Swan, Book One of the Raven's Chronicles

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sylvernyght
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Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Sep 17, 2013 6:42 am

Swan, Book One of the Raven's Chronicles

Postby sylvernyght » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:26 pm

Hello Everyone!

My name is Benjamin William Phillips and I'm the Author of Swan and it's five sequels as well as the author of the self-published book, "Until the Sun Sets: The Poems of a Schizophrenic Mind." I thought I'd try to provide a little background information about the book first before posting it. The book and its sequels are all based on Dungeons and Dragons versions 3.0 and 3.5 and are an actual campaign that I played from 2004 through 2012 with my friends and family. All characters and most of what is said in the books are people that showed up or had been said during the game. Yes, I admit that I am really, truly that much of a geek as to take extensive notes while playing D&D. Please note, dear readers, THIS BOOK AND ITS FIVE SEQUELS ARE MEANT FOR ADULTS AGED 18 OR HIGHER ONLY! IT CONTAINS EXPLICIT AND HIGHLY GRAPHIC SCENES OF LANGUAGE, SEX, AND VIOLENCE! STOP READING NOW IF YOU'RE UNDER THE AGE OF 18! Thank you.

A few quick notes on the way this book is going to be posted:

The :devil: smiley will represent when a new chapter in the book starts or finishes and there will be three of them at the start of the chapter and four at the end. Italic writing is used to show when someone is yelling or otherwise stressing words. If I switch between one character and another WITHOUT saying who is talking, I will do my best to remember to use color codes so you, as a reader, can discern who is speaking and when. Anyone that finds any SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar) or other mistakes, please feel free to point them out to me, all I ask is that you quote the text in which the error(s) occur and below that let me know the way it should have been written so I can grow as a writer. Try to keep in mind, folks, this book series is meant mainly for entertainment so if I royally screw something up such as how a certain race or type of character class is supposed to act or not supposed, don't shoot me! Please! Now, I think that's about it. On to the book.....

sylvernyght
Traveler
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Sep 17, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Swan, Book One of the Raven's Chronicles

Postby sylvernyght » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:40 pm

:devil: :devil: :devil:

Chapter One:

The King's City

The city streets were packed with people and carts fresh in from the outlying farms and villages. Dust rose in thick clouds from the meandering footfalls of the passersby and the roaming cart-peddlers selling their wares. Everything reeked of freshness and of the freeness of the summer day. Galaukiir Amanodel walked to and from cart to cart idly inspecting various wares for sale. Some held weapons for travel and use on the King's Road. Others held freshly picked produce of all kinds. Corn, peas, carrots and more were to be had for the asking.

City guardsmen walked here and there amongst the crowd, pushing and shoving their way through it to get to their destinations. Galakuiir nimbly sidestepped a passing guard and bumped into him lightly with his shoulder. "Hey! Watch where yer goin'!" the guardsman grunted roughly through a thick mustache of brown bristle. The sun baked down on the inhabitants of the City and sweat beaded lightly on the guards' upper lip as it curled into a sneer. "Next time I'll clout thee a good smack 'cross that pretty head of yers, Elf!" he said gruffly as he hurried to catch up to his companions. Galaukiir smiled politely and nodded to the guard, signaling he'd be more careful next time.

"Heh," he chuckled lightly as he walked away. "Too easy." He looked down at his left hand and squeezed the purse a little more tightly, feeling the gold inside it shift lightly in his rough hand. He pocketed the gold into his own travelers' backpack and started searching the crowd for another playmate. Walking ahead of him some distance away was one of the nobles, dressed in their usual finery of silks and satins.

Brightly colored as a peacock, she wore a pointed hat with silver beads around the brim to mark her status as one of the City's Elite. Galaukiir noted the level at which the beads rested on her hat. They were about half way up the brim of the hat and, unless he was mistaken, Galaukiir could have sworn he saw a glint of gold amongst the silver beads.

"So," he thought, "You’re a wizard as well as one of the elite. Good." He picked up his pace, but not too much as to be directly following his target. He moved casually down the aisle of carts and peddlers in the Market Square of the City at right angles to the peacock-robed woman he was tailing. Slowly the space between the two of them started to shrink. Finally after going down several side streets and then back into the main street of the Market, he was within arms' length of the stranger when he felt a tight pinch at his elbow.

A female elf stood next to him with blue eyes glinting in amusement in the bright sunlight. She stood just a little taller than his five foot five inches, a respectable height for Elves and had deep ravens' black hair to his golden blond. He sighed as he watched the noble slip further and further down the street. "Blast!" he thought.

"What are you up to now?" the woman said with a light accusing tone in her voice. "You aren't stealing again are you?" She poked him in the ribs through his leather jerkin with a slender pale finger. When he failed to answer, and merely sighed and looked longingly at the stranger walking away from him, she poked him harder in the ribs.

"Well?! Are you or aren't you?" she said, annoyed by his silence.

"Oh, get a grip, Valanthe. It was just a bit of fun. I was bored!" Galaukiir said with a sheepish grin. Valanthe sighed and glared down her slender nose at him. His violet eyes sparkled innocence in the hot sunlight.

"Just a bit of fun, eh? What happens when you go too far and get yourself arrested?! How would your father take to that? Huh? I'll tell you! He'll be furious with you. We're here to buy supplies for the shop, not to steal them. Now come on," she said angrily as she grabbed his arm and led him down the way he had just come. "I've been looking for you for half the day and you haven't gotten a single thing done. Must I do everything myself?!"

They walked briskly down the main street and turned into a shaded side street where it was less crowded. Valanthe sighed again and looked back at her friend to make sure he was still following. "Your father wants freshly prepared wood for the arrows and bows he's got to make, so I say we would do well to start purchasing those supplies. Come, I've found a shop that will sell to us for a decent price compared to the hagglers in the Market Square," Valanthe said crossly as icy fire hung on her every word.

He sighed resignedly and followed dutifully after her. She continued down the street a little ways further and then stopped in front of a wooden door with an arrow and bow painted on a hanging sign above the door. They entered a small shop that smelled strongly of freshly mowed hay and cut wood. A man was standing with his back turned to them as they entered. He was wiping dust from a long slender rod of wood and inspecting it critically.

"Mmmm....not the best, but it'll do for the guards at least. Maybe I can get a few pieces of gold out of them for once," he mumbled as they walked the short distance to the counter. Upon the wooden counter sat only a silver bell which Valanthe picked up and rang. It tinkled like soft music in the daylight air and the man turned around. A bright smile lit his lips. His face was a mass of wrinkles and seams. Bright intelligent eyes stared out from under bushy eyebrows. "Ah! Miss Galanodel, you're back and so soon? I would have thought you'd be gone a while longer," he said with a soft chuckle.

"Yes, well, I managed to find what I was looking for a lot sooner than expected, Markis. Is the order ready yet?" Valanthe said with a light smile. She poked Galaukiir in the ribs again to keep him from wandering around the small shop. He had been inspecting a bow shelf when she poked him and jumped slightly at the roughness of her touch.

"Yes, yes. The order is ready. Have you the money to pay for it? I won't take Credits. Gold bullion is all that shall line my poor pockets these days, lassie!" He laughed heartily and stepped from around the counter then disappeared into a back door of the shop. A few moments later he came back with a slip of parchment in one hand and a bundle of wooden rods in the other.

"Ah, here we are. Sixty oak and cedar arrow rods all notched and feathered. All they need are the heads and they'll pierce just about anything you shoot them at. The best I made so far," Markis said gruffly as he set the bundle down on the counter. "That's going to cost you one gold, lassie. Which is a deal I make to very few. I normally sell them at three gold coins for a bundle of twenty rods." Valanthe nodded and reached into her purse, then handed him the coin. Taking the bundle of rods, she plucked Galaukiir on the sleeve of his jerkin and walked to the door with a wave of thanks to Markis.

Back on the side street again, she turned north and headed down another side street. She stopped at another shop with the same sign as the previous one and entered. The tinkling of silver bells above the door greeted her as she entered and an elderly woman smiled up to her.

"Ah ha! You're back again today and you've brought young master Amanodel with you, have you? Well, well, today is just full of surprises!" The old woman chuckled as they entered the shop. Valanthe quirked a slender eyebrow when she heard this.

"Like what?" she asked. Galaukiir looked around the shop as the two women spoke to each other. It was full of various sized arrows and bows all on neat and tidy racks and shelves. He wandered over to one rack and pulled from it a long bow of yew wood. He looked at it quizzically. The bow was nearly as tall as he was and strung with a thick piece of rawhide rope, which he pulled at experimentally. It bent nimbly to his touch.

"I could launch an arrow through plate mail with this!" he thought excitedly. The bow itself was notched and carved into the shape of a deer's antlers with two protrusions of wood jutting from the handgrip which were meant to be thrust into an opponents' throat or face at close range. Upon further inspection of the bow itself, Galaukiir let out a soft whistle beneath his breath.

"This bow is designed to look like something harmless rather than a weapon! With this design, I could quite possibly sneak it past even the Black Crown of the City Guard themselves! All I'd have to do is remove the paint!" he whispered. It was painted a light shade of teal with an etching of a thunder bolt going down one side of the leather wrapped grip.

"Careful with tha' one dearie," the old woman said. "Mind ye now. Tha'll blast ye into the middle of next week, it will, if ye were to be shot with tha'. Very powerful 'tis." Galaukiir smiled politely and put the bow back onto the weapons rack. He then wandered over to a small shelf about waist high from the floor and examined different sized arrow heads. Some were as black as night, others were nearly invisible in the dimly lit shop. He picked one up that was a double pyramid shape and looked at it closely for a moment before setting it back down on the shelf.

It was silver and notched like a saw with a flame symbol painted on it near the base of the head. "Tha' ones good fer hurtin' the undead, lad. Tis best to find yerself wit sumtin' tha does fire damage as well as piercing the flesh o' the undead when yer serroun' by them buggers!" the old woman said with a faint smile. Galaukiir quirked an eyebrow and then walked over to stand next to Valanthe.

"Can you hurry it up please?" he asked. "I would like to get on with this sometime before the next Harvest Festival arrives!"

Valanthe rolled her eyes at him, then she sighed and smiled to the old woman. "Anyway, if you'll pardon my friends' rudeness, we're here for the order of arrow heads Master Amanodel asked that you make for him. Have you got them ready yet?" she said quietly. The wrinkled old face creased into a bright smile.

