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Chapter 7 - The Black Guard marches

by Adrian Sweeney - Approx 6582 words

Raising his arms for silence, the Prince roared, “Mount up” turning to his parents and Mal, he said, “Let’s see what’s going on at the Monastery.”

Two black stallions with black saddles with the same patterns were brought over to the Prince and Lady Malderia. The Prince’s horse wore heavy plate armour that again matched the Prince’s armour. While Mal’s horse had some leather armour on it.

Mounting up, The Prince said, “Let’s go,” and led the troop out of the Palace gate towards the Monastery of Hasder with Mal at his side. Tomi, Darr and Dareon rode to the front of the line of troops to take position behind the Prince and Mal and beside the squad leaders of the Knights, Cavalry and Archers. They wore the same black armour with twisted silver trim on the shoulders to denote their position in the guard as sub-commanders.

When they arrived at the monastery, they dismounted and pulled the chain at the side of the gate. The moment that Mal touched the chain, the tolling of the bell stopped.

When a monk eventually opened the door, he was shocked to see sixty heavily armoured men on the doorstep.

“I would like to see the Abbot if that is possible. Could you tell him that Prince Salistar and Lady Malderia have arrived and request an audience please,” said the Prince taking the helm off his head so that the monk could see who he was.

“At once, your Highness, Lady Malderia,” said the monk stepping out of the way so that the Prince and Mal could enter the monastery. Tomi and Dareon followed three steps behind.

“He’s over at the bell tower,” said the monk “strangest thing is that the bell rang all by its self. It’s a sign from Hasder mark my words, and the Abbot thinks so too, just ask him if you don’t believe me, you’ll see.”

As they walked across the lawn to the bell tower, they could see the Abbot speaking to a group of monks. When he saw the Prince and Mal walking towards him, he bowed slightly and left them to meet the Prince and Mal halfway.

“Your highness, Lady Malderia, how lovely to see you again. I assume that your trip to Seldar was successful. Can I ask how the Monastery of Hasder can help you today?”

“We came because of the bell tolling. We thought it was an alarm and raced to get here to help,” said the Prince.

“No, it was the strangest thing; the bell started to toll even though no one was in the bell tower. It’s a sign from Hasder, but for good or ill, we just don’t know. Neither do we know what it was a sign of. We will meditate on it with fasting and prayer and hope that Hasder wishes us to know,” said the Abbot, unconsciously rubbing his stomach.

Smiling, the Prince placed a hand on the Abbots’ shoulder, “We might be able to save you from fasting, Lord Abbot. My father had just formed the Black Guard to defend against the coming darkness and appointed myself and Lady Malderia as the company commanders. In fact, we had just sworn our vows to protect the Black Guard when the bell started to toll. Might that have something to do with your bell?”

“It might. I will pray on it and ask for guidance,” replied the Abbot. “Come and have a glass of wine, and we will toast the formation of the Black Guard, and you can tell me of your trip to Seldar.”

When Mal and Prince Salistar had been seated and were drinking a glass of wine. Prince Salistar finally had the time to tell of his trip to Seldar, the attempted assassination against him, and the destruction of the nest of assassins in Seldar. When he told the Abbot of the word Dar-seh-olt and that the Abbot on Seldar thought it looked like a dwarven name and that the Abbot thought it was, then apparently it should be pronounced Darseholt.

The Abbot had not heard of the word Darseholt before. When the Prince finally made their excuses to leave and head back to the Palace, the Abbot got up and led them personally back to the gate of the monastery.

As they mounted their horses, the Abbot spoke up. “You know that priests and monks aren’t the only hoarders of knowledge you know. Bards are the biggest hoarders of the lot, and their libraries can’t be burnt down.”

Laughing loudly, the Prince smiled down to the Abbot. “My Lord Abbot, you are a treasure; I think the bell tolled so that we would come here so that you could tell us that nugget of information.”

