Chronicles of Kings and Knights/5

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Chapter 18 Edit

"The best disciples are those that don't need teachers."
---Drindell, the arcane

"Pfft. Where I come from, marching songs are supposed to be spirit-lifting," said Hobenrûd rather rudely.

"This was not a marching song. It was a song father used to sing to me during the wars against Ruivoca. He sung it the day I became a general. To remind me to take things seriously...differently from some people, I don't think war is all fun and games," she replied, upset.

Hobenrûd seemed really distressed over this. "I don't think this is all fun and games. But what, do you think of that song when you're in the battlefield? Do you think those crazy screaming people running towards you are equals? Nope. You just say 'They're the enemy!' and you kill them, as fast as you can. So you can go all 'hollier than thou' as much as you want. But I bet you barely thought about the people you killed a day ago."

Anita remained silent. She was not about to tell these war-mongers how she had painstakingly helped bring the fallen Ruivocan soldiers into the hospitals as well, treating them as humans at long last...

Hobenrûd grinned again, triumphantly. "And besides, as far as rhythm and rhymes go, I still think my song was better," he said.

Drindell entered the conversation for the first time. "Oh yes. True poetry, I must say."

Hobenrûd scowled at him, asking: "What, do you know any better?" He assumed a mock-thoughtful expression the said " I was too busy learning how to shape reality itself to learn any good song."

"You keep talking about your magical powers but I've never seen you do anything useful," Hobenrûd taunted him. Drindell was visibly displeased. "Maybe because I was too busy helping our eight hundred soldiers resist an army of over eight thousand enemies, lad! I am not some street "magician" that performs tricks on command. My powers are not to be wasted on trifle matters."

"Whatever then. Just know that the Fanniganians ran away at the mere sound of that song. That's how much it helped us in battle." said Hobenrûd, trying to defend his song. "Oh, I believe that. I can already picture the enemy fleeing with their hands on their ears and screaming. But don't worry, lad. It's not your fault if Ruivocan bards aren't worth the food they eat," said Drindell, jokingly.

"Well, I bet Priscilla liked the song. Didn't you, Priss?" the other man said, looking at Marin. "What? Oh...well I...Drindell, you're not as I imagined at all. I thought you were older," she changed the subject, masterfully. Prompting Hobenrûd to scowl again.

"Well..." Drindell said, "I know I look barely thirty, but I'm actually thirty-five, you know?"

Marin snickered, before adding "Actually, I look at least forty. But I thought you'd be...I don't know...older. A wise sage and all that." Drindell seemed to have understood. "Ah. Yes. Most of the wizards take a lot more time than me to reach the same level of knowledge and skill. Some never do."

"So...can you explain anything about magic to us? Nothing complicated, it's just that we've been through enough to understand that knowledge of magic can help us to achieve our goals," she said. Drindell thought for a moment.

"Well, I'll try to explain it the easiest way I can think of, since you probably didn't have basic education yet. Let's see...many ages ago, a man called Vurghees discovered, probably by accident, that if he said 'Fargotafis' while holding a cicada wing, it glowed brightly. Some say the Gods bestowed that knowledge unto him, but I don't know about that. All I know is that he didn't stop there." he said, slowly, seeing if he could see any sign of understanding on their faces.

Anita continued from there: "He kept doing experiments. Saying meaningless words while holding meaningless things. He discovered some other spells, like simple elemental magic and healing. He then did his best to discover a pattern in the various he managed to do."

Drindell seemed slightly upset for the interruption, but satisfied nonetheless. "Ah. So you do know something. How come you didn't teach them?" he asked. Anita shrugged and told him "Well, I didn't actually have time for that since I needed to help them rescue you. Besides, my knowledge of how magic works is"

Drindell was somewhat confused at this. "Hm? What you...Oh, a sorcerer! I keep seeing more and more of them these days. I suppose it is easier to learn, but I prefer the flexibility of classical magic myself...caham, anyway, Vurghees wrote this book 'Encyclopaedia Magicka' Many other people, before him, had discovered some spells by accident, but he was the first to write them down for the future generations."

"Now, after Vurghees, other people also researched magic. And expanded our knowledge of what is called magic nowadays. They discovered various kinds of magic. Like conjuration, in which some kind of matter disappears and other appears. Like when I said I could conjure a ship earlier. Usually, the ingredients have little to do with the result."

"Besides conjuration, there is also summoning, in which matter changes state or is moved somehow. Sorcery, that deals with the craft of special magical artifacts, that channel magic more easily. And Evocation, in which matter appears without a previous loss of matter. For example..." he took a long and thick bone from his bag. "I can use this mier femur to cast a simple fireball as many times as I need. Although some wizards believe that, possibly, some very small part of the bone actually disappears."

