By Brian Flood
Chapter 49 - Sir Helios
Kingdom of Cormyr
Early Morning, 21st Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The next morning is a busy one for everyone in the small but growing company. Taking advantage of their status as residents at the Green Man, the original members of group break their fast with a hardy and complimentary meal at the One-Eyed Cat.
Over the repast, Declan announces that his magical examination perceived an aura of enchantment on the vial of liquid taken from the bird-woman during the first foray. Next, Alain produces three necklaces – each comprised of a single owlbear claw hung from a simple leather thong – which he completed before falling asleep the previous night. He presents one necklace each to Amiel and Velgardrin, keeping the third for his own. Lastly, Velgardrin uses some of the party’s captured plunder to reserve a room at the Green Man for two persons for a ten-day – for the ladies, he explains with a thinly-veiled lewd smile.
After their meal, the group heads to the quartermaster. Malk excuses himself so that he may go to the stables to check on his mule and stored gear. Outside the warehouse, they run into Serethaniel. The elven swordsman is packing away several items into the large sack that apparently serves as his traveler’s backpack. A short bow and a quiver of arrows lie on the ground next to him. None of the companions fails to notice that the boastful warrior has apparently discarded his torn and soiled clothes and sandals for a set of much more serviceable attire to include a shirt, vest, pants, and boots. A dark cloak, also of recent manufacture, now covers his shoulders.
Malk rejoins the group about a candle mark or so later, just as those that entered the quartermaster’s store emerge, excess items having been stored and needed items retrieved from the company’s storage chest. As well, Amiel now has a bow of her own to compliment the party’s other archers. Alain comes from the adjoining warehouse, pulling a hand cart behind him. Kerielle’s face is briefly marred by a frown – apparently at discovering that the quartermaster did not have a flute among his inventory.
Amiel sends the mages and Malk to the keep’s water fountain while the more sturdy warriors supervise the distribution and packing of the companions’ personal and communal possessions. The company’s surviving ranger also inspects Seth’s gear and is pleased to find that the elf has a pair of water skins and a ten-day of rations in his pack – more than enough for the foray that the group has planned.
As the adventurers begin to pack away the water skins that the quartering party filled, they are interrupted by a familiar voice.
“There you are!”
The companions pause in their preparations and look up to find three people striding quickly toward them. Jadale leads the trio, and it is her voice that broke the morning calm. Behind her is Warden Abercrombie. Next to the priest is a stranger who can only be described as striking.
He is a tall imposing young man, clad in a suit of splint mail armor which seems to magnify and reflect the rising sun in a golden brilliance. Atop his head he wears a golden-polished elaborate helm molded in the form of a roaring lion’s head. His right hand rests easily on a horseman’s mace that hangs from his belt. In his left hand, he carries a metal shield emblazoned with a clenched right fist in a spiked gauntlet, in turn superimposed upon a golden lion rampart. A gray cloak is pushed back from his shoulders and the pommel of a sword rises from its scabbard which rides across his back.
But it is his eyes, peering from beneath a barely-visible shock of blonde hair, which catch the companions’ attention. The twinkle with friendliness but yet also seem to be hauntingly probing – as if staring directly into the soul of their observer.
The newcomers come to a halt in front of the adventuring company and it is Abercrombie that speaks first, as if in a rush to get himself heard.
“By Torm’s right hand, I am grateful we caught you before you departed,” the priest says hurriedly. “I told you I had been praying for Torm to aid you in you in your quest,” he continues, looking pointedly at Velgardrin, “and it would appear he has answered my petitions.
“This morning, after dawn vespers, I heard sounds of a large horse outside the chapel. I looked out to find this man, Sir Helios Thornfist, a Sword of Torm and a member of the Order of the Golden Lion, astride a massive charger. Sir Helios heard Torm’s call two nights ago last eve – during his dusk vespers. He rode directly here without stopping… from Arabel.”
At this, some in the party feel their jaws drop in disbelief. Lieutenant Jadale had said that it would take well over a ten-day to send a messenger to Arabel and have him return with a contingent of Purple Dragons. This man has made the one-way version of that same journey in just over two days.
Amiel whistles in disbelief. “That’s some horse, Sir Knight, to have made the journey in such a short space,” she observes, extending a hand to the man.