“My gods blessing on you and the Black Guard,” intoned the Abbot.

Arriving back at the Palace, the sixty members of the Black Guard were dismissed with orders from Prince Salistar that they were to prepare to leave on the morrow.

“Where are we going on the morrow, your highness?” asked Mal.

“Mal, we are of equal rank; you can call me Sal in all things to do with the Guard and to answer your question if the bards have any information on this Darseholt. Then in the morning, I recommend that we will be heading in that direction. What say you?”

“I say that a horse with two heads goes nowhere,” said Mal using an old saying from the mountains.

“My father made us joint leaders in the Black Guard,” responded the Prince.

“Fine, I have an equal say in all things about the guard,” said Mal “BUT,” and she stressed the word, but “you have the training for leading people and understanding tactics.”

“How about this then? How about I am the Battle Commander, and you are the Watch Commander. Don’t worry; you’ll have me and the sub-commanders to help you get your feet,” said the Prince with a comforting smile. “Now, let’s find ourselves a Bard.”

“Okay,” said Mal following the Prince into the Palace to look for a bard. Walking into the large central hall, Prince Salistar called a page over.

“Here boy, Do you know where Master Killian is?”

“I believe he’s in his quarters, your highness,” replied the page. “Would you like me to fetch him, your highness?”

“No, my thanks, though,” replied the Prince as they headed off towards the quarters of Master Bard Killian.

Stopping outside a heavy plain oak door, Prince Salistar knocked loudly on the door.

“I asked not to be disturbed!” came a rough, loud voice from the other side of the door. Footsteps and muttering could be heard coming from the other side of the door. Master Killian stood in the doorway; the scowl on his face was replaced with a warm smile. “Sorry, your highness, I’ve had pages knocking on my door all morning; please come in.”

Seeing Mal standing behind him, he amends, “Commander Malderia, please to finally meet you; please come in. I have so many questions to ask you. I’ve unfortunately been away for the last month running errands for the king.”

Master Killian was an old man looking nearly fifty summers of age. He wore a bright blue coat that marked him as a bard and a golden waistcoat below with brown trousers. His moustache had a lot of grey in it, and it curled off to the sides. His hands were stained with ink and smoke from the pipe he held in his right hand.

Showing the Prince and Mal to a sofa that was worn but comfortable, he asked, “So what can I do for you today?”

“Master Killian, we are trying to find out information about the Demon Délíntra, and when we contacted the monks of Hasder, the information that we needed was destroyed. I then headed to the island of Seldar as that was the closest Monastery of Hasder to us. Still, the information was mostly destroyed; the only piece of information we have is the word Dar-seh-olt; we think it is dwarven in origin. If it is, then we also think that it should be pronounced Darseholt. Would you or the Bards know anything about this Demon or the word Darseholt?”

“Darseholt, I do think I’ve heard that word before. Let me think on it for a moment,” replied Master Killian.

After several minutes while drinking some wine, Master Killian spoke as if reciting a scroll from memory. “I remember my Master telling me a story from a thousand years ago there was a great battle with a dark horde. The Dwarves battled alongside humans in a series of battles that eventually drove the darkness from our lands. The human king had travelled to Darseholt to plead with the dwarven king for aid. Dwarves held a friendship with humans for some act that humans did for dwarves when they first came to this land. So they agreed to help the humans fight the horde. It was said that the dwarves forged magical weapons that would allow them to defeat the Demon King.”

“Now we know the Darseholt is a place we only need to figure out where it is. You wouldn’t know, would you?”

“Sorry, but I might know where we can get the information,” replied Master Killian.

“We?” Asked Prince Salistar looking at Mal questioningly.

“You’ll need my help getting the information from the guild house in Pricetown,” replied Master Killian, smiling at both of them. “Besides Prince Salistar and Lady Malderia, how could I pass up the opportunity to travel with yourselves as you make history. Lady Malderia, your every footstep is sending shock waves across history.”

