Vhindr woke with a start and he tried to stand, pain wracked his body and mind immediately, and all was blurred before his eyes. Weariness overtook him and he fell back to the ground. As his consciousness left him once again he thought he heard a voice speak to him, but the thought vanished into nothing.
He had no idea how time had drifted by when his mind began to wake again. This time he came back to reality slower, the sounds of voices echoed clearly in his ears, and the smell of cooking food filled his senses, Vhindr’s eyes flickered open and he tried to the sit up.
“Hey, he’s awake.” Remarked a gruff voice.
“Easy Vhindr,” said a lighter voice and Vhindr felt a firm hand at his back to help him up. “Don’t burst those stitches now.”
“Legin?” Vhindr mumbled as he laid eyes upon his friend, “How?”
“We were coming to Issia when we saw flashes and bursts of magicks atop this ship,” Legin explained, “Came over to check it out.”
“An’ yer lucky we did,” Kōrrin added as he cut a slice of meat off the rabbit the size of a boar roasting over the fire.
Vhindr glanced at his surroundings and realised that he was in the large hall at the base of the Nevārancien craft. Before him the chamber opened wide where the landing ramp touched down on the icy tundra, and in the distance the lights of Issia glowed brightly through the night.
“How long was I unconscious?” Vhindr wondered.
“Most of the day,” Bel’eak replied as he lounged in front of the fire. “You had lost quite a bit of blood. Though you did wake briefly earlier.”
“You three carried me down from the top?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“Me and Bel’eak did.” Legin replied with a grin.
“Kōrrin couldn’t even climb the elevator shaft,” the Nevārancien laughed, “Too afraid of heights.”
“Afraid?” exclaimed the dwarf angrily, “Look at me axe hand ya git. How am I supposed to climb up a ladder that long?”
Bel’eak and Legin laughed at that, and Vhindr even chuckled slightly, though his mirth was cut short by a shot of pain running through his body.
“What of Haylien?” Vhindr inquired after a few moments.
“Who?” asked Legin as he scrunched up his face.
“The snow elf, Dun Hyic,” Vhindr clarified.
“Left her where she lay,” Bel’eak replied casually. “No one is going to worry if the carrion pick her bones bare.”
Vhindr winced slightly and nodded, his thoughts elsewhere.
“How’d you beat her anyways?” Legin inquired curiously.
“I think I used Void magicks,” Vhindr replied distractedly.
“Ya think?” Kōrrin scoffed.
“I am not sure,” Vhindr gazed into the fire, “I remember anger burning within me as she stated her plans for killing my family and friends, and then nothing, I collapsed into darkness. I thought I was dying.”
“Well I am glad you didn’t,” Legin smiled to him and slapped Vhindr on the shoulder, causing him to gasp in pain. “Sorry, I forgot. My bad.”
The others laughed and Vhindr gritted away the throbbing agony that pulsed through him. Even without the aid of Legin’s friendly hit, every move Vhindr made caused him pain, so he eventually lied back down and went to sleep. But before he drifted to sleep he cast several spells of healing upon his wounds
The next day he awoke late and despite his injuries insisted on leaving. After eating breakfast Vhindr cast some more healing spells and when they were ready to leave he was feeling quite a bit better.
“We have no horse for you, but Issia is only walking distance away.” Legin remarked as he packed camp.
“Let us go then,” Vhindr nodded and they headed off towards the city, “Rhalin will be surprised to see me.”
“Why’s that?” Bel’eak asked, “And on second thought, why wasn’t she and your sister with you?”
“Valianna is in Port Na’brath,” Vhindr replied, “Her and I warped there to stop the assassin from killing our father while Rhalin remained in Issia.”
“Seems ye got quite the tale to tell,” Kōrrin observed and Vhindr nodded.
As they made their slow way towards Issia Vhindr told his friends of the events that took place after they parted ways. They were each suitably stunned when he explained that Roht and Barrgarah had plotted Baron Ellengar death and that the assassin, Haylien, had in fact saved Valianna.
“So she wasn’t that bad after all,” Legin remarked sadly, “Did you have to kill her?”
“You like The Hawk, did you Legin?” Bel’eak teased.
“Yeah, she was cute,” Legin replied casually, “And the name: The Hawk, so enigmatic. Perhaps I should change my name to something like that.”
“The Monkey?” Kōrrin suggested drawing a laugh from Bel’eak and Vhindr.
“Tell me,” Vhindr spoke up before Legin could rebut, “How did your adventure fair? You look fairly normal once again, Bel’eak.”