The ranger’s open and friendly reaction to the armored knight is in stark contrast to that of Seth, who comes to attention with urgency as his hand rushes to the hilt of a peace-bonded sword. Eventually the elf’s hand drops, and even though he breaks into a smile of relief as Amiel engages the newcomer, his posture says that he is not yet completely at ease.
“That is indeed most impressive – to ride so far, so quickly,” Kerielle adds. The skepticism in her voice speaks volumes.
“It seems we are inundated with bold claims of late!” The archer casts a dour glance at Seth as she speaks, although the frostiness in her voice has noticeably lessened.
“Still, it seems this one has those willing to vouch for him. Welcome, Sword of Torm.” Her tone implies that, although she will strive to be as polite as she is able, she will need a great deal more than a title and some well-polished armor to be convinced he is a trustworthy ally.
“Well met, Sir Knight, my name is Nathan,” says the mage by way of introduction. “I hope the ride was uneventful. Is it indeed as Abercrombie has said – you have been sent as an answer to his prayers?”
“My name is Malk, a free bard,” announces the party’s resident story-teller. “I am sure we all welcome such vouchsafed aid Sir Knight. I have never before met one of your brothers, tell us, are you all as determined, steadfast and steady as the tales say?”
“Well met all,” replies the knight. “I know not the origin of the calling I felt. I know only that The True demands that I offer my services to those here that are in need of them.”
“I be Velgardrin Silverforge, Servant of Clangeddin Silverbeard, Hisself. Followers of Torm be welkerm ter stand by me and fight ther evil ones.”
The stout dwarf removes his right glove, extends that hand in greeting, and continues speaking. “I be concernerd of thers one therng though. What evil lies ahead fer the Silver Claws and Companions thert Torm needs send a holy warrior ter aid urs? I fear that livern dead be only the beginnern. Is there ought yer can tell urs of what yer expect ahead?”
Helios’ eyes narrow and a steely tone creeps into his voice as he speaks. “What you have said may explain much, Velgardrin of Clangeddin. Torm has seen it fit to make it my personal duty to vanquish those soulless creatures from the world – and he has granted me powers to do so. If this area is so plagued, it may explain the calling.”
“Well said, human,” says Kerielle. Though her voice could hardly be described as friendly, those present notice a grudging respect which was distinctly lacking before.
“I will gladly add my arrows to your mace against these enemies we share.”
“What foul creatures have you found so far?” inquires the imposing warrior, remaining focused on what will be required of him.
“I hope your band of adventurers will accept my capable sword arm in ridding Cormyr of this plague? If not, then I shall do so alone, as is my duty and calling,” he says plainly without a hint of arrogance, but rather as a matter of fact.
“By Torm, they will rue the day they dared set their stinking feet upon our land!” The man’s normally pleasing and jovial features wrinkle up into a mask of disgust and righteous anger at the thought of undead haunting the lands of Cormyr.
“Our party leaves on foot for the Caves within the hour, Sir Knight,” announces Amiel. “You are ready, yes? Do you need supplies? I expect that we’ll be back in three days so will you need to make arrangements for the welfare of your mount?” she asks.
“Be yer one erv them paladerns erv Torm, Helios?” Velgardrin asks before the knight can answer Amiel.
The imposing man looks at Velgardrin, amused as if answering a question posed by a child. He smiles knowingly and glances to the heavens as if sharing a secret joke.
“I am a loyal servant of the almighty Torm himself. He is the mind and I am the body. Through my actions, I accomplish his goals and in doing so achieve my own enlightenment.” Helios grins at the open mouths of his future brothers in arms.
“That answers your question,” he boldly states.
“I need no provisions,” he next says to Amiel in answer to her earlier question. “I come prepared. Please tell me more about the undead which I must face?”
With a broad smile, Velgardrin cuts off the ranger’s reply. “It be good that yer be so derdicated. Ther livern dead be needern yer ter help therm rest.”
He winks an unabashedly broad wink at Jadale before continuing, “And serch derdication surely be meanern that yer have less time fer beautiful wimmern so maybe I be volunteerern to take care er me share and yers.”
The dwarf then turns and gives matching winks to Amiel and Kerielle.