Seeing the shock on both of their faces, he stood up and knelt before them.

“I pledge my life to the blackguard and to you, my commanders. I pledge to protect the innocent and uphold the laws of the land,” pledged Master Bard.

“That is a serious vow you have just given, Master Killian. Are you sure that you wish to pledge the rest of your life to this? We will go into battle, and you will be with us in all things?”

“I understand, and I know the risks,” said Master Killian.

The Prince stood and looked at Master Killian, “I Prince Salistar Warsung, Battle Commander of the Black Guard, accept your oath, I vow to protect you, my brother”.

Rising to her feet as well, Mal looked upon the newest recruit for the Black Guard. “I Lady Malderia Talon, Watch Commander of the Black Guard, accept your oath, and I vow to protect you, my brother.”

Smiling, Master Killian stood, “Well, it looks like I have some packing to do. Besides its about time, Journeyman Talison was promoted to the rank of Master Bard.”

“We will leave at dawn, Master Killian, until the morning then.” said the Prince.

“Yes, Commanders,” replied Master Killian as they left his room.

“Was that wise taking him into the Black Guard?” asked Mal.

“I believe so; the Guard is new and will need deeds sung of it to bolster the men and attract new members. Unfortunately, being a Watch Commander or, for that matter, a Battle Commander isn’t a simple job of sitting on a horse. We need to get enough food and gear for our men and horses. That means we need to go and speak with the Palace Chamberlain of at least his secretary until he fully recovers.”

They spent the rest of the day ensuring that they had enough supplies ready for the morning, including tents and everything that went with them. As a band, they would need food for seventy men and horses for an estimated two weeks, which meant that they needed three weeks of food to cover delays, and at three meals a day, that was two hundred and ten meals. Mal looked at the letters, and numbers seemed to be dancing on the page.

When Prince Salistar realised that Mal’s education didn’t cover literacy well. He found a Black Guard guard called Jake Wintersong who had some experience and would help Mal and promoted him with Mal’s blessing to Chamberlain of the Black Guard.

Four wagons had been supplied to carry the food and equipment that couldn’t fit on the back of a horse. It was long past dawn before they had departed the city, and the pace the Prince set was agonisingly slow. A gentle prodding of the horses along the road towards Princetown.

“Sal, can’t we go a bit faster?” asked Mal.

“Of course we could; we could gallop for a few miles, but then we would have to sit and wait for the carts to catch up. So we might as well stay together, don’t worry, we are making good time. Master Killian a song to help the miles pass, please.”

Master Killian had kept the men entertained with songs and stories throughout the day. They had stopped for thirty minutes earlier in the day and had a cold lunch of Ham and a bit of bread.

It was getting late when Prince Salistar called a halt for the evening, and the men started setting up the camp. Dismounting, he handed the reins of his horse to a guard, and when the soldier came to take her horse. She went to object that she could look after her own horse. Prince Salistar reminded her that they had jobs of their own to do, and she should allow the man to look after the horses.

Mal was surprised when two large tents were put up in the centre of the camp, and smaller tents were quickly erected around them in the fashion of men that knew what they were doing. Her attention was returned when Chamberlain Wintersong came over and told her that her tent was ready.

“My tent?” She said, realising that, of course, they would expect her to have her own tent and shook her head at the thought. Back home, she would have sheltered with the other boys under a blanket that would only keep the worst of the snow and wind from her.

Entering the tent, she saw that a bed of blankets and a rolled-up mattress. A small collapsable desk and chair were in one corner, and an oil lamp sat on the corner of the desk that was giving off a gentle glow. Beside the table was Mal’s large chest from her room in the Palace and a smaller chest with a large lock on the front.

“I see you are getting settled into your office,” said the Prince.

“I don’t need all of this space,” exclaimed Mal.

“You will; we have reports to write every night and accounts to keep. If we keep on top of them, they aren’t a hassle, but it will take you several nights to catch up if you let them slide. Once Chamberlain Wintersong arrives, we will begin?”

