Dinner was quiet. Countess Celia ate in a private dining room with Rebecca, Captain Roland and Brother Johannes. Gerrick could tell from their questions that it was a rare treat to have a fifth person to dinner. Though most of the questions waited until the meal was finished and only the mulled wine remained.
“Tell us about the war.” Celia almost demanded. Gerrick’s eyebrows rose as he looked at her. “We have heard so few details. Only “we are winning” or “we lost the battle of… Please.” her ladyship implored. “I want to know what my husband has been through.”
Gerrick gave a nod of understanding. “You have to understand this is just the view of a common foot soldier, Countess.” When she nodded he took a breath as he refilled his cup of wine.
Gerrick went on to tell how he met Sir Calvert and hs knights. He told, briefly, of the battles they fought in; who they met, who they fought and how they came to be victorious. Lady celia had many questions about Calvert’s conduct with women. But she soon came to realize Gerrick was a gifted liar. She eventually gave up with a shrewd grin.
“I notice you don’t paint yourself as a great hero in your stories.” commented Brother Johannes. Gerrick smiled back at him as if he didn’t understand the statement. Johannes took another sip of wine. “It seems at odds with a man who presents himself as egotistical.”
Gerrick gave him a nod. “In truth, I only like to ACT egotistical.” he shook his head. “I’ll not harm the memories of those we lost by claiming to be more than I am, Brother.”
Celia asked “What can you tell us about this Earle Aldore?”
Gerrick shrugged. “He is not a hard man to serve, my lady.”
“What about his family?” she asked.
Rebecca answered, “He is Semnones. He has a mother and
father, two older brothers as well as two older sisters. all of them live in Northlands.”
“So, no political connections?” Celia asked.
“You mean beyond those he made during the war?” Gerrick asked. “Many noblemen on this side of the mountains consider him a friend, my lady.”
“Good.” Celia commented before she took a sip and thought.
The rest of the evening went well. The Countess had a few musicians on hand. Gerrick rather liked it after all of his crude living during the war. It was late when he made his excuses and headed to bed.
Breakfast, unlike dinner, was served in the garden. Gerrick saw Rebecca waving him over to her as he approached. She was excited about saving a seat for him. Breakfast was good. Fruit, bread and beef with tea or beer to quench it.
During the meal the Countess asked, “Master Gerrick,..” he looked up from his plate to her. “I was thinking of giving a ball in celebration of Calvin’s promotion. Rebecca, as a matter of course, disagrees with me.” Gerrick couldn’t hide his smile as he looked to the girl to see her expression. She looked peeved. “But I wanted to know what your thoughts were.” the Countess finished.
Gerrick finished his bite before answering. “I suppose it would depend, your grace. How did people handle the war in these parts?” They all looked to be confused so he continued. “What I mean is, where we were, there was nothing but fear and death. A party would be a great thing after that. But how was it here? How did the people handle the issue?”
“Not well.” Commented the Countess.
“...So, a party might be exactly what we need?” Rebecca asked looking to Gerrick.
He nodded in return. “I would wager.”
Rebecca nodded to herself in thought. “Then… we are in agreement?” she heard the Countess ask.
Rebecca looked up to her and nodded again. “I suppose I was being contrary. My apologies.”
The Countess eyebrows rose. “My. This IS a good morning.”
They discussed the details of the ball as well as a festival for the peasantry the following day. The Countess wanted to hold it in a few days. She would be sending invitations to the local nobility by that evening. Once the discussion was finished and the meal was being taken away, Rebecca turned to gerrick.
“I had hoped we would continue our discussion of Aldore?..” she asked.
“Certainly. But let us take a stroll through the castle. I would like to see more of it while we talk.” Rebecca smiled as she lightly gripped his arm and led him back inside. “Now, where were we?” he mused.
“I hate you.” she said.
“They had just laid down to bed and Aldore told Jare…”
“Right! Sorry. Soooo…”
The next morning, after breakfast, they loaded the beer and cargo they were to take back. They said their goodbyes and led twenty men to the site of the ambush. The spot was easy to find and the men had no trouble locating the original tracks. There wasn’t much conversation before the two parties went their separate ways.
