Chapter Twenty Four
(Respites and Revelations)
Prince Tallor of the Lyktalfar gazed out at the moonlit landscape steeped in thought. From his place at the battlements that overlooked a flying buttress spanning the chasm he noted the stark contrasts of light and dark, the buttress’s length casting a long arched black shadow. Other than the muffled sounds of the others gathered in the hall, the night was still and quiet. He thought that he should cherish such times of quietude and store them away as a squirrel does nuts and acorns, for the coming days were most likely to be filled with the terrible sounds of battle and turmoil. Other than his training, which had been rigorous by anyone’s standards, he’d never seen battle. He had, however, heard terrible tales of the agony, fear and despair that war engendered. From his father, uncles and older warriors with whom he’d served, he knew that war was a far cry from the glorious tales of derring-do spun in the mead halls and he wondered at his courage. Would he be up to the task when the time came? Could he take a life or…lives? Would he fight with valor or, if it came to it, die with honor? Light Elves, while they were unquestionably valiant and formidable warriors and could be a terrible foe to face, were by nature a gentle and nurturing people who placed great value on life. His heart sank at the prospects of all that war and battle entailed and did, in no respect, look forward to it.
He was startled from his reverie by an ever so slight sound from behind him and spun, his hand going instinctively for the pommel of his sword, which was at that moment, hanging on a rack in the great hall. He was relieved to find, no goblin or trull, but the fetching figure of the Svartalfar maiden, Drizzit. Tallor was struck by her beauty. She was draped in a clinging silver threaded gown that complimented her physique as if she were born into it. Her flawless ebon skin stood out in stark and alluring contrast and the whole tableau was haloed by the moonlight. He immediately composed himself, and bowed at the waist. “M’lady”.
Drizzit smiled and curtsied. “Forgive me Prince, I did not mean to startle you.”
Tallor returned to his position at the parapet and was joined by the acolyte. “The astonishing turn of events that is rapidly unfolding has my mind reeling, I fear. So much to grasp. And the ramifications…”
Drizzit nodded agreement. “Such a beautiful view from here, especially in the moonlight. It’s almost ethereal.”
Tallor turned to her, “M’lady, your name is Drizzit, is it not? May I call you that?” She nodded and he continued. “You don’t strike me as the type given to platitudes. I assume you came out here for a purpose…”
Drizzit smiled, “You’re perceptive. I am not given to platitudes. There are some who’ve accused me of being entirely too serious, in fact. Suffice to say that while I’ve considered it an honor to be traveling with such a revered group of my race’s dignitaries, I fear the austerity of these past months has been a bit much for even me. I’ve come seeking the company of someone nearer my own age and perhaps some lighter conversation than has been on the menu these past days.” She smiled and rested her hand on his mail-clad forearm. “Nothing more pressing or urgent than that, I assure you.”
“Well, M’lady, um…Drizzit, forgive my presumption. Your company is more than welcome. The topics of late have been weighing heavily on me as well. We grow up, trained to our stations and wondering if our mettle will ever be tested and when confronted with the prospect that it will be, and more, the butterflies settle in…”
Suddenly from beneath the battlements there came a swooping surge of air as a huge form rose to blot out the light of the moon. It hovered for a split second then raced over their heads and descended to the courtyard below. The couple took a hurried and involuntary backward step, Tallor steadying the acolyte as she nearly lost her footing.
In the courtyard below, Faracayne settled lightly to the flags and crouched low allowing the wizard easy egress. Arnaald was sure to gather his robes to dismount so as not to repeat his earlier faux pas and hurried up the steps and through the door of the keep.
Tallor looked at Drizzit and rolled his eyes. “So much for our peaceful evening respite”, he said as they surveyed the latest turn of events. “Shall we?”
Drizzit smiled shaking her head as she took the prince’s proffered arm. They walked the length of the catwalk, through the southwest barbican and into the keep to the great hall.
Smuntley had settled in quickly and found his accommodations Spartan but more than adequate. As he was exiting the room a sentry approached him and said, “Sir, I’ve been sent to see to your needs if you have any…” He awaited Smuntley’s response. Smuntley thumbed his suspenders, thought for a moment and replied, “Ah, right friendly of you, old chap. Only thing I can think of is a little something to knock back the trail dust. Tea perhaps?”