“Begin?” replied Mal as the chamberlain came into the tent.

“Yes, Ah, here he is now,” replied the Prince.

“May I use the desk Mam?” asked the chamberlain.

“Yes, yes, of course,” responded Mal.

“Tonight’s reports will be quite simple. We’ve travelled fifteen miles, a good distance for a group with wagons to travel. I estimate that we have another twelve days of travel at this rate ahead of us before we get to Princetown,” said the Prince. “I would like to take the time now to run the men through some exercises each morning so that when we are in a fight, people know what they should be doing. We have a mixed group of men that needs to learn how to work with each other and since you’ve never led men before, you’ll need to get used to ordering men about.”

One of the guards brought in a medium-sized black kettle pot with coals in it and set it in the middle of the tent heat could be felt coming from it. Shortly the metal pot had heated up, and the tent was a warm, inviting place. They spent the rest of the night working out what they wanted the training to cover on the morrow.

Morning comes early in camp; the light of the twin suns lit up the morning, bringing the warmth so dearly needed in the mornings. Getting up and stretching, Mal got dressed when a cough at the door announced someone waiting.

Stepping out into the early morning light, Chamberlain Wintersong bowed slightly to Mal, “My lady, I was just coming to make sure you were up. The morning meal will be ready soon.”

“Excellent Chamberlain Wintersong, you’ll find that I’m up early most mornings. There was always work to be done in the village, and the mornings start early in the mountains,” replied Mal striding out into the camp.

Walking between the tents, Mal examined everything and pointed out things to Chamberlain Wintersong. That she saw that were out of place anything from dirty plates to a loose tent guide rope. As the men realised that an inspection was going on, they jumped to and started making sure that everything was correct.

Walking over to the fire pit where a large pot of oats was cooking on the fire. The camp cook stood up from stirring the pot. “Good morning Mam, The oats are ready, mam, and I got some of those dried fruit’s and some honey that you like.”

“Thank you, how did you know?” replied Mal.

“I checked with the palace cooks before we left how you and the Prince-like your breakfasts and got some stores in Mam,” said the cook.

As Mal sat by the fire eating her morning meal, other men started to get up and queue for their food. They all inclined their heads and murmured, “Morning Mam.”

Having a mouth full of food, Mal could only nod her thanks to them. When Prince Salistar came over, he walked to the front of the queue, and the cook handed him a bowl of oats with a bit of honey.

“Morning,” said the Prince yawning; with a shake of his head, he ate his bowl of oats and honey. “The scouts tell me, there is a field with some straw bales about a mile up the road, which we can use for target practice.”

Once everyone had broken the morning fast, they struck their tents and stowed them away. Mounting up, the band headed to the meadow leaving the wagons and a few band members behind. Since they were going to be at this all morning, it had been decided that the midday meal would be a hot one. This also gave the cooks time to cook fresh bread for the day.

The meadow was a large, almost flat surface with only one small hill no more than three feet high. The men created five stacks of three bales a piece, which were the force they would be attacking. The plan was that Mal’s archers would pepper the bales with arrows, only stopping when the Knights were close. The knights’ armour would allow them to smash into the centre of the bales. While the Calvary would flank the knights to attack the two outside bales.

Once the troops were lined up in the correct positions. With the Archers now positioned, in a curved row, just behind the Calvary. Prince Salistar and the Knights out in front.

Mal stood with Tomi, Darr and Dareon in the middle and the rest of the archers flanking them, waiting for the horn to start the mock battle.

Idly holding an arrow to the string of her bow Mal and the rest of the archers raised, drew and let fly arrow after arrow as Prince Salistar’s horn blew clear across the field. Mal’s hands seemed to flow like water, plucking arrows from her quiver and setting them to the string of her bow, pulling back and releasing before quickly releasing her arrows, only stopping when her quiver was empty. A second note from Prince Salistar’s horn told the archers to stop as the knights would be too close.

