DarkFyre Chapter Two
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Add: 5 August 2015 / 15:16
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"If ye can spare a moment, Milord, I'm ready to report."
Rael looked up from a map covering the huge pinewood table in his tent. A variety of similar maps and charts were arrayed on the table and rolled into tubes propped against the desk. There were writing supplies and a sheaf of fresh paper at the Knight Captain's elbow.
StoneFingers was standing at the flap of Rael’s tent. The Dwarf looked like many of his brothers; short and stout, built like an anvil and twice as hard, with a short, wispy beard that was more chestnut than gray, for now. He had thick, stubby fingers that fit his name quite well, perfectly suited to swinging a hammer in a forge or gripping the heft of a battle axe.
Which left most people surprised when they discovered the physician’s hands were far more familiar with blades designed for surgical medicine than ones made for killing.
"Have a seat," Rael motioned to a wicker chair on the other side of his table.
StoneFingers settled awkwardly into the chair, too short and too broad to sit the chair comfortably. He reached up with one heavy hand to adjust the thick lensed bifocals perched on the great knob of his nose.
Rael’s silvery gaze took the Dwarven physician in critically for a long moment. “Have you eaten today?”
StoneFingers gave a noncommittal grunt.
Rael shook his head and smiled wryly to himself as he rose and walked across the tent to a small stand beside his cot. A decanter of poorly spiced wine, a pair of dented tin cups, and a platter of food sat atop it. Pears and aged grapes, small roasted potatoes and white onions, and some thick slices of salted pork sat on the platter. None of the food was particularly fresh or well flavored, but it was better than most camp provisions these days. Rael poured a cup full of wine and grabbed some of the pork, and set them on the table in front of StoneFingers. The Dwarf gave the Captain a look but offered no argument.
Rael returned to his chair, folded his hands together, and waited patiently as StoneFingers ate his meal.
The Dwarf wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Rael had known the Doctor long enough to know it pained him to do so, but napkins and kerchiefs weren’t a high priority at the war front.
“Seven dead, thirteen wounded,” StoneFingers said at last. “One Knight, Sir Boras passed. Three Knights, Sir Wilhelm, Sir Jorin, and Sir Kor are wounded. Sir Wilhelm took an axe to the chest. Already got a fever that’d lay a hale man low. I don’t think he’ll be makin’ it. Jorin’s ribs been shattered by a war hammer. Lucky one, that lad. His lungs be fine. Sir Kor lost his left arm. Cleaned and cauterized the wound best I can, but there be no way of tellin’ if rot’ll set in or not. Might be he recovers, and he’s still got his sword arm, but he’ll never be the same Knight again. Rest of our dead and wounded were foot soldiers. I’ll have their names on yer desk on the morn.”
“Well done, StoneFingers. I’ll arrange for word to be sent to the families of the deceased, and burial arrangements made according to the men’s stations and beliefs. Tell the wounded I will make rounds to see them shortly,” Rael nodded. He took the news stoically, which was not to say that he took it without pain or grief. On the contrary, the deaths made his chest tight with emotion, and he had to force calm words past the lump in his throat. But war was a long suffering thing, and this one more than most. Men died every day. Good, true men. And more would die tomorrow, and more still if he didn’t keep his wits and a head clear for command. A leader didn’t have the luxury of dwelling on loss.
“There’s more, Milord,” StoneFingers said in a heavy tone. The Dwarf’s face, which had always been dour and rough, was especially care-lined and weary tonight. “Arthas fell, Milord.”
“I know,” Rael said, and even to his ears, his voice was hollow and hard. The surge of emotion was harder to quell, now. Arthas had been a good lad, loyal and hardworking and earnest. He’d held his position as squire to the Knight Captain with utmost seriousness. He had been a fast learner and knew his Lord and his habits well. The boy had also been enthusiastically and single-mindedly working on his swordsmanship and other martial disciplines, and though he would never be more than the son of a minor noble with hardly a spit of land to his name, Rael had no doubt that one day his squire would make a fine warrior in his own right.