"Ah, yes! I remember that order. Not more than two days ago and wha' a rush ter get it done. Must be sumtin importan' if so many o' the blasted heads be needed," she said cheerily. "Yes, yes, all o' them are done and ready to go. I'll be right back." With that she turned and disappeared into a side door of the shop.

From where they stood waiting, the two could hear sounds of muttering and bustling in the back of the shop. A few moments later the old woman came back to the counter with a large wooden box tucked under one arm. She placed it on the counter and looked up with a twinkle in her beady green eyes. "Tha'll be six Credits dearie," she said with a smile. Valanthe looked into her purse and bit down on her lower lip.

"Will you take six gold bullion instead?" she asked. The old woman thought for a long moment before nodding consent.

"Great!" Valanthe said and handed over the coins. Outside once again, Galaukiir tugged on her green jerkin sleeve.

"No Credits, eh?" he asked with a smile playing at his thin lips. He unstrapped his backpack and set it down on the street, then started poking through it. "Ah, here we are. Take these. That should be enough to help you out." He handed a small white and red bundle to her.

"Where did you get all this?" Valanthe asked, shocked as she took the bundle. She opened it up and examined it. A thick stack of the King's parchment Credits lay clutched in her hand. She began counting them then looked up in shock. "Why, there's over five hundred Credits here! Galaukiir! You little rat! You've stolen these, haven't you?!" She exclaimed worriedly and shoved them back at him hurriedly. Galaukiir merely grinned.

"So? I was merely testing my skills. That's three weeks of work worth there. Father doesn't deal in Credits, but just over half the City does, so I had to get them on my own. Besides, I'm only borrowing them. I've remembered each and every person I've taken money from and when I'm rich and famous, I promise I'll return the money," he said with a grin that spoke otherwise. Valanthe glared at him a second longer and then sighed. She looked down at the Credits still clutched tightly in her hands. She counted the money one last time, taking stock of the different colored parchment notes.

"Well...I suppose they will come in handy when we go to get the rest of the supplies. But even still! You shouldn't have stolen them. Get yourself a decent Task and earn the damn money for once in your life," she said with a hiss at the end. Then she hurriedly shoved them into the hidden pocket of her purse.

"Come on. We still have to get the tie strings for the arrows and the wood for the bows," she said taking his arm and leading him back down the street into the main portion of the Market Square. Later that day they stood in front of a brick and mortar building that was a single story with a gold thatch roof and smoke curling lazily into the air from the chimney.

In a small cart that was pulled by a rented donkey they held their treasures of the days' activities: rods for the arrows, sacks of various bird feathers, balls of twine and rawhide rope, and three large chests containing one hundred twenty arrow heads apiece.

"Most of this junk I could have made for Father, but he doesn't trust my work yet, does he?" Galaukiir grumbled as he surveyed the carts' contents. He reached up to it and unlatched the back gate of the cart, letting it thump loudly against the baseboards.

"No, he doesn't and there's good reason for him not to," Valanthe said in response. "Remember the time you tried to enchant his arrows yourself? Half of his customers brought them back complaining of being hit with their own arrows! And the time before that, you put the wrong feathers on the wrong arrows so they fell short of their targets or went too far afield. If you'd only pay attention to your father, he'd trust your work more."

"Okay, okay, I get the picture, Valanthe. At least he trusts my work with the jewel settings I make for him," Galaukiir said defensively. They began to unload the cart. As they were doing so, the door to the shop swung open and a slender looking elf stood in the doorway. He had long blond hair and green eyes. His pale flesh glistened with sweat in the early evening heat of the day and he held clenched in his teeth a long stemmed pipe that slowly puffed out thin curls of bluish smoke into the air. He grinned at seeing the two of them.

"Ah! It's about time you two finally showed up," he said as they started hauling the goods into the shop. "I've been waiting for half the day for you to bring this order to me. Now, if you would please set them all in a row on those empty work benches, I can finally get some work done." He pointed to a neat row of empty benches in the back of the shop and the two of them set each crate and bundle onto them.

The interior of the shop was small, but well cleaned and smelled faintly of sulfurs and cherries. It wasn't an unpleasant mixing of the scents, but it did give Valanthe and Galaukiir pause as it wafted into their nostrils for a moment. When they were done, Galaukiir glanced over at the elder elf.

"Anything else, Father?" he asked quietly. The other merely shook his head and went to one wall of the shop that was covered with tools of every size and shape. He selected a few of them and brought them over to another workbench.

"Here you go. Your payment as ordered by the King of all whom work past human childhood age," he said with a small smile and handed to them each a pouch that clinked as they took it. "Thirty gold apiece and mind you don't spend it all in one place now." He turned to Valanthe.

"Valanthe, dear, you ought to head home. It's getting late and your mother will be wondering where you've got off to this time. Go on now. Shoo!" he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Valanthe nodded curtly and pocketed the money.

"Good night, Amil. See you on the morrow's morn Galaukiir," she said with a slight toss of her hair and a quick wave.

"You've yet some work to do still, son. I need some ring settings finished before the night is out in full if you please," Amil said softly. He smiled to his son as he handed him another leather pouch that clicked softly in his hands. Galaukiir walked over to another work bench, this one lined with a jewelers' loop, several pliers and a burning torch. There were differently sized cutters and saws lining the back end of the bench and on the wall within arms' reach were ring and pendant molds and display cases.

With a sigh Galaukiir set to work mending a few of the ring settings and reshaping the rest to better hold the jewels that would be set into them later in the week. An hour went by swiftly and the Night's Toil Bells slowly began to peal through the City, first starting at the Palace Watchtowers and then working their way through each of the five districts of the City. Each district had their own sound for the bells that rang through them at every hour of the day.

In the Market Square, the bells sounded of running brook water and humming birds' wings. In the Magic Quarter, the bells sounded of the wind in the grass on a summers' night and crickets chirping their love songs to each other. In the walled off Elite district, where the Nobles and the King himself lived, the bells there sounded of gold coins clinking together in a purse. In the Poor Homes Quarter, the bells sounded of wind chimes in the early morning of predawn and birds singing in the forests. In the Librarians' and Scholars Quarter, the bells sounded faintly of quills scrapping on parchment and words being softly whispered in the dead of the night.

Only once during the entire day did all of the bells in the King's City ever sound together and with the same song. That was Night's Toil Bells, signaling an end to the days' activities and time to rest. All of the shops closed down for the night, except for some very few in the Poor Homes Quarter and slowly light would creep from the lanterns that dotted the City streets to chase away the nights' shadows.

As the Night's Toil slowly pealed out of the Watchtowers and into the lower quarters of the City, lantern lighters made their way through the slowly thinning crowds to light their various lanterns. Galaukiir leaned back on his wooden stool and stretched a moment before bending back over the work he was doing to a silver ring with a blue gemstone. The ring had broken at the base of the clasp where the gem met with the ring setting and he was busy trying to meld it back into place. He sighed and looked through the glass paned window. A thin line pursed his lips and he set the work aside for a moment. The stars in the night sky were slowly winking into view and clouds drifted over the horizon.

A light breeze slowly rattled the summer leaves of the oak tree near the front of the shop and a small squirrel climbed up the trunk with an oversized nut in its mouth. Galaukiir blew a deep breath out in a single puff and looked back at his work. He picked up the melding torch again, gave it a sharp tap on the butt of the tools' handle and the flame spurted to life once more. Green and blue, it flickered hungrily awaiting the next piece of metal it could devour for him.

He sighed, quirked an eyebrow for half a second, then set back to work. Night's Toil rang out a second time an hour later and he finally set aside his work. Freshly polished and mended, the ring gleamed as if it had never been broken. All he had to do was invoke the spell that would re-enchant the ring to bring better protection to its owner and he could finally stop for the night.

"Bahuydristdrunyra," Galaukiir whispered softly into the cooling night air of the shop and concentrated hard on the ring. The ring slowly began to glow a deep violet color. It faded almost as soon as it started to glow. He smiled thinly.

"Father should think more highly of me. I'm better at this than he realizes," he whispered.

"At least my work is done for the night. Time for some sleep!" he thought as he blew out the lantern near his workbench and slowly made his way to the back of the shop.

He reached a wooden door in the back wall of the shop and turned the handle. He set the ring on a workbench near the door where his father would find it in the morning. Then he walked down a short hallway and turned left. He opened the door in front of him and was greeted by the warm smell of apple blossoms and chill winter wind. He smiled a little more deeply this time as he slowly peeled off his jerkin and tossed it into a heap by the open door. He walked into the room and looked around for a moment. In front of the door against the far wall was a standing writing desk and simple wooden stool. A pace away to the left of the desk was a straw pallet with a down pillow and a soft wool blanket. On the wall facing the bed was a standing mirror of highly polished bronze decorated with a dragon and flower motif around the perimeter.

If he looked closely enough through slightly sleep filled eyes, he could almost say that the dragon was alive and that the flowers were waving in a light summers' breeze. A small wardrobe encased the wall opposite the bed to the right. The sliding doors of the wardrobe stood slightly ajar and he could see some of his clothing poking out into the darkness of the room on the wooden pegs that they hung on. Hung from a peg on the rear of the door was a green travelers' cloak made of wool.

He yawned and stripped himself bare. Then he went to the wardrobe and pulled the doors open and removed a wash basin and a soft linen sponge. He dabbed the sponge into the cool water and began to wash himself clean of the dust from the day. When he was finished, he put the basin back into the wardrobe after dumping the water out into the street through his open window. He walked over to the desk and replaced the lids on the scented jars of dried flowers that sat to the side closest to the bed. He lay down in his bed and was soon sound asleep.

Daylight crept over the wooden window sill as a pale light announced the beginning of a new day. Birds chirped and cawed in the trees in the City Park that was a few blocks from his house. The light of the rising sun stabbed into his eyes like molten daggers and Galaukiir groaned and rolled over, pulling the blanket over his head. Everywhere in the City there were signs of life beginning to stir. Shops were opening, people were beginning to bustle about on their various errands, and the smells and sounds of the City all came unwelcome and unbidden into Galaukiirs' ears and nose. He slowly cracked one eye open and then the other and stretched luxuriously, sighing.