“It went well enough,” the Nevārancien shrugged nonchalantly.
“He hasn’t told us much either,” Legin said, giving his friend a glare, “Went off to see the Celniel lady who taught him some magicks, or so he says. Me and Kōrrin reckon there is more to it but he won’t say.”
“Interesting.” Vhindr remarked as he regarded the warrior curiously. “And you can use magicks now?”
Bel’eak only offered a nod and slight smile came across his face.
“No use tryin’ to get more out ‘o him,” Korrin grumbled, “He’s tighter than a halfling’s purse. But happened to Legin is also interesting, and confusin’.”
“Which is?” Vhindr asked and looked to his monkey tailed friend.
“I met that man with the strange eyes again,” Legin replied hesitantly, “Said he saved me from death back in Pentra so I could dispose of Magi Stinfry for him.”
“Why?” Vhindr wondered.
“Didn’t say much else,” Legin shrugged and looked away.
“An’ he’s bein’ just as tight lipped about it,” Kōrrin grumbled in his beard.
Vhindr turned a curious eye to his friend who continued to avoid his gaze. But Vhindr decided to ask no more questions on the matter, Legin would tell him more in time if he wanted.
The walls of Issia stood high above them now with the peaks of the Gaia Mountains looming higher still with white clouds drifting around their snow covered heads. Moving through the open gates the guards gave them little regard and Legin led the way into the courtyard that housed the stables before the road lead the way through another gate onto the streets of Issia.
“Well met guardsman,” Vhindr greeted one of the men standing watch at the second gate. “Tell me, what is the news in Issia?”
“Well sir, quite a lot’s been happening as a matter of fact,” the man replied, seeming happy to talk to them. “Baron Barrgarah is dead, had his head lopped off as word would have it. No surprises there if you ask me, the other lords never liked him much, especially after he got that Nevārancien to work in his court, no offense good sir.”
The guard nodded awkwardly Bel’eak, who did not reply.
“Aside from that not much has happened,” the man scratched his hairy chin, “The three Bosses still run the streets, though word has it The King has lost a great deal of respect and the rumors say The Arveln Brothers are looking to usurp him.”
“I see,” Vhindr nodded absently and thought to move on, but guardsman had one more thing to say.
“That’s right,” the man exclaimed, “Baron Ellengar’s adopted daughter, what’s her name, Rhalin? Was charged with treason.”
“What?” Vhindr exclaimed.
“It’s true,” nodded the guard, “Can’t believe it myself, but Roht charged her himself.”
Vhindr looked to his companion to see that they each wore the same concerned expression as himself.
“But that’s not the end of it,” continued the man, “She escaped the dungeons can you believe it. Roht’s now put a bounty on her head to the amount of a bag of gems. Lot of wealth right there, enough to tempt all kinds of Head Hunters.”
“Thank you for the news,” Vhindr stammered and turned to his friends.
“What are you thinking?” Legin asked softly.
“Let’s go sort out that Roht fella,” Kōrrin added with a snarl, “Lyin’ bastard.”
“And then be arrested for both murder and espionage,” Bel’eak said seriously.
“You are right,” Vhindr agreed, “We should leave Issia and make for The Port. Perhaps Rhalin is going that way herself.”
“Fine by me,” Legin shrugged, “I’ve got nothing to do here.”
“Me neither.” Bel’eak added.
“Back on the road then?” Kōrrin agreed and Vhindr led the way back towards the stables.
“Wait one moment,” Vhindr said as he pulled out some parchment and magickal quill. “Legin turn around, I need a flat surface.”
“What are you doing?” Legin asked curiously as he turned around and bent over slightly so Vhindr could use his back as a desk.
“Writing a letter to the Regional Commander,” Vhindr replied simply.
“What for?” demanded Kōrrin.
“He is the only one with the authority,” Vhindr said harshly and glanced suspiciously to the guard nearby, who seemed not to be paying attention them. “There, done. I’ll give this to the guard and we can go.”
With that Vhindr quickly placed his magickal quill back in his pouch and headed over to the guard. After giving them specific instructions to get his letter to Regional Commander, and handing some coins over to ensure it, Vhindr moved back to his companions to make ready to leave the city.
Fortunately enough horses were there for all four of them to buy, and despite Legin and Bel’eak’s enjoyment in running they both agreed that they should leave Gaianaus as quickly as possible.