Marin looked at the sky, trying to digest what she learned. "So...all this...'matter'...where does it come from? I mean, it doesn't come from nowhere," she pointed out. Drindell smiled, impressed. "Well, there are many theories about that. Some wizards believe that the Gods see what they are trying to do and create things to aid them." he rolled his eyes to demonstrate that he thought it was nonsense. "Others think that, somehow, it is transported from other worlds. That, when we do these spells we, somehow, weaken the division between our world and others. Like a world made of fire would spit out fireballs when I cast a fireball spell, since some kind of 'portal' would open."

Marin looked at him for a second and stated " one knows?" Drindell chuckled, before answering "Pretty much. That's why they call it 'arcane', lass. But one thing is certain, either way. It works."

A little time later, Hobenrûd, that was some meters ahead of the rest of them, shouted: "Hey! Guys, we're here!"

Anita beamed. "Great! I've never been in a ship before," she said. Gilbert looked at her. "If last time I went to Sumdo is any indication, you'll regret saying those words soon enough."

Chapter 19 Edit

"People usually make plans for things they'll do next year, next month, next week or next day. They tend to disregard the fact that they may not survive the next hour."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran-mayor of Ginalía

East Gormenor is a port town in the southeastern tip of the Continent. And the main link with Sumdo. So much that the Geres is the patron God of the town, and it's the only town to have a great percentage of Sumdanian population. The town is also known as the headquarters of the Ruivocan trade association. After reaching the town, the party went to the docks, to see if they could find a ship to take them to Sumdo.

They were unlucky. All the merchant ships had left, and no big fishing ship existed in the town. The only ships in the docks were either military or transport. Downhearted, they decided to sleep in "Jarnia's Inn," the smaller (and cheapest) inn in the town, hoping that some ship docked there before long. Each room only had two beds so they had to rent three rooms. Gilbert and Hobenrûd in one, Anita and Marin in other, and Drindell with a room only for him.

It was a little after midnight, Anita had already fallen asleep, and Marin was still finishing writing her journal, a habit she repeated almost every night since she found the old blank book on a barrel in the Cherry Woods' Knights camp. And all the time she heard strange sounds she couldn't quite make out from Drindell's room, through the wall. He seemed to be making a ritual of some sort.

Out in the window, drunks were singing a song while walking through the street, a owl was perched on the tree that was planted in front of the inn, making owly sounds from time to time. And Anita snored or mumbled nonsense from time to time. All forming a careful symphony that couldn't sound the same if it was on purpose. Then a dissonance. The wooden panels of the floor, through her door, creaked, and someone cursed "Mier's dung!" and mumbled something she couldn't quite understand.

Marin kept silent and paid attention to any other sounds. Whoever it was that said that, certainly didn't want to be noticed. It was probably just the owner of the place, checking if the clients were sleeping...still, she felt that something was wrong, figured that it wouldn't hurt to check, and went to the door. She paused for a second, with her hand on the handle, and took her sword before opening it.

The corridor was dark, and she couldn't see anyone. "Is anyone there?" she asked the darkness around her. Something started running towards her in the darkness and she rolled forward. The door broke off its hinges as a shadow collided with it, forcefully, narrowly missing Marin. The shadow groaned in pain and quickly pushed itself off the floor and onto its feet.

"Who are you?" she asked the shadow, angrily. Instead of answering, the shadow plunged at her, and she tried get out of the way again, but was less lucky than the first time. Something cut her right shoulder. She looked behind her, and prepared to counterattack. The shadow had plunged into her room, and under the light of the moon, was revealed to be a man with black clothing, holding a dagger on each hand.

Marin tightened the grip on her sword, and prepared to counterattack him when he showed an opening. "It looks like you brought a dagger to a sword fight...But I bet a lot of girls told you that before, right?" she taunted, hoping that he would jump on her again. He only lunged at her this time though, barely taking his feet from the ground.

But all the ruckus caused Anita to wake up, slowly, and she gave a piercing scream when she saw the man. The scream distracted him for long enough, and within seconds he had half of his left arm cut off. And then, he started to scream, in pain. "Drop the dagger and I'll get you a physician." said Marin, with the sword near his neck. But he quickly managed to roll away from her and run down the stairs, and when she tried to give chase, she stumbled on Hobenrûd.