"Alright, alright, I'm up," he said to the open air of his room. He dressed quickly, this time choosing a brown leather tunic and trousers with a simple belt of leather. To this he strapped a dagger and his purse after counting out some of the money he had from the previous day. He blew a breath of air into the room, pursed his thin lips together, and then walked down the short hallway to see if his father was awake. He found him in the workroom of the house, bent over a collection of arrows. Several pieces of parchment lay scattered on the floor, their ink slowly starting to fade.

"Ah, Galaukiir, I'm glad you're finally up and about!" Amil said to him without looking up. "I need you to take these arrows to the Dragons' Run Inn over in the Poor Homes Quarter of the City. Bring them to a man named Tardek and make sure you get gold, not Credits from him. I want a profit of three hundred from him for these and not a piece less. But be careful. There is trouble in the Homes today." The arrows glowed a malicious looking green for a moment and then the color faded. Galaukiir sighed and scooped them into a quiver which he strung across his back.

"Anything else, Father?" he asked quietly still yawning the sleep from his brain. When his father didn't answer but merely set another bundle of arrows down on the workbench, he shrugged and went back to his room. There he grabbed his traveling cloak and went back into the shop. When he got there Valanthe was waiting for him. She smiled as he entered the room.

"Hello, Galaukiir. Up bright and early for once. I thought I'd stop by and see how things lay here with you. Mind if I tag along? Oh! Have you heard what happened in the Poor Homes last night?" she said. Galaukiir quirked an eyebrow at her.

"Why not?" he thought.

"The more the merrier, I guess. And no, I have not heard. What happened?" he said after a pause. She smiled again and winked at him.

"I would have gone with you whether you had said “yes” or “no.” Someone needs to keep you out of trouble!" she said with a light giggle. Then she turned serious. "As for the Poor Homes, I'll tell you outside." Galaukiir looked taken aback for a moment and mouthed out "who me?" to her as his father busily laid parchment scrolls out on the workbench.

She rolled her eyes for a moment and said, "Come on, already. We'd best get going. I have a lot I need to do today!" With a quick word of good day to his father, the two of them set off down the street to the east. As they walked Valanthe seemed slightly withdrawn and quiet. Galaukiir poked her in the arm.

"Hey! You said you were going to tell me what happened in the Poor Homes last night. So tell me already!" he said. Valanthe sighed, glancing at the bright blue cloudless sky.

"It was a murder. Someone died there," she said simply and fell silent again. At this Galaukiir knew better than to press for more information. A half hour later they stood near the large double gates of bronze that led into the Poor Homes quarter of the City.

"Well, here we are," Galaukiir said. He glanced skyward and pressed his lips into a thin line. The sky was westering already towards midday and they were no closer to their completed goal. They stood in a long line of people facing the gates while a battered old soldier bent over a scroll of parchment with a thick black quill in one hand.

"Come on, any day now!" Galaukiir said under his breath. He felt a sharp poke in his ribs and glanced over at Valanthe. She glared at him.

"Ever impatient aren't you? Complaining isn't going to help here, you know. You're just going to have to wait like the rest of these people, City Elf," she said bitterly. He glared back at her for a long moment then pointedly looked away. They hadn't always been City Elves. Galaukiir could still barely remember when he and his father and mother lived in the Western Forests in peace and quiet, making arrows and bows of magic for travelers that were going to the Sandhearth Deserts or the Azer Moors. There had been lots of Elves back then, but that was before the Blight came and withered all the trees.

His people had fled before its might when it struck their home city of Maelyinno and decimated the forest there. Most of his people now lived in bustling towns and cities like King's City, but it was taken as an insult to be called "City" anything if one were of Elven blood. There were still tribes of wood elves living in the east and south, where the Blight had not yet struck but they would have as little to do with the refugees as possible, fearing that they would spread the Blight further east.

He thought back to his childhood and could picture himself running through fields of tall green grass where birds lay hidden on their nests and sung throughout the day and night. He was only a small boy then in the way his people measured time. A soft hand brushed his cheek and a light tinkling of musical notes reached his ears. He laughed aloud as he stared into the fiery purple eyes of his mother. She spoke to him gently in their native tongue.

"Dos ph’ussta Xukuth lu’Quortek,” his mother said softly whispering into his ears. He giggled and raised his hands into the air, wanting to be held closer to her. She smiled as the moon pale flesh around her mouth wrinkled as she stooped to pick him up.

"Ussta ssinsrigg dos, I’lhar," he said in a soft voice back and laughed some more as she twirled him around and around in the air. Suddenly the sky grew dark and ominous. The stars winked out one by one and the birds fell silent. A soft snapping of twigs underfoot could be heard from the gardens outside of their home. His mother held him close and buried his face into her breasts. He could feel her heart beating loudly against his ears and hear her ragged breath as he felt her leap into the air and start running. They ran for what seemed like hours. It was dark when he dared to peek from the protective shell of her breasts and he felt himself being lowered into a hole in the soft earth. He whimpered, too afraid to say anything. She smiled down to him and handed him a small pendant shaped like a leaf with a drop of dew at its tip. Then there was darkness.

"Hey!" someone was calling to him from far away.

"Hey! Wake up!" he felt something sting him across the face, hard.

"What?! Ow!" Galaukiir said angrily. He stared into the bright eyes of Valanthe as she slowly recovered from her twisted stance after having slapped him. "Valanthe! What! What was that for? I didn't do anything wrong!" he said indignantly.

"You looked like a walking carcass! Come on, get with it already! The line is moving," Valanthe snapped. "What were you doing, anyway? I'm sorry I slapped you so hard."

"I...I was just thinking," Galaukiir said sheepishly.

"Well try to stay here in the present while you think, okay?"

"Yeah, sure. Sorry."

"Must have been some thought to drag you away like that. Your eyes were glazed over and turning a milky sort of color."

"Really?"

"Yeah, anyway, looks like we're next."

The line moved forward a moment more and they were standing in front of the guard with the parchment. "Names please," he said in a monotone voice. He barely even looked up at them as they told him their names.

"What's with this huge line, sir?" Valanthe asked. She looked back the way they had come and quirked an eyebrow then glanced at the sun. It was after noon. She sighed.

"So much for getting my chores done in a timely fashion," she muttered quietly.

"Because of the murder in the Poor Homes last night we're checking yer names with the royal libraries' birth certificates. Any one that doesn't have a name listed there gets the boot," the guard said as he pointed with a jerking motion with his thumb towards the Southern Gate.

"People die in the Poor Homes all the time. Why the sudden alarm now?" Galaukiir said rather harshly. The guard squinted up at him with a bored look on his face and sighed.

"For the thousandth time, it's because of the way the murder took place. There's not a drop of blood left in the body. All that’s left are two little puncture holes in the side of the neck...well what's left of it anyway," the guard said. "State your business please." Galaukiir stepped forward a little more and offered the quiver of arrows.

"I'm the son of Amil Amanodel and I'm here to make a delivery. Valanthe is just here to make sure I give these to the right person," he said. Valanthe nodded and the guard shrugged.

"Which person would that be, sonny?" he asked quietly.

"A man named Tardek," Galaukiir said. "Are you going to let me through the gates or not?" The guard didn't answer, but merely motioned to the next person in line and so Galaukiir shrugged, shouldered the arrows and walked through the gates with Valanthe. The Poor Homes were aptly named. Many of the streets were narrow and dirty with refuse lying about in heaps on the corners of a few of the streets. The buildings were old and in disrepair. Many of them had holes in their thatch roofs and the thatch was so pale yellow that it looked like the buildings were covered in a perpetual winter snow. Some of the buildings had cracks forming in the mortar of their walls. The air was dense and felt claustrophobic.

"Let's get this over with, shall we?" Galaukiir said to Valanthe as he offered her an arm. She took it gratefully and pulled in close, enjoying the familiar warmth of her friend in an unfamiliar place.

"You haven't been here much, have you?" he asked after a moment of silence.

She shook her head that she hadn't. They continued down the main street for a while in silence. A few birds chirped from scraggly looking trees with iron grates wrapped about the trunks. The trees were bent and twisted as if a malicious hand had reached down from the heavens and tried to unsuccessfully uproot them. Many of them had peeling bark and twigs and dead leaves lay in small heaps about their bases or were blown through the streets by a gentle summer breeze.

The air was thick and heavy with the scent of sweat and filth. They wrinkled their noses in disgust at it as it played with their burning nostrils. Thick billows of smoke rose lazily into the air from some of the larger homes and seemed to choke their throats with its nauseating stench. They turned down a side street after about a half hour of walking and then stopped in front of a large building with a thatch roof that was creamy yellow instead of nearly white with age like the rest of the roofs they had seen. This building was three stories tall and built of red brick that had turned a dingy sort of grey from the sunlight.

Light could be seen from under a thick redwood door and thick grey smoke puffed out from many chimneys in the roof. Galaukiir sighed and looked at a sign hanging from a post a few feet from the door. A large green dragon was painted on it and looked as if the dragon were running after a knight in plate mail armor.

"This is it. Welcome to the Dragon's Run Inn, Valan," he said softly. She quirked her head at him a moment and smiled.

"You haven't called me that since we were children. Is everything all right?" she said with a touch of concern in her voice.

"Oh, yes, everything is perfectly fine. I just want to get this over with and deliver these stupid arrows and be done with it," Galaukiir said quietly. He looked over at her and grinned. "Besides, I have other things I wanted to do today." Her eyes darkened a moment with anger.

"Oh, no, you're going to go stealing again, aren't you?! Tell me I'm wrong," she exclaimed. When he didn't answer she let out a soft slow moan of despair. "Look, if you must do this, why not do it at Hyln Villiage? They don't have any rules about stealing there because they're nothing but thieves and brigands anyway."

"Because I get more fun from the people here. Don't worry. I'm always careful not to get caught. I'm the best there is. Trust me, Valan, I know what I'm doing," he said over his shoulder as he entered the Inn. Inside there was music coming from one corner as a man and woman played on violins. The tune was fast paced and lively and filled the air with its sweet sound.

In front of him was a long bar with stools set every few paces and nearly all of them were full. A plump woman in her later years tended the bar. To the left of the door was a common sitting area and a roaring fire helped chase back the shadows of early evening. People milled about in oversized stuffed chairs or on an occasional wooden stool. There was a stuffed head of a monstrous creature above the roaring fireplace, its many eyes staring out at the world with malice and seeming to dare anyone to approach it too closely.

