Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chapter 13b: To the Temple

Ten men stood next to the front gates of the palace. A light drizzle misted the air, hazing the fading light and adding to the gloom that shadowed over the men’s faces. Stiles ran a hand through his damp hair as he walked up to them. They knew something would happen soon, they just didn’t know what. He dreaded telling them.

Before he could say anything Ash stepped to the front and said, “Did you tell Duke Renier what a wonderful job you did on our escape from his dungeons? Was he so impressed with your bravery that he told you to go out and vanquish the rest of the undead? Did you tell him how you let Horn die?”

“That’ll be enough of that, Ash.” Stiles could feel his cheeks turning red with the conflicting emotions of both anger and shame. He didn’t know if he wanted to hit Ash or walk up to him and apologize. Instead of doing either he kept his emotions pushed down and stuck to business. People needed saving.

“That ain’t nearly enough…”

“Ash, please. You are partially right. The Duke did give us an assignment.”

To be given an assignment by Duke Renier was an honor, an honor that even Ash couldn’t balk at. The other men shifted their feet. Their brows furrowed inquisitively while their eyes shone with pride. Their nervous shuffled betrayed their fear.

Blade stepped in and put a firm hand on Ash’s shoulder, “What did he give us, Stiles?”

Stiles hand rose to the back of his neck and rubbed it nervously. “This is a great honor, but I’m not sure that you guys are going to like this one.”

Royd’s rough voice spoke up from the line. “Well, considerin’ that the last assignment started out with ale and story tellin’ and ended with us havin’ an undead jailer, getting a tough assignment might not turn out so bad, if you get my meanin’”

“I hope your right, Royd. I really do.”

He took a deep breath and folded his arms over his chest before continuing on. “Duke Renier wants us to go to the Temple of Vaspar and save some people who are trapped inside.”

Blade raised his hand but spoke before Stiles could acknowledge him. “How do they know anyone is there?”

“They have been ringing the Temple bell, I believe it’s called The Bell of Saint Renando. There are also people moving around in the bell tower. Nobody knows who’s in there but it looks like at least one teenager and maybe a priest.”

Another guard spoke up, “I don’t mean to sound like a coward or anything, but does it make sense to anyone for eleven people to be going out to save two. I know my counting ain’t so good, but this just don’t add up.”

“Jamee, I’m not going to force anyone to go. If I have to I will go by myself. The Duke asked me to do this and no matter what else has happened he is still my Duke and this assignment is an honor that I’m not going to shun. You can do what you want.”

Blade forced a smile, giving Ash’s shoulder a squeeze. “Well, you can count me in. Do we leave in the morning?”

“No, you will need to leave right now.” The voice came from the side and caught the men by surprise, the voice of the Duke.

The men straightened, trying to make themselves presentable, but the Duke waved his hand, telling them to relax. Behind him, a grin stretched Wellan’s lips.

“Like Stiles stated, I won’t force any of you to go. It’s true that we aren’t sure how many people there are in there. There may only be two, or there may be two dozen. I just want to give them a fighting chance. I don’t want to leave them stranded, to starve or become one of the undead. There aren’t many of us left. I want to save the ones that remain.”

Blade raised his hand, index finger pointed to the heavens. When the Duke nodded to him he asked, “Why now, sir? Why at dusk?”

“The undead have left our walls. We don’t know where they have gone or for how long, but this is the best opportunity we have had to get to the Temple of Vaspar. I don’t know if Stiles has brought this up, but I would like a group of you to rescue the people at the temple, another group to scout out the city and see where everyone has gone, and a final group to leave the city and go to the Baron Milchev. His people need to be warned. Stiles will split you up into different groups when you arrive at the temple.”

Splashing interrupted the Duke as two people sloshed through the muddy puddles; a man and a woman, wearing flamboyant clothing and packed to travel. They stopped at the end of the guard line.

Wellen stepped around Duke Renier. “Shannai, what are you doing here?”

The man spoke before she could answer, “We want to go. Get outside the city while there is a chance.”

The duke’s brows furrowed. “You and your wife are safe here. There is no reason to take a chance in the city if you don’t have to.”

Stiles bristled as the man glanced at the woman and rolled his eyes. “First off, she is my sister, and secondly I don’t want to be trapped in here if those things come back. We’re getting out while the getting is good.”

The Duke’s arms folded over his chest. “I won’t force you to stay. It’s your decision, but I think you and your sister would be better off here. We are making plans to leave the city. Plans that don’t involve dealing with the undead any more than we have to.”

Wellan spoke before the man could reply. “Is this what you want Shannai?”

The woman stared at the Dukes boots as she replied. “I will follow Marchas. He’s never let me down yet.”

Marchas’ teeth gleamed through his smug grin, but Stiles noticed that his sister never looked the wizard in the eye as she answered, and her voice barely rose above a whisper.

Duke Renier frowned. “So be it. Marchas and Shannai will join the group that leaves the city to warn Baron Milchev. I wish you all the best of luck, and may Vaspar be with you as you go about your appointed tasks.”

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