Kerielle turns a frosty stare on the hapless dwarf, but those nearest her notice the corner of her mouth quirk with suppressed mirth. Mastering herself, she speaks to the newcomer.
“I have not seen them for myself, but my companions spoke of animated bones – the skeletons of fallen men, moving in a grotesque mockery of life. Velgardrin can perhaps tell you more of them.”
“I can tell you even more,” Amiel grunts ruefully, remembering the ranks of the skeletons inside the stone door.
“Now then, what of your horse?” she asks.
“My horse is my master’s,” replies Helios, “and is returning to his side as we speak. He is a fine and well trained animal.” The man shakes his head wistfully as if he regrets parting with the steed.
“Well then, let’s away!” suggests Kerielle. “I for one will be glad to leave these dead stone walls – safe haven though they may be – behind us for a time, and revel in the joy of living, breathing trees about me!” Her eyes shine with eagerness to be in her beloved forest once more.
“Indeed, lady elf,” begins Seth with obvious respect. “I have lived within stone and dead wood all my life, yet there is something... alluring… about these forests. I know not what. Why is it the forest fills you with such excitement? Perhaps you could walk with me and share what you know?” suggests the elf in unguarded curiosity.
He then decides to inform the party leader as such without waiting for the elf’s response. “Amiel, I’m going to walk ahead with Kerielle.”
“I would be glad to speak with you,” Kerielle tells Seth gently, “but I believe our Captain has need of your scouting skills.” She motions ahead to Amiel, who is clearly waiting for Seth to join her at the front of the party.
“Perhaps we can talk later - mayhap around the camp fire?”
“Very well then,” says the warrior elf dismissively, and walks to join Amiel at the head of the column. The ranger is clearly in her element as she issues curt instructions to the companions on how the group should array itself during its travel along the road after leaving the keep.
Helios grins at the prospect of fighting undead, his sworn enemy. He catches Amiel’s attention as the group moves toward the gatehouse.
“So how many of these skeletons do you think there were? Where were they? Did you see anyone who seemed to be a leader like a necromancer? I feel woefully short on information on the situation, and I do so hate to be unprepared for battle.”
“There were... lots of them,” Amiel explains. “It all happened so quick I had little time to count exact numbers. I was practically slain... and if my friends here had not pulled me to safety…” she lets the end of the sentence hang in the air, her face darkening at the memory.
“All I remember was that there was rank after rank of them in a narrow corridor... and their spears… I definitely remember their spears,” she continues grimly.
“As to a leader necromancer – there’s a fat merchant named Mendel that seems to be heavily involved. He posed as a merchant – all innocent-like – here with his handful of guards. He’s dangerous and must be captured – if possible.”
Kerielle adds to Amiel’s narrative. “I do not think the merchant is a… necromancer,” she says, her face twisting as she virtually spits out the last word. “I mark him as a coward, a liar, and a fool – but not a man of great evil. Perhaps though, he works for a darker master…”
“I’m sure that these creatures, whatever supernatural evil they may be, will not stand against a mightily swung blade,” add the elf Serethaniel, boasting again. “But all this talk will only make them bored, so let’s be off to these caves!”
“I be ready ter walk back ter find answers ter all we have seen,” adds Velgardrin, idly scratching his beard as he speaks. “Mehaps we can track where thers Mendel went ter see if he had anerther door.”
Helios’ face breaks into a heart-warming smile. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day! My mace here cannot wait to smash some skeleton skulls. Lead on!”
The tall man then asks, “So where is this fat merchant, now? Any ideas?”
Amiel shakes her head. “He could be anywhere. But the last time any of us saw him he was waddling into the dungeon where all the skeletons stood guard. There’s something odd going on these parts – necromancy and banditry.”
She grins suddenly at the dashing paladin, green eyes sparkling. “It’s good to have you with us to share this adventure, Sir!”
“I’m glad to have some friends at my back,” responds Helios warmly. “It has been a long journey getting here. Now let’s get on the road and go and make sure that the dead stay dead!”
Minutes later, Jadale and Abercrombie break from the group and wave farewell to the nine adventurers as they walk through the sally port of the gatehouse and cross the drawbridge. The sun is creeping steadily into the eastern sky as the reconstituted company heads down the hill from the keep and then turns to walk into the dawning day.
The content of Company of the Silver Claws is the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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