A week later they found themselves back in Weaver’s Needle. Soon the found themselves summoned to the Esquire’s court.
John led the way as all four of them were escorted to the private study of his lordship. Jare and Aldore had never met the man before so they were quite surprised to find he was in fact a Dwarf. Though the boys were unsure what kingdom he was, as his attire was not the warriors kit they were accustomed to. He instead wore breeches with high boots, and brass buttoned coat and vest. He appeared to be going over some papers as they arrived. He rose from his desk as they approached and shook hands with John.
“Gentlemen,” he smiled. “And lady.” he gave a small bow to Doreen who returned it with a small smile. “Excellent work you did with those bandits. Thank you for that.”
Aldore and Jare looked at each other. The Esquire did not have the deep mountain akcent of the Dwarves.
“You were able to get something out of them then, my lord?” John asked.
The Esquire took a breath. “Yes. And none of it good BUT… at least we know what we’re up against. Which is why I invited you here. We thought you’d like to know.”
“Absolutely!” Exclaimed Doreen.
The room had been furnished with several stuffed leather chairs around a small table. The Esquire motioned for them to be seated as he signal his servant to bring the drinks.
“I would like to be clear.” He said as he took his seat. “I was not in favor of sharing this information with you.”
John made a face as he took his drink from the butler. “Why is that?”
The esquire gave a small shrug. “The news we extracted from those brigands was… not good… I think it is best to keep it quiet so as not to cause a panic.” They looked at him, politely, to explain. He shrugged again. “Those men you captured were NOT brigands. They are in fact soldiers from Deira, north of the mountains.”
“Is this a prelude to war then?” Doreen asked.
“...Yes.” he sighed.
You could feel the groan course through the group. Deira was a powerful and friendly nation to the north. Because of the large mountain range “Motsognir’s Hearth” that separated the two kingdoms. Making invasion impractical. It was assumed they were friends.
“It gets worse.” he commented. He had their dread filled attention. “These men serve in the army of the Duke of Deira but they say he is in service to a man called the Black Mage.”
“I’ve never heard of him.” commented John.
The esquire shrugged. “Not many have. I know there is no one on this side of the mountains that knows anything about him. I have found many who claim they HAVE heard of him. But that’s all they know. Just that he exists. Not very helpful.”
“What about King Ildefons? Doesn’t this Duke eventually answer to him?” Jare asked.
“I assume, but we don’t know what their king thinks of this. I have contacted Baron Vorhern. His Keep lies on this side of the pass that connects to the Duke of Deira and he claims the man has always been very just. He says he always thought of the Duke as a friend.”
“What are his thoughts on the man now?” John asked.
The Esquire shook his head. “He did not comment in his letter.”
“Vat now?” asked Aldore.
The small man nodded. “Keep running supplies. The need is more dire than we knew.”
They were quiet as they finished their drinks.
“Well, that was about the worst news I could’ve imagined.” stated Doreen as they left the Esquire.
John nodded his agreement. “Let’s get some dinner. We have a load to move early tomorrow.”
Our friends were just sure something would be different. The knowledge that they were at war surely would have some kind of affect. But, no. The next four weeks were without incident. There was word of the Brigands being spotted. Many times there was official word of conflict with the enemy across the land but for the most part all was quiet. Four weeks later they found themselves riding back to Barleydale. Aldore couldn’t help but stop the wagon while he took his horse off the road to check the previous ambush site. When he returned and shook his head the others felt a sudden wave of relief.
“Didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath till just now.” John laughed to Doreen.
He could hear her laugh in return as they continued on their way. They could see the people of Barleydale had been busy. The reinforced outer walls of the village were impressive. Things appeared to be good. The villagers hailed them for news constantly as they made their way to the Sir Halfon’s tower.
“I should be grateful to these brigands.” Halfon said as John clasped hands with him. “We see you much more frequently now that you are running supplies.” he smiled.
The old knight escorted them inside to his study where drinks were served to them.
“How fared your men with tracking the brigands, my lord?” Jare asked.
Sir Halfon nodded enthusiastically. “Very well. We were able to track them to a secret trail through the mountains. I had my men set up an ambush and we have been successful so far. We must have captured or killed Thirty of them by now.”