"Who was that ma...What happened here!?" he asked, startled by the blood and the hand on the ground. Marin still tried to chase the man, but gave up, he was nowhere to be seen. "A man came in here. And thanks to you, he escaped." she told Hobenrûd. But he barely listened to her, too busy looking at her shoulder. "You are wounded! Come, I know a physician nearby."

She turned her back to him and started to climb the stairs up. "It's only a scratch, and Drindell probably can hea..." she stopped talking, realizing that if the man was near her room, it could mean that he had already gotten to Drindell. She ran up the stairs and bashed the door to Drindell's room, only to find him sitting on the ground, with his eyes open, surrounded by four candles. The candles formed a perfect square on the ground.

"Drindell...what are you...doing?" she asked, while walking toward him. He remained still and silent, with a blank stare on his face, looking at nowhere in particular. She continued her slow approach, calling him from time to time. He didn't answer, so she touched his forehead.

Drindell fell on his back, startled. "Ouch!" he cried, pulling his hand from the burning candle. "What are you doing here, lass? It's morning already?"

"I was worried about you. A man came in here and tried to kill me...What were you doing?" she asked him, intently. "Recovering my energies." he told her. And before she asked, he completed: "No, not sleeping. Using magic tires the mind, not the body. Only special rituals can restore magical energies, and that's what I was doing before you interrupted assassin, you said?"

"Y-yeah. But...this means he didn't try to kill you..." Marin started to say, before being interrupted by Hobenrûd, that stood in the doorway: "Which means he was after you," he told her. She shook her head and answered "Nope. He passed my room too. He was after yours," while looking at his bracelet.

He looked at it too. "You think he was after this? ...well, that slave trader did say someone is paying a lot of money for it, but the Red Wolves certainly don't want to mess with us again."

"Yeah, but the Red Wolves might not be the only ones that know that," she told him. "What, so every criminal organization on the continent heard of a bounty on me and I'm the last to know? ...But I suppose you're right. If he wanted to kill us because of the siege, they would've killed Drindell. Get yourself healed, I'll help clean your room and stand guard for the night. We'll have plenty of time to sleep on the ship."

Drindell performed a simple tissue regeneration spell on Marin. Anita, Gilbert and Hobenrûd cleaned the room. Hobenrûd kept himself awake through the night, keeping guard, and the rest of them slept peacefully, for that night.

Chapter 20 Edit

"And the Gods created Hur out of nothing. And Sarda, Geres, Sia and Sallund created the four basic elements, and unleashed their powers on the world. And Jarnia, mistress of life, descended on earth and crafted all that moves and breathes and lives from the purest minerals, and she instilled the breath of life unto them. And Kiros, the bloody God brought death and chaos, and thus created a fine balance between all that there is. And thus was how all began."
---World's History, chapter 1

They woke up early in the next day, and left the inn, paying for the rent. The sun was glaring on the sky and it seemed that a really warm day was about to begin. Still, Hobenrûd interpreted it as a good omen.

Within minutes they reached the docks, the sea waves lightly washed the stone structure, and the smell of salt was in the air. But apparently, no new ships have entered the docks yet, as the dockmaster kindly confirmed. The party was even more downhearted. They couldn't wait forever, and it seemed it would take weeks until the next merchant ship came back.

Defeated for the day, they decided to go to the market, to buy supplies. A blond man wearing plate armour and a white cape was on top of a crate, talking to a small crowd. He seemed to be finishing a speech, and they heard part of it.

"'And Sallund saw a man and thought he had great potential. And Sallund dispelled the darkness that clouded the man's mind, and thus the man could truly see, and truly understand. And Sallund sent the men to aid the Gods in the creation of the world. And thus it was.'. And as we are equal before Sallund, thus we shall all be equal before one another. As a supposed holy man, I must not stand above you, but at the same level, or even below, for only those below you can push you higher," he said, loudly, trying to attract attention.

"We must not allow the high-priest to give more powers to the king. Specially we, the supposed holy men. For although we have our eyes directed toward the infinity beyond, we still live in this world. And while we are here, we must strive to make other people's lives as happy as we can, for only them we shall find true happiness. So go, my friends, give money to the poor, forgive your enemies and smile to your friends. Every small happiness counts to build a greater one," he stopped, looked at the crowd and got down from the crate.

Within seconds the small crowd dispersed and become one with the uniform mass of people in the market. The man sighed, leaned against the wall and looked up. Hobenrûd started to back down, gesturing with his head to the others to follow him. After noticing that no one was following him, he whispered "He's an inquisitor," hoping that it was enough to explain it.

