Upon my return to the Dashing Stag from the temple of Florannus, I had time to think, albeit with my head buzzing from drink, about Veranda. I still did not know for sure what to do, but I knew my indecision could not go on for long. The men could not be allowed to see my distrust of her. We either had to trust her fully and welcome her return with open arms, or not trust her at all and shut her out. I was still thinking of this as I walked past our guards and into my cabin.
It should have been very dark inside my cabin, disturbed only by the light breathing sounds of Quorra’s sleep and the usual creaks and groans of the ship. However a candle was flickering and Quorra lay upon the bed covered with a soft blanket and her fiery red hair looked dark in the meager light. Her beauty was spendid as always. She had been reading a book of illusion, one we had recovered from a tomb in Paralinth. She put it down as I entered.
“You are back late.” She said without emotion.
She was normally very good at hiding her feelings, if she wanted to be, and now was such a time. I almost never stayed out late and she was right to be worried.
Assassins, sent by my uncle, Elfric, had already tried and failed to take my life while we were at the Reach. The story of the slaying of those men got more heroic at every telling. There were only a dozen ambushers, and they were outnumbered by our group of unarmed workers, and fortunately for me, all of them fought with tenacity. Two of the men sent to kill me, Tekil and Wheeler, were reluctant assassins, and later swore oaths to me and served among my best men. But to hear the story told today by bards today, I killed fifty expert assassins single handedly. In truth, I got lucky and I had a lot of help from my fellow newots in fighting them off.
Now the Therans too would almost certainly love to hear of my death. Kypros, Thera’s overgovernor at Sky Point, would not take the loss of two Vedettes of his fleet, one a flag ship, lightly. Especially not to a wayward lord of Koenigsberg with ties to the troll moots of the Twilight Peaks and Throal. Koenigsberg was a land that Thera desperately wanted to gain a foothold in as a way to increase their waning influence in Barsaive. Through treachery, they had gained, at best, a tenuous hold through my bastard uncle. As long as I lived however, that foothold would remain a weak one at best. Konigsberg had forever been Thera’s enemy and rumors were rampant that Elfric clung to power only by the swords of his Theran guardians and a false claim to the title. If I were to show my face in Koenigsberg, there would be an instant bloody rebellion. One I could very well win just with the loyal men of Koenigsberg, but one that I am loath to start because the casualties in my land would be too great and the land of my ancestors would forever be depleted of desperately needed man power.
“Yes, I’m sorry.” I replied as I began to shrug out of my heavy armor. "I was out with Skram, Dremnin and Veranda. I meant to come back sooner."
She came over and began to help me out of my armor, which was no easy task by oneself. "Veranda?". She asked.
Her voice flat and without even a hint of jealousy. Still I knew that no woman would feel secure about their man with a creature like Veranda around. I also knew the worst thing I could do was get defensive. Veranda, though shockingly beautiful, was nothing to me but a puzzle that needed to be solved, so it was easy for me to avoid being defensive.
I pulled the heavy chain coat over my head. “Yes. I went with her and the others into town to see if I could learn anything. I just don’t know what to do with her. Logically, I should toss her from the ship without ceremony but for some reason my instincts tell me not to.”
Quorra sighed as she hung my helmet upon the armor rack and then smiled at me. She could tell that I was legitimately stressed about the situation. "You are the captain, just make a decision. The men believe in you and will follow you either way."
I looked her in the eye. "I think I already have made up my mind, but I’m still conflicted about it."
“Good.”. She smiled as she ran a hand suggestively across my stomach. "Now come to bed, I’ve been waiting for you."
I slept a lot less than I thought I would that night, and that was fine with me.
Dawn. It felt like I had just gone to sleep when my internal clock kicked me awake again. I was very tempted to go back to sleep, but I did not. I was a lord and a leader and I had many responsibilities that would not wait simply because I had been irresponsible the evening before by staying out all night drinking and dancing like a fool.
I pulled my reluctant body out of bed, and I made my way to the trunk where I kept my gear. No sooner had the floor made it’s usual creak by the trunk than Wheeler, my faithful squire, knocked on the door.
“Come.” I stated, my voice hoarse from lack of sleep and too much drink.