Smoke rose into the air from many pipes and laughter could be heard from the crowd. A few of the patrons looked up from their various activities as Galaukiir entered closely followed by Valanthe. He pushed through the crowd a moment until he was standing at the bar with Valanthe at his side.

"What'll it be?" the barmaid asked as he approached the bar.

"Nothing for now, thanks," Galaukiir replied. "I'm looking for a man named Tardek. Could you tell me what room he's in?" The barmaid stopped wiping out the fired clay mug she was holding and set it down on the bar then squared her shoulders and looked him directly in the face.

"Who's asking?" she said with a hint of suspicion in her voice. She looked him up and down a moment and then shrugged.

"My name's Galaukiir Amanodel. I've got a delivery for him. Can you tell us where to find him?" Galaukiir said. "And what is that thing above the fireplace?"

"It's a Beholder. Ugly brute of a critter isn't it? You mentioned a delivery?" the barmaid said with even more suspicion in her voice. "What sort of delivery?"

"Sleep arrows from my fathers' shop," Galaukiir replied quietly. "Are you a friend of Tardek?"

"What if I was? It's none of your business. Now that you don't seem to be hunting him down for anything bad, he's stayin' on the second floor in the first room on the left," The barmaid said. She picked up her mug and started rubbing it down with a linen towel again. Galaukiir thanked her and moved off into the crowd towards the stairs in the back of the Inn. Valanthe followed a pace behind him.

"That didn't seem to go very well. Wonder what her problem is?" she whispered into his ear as they reached the stairs. Upon reaching the landing of the second floor, they looked around. There was a short hallway to their left and another one to the right. In front of them was another staircase leading to the third floor of the building. They walked down the left hallway and stopped in front of the first door they came to. Galaukiir knocked and a burly human opened the door. He had a seamed face of white scars and lines, but most of it was hidden behind a large brown shaggy beard. He wore a leather tunic and trousers and soft leather boots.

"What do you want?" he growled at them with a voice that sounded like mountain rain water rushing over a cliff in the winter. He glowered down at them from heavy set watery eyes and his breath, when he puff it out, reeked of ale.

"Delivery for one Tardek from Amil Amanodel, three hundred gold bullion, please," Galaukiir said, handing over the quiver of arrows.

"It's about damn time these arrived. Here's yer pay, Elf and next time be a little more punctual please!" Tardek said and with that he tossed a heavy leather pouch at him and then slammed the door closed in their faces. Valanthe blinked for a moment and grinned at her friend.

"Well! The nerve of some people!" she said huskily. Galaukiir shrugged.

"Come on, let's go home," he said and took her by the arm gently. They retraced their steps downstairs and were about to leave when they heard a voice behind them shout.

"Stop, thief! I want my money back!" They turned and were faced with a red faced and very angry Tardek holding the quiver of arrows in one hand and a wicked looking dagger in the other. The Inn had fallen silent.

"Is something the matter with your order, sir?" Galaukiir asked politely. He eyed the dagger a moment, but did nothing else. Valanthe breathed deeply a moment and blinked slowly. She reached behind her and pretended to scratch an itch on her back, but really was releasing the hidden dagger from the sheath at her back. Tardek glared at them.

"Yes, summthin' wrong!" he spat at them, "These are the wrong ones! I wanted crossbow bolts, not arrows! These things are useless to me. I want my gold back and I want it now! Obviously you Elves can't tell a crossbow bolt from a hole in the ground. Maybe you should have stayed in the Forests where your kind belong, you dankish idle-headed bugbear’s backside!" It was Galaukiirs' turn to be angry. He squeezed his hands into tight fists.

"What are you saying, rivvil? That my father made a mistake! He never does. You ordered arrows, I delivered them. Perhaps you should concentrate more on your manners instead of your ale. You reek!" He shot back vehemently. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He glanced over and Valanthe raised a warning finger to his lips.

"Calm down, Gala. He's drunk. Let's just leave, okay?" she said softly.

“Elg’caress, you wouldn’t know drunk from a mule’s—“ Tardek said gruffly but was cut off by the sound of a sharp slap across the face. Valanthe eyes burned in anger.

"How dare you call me a bitch?! I am an Elf!" she said, seething. Galaukiir placed a restraining hand on her shoulder and pulled her towards the door. Outside he took a deep breath of the stagnant night air and then turned to face Valanthe.

"You could have ignored him, you know," he said.

"Yes, I could have but I hate being called a bitch. It's dirty and makes me feel less than what I am," she responded coolly. "Let's go home, Gala. Please." He nodded and together they started down the street towards the gates that led into the Poor Homes. They didn't get very far when they heard soft footfalls on the road behind them. They stopped and turned. Tardek stood staring at them a few paces behind, anger clouding his face in a dark mask.

"I said I want my gold back, Elf, and I mean to take it back one way or another." he said gruffly.

"All sales are final, human. Now go back to your ale," Galaukiir said and turned. He started to walk away but stopped as he heard metal scraping on leather. He turned back. Tardek was holding the same dagger he had used in the Inn in his hand and was walking towards him intently.

"The gold or your life, Elf, so make it quick," he said with a sneer.

"How about I simply take your life for myself, you bawdy base-courted dick?" a stranger spoke from the shadows. Tardek stopped and looked around, but he saw no one through his thick haze of alcohol. Something grabbed him by the throat and he screamed as he felt his life's blood suddenly drain away from him. Galaukiir stood there in mute silence for a moment before the shock wore off enough for him to react.

A humanoid shape materialized out of the nights' shadows and clenched around Tardeks' throat. He struggled but was unable to break the grip of the assailant. It wore a suit of leather armor and a thick black wool cloak and hood covered its face and body. One moon pale hand held tightly on to Tardeks' throat as it stooped down and bit into him. A dry gurgling sucking sound emanated from near the head of the creature. Slowly Tardeks' eyes fluttered closed.

"Valanthe, run!" Galaukiir shouted as he darted by her into the night. She turned and ran after him. The night enclosed around them and they ran until their lungs burned and their eyes watered with the strain. Finally after what seemed like hours of running, they stopped and looked around. They were deep in the Poor Homes. Many of the buildings were dilapidated and falling apart at the seams. The thatch roofs were caved in on a few of them and the mortar was thick with grime and dust.

"Where are we?" Valanthe asked as she doubled over with her hands resting on her knees, breathing heavily. "And what was that thing that attacked Tardek?"

"I have no idea where we are, nor much clue as to what our friend was back there," Galaukiir replied. He leaned heavily against a short wall that had once been a house, breathing hard. When they were calmed down enough, they looked around at their surroundings again. The stars winked down at them from their heavenly thrones and the street lamps burned brightly to chase most of the night's shadows away.

"We're not that far from the South Gate, Valanthe," Galaukiir said softly. "Let's get out of here." He steered a slightly numbed Valanthe down a side street and then out onto the main thoroughfare. A few minutes later they were standing in front of the bronze South Gate. They walked through the open Gate and stood still a moment longer to get their bearings. They had entered the Magic Quarter and could smell a faint sulfuric taint to the air. Many of the homes in this sector were built of grey cinderblocks and the thatching on the roofs were all cream yellow. Smoke rose lazily into the night air from several dozen chimneys as they walked down the street. Galaukiir took Valanthes' hand in his own and squeezed it tightly a moment.

"Don't worry," he said reassuringly. "I'm sure we weren't followed by that thing. Let's go home." They continued down the street for a ways and after another hour they stood in front of Valanthe's home. It was a modest cinder brick building with a golden thatch roof. Smoke curled lazily into the night air from the single chimney in the roof. Valanthe thanked Galaukiir for walking her home and then said good night to him.

:devil: :devil: :devil: :devil:

sylvernyght
Traveler
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Sep 17, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Swan, Book One of the Raven's Chronicles

Postby sylvernyght » Wed Sep 25, 2013 4:31 pm

:devil: :devil: :devil:

Chapter Two:

The Lady Payne

Galaukiir stood in front of Valanthes' door for a moment longer and then turned down the street. As he walked, he whistled a tune to himself. It was a quiet tune, one that sang of the birds and the winds. The moon was slowly starting towards the eastern part of the sky and dawn was fast approaching. The stars winked down on him and shed their light on a sleepy City. Birds started to chirp quietly in the trees. A shadow flitted across Galaukiir's vision at a right angle to him. He paused on the street and slowly placed his hand on his dagger. He waited for a moment. The shadow moved out into the light of the moon and he relaxed a little.

It was only a squirrel with a large nut in its mouth. It raced down the street and then up a short tree where it perched near the top and chittered noisily to him as he walked by. He turned down a side street and breathed in the night air. It was slightly frigid for this time of the year. He sighed and thought back on day's events. "Not too bad of a day I'd say," he thought. As he walked he thought further of the dream-like state he had entered as he and Valanthe had waited to get into the Poor Homes. He could just barely remember his mothers' face. Her touch was soft and gentle, like a breeze through fields of golden flowers in the summer heat. Her eyes were the brightest purple he had ever seen in the world. Not even the setting colors of the sun at deepest night could be matched with her eyes.

He sighed again and looked around himself. He had been wandering aimlessly for a while now and knotted his pencil thin eyebrows together in concentration. He was standing near the Temple of Saint Cuthburt, its large granite walls imposing their might against the peace of the sky and the wind. "I've gone too far south," he whispered. "I might as well make a donation while I'm here." He walked up the steps to the great oaken doors that were decorated with a double wheeled cross. Large red rubies glittered in the moonlight at the four points of the cross and in its center. He paused a moment to look at them.

"If only I could get my hands on just one of them! The sale of such a gem would make me rich beyond my very dreams!" He whispered into the night air. There came the sound of a key clicking in a lock behind the doors and one of them slowly creaked open. A bald man stood in the open doorway wearing a brown robe with a white cross painted down the front and back.

"Oh! Why 'ello there good sir! Come to wo'ship? You'e most welcome. Come in! Come in!" the man said in a thick accent on seeing Galaukiir standing by the open door. Galaukiir smiled and nodded to the priest.

"Ussta kaas zhah Galaukiir. Xun dos inbal natha k'lar whol uns'aa?” Galaukiir said softly as he entered the Temple.

"Ah, forgive me good sir. I did not see that you were an Elf. Come. I will take you to the Chambers of Obadhai where you may wo'ship yo'r heart's content o' the woods and flowers an' all tha' grow there," the priest said quietly.

"Thank you ever so kindly, Master Priest, but I have no desire to worship this night. I merely came to rest from my travels," Galaukiir said, bowing slightly to the priest.

