Authors: Shawn E. Crapo
Near the center of town, where many of the paths met at a large deck, Daryth stopped, motioning for the Knights to hold. He turned to Eamon with concern.
“Four guards on the platform,” he warned. “One at each corner.”
Eamon strained to see in the darkness, having only the randomly placed lanterns to light his view. He could see the four guards, each facing away from the center of the platform, standing still and seemingly alert. Though they were motionless, Eamon could see that their heads moved from side to side, scanning the town around them.
“Pass them up for now,” Eamon decided. “We’ll continue taking out the other guards, and save these for last. If we attack them now, their absence may alert others in the area.”
“I would prefer an outright fight to this all of this sneaking around,” Wrothgaar said. “My feet are wet and my legs are cramping from squatting.”
“Shall I fetch you a tub of hot water?” Angen joked. “Or maybe a nice warm blanket?”
Wrothgaar punched Angen in the shoulder, smiling.
“Quiet,” Eamon said. “We need to find out how many troops are here, and why the Jindala occupied this town in the first place. Plus, I want to know what happened to the pirates that usually dock here.”
“Likely the Jindala hired them,” Brynn said, “or killed them.”
“The Jindala are not skilled at naval warfare,” Azim replied. “They wouldn’t last long against pirates. Nor would they want to associate with them.”
“I don’t think the pirates would ally themselves with them, either,” Angen added. “I’ve met a few of them before. They don’t take kindly to anyone disturbing their smuggling routes. If the Jindala have chased them away with their presence, they’ll likely be back.”
“Agreed,” Eamon said. “Daryth, Azim, lead on.”
Leaving the four guards behind, the company pushed forward, hiding in the shadows beneath the network of walkways. Daryth and Azim were slightly farther ahead, scouting in front of the group while Brynn maintained a watchful eye on the rooftops. Wrothgaar and Angen lagged behind, guarding the rear, and Eamon remained in the middle, ready to issue any orders to his Knights.
Once again, the Prince saw Daryth stop ahead, and Azim moving closer to confer with him. Eamon crept up next to them, with Brynn behind him. The two men had caught hold of an object floating in the swamp, and the rest of the company gathered to see what they had found.
“It’s a body,” Daryth said. “A Jindala guard.”
Azim turned the floating body over, revealing that the man’s throat had been torn out. “An assassin?” he suggested.
“No idea,” Eamon replied. “Either way, someone else is here doing the same thing we are.”
“He hasn’t been dead for very long,” Daryth pointed out. “He’s still slightly warm and the wound looks fresh. Whoever killed him may still be nearby.”
“Leaving his body floating around like this was rather careless,” Wrothgaar added. “Not the work of a professional, obviously.”
“The wound says that, too,” Daryth said. “It’s jagged, as if done with a dull knife. Maybe even a kitchen knife.”
“I wouldn’t want to eat at that tavern,” Angen said, drawing looks from the rest of the knights.
“Hide the body near the rocks over there,” Eamon said, pointing toward the north side of the lagoon. “We’ll continue on. Perhaps we’ll run into our mystery assassin.”
Daryth and Azim quietly floated the body off to the side of the lagoon, wedging it between the rocks and pushing it under the surface of the water for good measure.
Brynn had spotted a larger building ahead, supported by at least a dozen piers. The building was lit from the inside and two guards stood on either side of the door.
“Daryth, Brynn,” Eamon began. “Take out the guards with your bows. We’ll climb the piers and see what’s inside.”
The two knights nodded, drawing their bows and taking position underneath the walkways in front of the building. The rest of the group moved to the rear, beginning their climb onto the deck. Brynn and Daryth waited until the knights had taken position at the corner, underneath a window that faced to the east. When they were ready, Eamon nodded.
Two arrows streaked to their targets, striking the guards in the chest. They each groaned, grasping the arrows that pierced their hearts, and slumped to the walkway, making only a slight thump. Eamon and Wrothgaar crept around the corner, dragging the bodies to either side of the building, tossing them over the edge to the rocks.