And now he was dead.
The Dwarven Physician reached down beside his chair. Rael hadn’t noticed when he entered, but the Physician had carried something in with him. He placed a single arrow quietly on Rael’s desk and sat back in the uncomfortable wicker chair, waiting.
Rael took up the arrow, held it before him, studied it. The arrow was uniquely made, a slender black shaft and a fine head of steel. The arrow head was so wickedly barbed that if the initial shot itself didn’t kill its target, attempting to remove the head would rip so much flesh away that death would be a mercy. Feathers of a vivid azure blue fletched the arrow and strange runes were scrawled along the obsidian shaft. It was like nothing the Captain had ever seen before.
“What do you make of it?” Rael mused as he turned the arrow slowly in his hand, feeling the weight of it.
“Ain’t no Haruke arrow or I’m a Hill Giant’s youngling,” StoneFingers replied.
Rael had known that immediately. Haruke preferred engaging their enemy in melee, face to face with their foes, but what bowmen they had were skilled archers. Their arrows tended to be on the thick side, driven by powerful bows crafted from the trees of the GhostWood to the west of the Johake grasslands. The arrows were a rich red; common rumor held each of their arrows were painted with the blood of their enemies. Most Haruke arrows either had a sharpened wood point or at most a simple iron head. As far different from the arrow in his hand as could be.
“It was meant for me,” Rael said at last, shaking his head slowly with a grim set to his jaw. “Arthas…fool boy. He shouldn’t have been there. He’d begged me, time and again, to join the battle. And like always, I said no. But there he was, flinging himself in front of me and taking the arrow. He shouldn’t have been there.”
“Didn’t see the archer, eh?” StoneFingers asked, and adjusted his bifocals.
“Well. Yer lucky the boy was there. Arrow would have killed ye, even if ye’d bothered to wear plate. Near tore through the boy. Only stopped because it lodged in his spine. More besides…somethin’s fowl ‘bout that arrow. The wound was near putrid with decay. Yet the body was…I can’t explain it. But the boy’s body seemed almost to be growin’ ‘round the arrow, even as it decayed inside. Like the lad’s body was tryin’ to trap the arrow and its rot inside so there was no way it could be stopped or healed. Wasn’t no poison. Some kind o’…”
“Magic,” Rael finished for him, one thick finger tracing over the strangely scrawling runes along the arrows shaft.
“And a kind I’ve never seen a’fore.”
“Nor I,” Rael leaned back in his chair and passed a hand over his face. “What are your thoughts?”
“My thoughts is, I’m no mage,” StoneFingers grumbled. “But fer certain whatever this magic is, it’s somethin’ dark and unnatural.”
Rael placed the arrow down on his desk quietly and met the Dwarf healer’s eyes with his intense, gleaming gaze. “StoneFingers…did Morell see this?”
“No, MiLord,” the physician replied.
“And no one else has been told?”
“No, MiLord,” StoneFingers repeated.
“Good. It would best for it to stay that way. Understand?” Rael said softly.
“Aye, MiLord. I follow.”
“Very good,” Rael nodded. The Knight Captain leaned back in his seat. “Thank you for your report, and your discretion. That will be all.”
Later Rael sat on the edge of his cot, absently spinning the strange arrow between his fingers, deep in thought. A dark arrow, and dark magic. Shot in the heat of battle with him as the intended target. Who could the shooter have been? This attack spoke of deception and subtle, sinister warfare from the shadows. Though the Haruke were capable of guerilla tactics and cunning, Rael simply didn’t feel their hand in this.
Which left him with…what? Rael didn’t know. The Haruke weren’t the only possibility, of course. As a Nobleman and ranking Knight Officer, there was a pretty lengthy list of people who might profit from his death. The Haruke were not the only foreign power the Dalemen had known conflict with. As far as he knew DarkFyre Dale was on good terms with its other neighbors currently, but it wouldn’t be the first time an assassination was planned during peacetime.