“Any news from them?” Jare pushed.
Halfon gave a laugh. “Not yet.”
The discussion continued for some time soon evening was upon them. Sir Halfon led them to a tavern not far from his tower. The bards were well on their way into a lively tune when our friends arrived. Halfon called for drinks and food while Doreen drug Jare away to dance.
Aldore spent some time talking with Sir Halfon and several members of his militia. He was introduced to the Tavern owner, Norma. She ran the place with her four son’s and some help from a few of the local girls as barmaids. It wasn’t too long before he noticed one of the girls giving him that look. It took him a moment to realize it was the same girl that had been trying so hard to get Jare’s attention the last time they were here.
“She must have discovered vhich of us is ze greater varrior.” he smirked to himself.
She walked over and sat on his lap. “I hear you are the Semnones who killed several of those brigands a month ago.” she smiled.
“Oh, ya.” he nodded like an idiot.
She sighed a smile. “...I have also heard it told that Semnones are very strong.” he nodded his slack jawed reply. “...And that you have…” she trailed her finger down his chest. “a great deal of endurance?” she breathed.
“Well, perhaps you could use some of that strength for me?” he was about to start drooling. “I have some… work, I need help with behind the tavern.” she was running her finger across his lips. “Do you think you could assist me with that?”
“Uh huh.” he nodded.
She stood and began to walk away from him as she looked over her shoulder and crooked her finger at him to follow. He did. He quickly fell in behind her and watched as her rear end swayed left to right all the away across the room.
“Honestly?!” Rebecca exclaimed.
She rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t tell Cellia any of the details about my brother’s exploits during the war but I have to hear this?!”
“It could be important.” Gerrick replied.
“I -doubt - that.” Gerrick shook his head at her. “How am I supposed to use this information? Oh you’re an Earl and my brother wants me to marry you but I CAN’T because you bedded a barmaid when you were sixteen!” Gerrick continued to shake his head at her tirade. “Look. Can you just skip to the next important part of the story?”
“Of course.” Gerrick replied. “No problem.” Rebecca nodded in relief. Gerrick took a breath and gathered his thoughts. “...So Aldores following this girl’s ass across the tavern.” Rebecca rolled her eyes and sighed to the sky in exasperation.
He had only taken a few steps through the door when someone struck him in the head with a club. Thankfully, the man with the club didn’t know it often takes more than one hit to knock someone out. Aldore had fallen to his hands and knees but was shaking it off as the men approached. He jabbed up with his right hand and struck the first man in the gonads making the man drop his club. Aldore grabbed the club as another man seized him from behind. In their struggle Aldore managed to regain his footing. He shrugged the man off of him just as he swung around and clobbered the fellow in the side of his head. Aldore turned to see a third man tussling with the girl. He heard her scream and watched as she fell to the ground holding her stomach. The last man turned to face him wielding a long dagger. Aldore was enraged. He charged forward, using the club to knock the man’s knife away just before ramming into him. The man fell back. Aldore gave him several strikes to the head in order to be sure the man was indeed, unconscious. He then walked over and -made sure- the other two were out as well. Finally, when he became tired of hitting them, he remembred the girl and went to her.
She was crying. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know they were going to attack you.”
He could see blood coming from behind her hands. The man had stabbed her. “It’s alright.” he told her as he picked her to cradle er in his arms.
“They told me they just wanted to talk to you.” she went on.
Aldore nodded his reply as he carried her back inside. “JOHN!” he began to yell. He kept yelling and walking towards his friends util Sir Halfon saw him and quieted the room. Aldore relayed what happened and Sir Halfon sent men to gather the attackers from the alley. John sent Doreen and Jare to get his supplies from the wagon.
“It’ll be alright.” he told the girl. “This kind of a wound takes days to kill you and I’ll have you fixed up long before that.”
The girl nodded and said again. “They said they just wanted to talk to him.”
“Truly?” Sir Halfon’s tone was incredulous. “You expect me to believe that? ...You expect me to believe that YOU believed that, Coleen?”
Colleen looked scared. Sir Halfon shook his head as he turned to talk to one of his “Men at arms.”