Soon the city was far behind them and flat road reached out into the horizon. Glancing back over his shoulder Vhindr felt a sense of regret in leaving Issia with business regarding Roht’s deception and conspiracy to kill his own brother unresolved. He would have liked to arrest Roht Ellengar personally, but he knew that such action would be deemed highly suspicious and ludicrous coming from the son of the Ruling Lord of Port Na’brath. He had to trust that Liuden DeVaan would have the resolve and wit to do so in his place.
* * *
Liuden scratched his chin, pulling out a few of his blonde hairs absently as he read over some notes. He had decided to grow his beard out, but now he was regretting it as he found that it was constantly itchy.
With a sigh he placed his notes down on the desk at which he was sitting and rubbed his eyes. The hour was late, he had be writing and re-reading the thoughts he had written down during the recent series of events.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Liuden grumbled as he stretched his neck and reached for his drink.
But with a sigh he placed the empty chalice back down on the table top.
“Why would Rhalin betray her country and say those lies?” he shook his head in confusion. “Lies according to Roht …”
Liuden’s voice tailed away and he stood up before heading for his door. With his thoughts elsewhere he hurriedly moved out of his private room in Issia castle and nearly ran right into Captain Idunn.
“Regional Commander,” Idunn exclaimed as she nimbly skipped out of the way, “I was just coming to see you. You have been locked away in your quarters for nearly two days now, what’s going on?”
Liuden regarded Idunn curiously as he continued on down the hall, the Captain following.
“None of this is making sense,” Liuden said seriously, “The stolen gold, Bea’trix joining us on that hunt, and now Rhalin being arrested for treason. I need to speak with her.”
“You can’t do that.” Idunn replied, causing him to stop and turn to regard her.
“What?” asked Liuden, “Does Roht think he can stop me?”
“It is not that, she’s escaped,” Idunn replied calmly.
“Picked the locked, I don’t know,” Idunn shrugged, “I was just coming to tell you.”
Liuden scratched his chin again and looked to the tapestry on the wall, but his light blue eyes were not seeing the patterns.
“I have to talk to Roht,” Liuden decided after a few moments, “And Bea’tix, do you know where she is?”
“She is not in the castle,” Idunn said, causing Liuden to frown in confusion.
“Well where is she?”
“I don’t know,” the beautiful Captain shook her head, “She is just gone.”
“Come on, we need to speak with Roht,” Liuden decided seriously and rushed off through the castle with Idunn close at his heels.
“Wait up,” Idunn called, “There is a letter here for you also. One of the guards from the gate brought it.”
“Who is it from?”
“The guard did not know and the man did not leave his name,” Idunn replied as she handed him the rolled parchment.
Curiously Liuden took the letter and unrolled it as he walked briskly along. But he stopped suddenly and he re-read the words and a smile spread across his face.
“I knew I was right.” Liuden said triumphantly and headed off again.
“What does it say?” Idunn inquired.
“The truth,” Liuden smiled back.
In Liuden’s mind the whole situation had seemed perplexing, the only thing that had seemed reasonable to his thoughts was that Rhalin was telling the truth. But now the letter in his hands confirmed his suspicions, though it was from a dubious source.
The light of the twin moons streamed in through the large windows of the castle, its silvery beams veiled by the mists that hung above the city.
His hands clenched at his side Liuden came to the door of Roht Ellengar’s private quarters and was met by two guards.
“Baron Ellengar isn’t accepting any visitors at the moment.” One of the guards said dismissively as Liuden stopped before them.
“Baron?” Idunn asked aloud.
“He might as well be now,” the second guard shrugged.
Liuden looked at the two burly men closely, they were muscled with bushy beards and wearing the wolf pelt armour of the Baron’s elite guard.
“I need to speak with him on a matter of urgency,” Liuden said seriously.
“I said no one enters.” The first guard glared at him.
“I am the Regional Commander of Gaianaus,” Liuden said slowly, “You will move aside.”
The second guard scoffed at that, “You ain’t no Regional Commander. Ain’t no man from Gaianaus.”
Anger burst within Liuden then and he lashed out at the burly man. Faster than either of them could react he slammed the second guard in the gut, blasting the air from his lunges. In the same motion Liuden drew froth his sword and leveled the deadly tip inches from the first guard’s throat.
“Open the door.” Liuden demanded evenly.
The large man glared at him but slowly did as he was told. As the second guard continued to cough for breath the first twisted the latch and let the old oak door creak inwards.
Without offering a word of thanks Liuden pushed passed the man and moving into the room he sheathed his sword.