He was instructed to follow the sentry and led to the great hall. It was early evening by this time and the hall was filled with a throng of what were obviously highly important people of all races. He no sooner procured himself a piping hot cup of tea, when he herd a commotion behind him. Turning he saw Arnaald storm through the door calling, “News, lads. Very good news indeed.” His words were punctuated by a smart rapping of his staff upon the flags. Just then Arnaald noticed Smuntley standing there sipping tea. “Ah, my rescuer. Ha, I trust you’ve found everything to your liking?”
“So far, so good, old boy”, replied Smuntley, raising his cup.
“Come, come, lad”, said Arnaald, taking Smuntley by the elbow. “I must introduce you and relate our tale. First though, let’s get some food into you.”
While Smuntley gorged himself on mutton and gravy and potatoes with peas and carrots, buttered bread and a large tankard of ale, the wizard related to the council what the dragon had told him. He’d already decided what needed to be done. Obviously an expedition to Mount Gunderbad was in order and, being that Garr was the rightful heir to the torque, it should be led by him, thereby securing him one more claim to the throne when the time came. After answering some questions, he decided to let the council digest what had just been told them and went to sit with Smuntley, who was just finishing his meal and catch up with the news since they’d parted ways.
“So, these creatures that ran you off, describe them, if you don’t mind”, said Arnaald.
“Well”, said Smuntley, “They were perhaps a dozen in number. They shambled in kind of a hitching gait and were terribly emaciated and yet possessed of a powerful strength. Why, one lifted a stone that it would take a team of dray horses to drag, and with one hand, mind you. They stunk something ungodly. I was some hundred yards or so from them and when the wind shifted right I could still smell them. Their hair, them that had any, hung thin and lank. Their color was a sickly gray and I got the distinct impression they were something more dead than alive. Oh…and they rode some species of reptilian beasts.”
The wizard sat back in his chair, exhaled audibly and stared at the ceiling. Finally he uttered one word…”Draugar.”
Smuntley said nothing but waited for the explanation he was sure would be forthcoming. When Arnaald rose and said, “Excuse me for a moment, won’t you?” Smuntley was clearly taken aback. He refilled his tankard from the pitcher and settled back to await whatever would come next.
Soon Arnaald returned with a frail, small and plainly ancient woman in tow. She leaned heavily upon a cane but her eyes were clear blue, intelligent and soul-piercing. As Smuntley stood and removed his pith helmet, Arnaald pulled out a chair for her and she seated herself.
“My dear”, said the wizard, “you already know the story of my rescue from Bolle. I’d like to introduce you to my rescuer, Smuntley Kwerm. Smuntley; Huldred Blodkvinne.” Smuntley nodded, “I’m honored, Ma’am.”
When they were all seated, Arnaald related what Smuntley had told him. Huldred nodded knowingly. “Draugar. I knew I wasn’t mistaken. I saw them on the hill above Josdahl the day of the raid. They were a ways off but I sensed what they were. There is a malignancy about them that transcends distance. Just sat there on those horrid things they ride. Phaw!” Finally Arnaald explained what the draugs were and Smuntley shuddered.
“But why would the be chasing me? I’ve done nothing to them. Besides, who would have known that I was even there? My lodge was remote in the extreme.”
Arnaald steepled his fingers, touched them to his long nose and thought for a moment. Finally, “I don’t think they are after you. They are the minions of the dark lord. He must suspect that I’ve escaped. After all, your cabin was very near to where I was held prisoner. Fool that I am; I should have anticipated the danger you’d have been in. Lad, you are indeed lucky to be alive.” Smuntley raised his eyebrows, raised his tankard, nodded, and took a sip.
After a bit of conversation and socializing, Huldred announced that it had been a long day and since she wasn’t getting any younger, she should be turning in. Briar had insisted that she take an apartment in the keep proper. During the day she oversaw the infirmary and the apothecary. “Good night, young man. It was my very special pleasure to have finally met you”.
Smuntley rose, kissed her hand and said. “The pleasure is mine, I assure you.”
When Huldred had left, Arnaald took a long while telling their tale and asked if Smuntley would consider lending his aid. “By all means. I’m all in, old boy”, said Smuntley. At that Arnaald stood on the table and called, “Distinguished council members and retinues, I should very much like to take this opportunity to introduce a very special addition to our cause. Mr. Smuntley Kwerm of… the Universe.
He went on to tell the tale of his rescue to many raised tankards and cheers and shouts of “Here’s to Smuntley. Skoal, skoal, skoal!”