The knights and Calvary dug their spurs into the flanks of their horses. The Calvary swung out to the flanks; as they were lighter than the Knights, they made good speed and took position to the left and right of the knights. It was hoped that the sudden appearance of the Calvary doubling the width of the force bearing down on the straw bales would put any defensive plans an enemy had out of place as being behind the knights where they would have been hidden from the force they were attacking. The knights lowered the visors on their helms, followed quickly by the tips of their lances. The thunder of hooves across the meadow would add to the foreboding.

The archers were mounted by the time the Knights and Calvary had engaged the enemy and were charging across the field in support with their short swords and small wooden shields to hand.

They practised the techniques several more times, recovering most of the arrows that hadn’t been broken by horses hooves that had thundered across the meadow. Before heading back to the main road where the camp was. The hot stew was both spicy and tasty, with warm fresh bread. The band ate heartily before setting off on the road to Princetown once again.

It took twelve days to reach Princetown; the band had started to form a family-like structure, and the training in the morning was making the three distinct groups work well together.

Arriving at the city gates, a guard stood in the gateway, looking apprehensive as a band of black warriors headed up the road toward him.

As they got close, he gripped the pike in his hand a bit tighter, grinding the butt of the pike into the ground a little the shiny blade on the tip of it never wavered to show the nervousness of the guard.

“Halt, who goes there and what business do you have entering Princetown,” he said in a commanding tone as he could, knowing that backup had been sent for ten minutes ago when they first spotted the band on the road to the city and that it should be arriving shortly.

“I, Prince Salistar Warsung, along with Lady Malderia Talon and the Black Guard, wish to speak with my Uncle Prince Rupert,” said Prince Salistar, removing the helm so that he could be freely seen by all.

“At once, your highness,” said the guard stepping aside.

Riding through the streets of Princetown, the metallic sound of the horses’ hooves thundered off the building of the narrow road announcing to everyone in front that mounted men were approaching and to get out of the way.

People of all stature moved to get out of the way of the Black Guard. Rumours and speculation ran rife through the crowd as the band approached; the crowd quietened out of fear as the band of seventy black armoured warriors moved through the throng. Their black armour lent a dark tone to the group.

Eventually, the Black Guard arrived at the front of the Keep. Prince Rupert stood on the steps of the Keep; his personal guard flanked him on either side. They were standing at attention but coiled like a spring. Not knowing if they were greeting a friend or foe.

As the Prince recognised his nephew, a smile spread across his face. When he physically relaxed, the tension went out of his personal guard as they settled as well.

“I didn’t recognise you for a moment, nephew,” said Prince Rupert, “Too, what do we owe the pleasure of your company?” with a slight cough.

“We’re looking for information on Darseholt. Apparently, it’s a dwarven place, but we don’t know where Uncle. Master Killian here thinks that the Bard Guildhall might have information that would allow us to track it down.”

“Then let me offer you shelter and shade while you and your men are here,” said the Prince.

Turning to Mal, he continued, “Lady Malderia, I am honoured to finally meet the Ogre Slayer in person news of your exploits travel on the wind before you. Come let us retire to the dining hall, and we will have a cup of mead.” Offering his arm.

Taking the Princes’ arm, he led her into the Keep and towards the main dining hall. Prince Salistar spoke to Master Killian before catching up and joining his uncle.

This was the second time that Mal had come to Princetown, and this time she wasn’t as tired, so she noticed a lot more this time than before. Only one of the ten-foot-tall main doors to the dining hall was open; the other depicted a significant battle with a tall strange mountain behind the mountain was so tall, and it made the people in the carving look so small. Mal noticed other details dotted around the room; small faces were chiselled in stone just below each row beam and door frame lentil.

As Prince Rupert led his nephew and Mal to the raised dais, pages arrived with a plate of fruit and cheese, along with cups of mead.