“Now is not a good time Commander,” Roht remarked irritably as he sat at his desk writing something down.
“It’s Regional Commander.” Liuden stated flatly and caused the man to look up from his work. “And now is the time that I need to talk with you.”
Roht studying Liuden closely for several seconds before a slight smile came to his face and he placed his quill down to give the Regional Commander his full attention.
“What can I help you with?” Roht asked stiffly with an air of sarcasm, “Regional Commander.”
“You can start with telling me the truth.” Liuden demanded.
“About you and Barrgarah, and your involvement with your brother’s assassination,” Liuden was quick to say, and Roht narrowed his eyes slightly.
“Rhalin was lying,” Roht replied simply, “I thought we settled this matter.”
“It would be settled if it made sense,” Liuden said, “But her arrest and subsequent escape has put forward many more questions. To start with; why was Hazeldin really here in Gaianaus? Why did the men who were working for him stage that heist on the road? Why did Hazeldin then feign duress and flee the castle with the coins, going back to the very men who robbed him? Why did we find them dead? Why did Bea’trix join us on that hunt?”
Liuden’s voice became louder with each question and he took several steps towards Roht’s desk.
“Why now has Bea’trix vanished without a word?” Liuden continued, “Why was Barrgarah murdered? And most importantly why would Rhalin Ragnarr say those things about you which resulted in you arresting her?”
Liuden was leaning over Roht’s desk now, but the lord kept his composure well and wore a bemused expression on his face.
“It seems to me you are thinking about this too much,” Roht shrugged nonchalantly.
“You think?” Liuden narrowed his eyes, “But I have thought about this, a lot. And the only thing that makes sense at this moment is what Rhalin said about you and Barrgarah and your brother’s murder.”
“Really?” Roht scoffed, “And how do you figure that?”
“Those bandits that stole the coin were paid by Hazeldin,” Liuden began, his eyes never leaving Roht’s, “They worked for him and freely stated that he was paying them a lot of money to stay loyal. The bandits were meant to kill me and Idunn in the process, but they failed. If they had succeeded Bea’trix would have hunted Hazeldin alone when he fled the castle. By my guess the Nevārancien, under Barrgarah’s employ, was intending to tie up the loose ends and eliminate Hazeldin and the assassin. But it is obvious now that the assassin had another, hidden agenda, as Rhalin said. That is the reason Baron Barrgarah is dead. Rhalin learnt of this truth and that is what she was confronting you about when I interrupted you the other day. To protect yourself you had Rhalin arrested. But you did not count on Bea’trix freeing her and together fleeing Issia.”
As Liuden finished a triumphant smile crept to his face, but Roht expression was unchanged.
“That is an interesting story, Regional Commander,” Roht said calmly, “It would make a good book. But I would tread carefully if you intend to accuse me of anything without any evidence.”
“I am the Regional Commander of Gaianaus,” Liuden said seriously, “If I tell this to the other lords they will believe me. And I do have evidence.”
Roht seemed to become uncomfortable with that statement.
“What evidence?” Roht demanded a bit too quickly.
“A letter from a reputable source,” Liuden replied vaguely.
“That is not your concern,” Liuden said sternly, “But I have it right here, and it explains the whole thing with the promise of further statements if required.”
“Not my concern?” Roht exclaimed angrily, “I am-”
“Lord Ellengar, yes,” Liuden cut in confidently, “You are not the Baron. But I am the Regional Commander, and I don’t’ have to tell you who my sources are.”
The lord narrowed his eyes dangerously, and Liuden could see the man clenching his jaw.
“So why are you talking to me?” Roht asked irritably, “Blackmail is that it? You want something.”
“So it’s true?” Idunn exclaimed in horror, “You killed your own brother? Why?”
“Reasons of state,” Roht replied simply, “But, Captain Idunn, it is time to make you Regional Commander. The current one has outlived his usefulness.”
“What?” Liuden almost laughed aloud, “You intend to dispose of me as you did your adopted niece.”
“He is right.” Idunn said seriously, “You cannot sweep what you have done under the rug.”
“And what of the things you have done at my behest, Captain?” Roht was quick to ask, “Many innocents have been killed or imprisoned for life at your hands to further my position.”
“You wouldn’t,” Idunn began, but Roht cut her off.
“I would indeed,” the lord said threateningly, “Dispose of Liuden or you will go down with me.”
A look of worry and confusion came to Idunn’s face and she slowly drew her sword.