Instead, Gilbert started walking towards the man, smiling confidently, and only barely limping. He waited until he passed near the man before looking at the man and start talking. The man seemed not to be in the mood for whatever Gilbert was proposing to him at first, but after some prodding, he seemed to be agreeing. Gilbert walked back to the group with the man. "Hey people, this is Caldoras. He's an inquisitor, and has agreed to give us a ride to Sumdo in his ship."

The others looked at him with a long stare. Hobenrûd must have been thinking, "What are you, crazy??? That man'll get us killed!"

"No, no, let me explain." Gilbert replied, simply shrugging off the annoyed looks of the group before him. "And you'll see why this is a plan that could actually work: Caldoras here is annoyed with the high priest, since he has been using his influence with the people to hoard support for the king, whom Caldoras thinks is a corrupt..."

"Bastard," Caldoras interrupted, and added "And by what your friend tells me, you are exactly the people that can help lessen his control over the Holy Order."

"Yep. If we manage to get to the priests of Sumdo without being seen by the king's troops, we can relay the confidential information we gathered on him, and then we'll have enough evidence to start an investigation and possibly even make the high priest lose his position. But we'll have to get to Sumdo first, and we can't use a transport ship, because the guards will be looking for us. So Caldoras will smuggle us to Sumdo, if we promise to personally guarantee that the investigations are carried out."

Anita was impressed how well Gilbert was able to lie. Even a trained ear would have a hard time not believing him. But an inquisitor, at the time, is the last person you'd expect to have a trained ear. Inquisitors needed to start to train hard, from an early age, in one of the Holy Order's secluded monasteries. They learned how to wage war, how to do battle and, above all, the teachings of the holy order of Sallund.

When they finished the training, they were ready to make sermons in temples, as priests; or to fight the enemies of the Holy Order, as an elite soldier. But, since they spent most of their lives within a walls of a monastery, they were particularly vulnerable to the harsh reality of the social world.

Hobenrûd quickly caught the drift. "Well, I suppose we can do that. We wouldn't want the high priest to continue his...thing," he said, nodding at to the others, that nodded in answer. Caldoras beamed and rubbed his palms, then opened his arms wide and told them "Sallund answered my prayers! Come, my friends! Your mission cannot be hindered anymore."

As they walked quickly to the docks, Drindell chuckled, in a low voice. "Now, what you'll do when he finds out we are not what he thinks we are, lad?" he asked Gilbert, whom barely allowed him to finish speaking before cutting in, as if he already was mentally preparing the answer: "He wants the high priest to stop supporting the king. When we achieve our goal, he'll achieve his...even if indirectly. Nobody loses."

"Unless he discovers we were lying before we are able to do anything. Inquisitors are known for many things, but mercy isn't one of them." Anita pointed out. Gilbert looked like he was going to say something, but silenced himself, as Caldoras neared them. "There!" he said "That's the 'Eastern Light'. It's the fastest ship I know, built with Sardinian technology. It has triangular sails and all the rest. You'll reach Sumdo in less than a week."

The ship was indeed an amazing sight. It was not big (Specially compared to other ships of the time) but it was painted white, and kept clean (Specially compared to other ships of the time). The ship's white paint glistened as it reflected the sun light, and three long masts held the folded sails high. Men and women, some with armour, some without, walked around the upper deck, cleaning, supervising, conversing, or just wandering around.

The members of the Freedom Army just stared with awe as they boarded the ship.

Chapter 21 Edit

"Much of my recent years were spent on a ship. Those were the best, and worse - mostly worse - years of my life."
---Juliene Miezzi, captain of the "Esploradore"

After six days of relative calm at the sea, the ship was nearing Sumdo. The high cliffs of the northwestern coast could already be seen, which meant that in less than a day they would reach the port city of Akumba, where the ship would dock.

Marin was in the ship's library, reading a chivalry story. She just hoped they would let her borrow the book. She wasn't nearly half done yet, and she really wanted to know how it ended. She managed to resist the urge to take a peek in the ending until now, but she really wanted to know what would happen with Sir Galfron d'Amela. If only the writer would stop all this foreshadowing already and get on with the plot!

She looked at Anita, whom was still a bit amazed that the inquisitors had a library in their ship. Still, she had only seen the library two days after Marin, since she was too busy being seasick. Even then her head bobbed up and down a little, following the movement of the ship, and Drindell wasn't much better. Marin was a little worried with her.

"So...what're you reading about?" she asked Anita, trying to distract her from the movement of the ship. Anita slowly took her book and showed the cover to her. "Elemental Theory of Artifacts" it read. Feeling a little silly for reading chivalry books while her friend was studying, Marin rose her book slightly for the table, only enough for Anita to read the cover.