Wheeler entered, and greeted me warmly. He then began to help me into my armor. The two of us had this process practiced so well that we could finish it in moments, and without a word. Wheeler was a fantastic squire with the soul of a warrior, soon I would train him to be an initiate adept.
Once my armor was on, I made my way outside and greeted Kerick and Draiden who were already up and waiting for me. I usually beat them out on deck, but that morning I was exhausted. Draiden gave me some tea, which helped.
I spent the morning working with the crew on improving their coordination in sailing. When we were done the crew was sweating and tired, but they had done well, and a look of pride was on many faces when I congratulated them on a job well done. I then summoned Draiden, Hakka, Wheeler and Kerick. We would travel into Bartertown to handle some errands and deliver a letter for The Hand to deliver. I was dressed in my war glory an the others were wearing mail and the tabard of Koenigsberg wolf. I looked like a true lord, and I thought that if my father were looking on me right now, he would be proud. Before I left, Quorra came to me and told me that tonight, after 6:00, it was a night for just her and I. I agreed. Such a night was long overdue and I was lucky to have a woman like Quorra… she deserved it, and I knew it. This left me little time for my errands before my return.
I gathered Kerick, Draiden, Hakka and Wheeler and we made our way into Bartertown dressed in our full war glory with our tabards of the Koenigsberg Wolf on full display. As we walked through town, people made way for us. For I was, and looked the part of a lord of war, splendid in my shining armor and surrounded by retainers who were men of war.
My errands were simple enough. I want to the compound of The Hand and spoke Roinak to have his order deliver a letter to Malikeos and anoter to my little brother, Warrick, to let them know of my hopeful arrival in Travar soon. I could not simply trust the local inn keeper with my letters, so having a member of The Hand deliver them would ensure their uninterrupted delivery. Roinak volunteered to take them himself, which was more than I had expected, and an honor to me. I suggested he wait in Travar for a bit and if he would, perhaps we could link up and He could join up with The Stag there.
I then visited an armorer in town and with a brief stop in the marketplace to buy a sapphire neckless for Quorra. By the time this was all done, it was late afternoon and we made our way back to the ship, for I had a date with her soon and I would not be late.
When I arrived at the ship, I checked up on the watch and conferred briefly with Kerick about some inventory questions he had with regards to our supply situation. After that, I requested that I not be disturbed for the remainder of the evening other than for emergencies, and I went promptly to my cabin.
Quorra hugged me as I walked in the door. She was wearing a beautiful new dress, black with red trim that matched her fiery red hair. She looked absolutely gorgeous and was wearing a perfume that she knew I liked. I entered the room, and without a word she began to help me out of my armor. I noticed then, that my squire Wheeler was not present, but I assumed Quorra had sent him away for our evening alone.
Our table was set with a table cloth, candles and a bottle of wine with a pair of glasses. She ushered me to the table and I sat down with a smile. We had not had a quiet meal together since our brief time at The Reach.
I realized at that point that my smile was as much relief as anything. I had been so on guard, constantly on the attack, that I had never stopped to relax since leaving The Reach. This ship, I thought, was as safe as I could be. It was a ship loaded with well trained adepts, magic users and warriors, all loyal to me. Even a castle provided less protection, for on the ship I was constantly on the move, never in one place for more than a week or so at a time, which would make it very difficult for my enemies to find me, let alone strike. I was as protected as I could be here, so why not enjoy life, at least for a little while?
Those were my thoughts at that moment, and looking back, they were foolish.
There was a knock at the door and Wheeler, without waiting for an answer, came in holding a tray full of food. This made me pause for a moment. Wheeler was the squire of a lord and while he cleaned armor and weapons, he was also a warrior and squire for a lord. Functioning as a household servant was beneath him. I thought I had taught him better than that, and it turned out that I did.
I took note of it, and before I could think further on it, Quorra spoke as if reading my mind.
“Wheeler volunteered to help tonight.” She smiled at me.
Still, I was annoyed at this. Wheeler should have known better, but I appreciated his kind action, misguided though it may have been, or so I thought.
Wheeler nodded to me respectfully, almost with reverence, and placed he try on the table before us. I noted that his reverent nod was very unlike him, but I immediately discounted it for I thought it was just part of the show. He then removed the lid revealing a wondrous assortment of fine food. I must admit, I did not like the idea of food prepared by anyone other than our own cooks when the person cooking it knew in advance who it may be for. I shook this off though, I would not ruin Quorra’s night with my fears, which seemed very remote. Afterall, we had only been in Bartertown for a couple of days.