Prince Salistar caught his uncle up with all the information he had on the attacks in Calpo and the island of Seldar.

“Dark days indeed, nephew, if bands of assassins roam the streets of our cities,” replied the Prince waving a page over and whispering into his ear.

Several minutes passed before the page returned with the Captain of the Prince’s personal guard.

“Captain Gerald, My nephew here bring dark news; it seems that a band of assassins have struck twice at my family. He tells me that in both cases, they wore red neckerchiefs and had a base of operations near the harbour in a tavern,” turning to his nephew, “what was the name of the tavern again?”

“The Red Parrot uncle,” replied Prince Salistar.

“I believe that there is a tavern near the harbour called the Red Parrot, your highness. Surely they would not be so stupid to use the same name for their tavern in every city?” Asked Captain Gerald.

“One can hope that they have; it will make it easier to cut the head of the snake if they have.” Replied Prince Salistar.

“I’ll take a detachment of men as arrest everyone in that tavern then.”

“You’ll need to enter the sewers to catch them all as they had exits into the sewers,” smiling Prince Salistar continued. “I’ll send some of the Black Guard with you to enter the sewers just in case.”

Bowing, the Captain said, “With your leave, I’ll make preparations to take these people into custody.”

As Prince Rupert nodded his assent to his Captain.

Prince Salistar stood up. “I’ll go give instructions to the Black Guard. I’ll be back shortly, Uncle.”

Again Prince Rupert nodded his assent, and they watched him stride out of the dining hall in his black armour.

Master Killian rode to the Guildhall of the Bards; when he approached the building, an apprentice came forward to take his horse. It had been nearly ten years since Master Killian had returned to the guildhall of his youth here in Princetown; looking around at the arching roof supports were the deep brown wood that he remembered standing in contrast to the stone slabs of the first floor of the building that they held up. He was always taken back to the day that he had first arrived at the guildhall many years ago.

The wind had blown his cloak around him, almost tangling around his feet, and at six summers old, his father, a local minor merchant, had found a bard been attacked on the road and was in a bad way.

The Bard had taken an arrow to the shoulder from some brigand and had got soaked in a rainstorm that had lasted for two solid days; by the time they had found him, he was coughing and was deadly pale. His father had nursed the Bard for those first few days, never leaving the bards side all the while telling his son. To make sure that he never harmed a bard at the same time as calling curses down on those that did.

It took three days until the Bard was well enough to be moved from the makeshift tent. They had put him in the back of their wagon on top of the bales of cloth. The dirt and blood on the Bard had ruined more than one bale of fabric, but his father had not cared. “Cloth can be replaced, people can’t” was all he said about the matter.

It took another two weeks to make the trip to Princetown due to the slow pace they were forced to take to keep the Bard from getting too ill.

When they finally got to Princetown, and were able to get help from the town watch. The watch guard escorted them to a decent tavern in the city, where the tavern keeper came out to the front door as soon as he noticed the guard escorting a merchant to his tavern. As soon as the Tavern keeper had seen the Bard, he had exclaimed. “Jacquard!, what happened?”

“You know this bard?” asked the guard.

“Yes, that’s Jackard Lillybright, a journeyman from the guildhall here in Princetown; he always plays here when he has time,” replied the tavern keeper.

“Thanks, I’ll make sure that Lord Wisterlane is informed,” replied the guard as he left the tavern.

Thirty minutes later, the guard came back into the room; a finely dressed man followed closely who we took to be the Lord of the city. He looked around the room, taking in the tavern keeper along with my father and me.

“Where is the Bard?” Asked the man to the tavern keeper.

“We moved him to the backroom, my Lord. It is located next to the privy so that he won’t have to use the stairs, and the cook and kitchen girl can keep an eye on him during the day,” replied the tavern keeper.

“Take me to him,” ordered the Lord.

“This way, your lordship,” said the tavern-keeper leading him to the back room past my father and me.