“I am sorry,” Idunn said slowly as she leveled her blade towards Liuden, “Things I’ve done, what Roht has commanded me to do, if any learn, I will be publicly executed.”
Liuden smirked and shook his head in bemusement.
“Don’t apologise,” Liuden sighed heavily, realising Roht had held all the cards right from the beginning. “Everyone has choices they have to make, and the consequences they have to live with.”
“You see Liuden DeVaan,” Roht said confidently as he stood up from his desk and moved around in front of it. “You cannot unravel what I have weaved. You learned of my plot to rid the realm of my stupid brother, and you learned how it backfired horribly. But in the end I guess it worked out well for me, I shall be given the title of Baron once I pull Gaianaus through this trying time and I shall bring prosperity and peace to the realm.”
“And how many dead bodies will you climb over to achieve that?” Liuden asked.
“As many as it takes,” Roht replied evenly, his visage deathly serious. “I love this region, I am a patriot to the end. Ever has the well being and prosperity of Gaianaus been at the front of my mind and those who seek to usurp that will come to know how serious I am.”
“Is this something you want to be a part of Idunn?” Liuden glanced to the woman who still held her blade.
“I don’t have a choice.” Stated Idunn flatly.
“You always have a choice.” Liuden replied as he slowly unbuckled his belt that carried his sword and let it fall to the stone.
“Liuden DeVaan,” Roht said with a smile, “You are under arrest for treason, conspiracy and collusion with the assassin. You shall be publicly gutted and dismembered.”
“No,” Idunn said suddenly and turned her weapon towards Roht, “No, I cannot do this anymore. I have had enough of you Roht, I don’t care if I go down with you. Enough is enough.”
Roht’s expression changed dramatically and his sword hissed from its sheath.
“Then you will die with him,” Roht yelled and he lashed out at Liuden, his foot blasting Liuden in the gut and knocking him from his feet. “For the good of Gaianaus you will both die at my hand.”
Coughing and gasping for air Liuden clutched his stomach and looked with watery eyes as Roht fell over Idunn with s flurry of powerful cuts and thrusts. Idunn had been shocked by the sudden change in demeanor from Roht that she was on the back foot and struggling to keep the man’s deadly sword at bay.
But Roht had the advantage, and he pressed it hard, chasing her around the room, his sword slipping through Idunn’s defences continuously. The Captain cried out in pain as Roht’s blade sliced along her forearm forcing her to drop her sword. Roht did not slow his movement and as he completed the pirouette and twisting around the Captain’s back his sword cut opened the back of Idunn’s leg, sending her crying to the ground.
Finally Liuden got his breath back, but he knew he would not reach Idunn in time to stop Roht. Thinking quickly he snatched a dagger from his sword belt beside him, and putting all his weight behind it, launched it towards Roht.
“You’re a fool Idunn, daughter of Ida,” Roht growled as he stood over her, his blade poised to finish her. “It is a shame it had-”
His words were cut off as Liuden’s dagger plunged into his neck in a splatter of blood. Dropping his sword Roht clutched at the wound and fell to his knees. He tried to say something, but all that came out was a gurgle of blood. The man’s face went white, his blood streamed down his chest and with a final look of outrage towards Liuden he fell forward onto his face, dead.
“Are you alright?” Liuden asked as he rushed to Idunn’s side and inspected her wounds.
Ripping a sleeve from his shirt Liuden quickly tied it around Idunn’s bleeding leg and helped her into a sitting position away from the pooling blood around Roht’s body.
Idunn did not reply to his question, her eyes lingering on Roht’s corpse as Liuden ripped his other sleeve off to wrap her arm.
“What will happen now?” Idunn wondered and turned her gaze to Liuden.
“All of Gaianaus will know of Roht’s treachery,” Liuden remarked, “And then I will have to assume control until a new Baron is selected.”
“You don’t seem to enthusiastic about that,” Idunn observed.
“I’m not,” Liuden smirked, “Especially with all the trouble I am going to have to sort out. But I have too.”
Idunn studied him seriously for a few seconds, making Liuden feel uncomfortable, before she nodded slightly and smiled.
“That is the reason why you will do well in the role,” she said seriously, “Why you have made such a good Regional Commander. If you need my aid you will have it Commander.”
Liuden looked away as he felt his cheeks go warm and smiled forced its way to his face. He knew it would be long and hard road ahead of him, but his was glad to have Idunn beside him. Perhaps even closer, Liuden mused silently.