willard III. As a middle-aged
man, he came to the throne late in life. Now, that same dark force the Black
Duke had allied and threatened again.

      
The King was unimpressed with Biorz’s display of drunkenness, but not
unsympathetic and laughed all the same. Hard men need an outlet from what made
them hard. Some drank to remember and some drank to forget.

“Biorz, get up and sit down,”

All sat.

“My Lord?” prompted Mengan,
politely after a long pause.

“We wait for one other,” explained
the King.

And, so they waited.

With a start the door opened and it was
only the Chamberlain.

“My apologies for my tardiness
gentlemen,” said Cedrov and placed himself at the right hand of the King. In
his hands he carried a ledger.

“Do we begin, my Lord?” asked
Gemmel.

“Not yet, there is still one
other,” explained the King, barely containing his angst.

As they sat a tall thin man in a hooded
cloak entered, quiet as a ghost. No sword’s scabbard by his side as did they.
Instead a dagger, sheathed. Gemmel noticed his left hand was always on it. This
was Croijen. He remained hooded throughout the meeting. Croijen was not Kozargi.
He was somewhat of an enigma and none trusted him. At least those who still
lived knew or felt not to. Gemmel only knew him by reputation. Croijen’s
reputation as an assassin preceded him. Being alien to this brotherhood of
Knights, he was treated with subtle disdain peppered with great mistrust. Still
he would not be there if the King did not wish it, therefore, he was tolerated.

“Wessendal,” said the King and
brought the council to order. The room fell deathly silent and the three rogues
found sobriety. Biorz snorted inwardly, coughed and straightened himself.

The King continued. “Wessendal needs
our help and although it is not a protectorate of ours, it is in our interest to
save them. Though generations have past since we have had any contact, they are
our kin nonetheless. The aid of their cousins the Elves and we the Kozargi
people, will be counted upon. Queen Kitazia has sent word via Sir Gemmel here
that this is so. I gather this information was acquired from the Oracles. Is
that so, Sir Gemmel?”

“It is indeed my Lord.”

“Therefore, might I assume this fate
is still a little ways ahead?”

“Yes, my Lord,” and he added.
“Our seers can only predict that which is a week hence.”

The King raised a finger saying.
“Therefore, great urgency is needed. I have assembled you few here for reasons
thrice fold.” He turned to his shuffling and sniffing Chamberlain and gave him
the floor. He took it as one would a hot coal from a fire.

“Well…umm…our coffers are low and
so finances prevent us from gathering a great enough army to take on this old
foe measure for measure.”

“Finances be damned!” boomed Mengan.

Nervously the squirrel continued.
“With respect Sir Mengan, we don’t have the resources for a large scale
attack.”

“That is reason one. Reason two is
quite simply; you are all that is available at present. It would take time to
gather all our forces and time we do not have!” explained King Willard.

“Yes, quite so my Lord,”
interrupted Cedrov, getting a head of himself. “Protectorates have increased
in number and so has demand for our man power.”

“Cedrov, if you mind,” chastised
the King.

“Humble apologies once again, my
Lord.”

“It is well, Cedrov. Just remember
your place and why you are here.”

A stiff silence hung for an awkward
moment. Then Jarneg spoke up, obviously still addled by drink.

“Please my Lord, make plain this
objective. Who is this foe of which you speak? Wessendal is far from here.”

“You will go. Stopping them there is
paramount. If they are allowed to advance further, the rest of our lands will
face certain slaughter.” the King’s response to Jarneg was curt. Gemmel
noticed that the King was evasive in answering Jarneg’s question fully. He was
deliberately withholding something. 

A thin yet masculine, snaky voice
hissed, “Why do they need us?” Croijen broke his eerie silence. There was an
air of impatience in Croijen’s words. Gemmel also saw him look up at the
armour with a distant and carefully hidden dread. Maybe he knew where they came
from. It was incidental. Gemmel returned his attention to the council.

Blunt was Gemmel’s answer. “They
are back!”

Boll huffed through his bushy brown
beard massaging the pommel of his great broad sword as he sat. Jarneg snorted
again, Mengan stood up and walked to the other side of the room, trying not to
be dramatic. Biorz just threw up on the Kings table. The King stifled a laugh at
Biorz’s reaction. Although what Biorz did was a source of amusement, the
gravity was inescapable.

“You can’t be truly certain,”
asked Mengan of Gemmel.

Maids were called to bring a mop and
bucket for Biorz. Biorz had gone green and then red. A goblet of water was
served to him by one of the Kings lovely maids. Biorz drank deeply but not
before giving the girl a wink. She returned his drunken leer with disdain.

“The town folk are unaware we are
coming,” Gemmel spoke up. “It is our old enemy returning and they come from
across the Dragon River this time. The folk there have no idea of what is
coming.”

“How soon do we depart my Lord?”
Biorz was finding himself again.

“Day break,” announced the King.

“We must try to get to the village
before our foes do,” added Gemmel.

The only logical decision was made. The
King dismissed them.

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