Azim and Angen each moved to the windows on the east and west sides, peering into the glass. Inside, a large table was set up, with three chairs lining each of the longer sides, and covered with candles. Six Jindala were seated at the table, and one man, dressed in white robes, stood at the head. Azim listened to their conversation.
“It is clear that we cannot simply enforce our laws with such a small presence in each town,” the white robed man said. “Gaellos has been liberated, and the pirates that sail the coast are protecting the northern port cities. When our troops arrive here tomorrow by ship, we will send our foot soldiers to support the army that marches on Gaellos. The city must be retaken.”
“My scouts tell me that Prince Eamon’s armies are camped outside the city,” another man said. “The Northmen are with them, along with what’s left of Farouk’s company.”
“Where are the sorceress and her company?” the leader asked. “Have they tracked down Khalid?”
“There has been no contact. I fear they have been intercepted.”
The leader leaned in closer, gritting his teeth and hissing at the man. “Find them!” he growled. “Use the stone to communicate with the sorceress.”
“I have tried,” the man protested. “She will not answer.”
The leader quickly drew a dagger from his belt, leaning in and jabbing it into the man’s throat. The man gasped wide-eyed and clenched his fists around the leader’s wrists, choking and spurting blood. The other men sat silent, looking away and glaring at each other in fear as the man slumped from the blood soaked table.
Azim shook his head, disgusted at the display of cruelty the leader expressed. Even when his own men failed at their mission, Azim had always encouraged them to try harder, and never so much as chastised them verbally. Failure was a part of life, he reasoned, and all men fail at times. Punishment only encourages mutiny. Clearly, this man was a monster.
“You others,” the leader said. “Fail me as he has, and you will suffer the same fate. Take your troops and continue the search for Khalid. He must be found and executed as a traitor.”
The others nodded, standing to pay tribute to the leader as they prepared to leave. Azim turned to Eamon, who crouched next to him, clearly as shocked and confused as Azim himself was.
“He has commanded the men to search for Khalid,” Azim said. “We must find him first. An army also approaches Gaellos, and they are planning to support them with soldiers from their fleet. Their ships will arrive here in Bray soon.”
“We’ll put an end to their plans,” Eamon said.
Azim signaled to Wrothgaar, who crouched at the opposite corner. The two approached the door, Angen and Eamon following behind. Eamon signaled for Wrothgaar to take position in front of the door and prepare to bash it open with his axe. He then turned to Daryth and Brynn, gesturing for them to keep their eyes on the rooftops.
Wrothgaar stood ready, breathing deeply in preparation. He would bash down the door, head straight for the table and leap over it to the other side, chopping down any man who stood in his way.
The Prince counted down with his fingers, clenching his fist at zero. He watched the Northman charge the door and leaped up to follow. Wrothgaar crashed through with his axe, splintering the door to pieces, and rushing in.
The men inside jumped in surprise, their eyes wide in terror as the giant Northman pounced onto the table. Eamon followed, crossing the room straight to the leader. Angen and Azim bounded in after, choosing the first targets they saw.
Angen impaled his opponent immediately, withdrawing his giant claymore and cleaving the man’s head clean from his shoulders. Azim crossed his swords swiftly, slicing his target open with deadly ferocity. Wrothgaar took two targets, splitting one’s head in two and bashing the other with a back hand blow of his axe.
Eamon backed the leader into the corner, slashing the Serpent’s Tongue quickly in a double strike. The leader had drawn his scimitar, but was unprepared for the assault. His sword was knocked from his hand, and Eamon finished him off with another quick slash to the gut.
The remaining Jindala made a mad rush to the door, but Azim dropped to one knee, slashing the man’s shins. The enemy stumbled, pitching face first into the floor. Azim finished him off with a slash to the back of the neck.