"Very well, good sir, you may take yo'r rest fo' as long as you wish in the main chambers," the priest said, leading him further into the Temple. The main part of the Temple of Saint Cuthbert was built of granite and the chamber opened up onto row after row of pews with large stone columns supporting a vaulted ceiling of white marble. Towards the back of the chamber was a raised dais and on that was an altar of silver cloth with the double cross emblem woven into it in green and red. Galaukiir sat down in one of the pews facing the altar and waited until the priest was out of sight.

He sighed and looked down at the books that were held in the backs of the pews. He picked one up and paged through it aimlessly. Then, after a few moments, he stood up and walked back to the main entry doors. He looked more closely at the jewels encrusted in the doors and sighed.

"What am I thinking? Has my need to steal gotten so bad that I cannot leave even the sacred alone?" he whispered to himself. "One of these would fetch enough gold to keep father from going to the Poor Homes for quite some time. But still. I shouldn't." He blinked back the rest of his thoughts and pushed the doors open. Stepping out into the night, he reached into his purse and dropped three gold coins into a small slot in the door. He smiled as they made a familiar clinking noise in the drop box behind the door. Then he turned and left. After another hour's time he found himself in his own home. He sat in the work room for a long while mulling over the day's events and the last of his thoughts.

"I cannot believe that I was tempted," he said aloud.

"Tempted?" his father asked coming from the back of the workshop. He was dressed in a cream colored jerkin and trousers of green silk and held a small lantern by his side. "Is something the matter, my son?"

"What? No. Nothing is wrong, Father. I was just thinking," Galaukiir said softly. He got up from the work bench he had been sitting on and wished his father a good night then went to his chambers. Once inside of his chambers, he undressed, washed, and made ready for sleep. However sleep would not come to him that night. He tossed and turned and finally woke in a pounding sweat, flashes of searing cold and fire racing through his mind. The sun had fully risen when he had awoken and the birds were in full song. The air smelled clean and fresh like morning dew on a winters' day and there were no clouds in the sky. Galaukiir hurried to dress, making sure to take his day pack with him this time when he left his chambers. Valanthe was waiting for him in the workshop when he finally entered.

"Ah, it's about time that you finally woke up!" she said with a soft smile. "Your father wants us to take these down to the wharf and give them to the sailors there. They're due for shipment to the Zordan Isles in two days." She handed him a pack that was filled with arrowheads and feathers. Then she turned on her heel and walked out the front door.

"She sounds rather cranky today. Anything upset her last night?" Amil asked looking up from a rack of weapons he was inspecting.

"No, nothing," Galaukiir said quickly. He followed her out of the shop. There was a waiting donkey and cart outside. Inside of the cart were five more packs like the one Galaukiir held in his hands. The sun beat down on them hot and white as Galaukiir smiled brightly.

"So," he said, "you seem rather upset. Is everything okay, Valan?"

"No, it's not okay. I'm still worried that whatever that thing we saw last night was may be hunting us."

"What do you mean? It saved our lives!"


"Yeah. Right. Let's get to the wharf before anything else should happen okay?"

"Sure."

They climbed aboard the cart and whipped the donkey into action. A half hour later they were at the wharf. The smell of the salt hung heavily in the air and gulls cawed and croaked from their lofty heights in the sky and on the sails of the various ships. "Who are we supposed to give these things to anyway?" Galaukiir asked. He looked around at the throng of people that were busy loading and unloading the ships by the docks.

"We're to deliver them to a ship called the Lady Payne," Valanthe said. "According to your Father, it should be on the third or fourth dock."

"Those two docks are the King's personal docks. No one is allowed to use them accept for the King himself," Galaukiir mused. He looked ahead of the throng of people to the ships themselves. Most of them were of the three mast variety with giant white and yellow sails. A few of the ships at dock were smaller with one or two masts. Then there were the King's Own. The Royal Guard ships were the biggest ships in the harbor with five massive masts and purple sails bearing the emblem of the crown, a blue phoenix rising from silver flames wreathed with two circles of red wheat, one bending to the right and the other bending to the left.

A few fish jumped playfully from the waters and porpoises chased the incoming ships' wakes. The gulls cawed and screamed in the wind as they flew about the sails looking for a morsel of fish from the trading vessels. They pulled the cart over to the side of the street and each of them grabbed three packs. They walked down a short street and made their way into the throng of people. They saw that the Lady Payne was moored on the third dock and was being unloaded of her cargo.

"Halt!" a deep voice called to them as they approached the dock. "None may enter this dock except for the King's Guard!" They stopped and faced a burly man that was burned to a deep golden brown on the face and arms. He wore a breastplate that shimmered like water in the sunlight.

"We have a delivery of supplies to the Lady Payne that must be made today," Galaukiir said to the guard. He held out the arrows and feathers for inspection. The guard peered closely at them for a moment and looked back at them.

"Are you with Amil Amanodel's shop?" he asked.

Galaukiir nodded. "I'm his son," he said simply. The guard looked at him for a moment longer and then stepped to one side.

"Very well. You may pass. Watch your footing on the dock though. It's a bit slippery," he said, waving him onward. Galaukiir thanked him and then walked down the dock towards the waiting vessel. The Lady Payne was a massive ship. Its hull gleamed like the sun in a winters' haze. There didn't seem to be a scratch or dent or even a single barnacle on the hull that were typical of the ships that docked at the pier. Galaukiir looked upwards to the deck of the ship that stood some sixty feet above him and whistled long and low. The ship bore the weight of six massive masts, each carrying two colossal black sails. The main mast, located amidships, held three sails and a small flag that fluttered in the breeze. The flag bore the symbol of a red human hand holding forth a silver and blue ball and chain surrounded by a wreath of purple fire.

"So, you're from the Eastern Lands," Galaukiir thought as he continued to take in the massiveness of the whole ship. Sailors were walking around the deck and carrying various supplies hither and thither.

"You there, lad!" a sailor called down from the main deck. "Quit your starring and come help us load these things!"

"I'm looking for the captain of the Lady Payne. Where might I find him?" Galaukiir called back.

"What do you want with our captain?" the sailor shouted back. He was a large man, heavily muscled and burned a deep golden tan with a wicked looking scar running down the right cheek. He wore only leather trousers and was bare from the waist up. Sweat beaded heavily on his upper torso and arms. He squinted down at Galaukiir a moment longer and then kicked a rope ladder down the side of the ship. Galaukiir swallowed roughly a moment. His throat seemed to close in on itself and he could barely breathe in the heat of the day. The last thing he wanted was trouble from this sailor whom was nearly twice his size. The sailor climbed down the ladder and came up to him just as Valanthe caught up with Galaukiir.

"I say again, boy, what do you want with our captain?" the sailor asked roughly. He flexed the muscles in his arms to show that he wasn't in the mood for silly games.

"I have...I have a, uh, delivery to make to the Lady Payne. I was told to give it directly to the captain of the ship, good sir," Galaukiir said nervously. He didn't seem to understand why he was so frightened all of a sudden. He was quite used to dealing with rude and rough-about-the-neck sailors before. This one should be no different. But it was different and that had him more nervous than a Grimalkin that wouldn't keep quiet for even a moment.

"Brakus! What are you doing just standing around? We have work to do. Get a move on!" a woman's' voice called out from the main deck of the ship. The sailor turned around and squinted into the sunlight.

"Sorry, Captain, but these two seem to have an order for you! You said no one other than the crew was to come aboard or get too close to the ship and I found him staring at us. I thought he might be a spy," Brakus called back to her. The woman smiled thinly.

"Even if he is a spy, it doesn't matter right now any way. Hurry up and unload the rest of the cargo!" she called down to him. Brakus looked back at Galaukiir and Valanthe and then sighed and left. He climbed back up the rope ladder and began barking orders to everyone within ear shot. The woman climbed down the ladder and faced Galaukiir.

"I'm the captain of this vessel. I assume you have the items I sent for?" she said. "My name is Joran." She held out her hand. Galaukiir shook it politely and Valanthe nodded curtly.

"Yes, here are the items you asked for," Galaukiir said as he handed over the shipment of arrowheads and feathers. Joran smiled kindly and looked inside the packs. She softly muttered to herself as she counted the neatly wrapped bundles of arrowheads and feathers.

"Good, good. All seems to be here. How much do I owe you, young man?" she said as she reached into a pouch at her waist.

"One hundred and fifty gold for the feathers and another three hundred for the arrowheads. Remember these are special feathers and arrowheads, so be careful with them. They have a one-time use and then they disintegrate upon use. The heads will puncture adamantine armor and the feathers are True Strike feathers," Galaukiir said. Joran nodded and handed him a thin stack of red and white paper.

"Here you go. That should cover it. Now I must be off. I have other things that require my attention. Thank you for the delivery!" Joran said and turned to go. A rope was lowered to them and they tied the remaining packs to it and watched as they were hauled aboard. Galaukiir then looked at the bundle he hand been handed.

"Wait! My father doesn't deal in King's Credits. These are useless to me! I need actual gold, not the paper counterpart!" Galaukiir called to her. Joran shrugged and climbed back up the ladder of the Lady Payne.

"Damn that woman!" Galaukiir spat angrily and made to go after her. He was just within arms' reach of the rope ladder when a sickening thud echoed in his ears. He looked up just in time to see an arrow lodge itself into the wooden planks of the dock.

"No one comes on board without Captain Joran's permission and you haven't got that!" called Brakus. Joran appeared for a moment next to him and looked down at Galaukiir and Valanthe a moment. She whispered something into Brakus' ear and then disappeared further into the ship. Brakus notched another arrow to his short bow.

"You can do this one of two ways, Elf! One, you can leave and take the Credits with you. Or, two, you can try to climb that ladder and probably get killed doing so. What's it going to be?"

Galaukiir glared up at Brakus a moment and, in a huff, turned to leave. Valanthe pursed her lips together and followed after him. A short while later they were standing in the workshop of Amil Amanodel. He was pacing back and forth and then stopped a moment and stared at his son.

"You did tell her you wanted gold, not Credits, right?" he asked.

Galaukiir nodded.

"And you tried to get the supplies back when you were paid with Credits, right?" he asked again.

Another nod.

"Then how in the name of the Great Forests did you fail to see that she was playing you for a fool, son?! Joran is a trickster by nature and will take what she can get without having to actually pay for it if she knows that she can get away with it!" his father exclaimed.