I raised an eyebrow to Quorra. "This is not from our kitchen, I see."
She smiled. "It’s from the finest restaurant in Bartertown. I’ve been planning this for awhile." She winked at me.
Wheeler placed a plate in front of each of us, and then backed away as though he were a well trained waiter. His actions and lack of vocabulary should have raised my suspicions, but it did not. I was tired from the night before, Quorra was intoxicating, and to be honest… I think I just badly needed the break, so I let my guard down.
Quorra poured glasses of wine for each of us. We then began to eat, and she began talking about her dress shopping from that morning between bites. The food was delicious. I started out with some grilled pheasant that was simply mouth watering. Then I moved on to some venison that simply melted in my mouth. I hadn’t had food this good ever before, not even in Koenigsberg.
Then I saw Quorra’s head sway awkwardly forward. And I felt it. A numbness spreading through my limbs. Immediately alarms were blasting through my mind, and I leapt to my feet… at least I tried to.
Instead my legs would no longer work and I fell to the floor and lay there without even being able to catch myself as I fell. I tasted blood from my split lip whoch had bore the brunt of my weight against the hard wooden deck. Then I became aware of a sharp but constant pain in my stomach. It burned, badly, as though I had just been impaled by a blade.
Wheeler walked toward me… only it wasn’t Wheeler any longer. Before me Wheeler transformed into a man, who stopped just before me with a long black beard, chubby frame and smooth, unscarred face. He was sneering, and I noted that he was wearing Wheeler’s clothes.
“It hurts doesn’t it?” He asked, with amusement in his voice. "It is a favorite of mine, a slow painful death, a poison which I combined with something for paralysis, just for you."
I struggled to move, to kill this fat bastard with my bare hands, to save Wheeler, to help Quorra, to alert the crew. Yet I could not move, I could barely breathe.
He shrugged off Wheeler’s cloak and jerkin. Underneath he wore a light brown tunic and pants of a soft cloth. He grabbed me by the ankles and began dragging me across the floor toward the door. I tried to reach for the table, desperate to pull it over with a loud clatter of plates and cutlery that would surely alert the crew that something was wrong. I could not, not a finger twitched. My insides burned. Where was Wheeler? Was Quorra dead? These thoughts raced through my head. My eyes flicked to my swords hanging in their scabbards upon the armor rack. Could I die like this? Fear gripped me as I was very much aware that I did not have a sword in my hand.
Without a word the assassin dropped my feet to the floor. He than began muttering arcane words and moving his hands in a way that could only mean he was casting some sort of spell. The wall next to the door began to shimmer, and then an opening shaped like a doorway appeared. Through it I could see not the deck of the Dashing Stag, but what appeared to be a dark alley in a city. He then glanced back at me as he picked up my legs again.
He smiled, gleeful and evil. "Off we go, lord." He said the word lord with great disdain. My insides continued to burn with excruciating pain. Tears ran down my cheeks uncontrollably from the agony as he dragged me through into the dark city on the other side of the portal.
There I lay looking into an evening sky, the walls of the alley on either side of me. The man shuffled around for a moment and the leaned over me, his face close to mine.
“You should know that your uncle paid me a small fortune from your own coffers to do this. What he didn’t know was I would have done it just for the sake of doing it.” He smiled wickedly.
He drew a long knife from beneath his robes, then put it beneath my eye, showing it to me as he turned it side to side.
“Still alive I see? Remarkable. Well, I must get going so let’s speed this along shall we?”
He moved the blade over my chest, I prayed to Thystonius to give me a fighting chance, but before I could even finish the thought, the blade was plunged to the hilt in my chest.
The world began to go dark around me. The light from the moon started to fade. It was then I heard the voices.
The first was guttural and raspy.
“He is mine.”
“What makes you think he is yours? Said the second voice, deep and resonating.
“He is perfect.” Replied the first.
The second responded flatly. "Perhaps so, but not today. "
Suddenly the burning pain in my gut and the sharp agony of the blade in my chest disappeared. The white light of the moon began to return.
The last thing I heard before I blacked out completely was the second voice saying. "I’ll see you at the temple."