As Lord Wisterlane passed the table we were sitting at, he nodded to my father and tossed the hair on my head. “You have my thanks for helping the bard; we will speak more when I return from seeing him.”

When Lord Wisterlane, came back he pulled up a stool and sat beside me. Looking to my father, he said, “Can you tell me what happened to him and where?”

“I can tell you what I know, but I don’t know much your lordship; we found him lying by the side of the road to Carse several days ago. He was in a bad way; we lit a fire and started to get him warm, and took the arrow out of his shoulder. It took a couple of days to build up his strength enough to move him, and then we had to travel at a snail’s pace. He’s been delirious most of the time but was calm when my son would sing little rhymes to him. As to who attacked him, I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

“Thank you?” said the Lord.

“Eammon Killian, your lordship merchant by trade,” he replied when the Lord had hesitated.

“Eammon Killian, you and your son have my personal thanks; you are welcome at my fire any time you come to Princetown,” replied the Lord.

Shaking his head, the Lord turned to the guard. “Get two men and head up the road to Carse and see what you can find. Then head on to Carse and ask the Lord if he has a tracker that could look at the location and track it back to where the Bard was attacked. Also, send a messenger to Commander Pinkerton.”

“My Lord, if I may, there is an old dead tree on the road; we found the Bard shortly after passing that tree if that helps,” said my father.

“I know the tree you’re talking about, thanks,” said the guard nodding his gratitude to my father.

“The Guild will be sending people here; they might have some questions for you; please wait here as my guest for a few days. I will make sure that you are recompensed for your time and effort,” said Lord Wisterlane.

“Of course, my Lord, We can wait around for a few days; some of my goods are damaged, I’ll need to sort through it. No point carrying spoilt goods to the capital, “replied Eammon Killian.

Several minutes later, a group of three members of the Guild arrived and spoke to the Lord. Saying their thanks, the Lord Wisterlane, the three of them headed to the back room with the Bard.

The leader of the group was Mistress Langhart, and she was an imposing woman. After inspecting Jackard’s wounds, she came into the backyard to thank my father, who was in the process of tossing bales of material into a pile to be burnt. She watched him throw half of the bales of silk from the back of the wagon onto the ground. Blood and dirt had destroyed them. Seeing the look of sorrow on my fathers face as he prepared to set the torch to the bales, she came over and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“You have done the Guild a great service. I want you to know that if there is ever anything the Guild can do for you or your family, then let us know.”

“My thanks, Mistress Langhart; the only thing I want is to provide a good future for my children.”

“An admirable quality and sentiment that serves you and your family well,” said Mistress Langheart with a slight curtsy; she turned and left as she passed me she stopped.

“Do you honour your father, boy?” She asked; her eyes felt that they were piercing me through to my soul.

I remember stammering, “Yes, mam,” to which I received a smile that lit up her eyes.

It would be another three days until my father would be ready to leave, and I spent my days helping around the tavern. One or another of the guild members would play the lute while I worked, and I would sing little ditties to myself as he played.

As we were preparing to leave, Lord Wisterlane and Mistress Langheart arrived. “Master Killian, you have made your family proud with your actions in saving the Bard. Take this gold you will find that it covers the losses to your goods and more,” said Lord Wisterlane.

“My lord, you are too generous”, replied my father taking the heavy pouch of gold from Lord Wisterlane, the weight of which would probably have covered the costs and profits of the trip three times over.

“I’ll leave you with Mistress Langheart here who has something to ask you, remember you are welcome in my home always,” replied Lord Wisterlane, clasping my father on the shoulder before turning and leaving.

Looking to Mistress Langhart, “How may I help you, mam?” asked my father.

“Master Killian, the Guild is always searching for talented individuals to join its ranks. Have you noticed that there is always one of us playing a tune near your son while he works?”

“I hadn’t noticed, but why?” replied my father.