"'The Riding Legend'? Read that already. Decidedly not one of the best works of Lamel. But at least the whole 'hero dying just before achieving his dream' ending is somewhat original," Anita told her, which divided Marin between the gladness of knowing the ending, and the almost irresistible urge to strangle Anita. After a bit of internal struggle, Marin decided that giving a fake smile and reading silently would be the best course of action.

Meanwhile, Hobenrûd was on the upper deck, talking with the captain of the ship. The man was wearing a complete set of chain mail composed of a hauberk, aventail and chausses, these covered with greaves (that were painted in the same glistening white paint of the rest of the ship). He must've occupied a relatively low rank in the inquisitor hierarchy, to be wearing such a cheap armour.

"So...what are you guys going to Sumdo for?" the captain asked, changing the subject. Hobenrûd was surprised by this, and hesitated a little before answering: "W-we already told...Caldoras about that, didn't he tell you? We're going to relay a confidential information to the priests of Sumdo. About the high pri..."

The captain interrupted him, saying that "I've been watching you. You don't act like spies from the Order. You don't talk like spies from the order. Caldoras is a fool, I hope that with a few more years he'll learn how to spot a liar," the captain smiled, seeing the Hobenrûd's scared reaction, and continued: "Don't worry. Not all inquisitors are fanatical loonies...Unfortunately, not being a fanatical loony is not exactly considered a quality within the order. I don't want you to get killed."

Hobenrûd was relieved, but still a little suspicious. "So what do you want?" he asked.

The captain smiled. "I want to know why do you want to go to Sumdo. And I want to know if I can profit with this."

Hobenrûd decided that the only way of getting out was telling the captain all about his movement, and how reaching Jyptia would allow him to finally overthrow the king. To finally repay his debt with the people from Ruivoca. The captain simply listened intently.

"So you plan to kill the bastard?" he asked, "That's great. I have a brother that's a merchant, and the whole non-stopping war and high taxes is really hindering his business. From what you told me, it looks like you really have a chance...Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about you. And if I ever am ordered to fight you guys, I promise I won't."

Hobenrûd looked at the sea for two or three seconds, before turning to the captain, and start telling him that "That's good. Every bit of help coun..." but was interrupted when the man on the crown's nest screamed something that he couldn't understand. The captain probably did though, as he seemed startled, and exclaimed: "What? But they aren't supposed to be around..." Only he was also interrupted, as a loud sound was heard and shattered pieces of wood were scattered through the air in all directions, on the starboard of the ship.

"All hands below deck! Battle positions!" The captain shouted at the top of his lungs, while descending to the lower decks, being closely followed by Hobenrûd. "What in Kiros' name is happening!?" he asked, yelling.

The captain stopped for a second, and told him: "A Sardidnian ship came from behind the hills and shot some kind of projectile with a rope on us. Now they are drawing us in with it. I sent everyone down to protect against the arrows, but they'll probably board us...I don't understand why they are..." he turned around and faced Hobenrûd, "You've made very powerful enemies, friend. Still...attacking an Order ship is a serious offence...Arm yourself, and tell your women to hide in the supply room."

Hobenrûd couldn't help but smirk at this. "Hah. I tell them that every time. If only my women listened me. Oh, there goes one."

Anita was passing by a few rushing soldiers, when she found out what the commotion was. "Shoot," she said, before rushing off to her own cabin, where she kept her treasure safe and sound, before whisking it out.

Just then Drindell also approached, quarterstaff in hand, its sharp, jagged teeth glistening in the daylight. "Ahh, Anita! I can almost guess what you're about to do now."

"Oh really? That's great, will you lend me a hand?" Anita replied, before rushing back onto the deck with her oversized green staff. Drindell, kept walking. "I'm working at it."

She took a moment to look at the array of bowmen, setting their mantlets and saw the Sardinian ship off in the distance. She climbed up the main mast, higher and higher, as another projectile impact--probably from a ballista--rocked the ship.

Meanwhile, Drindell muttered an incantation, and flicked his kris into the sky. As if a mighty, invisible hand took control of it, the kris swooshed into the Sardinian tractor rope and began cutting away at it. The inquisitor archers and Gilbert (with his yew and hickory wood composite bow) finished setting mantlets on the ship's deck and started to shoot arrows at the other ship.

After a few moments of anguish, as arrows washed over the deck of both ships, the kris succeeded in breaking one of the cords, slowing the rate at which the two ships were pulled together. But it was not over yet, they soon realized, as the Sardinian ship closed in more and more.

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