"All I can do is offer my apology, Father. I'm sorry," Galaukiir said quietly. His father pursed his thin lips together a moment and nodded abruptly.

"Very well, I guess from now on I'll make the trades myself. You are dismissed," Amil said. Galaukiir and Valanthe shuffled quietly out of the room. Once in Galaukiirs chambers, Valanthe turned to face Galaukiir.

"So...what do you plan on doing now?" she asked. He grinned and she felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach. "Oh, no, you are not going back there to try stealing the supplies back! It's out of the question! Absolutely not!"

"Have you any other way of getting Fathers' supplies back from that thief?" Galaukiir asked hotly. Valanthe could tell that it was no use arguing with him. His mind was already made up.

"We could report them as stolen to the City Guards or even to the Black Crown and let them handle it," Valanthe suggested, hoping that he'd take a hint and leave well enough alone. But, as usual, once his mind was set on something, it was very difficult to change it. Galaukiir looked at her and sighed.

"And what do you suppose the Guards or the Black Crown will do about this? I'll tell you. They'll say that they will look into it and then the ship will have already left the harbor by the time they even think of getting around to getting our things back. No! This is the only way and it has to be done tonight before the ship sets sail. Now you can come if you want, but if you do, I expect you to stay out of the way. Understand?" Galaukiir said heatedly. Valanthe merely stood her ground for a moment and slowly and carefully let out a deep sigh that she didn't seem to notice that she had been holding.

"All right. This is crazy, you know that, right? I mean how are you going to get to the ship, get on board, find the supplies and get off the ship all without ever being seen or heard? Let alone transport six packs of supplies! It's one thing to pick the pocket of the local guards for fun. It is something else entirely to steal from a captain of an Eastern Lands trading vessel. And I must be crazy as well to actually want to go with you!" Valanthe said in a whisper. "Your father is going to be furious and so is my mother when they find out."

"Then don't tell them. Listen we've got a lot of work to do before tonight so are you going to help me or not?" Galaukiir said. She nodded and then left his chambers.
Outside on the street Valanthe closed her eyes a moment and breathed in deeply. She could smell the sweet scent of the flowers in the window box of the house across from her and the freshly cut grass in the yards down the street. She heard the birds chirping merrily in the trees without a care in the world and felt the hot sun bake down upon her cool skin. Suddenly the problem of getting the six packs of supplies back from Joran did not seem quite so bad. She still had no idea how they were going to do that, but a plan was beginning to form in the back of her mind.

She turned down the street and walked purposefully along with careful strides and her head slightly bowed in thought. About a half an hour later she stood in front of the door of her house and sighed deeply. "I guess I should tell Mother what happened. Maybe..." she mused to herself. The door swung open and an elf woman stood in the doorway, soft laughter lines wrinkling the corners of her eyes and silvery raven black hair swaying in a gentle breeze coming through the house.

"Valan! You're home. Good. I need some help in the garden, dear," the woman said. She had the same moon pale skin as Valanthe and deep silvery blue eyes that shone with both intelligence and laughter. She stood a modest five feet tall and wore a simple teal colored tunic and green leggings with a black leather belt. Hooked in the belt were a small handheld rake, trowel and a pairs of soft leather gloves.

"Yes, Mother," Valanthe said dutifully and followed the elder elf out to the backyard garden shed. The elder elf opened the wooden door that was painted a bright yellow and made of cedar and oak planks bound together with a thin band of iron at the top and bottom. A short stone path led from the shed into a wooded area of the backyard and from there into the gardens. Bustling about in the cramped shed, the elder of the elves handed the younger a trowel and small bronze bucket that contained various parchment packets of sealed paper each with a flower or root design on them depending on what seed they were.

Valanthe followed her mother down the stone path and to the herb garden that was just beyond the flower and tree garden they kept for guests to lounge in. The herb garden was neatly organized and kept trim and proper without weeds. In it they grew everything from common spices to some hard to grow and rare herbs that could be ground up and used for healing teas and balms. "Mother, I--" Valanthe faltered. How was she supposed to tell the woman that had given birth to her, someone she respected and cared deeply for, that she planned on stealing cargo back from an Eastern Lands trading vessel that night? The elder elf turned and looked at her daughter quizzically.

"Yes dear?" she asked.

"I-I," Valanthe stammered, "I...love you, Mother."

Her mother smiled softly and then turned and continued down the short path and walked into the open herb garden. She walked down one of the neat little rows of herbs growing in the tilled soil and stopped about halfway down the row. She knelt down and began pulling out small weeds around the plants. Valanthe hesitated a moment longer at the entrance to the garden and blinked back a momentary tear. She quickly joined her mother in the chore of weeding. The women worked in silence for a time. An hour later the elder elf looked up at her daughter quizzically.

"You've been awfully quiet, dear. Is anything wrong?" she said. Valanthe looked down to her dirt covered gloves and refused to make eye contact. Her mother removed a glove and placed the tips of her fingers under Valanthe's chin and gently lifted her head up to look her straight in the eyes.

"Do not fear, my child. You have always known that you can tell me anything you like, no matter how serious it may be. I will not judge you. That is for the gods to do so. Now, tell me what ails your heart," she said.

"I'm scared, Mother. I fear Galaukiir may do something very, very foolish and I'm angry with him and...with myself," Valanthe said with a heavy, almost painful sigh. She looked away for a moment and then looked back with a fierce determination burning in her blue eyes. Her mother smiled.

"You want to go with him, don't you?" she asked.

Valanthe nodded. "But only to keep him out of trouble. You know what he can be like! He's...well, stubborn almost to a fault and he just can't leave well enough alone. I told him to report the theft of the supplies to the Black Crown of the City Guards or to simply go to the Guards themselves, but he wouldn't listen to me. Now he wants to steal the supplies back and I'm scared that he's going to get himself arrested or worse, killed!" she blurted out in a single breath.

"Valanthe, slow down, dear, please. Now, tell me what happened and maybe I can help?" her mother said gently as she rocked back into a sitting position and looked across at her daughter with a concern in her silvery blue eyes. Valanthe quickly told her about the day's events and how Galaukiir planned to steal the supplies back from the Lady Payne and Joran. When she was finished, she looked up at her mother and sighed deeply.

"Well, I admit that Galaukiir is a fool. But this Joran woman sounds dangerous. I really do think it is best that you simply report the theft to the Black Crown herself and don't leave until she gives you her word of honor that the ship won't be allowed to leave with the supplies without paying for them in full," her mother said simply. "However, you have nearly reached womanhood and what you do is your choice. I can't stop you from doing that even if I wanted to. If you feel so strongly that you must assist your friend, then I suggest you take a few things with you first."

With that she got up and walked out of the garden leaving a perplexed Valanthe in her wake. About ten minutes later she came back bearing a small leather pack with the image of a set of scales sewn to its flap. This she handed to her daughter who looked it over with a raised eyebrow. "I already have a pack of my own, Mother. I don't exactly need another one," Valanthe said glumly. Her mother smiled knowingly.

"Ah, but you will, child. You see this is a Bag of Holding, fifth creation." Valanthe's mother said reverently. She plopped down next to her daughter and then placed it gently in her hands again.

"As you know, your father and I had many adventures together before you were born, before the Blight took our homes in the East. On one of those adventures he and I came across of peculiar bag that could hold any manner of item no matter how big it might be and still the bag itself only weighed one pound. The bag I have given you is that bag," the elder elf said with another smile.

"Mother, I can't take this! It's far too valuable!" Valanthe protested weakly.

"You're not taking it. I am loaning it to you for tonight only. I have already placed a grappling hook and one hundred feet of Elven rope in the bag. I have also placed a few healing balms in there as well. The bag will still hold all of the supplies that were stolen, but no more than that. And a word of caution, my child?"

"Yes?"

"Never place a living creature in the bag. It will die instantly if you do so. And it will be a most horrible death indeed," her mother said sternly. Valanthe nodded consent and held the bag tightly in her hands, feeling the rough leather dig into them.

"It belonged to Father, didn't it?" she whispered. Her mother nodded and a sad, soft smile creased Valanthe's mouth at the corners. "I wish I had gotten a chance to know him. I can only see him from the stories you tell me. I have nothing of his to keep as my own."

Her mother hugged her tightly to her side a moment and then smiled and began to poke around in the dirt of the herb garden again. Valanthe set the bag aside and joined her in the work. It was just starting to get dark when the two had finished for the day and sat around the dinner table over bowls of homemade vegetable stew. Valanthe had remained silent the rest of the day and her mother had left her alone as they worked in the garden. A soft rapping knock came at the door. "Now who could that be?" her mother asked, standing. She left the kitchen and disappeared into the front of the house. A moment later she was followed back into the kitchen by Galaukiir. He was wearing his traveler's cloak and had slung over one shoulder his day pack and a dagger hung loosely at his hip. He looked from one woman to the other and sat down at the table.

Valanthe's mother faced him squarely from the doorway into the kitchen. "So, Galaukiir, tell me something. Valanthe says you plan to attack an Easter Lands trading vessel in order to get your fathers' supplies back that were stolen today at the docks, true?" she asked.

Galaukiir blanched. He looked over at Valanthe who looked away shamefully. "You told her?! Valanthe!" he blurted out.

"Calm down, Galaukiir. She had every right to tell me this and all that happened today. I'm glad that she did. Why aren't you simply going to go to the Black Crown of the City Guards and report your items stolen? It would easier and safer," Valanthe's mother said sternly. She pursed her lips together into a thin angry white line and stared at him coolly.

"Well...because...I..." Galaukiir stammered, trying to find a good excuse.

"Do you have any idea what will happen if the crew catch you on their ship? If not, I'll tell you. They will kill you. And they'll make it painful. Very painful. And how can you even think of putting my daughter at risk like this?"

"I am sorry, Amastacia. I do not mean to put her in harm's way, but this must be done and tonight. I can't wait for the Guards or the Black Crown herself to deal with this. They'll take too long and by then the ship will be long gone with my father's cargo," Galaukiir said, "I would feel better if she were to stay here. That way no one will get into trouble other than me. But I'm going to do this, whether you like it or not."

"Very well. I can't stop you. But I will be sending a message to the City Guard to expect an attempted robbery of the ship in question some time tonight. I warn you again, Galaukiir, for your sake and the sake of my daughter, don't do this," Amastacia said softly, though with a hint of anger in her voice. Galaukiir nodded, stood, and walked out of the kitchen. They heard the front door open and then close with a soft bump.