“Your son has a great ear and mind for our lore; he learned a completely new song yesterday. There is no straightforward way to broach the subject, but I would like you to apprentice your son to the Guild. As you know, the cost of an apprenticeship is usually quite high, but we can and do waive that for talented youngsters and also for your actions in saving a member of the Guild.”

“I’m honoured, but I just don’t know; I would have to speak with his mother about it first,” replied my father kneeling down beside me and looking me in the eye; he continued, “What do you think, son? I know you are only six, but would you like to learn music? It is a great honour, you know, and you would have a great future.”

“I don’t know, papa” was all I said.

We had headed home, and my parents had spoken about it. I was the eldest of three boys, and mum was already pregnant with my future sister.

Master Killian was shaken from his memories by a voice that brought a smile to his face.

“Shall I bring you some cod liver oil, young master Killian,” said an old man in soft brown robes.

“No, Master Lillybright, just remembering how I came here to the guild, that’s all.”

Rubbing his shoulder where the arrow had hit him forty years ago, he replied, “Don’t remind me, I still ache, so what brings you here.”

“The search for ancient lore of a great battle around a thousand years ago and also how to find the Dwarves of Darseholt, we might need their help again before this is all over,” replied Master Killian.

“Let us go and talk with Mistress Giain; she’s been archiving the old lore for the past five years; maybe she knows more about this Darseholt, hey?” He said, putting an affectionate arm around his apprentice and friend.

They walked along the corridor to the great library of the Guild, one that rivalled the library of Hasder in Caplo before it was burnt down. Looking around, Master Killian could see monks and guild members all over the library talking together in small groups. Their hushed tones filled the library with subtle excitement.

Noticing Master Killian’s reaction Master Lillybright spoke, “We had a message from the Monks of Hasder in Caplo after their library burnt down. They are finding copies of lore they had lost years ago. We’ve agreed to start sharing the lore so that it doesn’t get lost again. They have also described ancient scrolls that we didn’t know about, so the Guild is really excited now that it realises that there is an abundance of lore that we never knew about.”

“Ah, here is Mistress Giain now, let’s see if she knows anything that can help,” said Master Lillybright, heading towards a tall thin woman with curly copper-red hair that shone with fire as the clouds parted and the sun shone through a large window to land on her.

“Mistress Giain, could we have a moment of your time? You remember my apprentice Master Killian,” asked Master Lillybright.

“Of course, Master Lillybright, and yes, I remember Master Killian. I was promoted to Journeywoman shortly before he was promoted to Master; I remember you well singing in the guildhall at supper. How can I help you, gentlemen, today?”

“I’m assuming that you have heard of the fire at the Monastery of Hasder in Caplo and that we were searching for details on the Demon Délíntra?” said Master Killian. Seeing her nod, he continued, “Prince Salistar recently found out that in the last battle, the dwarves helped beat the Demon and its army. We only have to go on the word Darseholt though we now know it’s a place rather than a person, which is why we have travelled here. Would you have ever heard of it?”

“Yes, I’ve heard of Darseholt,” she responded, turning to one of the apprentices; she beckoned him over, “Terrance go and fetch me the black travel bag from my office, please.”

Turning back to Master Killian, “That’s good timing you have. I was just preparing a batch of documents that I was going to have sent by speedy courier to Prince Salistar in Caplo, but if he is here, then that is truly splendid indeed.”

The apprentice returned with a black travel bag used by speedy couriers, and it was crammed with scrolls and other documents.

“This is everything that we have found about the Demon Délíntra; I hope it helps,” she said, handing the bag to Master Killian.

“You have my thanks. I’ll take this to highness straight away,” replied Master Killian standing up.

“Can’t you stay for some lunch and a catch-up?” asked Master Lillybright.

“Sorry, but no. The Commanders will want this information as soon as possible; my thanks until we meet again,” he said, clasping their hands before leaving and heading back to the Keep to inform the Prince and Mal about his findings.

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