The Long Dark Road to Wizardry
by Richard K. Lyon
|Table of Contents|
Book I: Wolves at the Wedding Feast
Episode 3: Satisfying Honor With Blood
part 1 of 2
Previously: The wedding of Sir Druin to the Lady Sathryn attracts guests from the noblest houses in the land and some unexpected guests: a raiding party of Norgemen. Killing many, the raiders imprison the rest and start celebrating their victory by drinking and torturing captives. By very quietly murdering a guard Druin releases the captives. Sathryn, however, has been taken away to be gang raped. Like Druin she is bound by their nation’s inflexible code of honor: if she is dishonored she must commit suicide. Unarmed, one man against three shiploads of seawolves, Druin must rescue his untouched bride...
The horror of the situation he faced nearly overwhelmed Druin, but he was rescued by a rising tide of anger.
How could the gods, who were supposed to be just, make such an impossible demand of him. Except — hadn’t someone told him that the way to solve an impossible problem was to make it more difficult?
His honor required of him both the impossibility of saving Sathryn and the impossibility of killing the Norgemen to the last man. Slowly a dark inspiration came over him. There was no honorable way to do what honor required, but a man can slay a thousand with a well-told lie.
I’ll do it. I’ll go in there and gull the pack of them into their deaths!
For all his sudden fierce resolve, his mouth was abruptly quite dry, his hands were covered in clammy sweat, and the base of his spine was chilly. Still, though his fears were great and he’d not the faintest notion what sort of lie he might tell, at the back of his mind there was a hard core of confidence. He was about to do a monstrous evil, and for it he had a talent inborn.
Striding forward into the lurid red light of the torture chamber Druin stood in full view of his enemies and, bowing slightly, declared, “Gentlemen, I hope I do not intrude.”
For an instant his boldness stunned them into silence. The chamber was a large amphitheater, rows and rows of benches rising above a semicircular stage filled with torture implements. The young aristocrat, clad in a bright crimson satin halfcoat, pale blue shirt and pants with a cloth-of-gold sash, stood in stark contrast to the dark and grisly marauders, their unwashed bodies clothed in bloodstained armor and filthy rags. ’Twas as though a proud peacock had strutted into the middle of a wolf pack feasting on a fresh kill.
Paying no heed to the staring eyes of his enemies, the young aristocrat scooped up an ale mug, filled it from the nearby barrel and blandly seated himself. Only after taking a long deep drink did he say, “Warchief Gardragon, I have business with you.”
“Be ye mad?” the old warrior growled in mixed anger and astonishment. “Canst thou not see what we are about and what fate thou’lt have at our hands?”
Gardragon’s bear-paw hand gestured at the room, the various grim implements now decorated with the corpses of his friends, the rack on whose horrid length the unconscious body of Druin’s half-brother Kyarl lay faintly moaning, and Sathryn in the torn ruins of her wedding gown now struggling futilely in the grip of an unsavory barbarian like a white songbird caught by a mangy dog.
Shrugging as though all this were a matter of indifference, Druin replied, “But, Gardragon, you’re not apt to harm the only man who can lead you to the treasure.”
At that single word the entire wolf pack stared at him with suddenly increased interest, greed sparkling in their dark eyes. “What treasure?” demanded Gardragon.
“Ahh”, the young aristocrat murmured, “I see our dear King Thilloden didn’t bother to tell you. ’Tis a hoard of wealth great enough to keep all of you in luxury for a dozen lifetimes, and no doubt good Thilloden wants it for himself.”
Behind and several paces to the left of the aging warchief was one warrior obviously different from the rest, a fastidiously clean tiger in the midst of the shabby wolf pack, Sith by name. Having watched Druin with cold calculation in his green eyes, he suddenly demanded, “Why should you come to us, your sworn enemies, with this tale of riches?”
“Because I’ve no choice,” Druin replied blandly. “If I don’t sell you the treasure in exchange for freedom for myself and my friends, then Thilloden will steal it.”
With transparent treachery the old warchief asked, “Be you willing to show us this treasure before we release your friends?”
“Certainly,” the young aristocrat answered in a tone of cheerful naivety. “I know you barbarians have your own strong, simple code of honor, though, of course. I’d want you to swear an appropriate oath.”
“Done and a bargain!” the grizzled warchief roared. “By the Long Dead Bones of all the gods I swear that if you show us this treasure and it be all you’ve said, you and all of yours may go in peace, and I swear that if it be but a tale, you shall pay for your perfidy with pains such that you beg for death.” Rising to his feet, Gardragon smiled, a grotesque act that showed his rotten yellow teeth, and continued, “There, you have your oath, now let us see this marvelous treasure.”