:devil: :devil: :devil: :devil:

sylvernyght
Traveler
Posts: 11
Joined: Tue Sep 17, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Swan, Book One of the Raven's Chronicles

Postby sylvernyght » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:13 pm

:devil: :devil: :devil:

Chapter Three:

Death Flows at Midnight

Galaukiir stood outside of Valanthe’s house for a moment and glanced at the sky. The stars were out and the air was crisp and cool with a light breeze blowing from the east. It toyed with his hair playfully as if it were the most exciting thing since the invention of life. He sighed and began to walk back the way he had come. Footfalls sounded on the path behind him and he stopped. Valanthe trotted up to him, breathing deeply. “Wait,” she said. “Please. You forgot this.” She handed him the leather bag that her mother had given her. Galaukiir looked at it quizzically for a moment and then back at her.

“It’s a magical bag. It can hold the supplies and only weigh one pound. It already has a grappling hook and one hundred feet of Elven rope inside of it,” Valanthe quickly explained. “Gala?”

“Yes?”

“Never place a living creature in the bag. If you do, that creature will suffer a very horrible death.”


“I understand. Now I need to go before the City guards show up at the docks to prevent this. Please, Valan, don’t follow me!” Galaukiir said and then spun on his heel and ran down the path. Valanthe stood rooted to the spot for a few moments, a deep burning ache in her chest. She looked back down the path to her mother’s house and then again the way Galaukiir had run. Glancing one final time back behind her, she closed her eyes and felt a single tear slide down her cheek. She turned towards her mothers’ house again and then stopped. Balling her hands into tight fists, she opened her eyes and glared at the sky, almost daring it to answer the pain in her heart with a bolt of lightning or a crash of thunder; anything to tell her that she was making the right choice. She ground her teeth for a moment and then turned around and gave sudden chase.

“Gala, wait for me!” she thought as she raced down the street, feet pounding and head spinning with thoughts unbidden and unwelcome.

***

A soft rap sounded at the door of Amastacia’s home. She sighed, glanced around the kitchen for a moment and went to open the door. A woman stood in front of her wearing silver plate mail with the emblem of a black crown wreathed by two circles of red wheat and silver flames underneath the crown. A black wool cloak flapped gently in the light breeze. She had fiery red hair and deep green eyes. Her skin was a light tan and she smiled when she was greeted by the Elf woman. “I don’t have much time. I received a message asking to meet someone here. What is this about?” she said in a light, almost musical voice that tinkled like silver bells. Amastacia bowed slightly from the waist and then looked the other directly in the eyes briefly before looking away.

“Your Honor, thank you for answering my message so quickly. Please, won’t you come in?” she said, stepping to one side and pointing into the house with an open palmed arm. The Black Crown nodded as she crossed the threshold. She glanced around at the modest setting of the house. Amastacia led her into the kitchen and walked over to the fireplace where she picked up a cast iron tea pot.

“Some herbal tea, Your Honor?”

“Thank you. It has been a while since I had any. Now, if you please, what is it you wished to speak with me about? I remind you again. My time is very limited,” the Black Crown said. Amastacia poured water into two clay mugs and then dropped a silken packet into each, stirred them and then handed one to the other woman.

“It’s about an event that is going happen within a few hours tonight,” she said. “Sugar?”

The other nodded and took the jar of proffered sugar. She ladled a spoonful into her cup and stirred it again. Sipping it, she smiled softly and sat down at the table, sighing and still smiling warmly. Amastacia joined her at the table. She stirred her own cup of tea for a moment and then looked up at the Black Crown with heavy eyes of sorrow. “Someone is going to attempt to rob the Lady Payne tonight,” she said simply, wearily. The Black Crown nodded solemnly and then sipped her tea again.

“I had a feeling that someone would be foolish enough to try. Who is this person that you speak of?”

“My daughter’s best friend, Galaukiir Amanodel.”

“The son of the fletcher and weapons smith, Amil Amanodel? Surely you jest?”


“I do not. He came here this night not more than a half hour ago to ask that my daughter remain behind while he did this. But I fear that because she has not returned after having left to say one final good bye to him that she has gone to join him in this foolishness.”

The Black Crown stood up suddenly. “I must stop them at once!” she said heatedly. “They can’t set foot on that ship. They’ll die if they do!”

Amastacia held a hand out to the other a moment. “Wait, Your Honor, please. Let me try to explain why Galaukiir is doing this,” she said.

The other paused a moment, a step from the door. Quickly Amastacia told her what had happened that day. When finished the Black Crown faced her with grimness in her green eyes.

“If what you say is true, then the Eastern Lands traders are guilty of theft, but no more than that. Should your daughter and her friend be fool enough to set foot on their vessel at this time of night, they’ll both be forced to partake in a ritual called the Ordeal, the end of which culminates in the Bloody Eagle. I fear neither will survive. I am sorry.”

Amastacia nodded and felt tears well up in her eyes. “Please. I beg you! Stop them!” she said hoarsely.

“I will do what I can. They already have at least fifteen minutes head start on me. However, the City guardsmen I left around the Lady Payne tonight to guard the ship don’t know about this. They will try to arrest them, but if they resist they may be wounded or even killed. Now I must leave. Thank you kindly for both the message and the tea, m’lady. Good evening,” the Black Crown said then turned and left. She hurried down the street and entered a small building that had a sign posted on the door with a raven’s feather painted on it mounted in a bottle of ink. An elderly dwarf came to the counter.

“I need your fastest sparrow and I need it now!” the Black Crown barked at him. The dwarf quirked a bushy eyebrow and then stumped off into the back of the shop. He returned a moment later holding a fat sparrow in his hands. The woman scribbled out a quick note on a piece of parchment, laid two copper coins on the counter, took the bird in hand and then raced to the door. Outside she spoke a word to the sparrow and then tossed it into the air after attaching the note to the bird’s leg. The animal flew furiously into the night and was gone from sight within seconds. She raced after it, breathing hard.

***

Galaukiir stood in the shadows of a building facing the pier to which the Lady Payne was moored at and looked grimly down at the docks. A ring of heavily armed guards stood on the dock surrounding the ship, each bearing a halberd and short sword. “Damn!” he thought. “How in the name of Ehlonna am I supposed to get past that many guards?!” He balled his hands into tight fists and counted them again. Thirty guards stood on the dock that surrounded the Lady Payne on three sides, their armor glinting in the gentle moonlight.

Galaukiir sighed and looked around. There wasn’t much he could do from where he was. He would have to find another place to try getting closer to the ship. He was just about to step out of the shadows and try another location when movement down the street caught his eye. He froze. Squinting into the darkness he thought he recognized the form. His hand on his dagger, he crept as silently as he could into the shadows of the alley between the building he was at and the next and waited.

The figure moved closer to the buildings across from him and paused a moment. It seemed to be searching for something. He could see the head turn this way and that and held his breath, not wanting any sound to give him away. He unsheathed the dagger and pointed the blade up his forearm and into the sleeve of his tunic. Then he quietly began to stalk the figure. It turned down the street and he followed after it. He inched his way closer to the figure and was within arm’s reach when it suddenly turned to face him. He almost dropped his dagger in shock and quickly placed a hand over the other’s mouth and pulled her into the shadows of the building closest to them. He faced a terrified Valanthe angrily.

“What are you doing here?!” Galaukiir said in a soft, angry hiss. Valanthe ripped his hand from her mouth and glared at him darkly.

"By the sweet Gods, Galaukiir Amanodel! Are you really trying to kill me?! You scared me half to death!" Valanthe whispered hoarsely back. "I came to warn you that my mother sent a sparrow to the Black Crown herself. You can't go through with this. You just can't!"

Galaukiir sheathed his dagger and sighed. "Valan, you know that I have no choice. I must get those supplies back. I have to do this before the ship leaves in the morning. Now, for the last time, damn it! Stay put!" He jabbed at the ground with his index finger meaningfully but received only a glare from his friend. He turned around and rolled his eyes up to the sky, offering whatever gods were listening a prayer of help.

"Can't figure out how to get past all those guards, can you?" Valanthe whispered. She stepped closer to him and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "For the last time, Gala, let it go. Your father will forgive you sooner or later. It wasn't really your fault that Joran is a no good thief and stole the goods from you."

Galaukiir pointedly ignored her. His face was set and grim. Then he unslung the pack from his shoulders and reached inside. He pulled out a heavy crossbow and a single bolt. He took out the grappling hook and Elven rope as well. He tied one end to the hook and then looped the bolt through the rope and notched it to the crossbow. He put the pack on again and held the weapon tightly in his hands.

"There's only one way to get past the guards and onto the ship without being seen. I'm going swimming," he said as he stepped from the shadows and crossed the street silently. Valanthe followed after him a moment later. He glared at her when she caught up to him.

"You're not going to listen to me, are you?"

"No, I’m not. Where you go, I go. Now come on, we've got work to do."


She followed the darkened street into an alley in the opposite direction of the Lady Payne. Galaukiir quirked an eyebrow and shrugged. He followed after her. He rounded the corner of the building just as Valanthe was stripping off her tunic. He stopped in shock. "Oh! S-s-sorry. Wait! What are you doing?!" he stammered as he quickly turned his back on her. She crossed her arms over her chest protectively.

"What do you think? You don't expect to stay afloat with your clothing on as well as your pack and that crossbow do you?" she asked. She then bent down and peeled off her trousers and tossed them to the street in a heap. She gathered her clothing and opened the pack that Galaukiir had and stuffed the clothing inside it. The only thing that remained was her belt which she strapped on and checked to make sure her own dagger was secure. Standing naked in the star and moonlight, she tapped her friend on the shoulder. He refused to turn around.

"Oh, don't be so damned shy! Come on! Strip! You can't swim in all that anyway and it'll make us more silent if we remove our clothing," Valanthe whispered. She smiled gently even though neither could see each other clearly in the dim light of the moon.

Galaukiir bit down on his lower lip hard for a moment but remained where he was. "Very well, I'll turn around, but I'm not going to leave. Now hurry up and strip," Valanthe said.

Slowly Galaukiir removed the pack and set it and the crossbow down on the street. Then he quickly stripped bare and replaced his belt and dagger on his waist. He grabbed the crossbow and the pack again and stuffed his clothing inside the pack. He did his best not to glance over at Valanthe as her body seemed to shimmer slightly in the pale moonlight.