Then there was the Court. He had never been active in Court, and in the past five years he had hardly been away from the warfront for more than a moment. Of course, that didn’t mean some Noble with more ambition and money than honor or sense wouldn’t make a reach for power without provocation. When it came down to it, the attack could have come from anywhere. Under different circumstances, Rael would have simply let it go at the unfortunate risk that comes with rank and title.
Only the attack was so passing strange, and serious, too. Someone had gone to great and unusual lengths to try to put him in the ground. If not for the bravery of an incredibly foolish and loyal boy, it would have worked. The arrow was strange, and the magic tied to it stranger still. Whatever dark spell had been enchanted on the arrow, it was nothing he’d ever heard of before but he was certain it did not come cheaply.
Rael carefully tucked the arrow under his cot and removed his boots and his wool jerkin before stretching his long frame out on his cot. He left a single candle burning on the short stand beside his cot. He watched the candle light flicker against the roof of his tent. He had to force himself not to see threats in the interplaying shadows swaying across the canvas. His hand found the hilt of the dagger under his pillow and took small comfort from it.
This would not be an isolated incident. The attack had been blatant, with no real effort made at disguising it. Rael might have called it an incompetent attempt, only the measures used were not the tools and means of an amateur.
No, Rael did not believe his assassin was incompetent, but instead was arrogant. Whoever he was, the man probably had not imagined his attack would fail. That it had would not stop him. And Rael was in a precarious position; he was surrounded by guards and soldiers and security, true, but he was also stuck to a fixed location, followed a predictable routine, and regularly found himself vulnerable and exposed during battles. The assassin would strike again, and this time he would be careful and sure of the kill.
And he could do it at any time, at his leisure; where was Rael going to go?
Rael clenched his jaw and fought for control as a wave of anger washed over him. He warred with the desire to race out of his tent in a rage, to turn the camp and surrounding countryside upside down until he found his would be killer and spit the man on his sword. It was difficult to cool the righteous fire surging in his veins. But he counseled himself to calm. Anger wouldn’t solve this problem. A level head and sharp mind would.
It took some moments, but finally his emotions settled, and clarity filled him.
He would go where there was information, Rael decided. He would find this assassin, and through him, whoever had put a contract on his head. As he lacked any other clue or link to the assassin, the Captain’s mind went to the arrow. And the spell attached to it.
He briefly considered asking the camp’s mage, Ewin, about the spell. But he quickly rejected the notion. He didn’t trust the battle mage; Rael didn’t trust mages in general actually, but Ewin even less than most. The man was craven and reminded him of a weasel, his eyes flittering and his mannerisms nervous and twitchy. The mage was too eager for scraps of information and coveted secrets as if he were hoarding them. His eyes saw much, his lips spoke little, and though he obeyed orders and served his duties enough to keep up the pretense of loyalty, Rael felt sure it was not his Captain nor the Crown the mage served.
No, Rael would have to begin his search elsewhere. He had no doubt the information he needed would require some digging, which meant he needed to start somewhere with a wealth of knowledge collected, or people who specialized in finding specific, unusual bits of lore…
Dark fell in the tent as the candle at last guttered, spent. Rael let out a long sigh and did his best to still his darting mind. He had to snatch a few hours of rest, at least; he would be on the move all too soon, and he would need his wits about him to find a way to extract himself from his position with as little attention drawn his way as possible.
Doubtless there were eyes on him, eyes that would follow when he withdrew from the front. But with some luck and a bit of finesse, no one would know he realized his life was being targeted. If he could move quickly he might manage to stay one step ahead of those marking him, at least until he was discovered who and what he was dealing with.
As he began to drift, he almost imagined he could feel the arrow tucked under his cot thrumming with dark magic.
He would find his answers. And he knew where he would begin his search.
Another Chapter in the books. I will endeavor to keep updates as regular as possible. Hope everyone enjoyed this bit of plot-thickening, and as always, please feel free to send comments and/or questions to More to come as the voices in my head allow (people call them their ‘muses’ but we all know ‘the voices’ when we hear them, come on).
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