“Search the room,” Eamon commanded. “Find anything that would indicate when the fleet will arrive.”
The Knights began searching among the blood-spattered contents, Eamon going to the door to signal the two archers that they were successful.
Brynn and Daryth saw the signal, relieved that their brothers had finished the job without too much of a disturbance. However, it was apparent that the scuffle had attracted the attention of the four men on the nearby platform. The walkways began to shake and rattle as the men made their way toward the building.
Daryth was the first to fire when the guards came into view. His arrow streaked past the lead man, striking the guard behind him and dropping him into the muck. Brynn gritted his teeth at the splash, but fired as well, hitting the lead guard. Daryth fired again, taking down the next man in line. The fourth man did not make an appearance.
“I don’t see the last one,” Brynn whispered.
Daryth peered into the darkness. “I don’t either,” he said. “Where the Hell did he go?”
Brynn waded slowly in the direction of the platform, Daryth following close. They both scanned the walkways, looking for any sign of the missing guard. He was nowhere in sight. Daryth looked at Brynn, shrugging.
“I’d think he would have sounded the alarm,” Brynn said, “or at least called for help.”
Daryth was about to respond, but suddenly his eyes widened and he pointed into the shadows. Brynn turned quickly, seeing the outline of something horned and reptilian stalking the walkway. As the men watched, the mysterious shadow leaped into the air, spreading its wings, and carrying the missing guard off into the sky.
“Was that a dragon?” Brynn asked, amazed.
“I think it was,” Daryth replied. “But I don’t know of any dragons other than Erenoth.”
“We should tell Eamon.”
Brynn agreed, and the two made their way back toward the building, trudging quickly through the swamp.
Inside, Angen found a large scroll case, decorated in odd symbols, and sealed with golden caps. He handed it to Eamon, who eyed it curiously. The rest of the knights gathered around to watch.
“It could be a map,” Azim suggested. “The end caps come off easily, just push them in and turn them.”
Eamon followed Azim’s direction, smiling as the caps came off in his hands. He turned the scroll case up vertically and let its contents fall into his palm. It was a large parchment, tied closed with a red velvet cord that was interlaced with golden threads. The Prince untied the cord and spread the scroll out onto the table, being careful to avoid the blood that covered it.
It was a map of Eirenoch, with key strategic points highlighted with stars, including every major city and port. Along the sides of the map were writings, connected to the highlighted cities by arrows. They were obviously annotations.
“Translate these, Azim,” Eamon said.
Azim leaned into the map, reading silently to himself. He then translated for the others.
“This town has been marked as a meeting place for their fleets,” he began. “They have also marked the typical routes of the pirates, warning the Jindala ships to stay clear. Apparently they fear the pirates.”
“They should,” Angen growled.
“They have also indicated that Faerbane will be the landing place for any major troop transports,” Azim continued. “And that the Enkhatar will land there. The other annotations tell how many troops are stationed in each town. There is also a note pointing to these ruins in the mountains, and the mines nearby.”
“The ruins are Tel Drakkar,” Eamon said. “The Dragon temple in the south. What do the notes near the mine say?”
“It says that there are twenty four men and a Defiler there, all led by Sultan Massoud.”
“Another Sultan?” Eamon exclaimed. “Like Tyrus?”
“No,” Azim assured him. “Tyrus was a sorcerer. Massoud is simply a gold monger. That is probably why he is there.”
“The miners there are few,” Eamon said. “Though they are skilled with weapons, I doubt they could stand up against such a force. They may be dead already.”
“We are too far away to help them now,” Angen lamented. “But if Erenoth is at Tel Drakkar, he may be aware of the Jindala’s presence.”
Eamon nodded, staring at the map. “This is a valuable map,” he said. “We will keep it and consult it when needed.”
Wrothgaar suddenly looked up toward the door, causing the other knights to turn. Brynn and Daryth appeared on the walkway, quickly heading into the building. The knights gathered around them as they entered.