"You ready yet?" an impatient Valanthe whispered into the shadows.

Galaukiir pursed his lips into a thin line, tightened his belt and then joined her in the shadows of the building closest to the pier. They were standing at the dock next to the one that the Lady Payne was moored to. There was no one on the dock facing them. Glancing to the right and left, they quickly entered the open space between them and the dock itself. Crouching low to the ground, they half ran and half walked to the dock and looked down into the pitch black waters of the harbor.

A gentle smile played at the corners of Valanthe's lips. Before Galaukiir could ask her what she found so amusing, she stepped from the dock and into the cool water and sank beneath the surface. He ground his teeth and followed suit. Bobbing to the surface, they faced each other a moment and then dunked below the surface again. A moment later they bobbed to the surface once again, this time in front of the stern of the ship. "Can that crossbow of yours work in the water?" Valanthe whispered in Galaukiir's ear. He started slightly, not expecting to feel her so close to him.

Doing his best to ignore the feeling of warmth from her body, he simply pulled the crossbow from around his back and aimed at the railing of the ship above him. He pulled the trigger. With a soft click and whoosh, the bolt sped away and thudded lightly into the deck of the ship. He waited a moment and then tugged on the rope. It stopped hard in his hands and he pulled tightly on it experimentally for a moment.

"All set. Now stay silent so we can get this over with," he whispered to his friend. Valanthe nodded and watched as Galaukiir hauled himself out of the water and onto the side of the ship. Hand over hand, he climbed the seventy feet to the deck railing and peeked over its edge. He felt Valanthe tap him on the heel of his foot to let him know that she had made it up as well. No one was within sight. Everything was bathed in darkness and seemed to be surreal and ethereal. Grim faced, Galaukiir pushed himself up onto the deck and lay on his stomach and helped to haul Valanthe over the side. Her hair hung soaked around her neck and clung to her skin around her breasts in a way that he would have found very seductive if she wasn't simply his friend and they weren't trying to rob an Eastern Lands trading vessel. Once on board, they crouched as close to the railing as they could get and looked around. The deck they were on was silent and empty. Creeping as silently as they could, they peered down a short stairwell to the next deck and a soft groan escaped Galaukiir's lips.

An assortment of heavy crates lined the railing and center of the deck below them. All of them were tied down with thick ropes and heavy canvas sheets. "So where do you think we'd find the supplies?" Valanthe whispered. Galaukiir shrugged and glanced at the sky. It was nearing dawn. He let out a single deep breath through his nose and then placed a foot on the stairs closest to him. Valanthe followed. They listened intently for any sound of movement on the deck, but heard nothing. It seemed as if they crew of the Lady Payne were elsewhere at the moment. Galaukiir made his way over to the nearest crate and felt it with his hands. The top was securely nailed shut. He would not be able to open it without making a racket that would probably raise the dead. He paused and thought long and hard. The arrowheads and feathers they had delivered were quite valuable. There was no way an Eastern Lands trading captain would let them be stowed with the rest of the cargo. That left only one place for them to be. He shook his head in despair.

"The captain's quarters. They'll be in there," he whispered to Valanthe. She looked at him with wide eyes, clearly frightened. They turned around and Galaukiir felt a heavy fist meet his temple. Valanthe let out a sharp, piercing scream, but was silenced in the same way. Galaukiir felt his body slam into the deck of the ship hard and painfully, knocking the breath from his lungs and then darkness swept over his vision. The last thing he saw was someone grabbing an unconscious Valanthe by the shoulders and hauling her over their own shoulder like a sack of grain to be carried to whatever awaited them.

***

A sparrow lighted upon the shoulder of one of the guards on the docks. He reached up and took it tenderly in his hands. It chirped merrily and offered its leg to which was tied a thin roll of parchment. The guard untied the note and then set the bird to fly once more. It disappeared into the shadows of the night as the guard unrolled the note and read its contents. Another guard approached him from the left. "Orders lieutenant?" a woman's voice asked. The guardsman tossed away the note and faced his officer.

"Ready the men. We need to board the Lady Payne. Someone is going to try to rob her tonight. Our orders are to arrest them but do them no harm. Go!" the lieutenant said sternly. The woman saluted and then turned and raced over to the other guards. She told them their orders and they saluted her and then marched off to the opposite side of the ship and began to climb the gangplank. A piercing scream bit through the shadows of the night and they paused a moment.

"What are you waiting for? Get on that ship now! All of you!" the woman barked through her helm. The troop thundered up the gangplank, halberds bristling in the light of the moon.

***

Galaukiir came to seconds later with his hands bound tightly behind him. He looked around groggily and then started. "Your friend is safe, for the moment, young man," a woman's voice said through the shadows. He looked into the shadows and saw that he was in a small room with a single portal open to the night air. It was too small to squeeze through and attempt an escape. Not that he was going anywhere at the moment without Valanthe. Joran stepped from the dimness of the shadows of the room and faced him squarely. She wore a light long sleeved white tunic and black leather pants with a wide, thick belt at her waist. Strapped to the belt were Galaukirr's dagger and heavy crossbow. Resting on a desk next to Joran were the Elven rope and grappling hook. Someone covered in a thick wool cloak sat on a stool in front of the desk. The hood of the cloak was pulled up over the face and head of the mystery person.

"So, you have dared to set foot on my vessel without my permission in hopes of what? To take that which doesn't belong to you? To come collect something else? Well, you needn't worry little man. You're not going to live to regret this decision much longer," Joran said with a wicked smile.

Galaukiir glared at her fiercely. He struggled against his bonds, but could not undo them. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. I'd save your strength, Elf. You're going to need it," Joran said calmly. Galaukiir winced as the ropes tightened on his wrists.

"Where is my friend, woman?" he asked angrily. "If you've hurt her—“

"You'll what? You can do nothing at the moment. I suggest you be quiet. Your friend is in the cargo hold by the way. She will remain there and be safe for now. You, on the other hand, are not so safe," Joran said as she stepped closer to Galaukiir and grinned again. There was a knock on the door of the cabin as Brakus entered the small room. He was holding the magical pack that Galaukiir had brought with them. He handed it to Joran.

"The boy's pack. It contains nothing of value except their clothing," he said as he turned to leave. Joran motioned for him to stay a moment. She opened the pack and removed the clothing from within and tossed it on the floor near Galaukiir's feet.

"Untie him so that he may dress," she ordered Brakus. He nodded and stepped over to Galaukiir, roughly untying the ropes bindings his wrists. Galaukiir winced and rubbed his wrists to restore feeling into them. He picked up his clothing and dressed swiftly. Suddenly there came the sound of shouting and feet pounding on the deck above them. Joran glanced upward a moment, her back to Brakus.

"Ah, looks like the City guardsmen know you're here. Good. They can deal with you for now," she said. She had tossed the empty pack onto the desk near her and folded her arms across her chest as she leaned against the desk a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Suddenly Brakus grabbed the pack, opened it and, grinning wickedly; he jammed it over Joran's head.

"What—“ Joran exclaimed and then shrieked as the bag closed in around her. A sickening crunching and breaking sound emanated from the folds of the bag and thick dark ooze flowed from under the rim. Joran vainly tried to pry it off her head, but it was no use. Her scream died in a bloody gurgle as her body hit the floor of the cabin hard. Brakus kicked it with the toe of his boot and then scooped up the bag and tossed it at Galaukiir. He batted it away and turned, retching violently. A loud thudding sounded on the door of the cabin. Brakus ripped the door open in a huff and looked wide eyed at the guardsman standing in the short hallway.

"This man just murdered my captain! Take him away!" Brakus exclaimed vehemently. The guard looked beyond Brakus' shoulder to the body lying on the floor and then to Galaukiir who stood facing him with anger blazing his violet eyes. He entered the room, grabbed the Elf by the upper arm and dragged him from the room.

"I did no such thing! It was Brakus who killed the captain! Not me!" Galaukiir spat at the guard as he was forcibly led from the cabin to the upper deck. The guard produced a pair of heavy iron manacles from a pack at his side and roughly cuffed them around Galaukiir's wrists. Then he spoke to the guard waiting at the top of the gangplank. Galaukiir was handed off and pushed and shoved down the gangplank like cattle led to the slaughter.

"By Ehlonna's Bow! Listen to me! I didn't do it! Please, let me go!" he screamed at them as they surrounded him and pushed him down the street. A few moments later a terrified and numbed Valanthe was led off the ship as well in manacles after having been given a chance to dress. They were escorted to the end of the street where the Black Crown stood, waiting. She looked at Galaukiir sadly when she saw him.

"Are you Galaukiir Amanodel?" she asked softly.

"Your Honor, there's been a terrible mistake. I didn't commit the murder! Please! I beg of you to listen to me! I'm innocent! I swear by Obadhai's Shalm that I didn't do it!" Galaukiir said in a single breath. The Black Crown held up a hand of silence.

"Keep your tongue still, Elf. You are under arrest. Whatever you now say will be used against you in the High Courts of the King. Guards! Take him away," she said crossly. She turned to Valanthe a moment and looked at her with pity. Then she spoke to the guard holding her by the shoulders.

"Release this one at once," the Black Crown said. The guard did so without question. Valanthe looked stricken and as if she might faint on the spot. The Black Crown handed her a water skin and Valanthe drank from it deeply.

"Now, child, tell me why are you here and I may be able to help you. I can't help your friend. He is charged with murder and must stand trial. You, on the other hand, might be able to leave unscathed by this terrible night. What caused you to be here?" the Black Crown said calmly and looked Valanthe directly in the eyes. Quickly Valanthe told her about how they had been robbed of the supplies they were trying to get back that very morning and how they had snuck onto the ship as well as the assault by Brakus and another crew member. She finished by saying that she had not witnessed the murder because she had woken in the cargo hold, still naked and shackled to the wall. The Black Crown nodded briefly and then pursed her lips together into a thin line.

"It seems that you are just guilty of boarding a ship in the hopes of taking back what rightfully belonged to you. Very well, I will let you go. You have confirmed everything I already know. But your friend stays with me. Now leave and quickly before I change my mind," the Black Crown said and pointed back up the street she had come from. Valanthe spoke a hurried thank you to her and raced off into the night, tears streaming down her cheeks.

:devil: :devil: :devil: :devil:


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