I’ve done it. They’ve agreed to follow me. The only reason that these fiends are dangerously sober is that their ale’s weak and in short supply. I’ll lead them to the wine cellar and — somehow — stall the treasure hunt until they incapacitate themselves.
Strangely he felt confident that he could make this very poor plan work, one way or another. For no reason he could put his finger on, there was something especially right about leading his foes into the wine cellar.
“Certainly,” he replied smiling. “If you just follow me, the treasure is this way.”
“Wait!” Sith demanded suspiciously. “Aren’t we going to need tools of any sort?”
“No,” Druin shook his head, “some of you are carrying, ahh, sledgehammers aren’t you? They’ll do for breaking down stone walls.”
“What about your brother?” Sith asked, gesturing toward the rack. “I’m sure none of us would mind if you released him.”
Though Gardragon started to object, he stopped himself and the faintest hint of a nasty smile crossed his battle-scarred countenance. The same hidden smile, amusement at some secret joke, appeared here and there amongst the wolf pack.
They expected that he’d simply release Kyarl from the rack, a lethal blunder, for a sudden relaxation of tension could kill his half-brother as painfully as being further stretched. On the other hand, Druin’s whole plan depended on playing the fool and if he released the rack, slowly, one notch at a time, ’twould shatter the pretense.
“Actually,” he said with a cheerfully idiotic smile, “Kyarl here is only my half-brother. He can stay there while we go get the treasure.” Taking half a step, Druin beckoned them to follow him.
Sith was instantly on his feet, frustrated suspicion in his eyes, shouting, “Not so quickly! Before we go with you, I want to know where this supposed treasure is!”
“It’s in the wine cellar,” Druin replied mildly.
“Why there?” the tigerish warrior demanded.
“I suppose,” the young aristocrat replied in pleasantly patronizing tone, “because my father wanted to keep the treasure a secret. He absolutely forbade anyone else from ever going into the wine cellar, so that was the one place in the whole castle where he could keep anything he chose and no one would be any the wiser.” He stopped, looked back and forth between Sith and Gardragon, and added, “Whichever one of you is in charge here, do you want to continue this interesting discussion or shall we go get the treasure?”
Spurred by the implied insult, the old warchief instantly thundered, “We go!”
* * *
They went. As Druin led the raiders down the dank stone corridor, he could feel Sith’s deadly calm eyes carefully watching him. For the moment he’d outmaneuvered the tigerish warrior, but only for the moment.
Sathryn was also behind him, dragged along by an unsavory brute. Much as Druin longed to speak some word of comfort to her, he dared not. For one brief moment their eyes had met, and he saw that she watched him with blind terror. Although he was doing all this to save her, she couldn’t know that and instead regarded him with horror as a traitor and a monster. Later he could comfort her and explain all — in the unlikely event that they both lived.
Ahead was the iron bound thick oak door that was the only entrance to the wine cellar. Without thinking about it, Druin fumbled in his pocket and pulled out the appropriate key. Only when ’twas in his hand did he realize, Theba and all her saints, my father wasn’t trying to give me all those keys, just this one, the key to the wine cellar!
’Twas the only key that his father in life would never have given to anyone, and the fact that dying he gave it to his son proved that he wanted Druin to lead the Norgemen here. And that in turn must mean...
Brushing past the young aristocrat, Sith snatched the key from his hand. Though he said not a word, his manner eloquently declared that he suspected a trap and meant to guard against it. Sword in his right hand, he placed the key in the lock and stopped.
“The hinges,” he exclaimed, pointing, “they’re on the outside of the door. That means the door was built not to keep intruders out of this room but to keep something locked inside.”
“Stop,” Gardragon rumbled, “being a cautious old woman and open the door.”
Reluctantly Sith obeyed and slowly, ponderously the heavy door gaped open. The room beyond was black as the pit.
“After you,” Sith declared, handing Druin a torch. Without hesitation the young aristocrat took the firebrand and holding it high stepped down into the darkness. The fire’s shifting uncertain light revealed naught except what was to be expected, row upon row of wine kegs. Sith’s probing eyes danced about, staring first into the darkness then at Druin.
He thinks there’s some danger hidden here, something worse than an overabundant supply of wine... and... by the gods he’s right!
Copyright © 2009 by Richard K. Lyon