Chapter Sixty-Two

July 28, 2012


6th of Woodmonth


                As we rest another day, Rothschilde sits down with all the knights and tells that he has received disturbing news from his spies that the church of Hextor is landing a force on our shores.  He would not ask anyone to miss the battle to stop the siege at the capital, but knows this matter must be dealt with.  As he knows that some of the knights present will have personal issue with this invasion force, he leaves the choice in our hands.
                Ulric volunteers to go deal with the Hextor forces, as does Briggette.  The leaders discuss how they will divide the overall army and who will take over Ulric's role in the fight at Tulcea.  Rothschilde and Baron Voda will break camp in the morning, heading that direction roughly at noon.  Briggette plans to knight Aethelred in the morning, then our group will head for the coast.
                Boffin approaches me that evening and invites me for a walk. We talk about the danger of our impending mission, and mentions that he will be sad to see us go.  He seems down and quiet, not his normal chatty self.  "Are you all right?" I ask him.  "You aren't talking much."
                "We've gotten to know each other fairly well over these last several weeks," he replies.  "I'm going to miss you."
                "And I will miss you, as well."     
                "You're really kind of attached to Sir Ulric and Sir Briggette, aren't you?"
                "Yes, I am, in more ways than one," I reply.  "Just as I assume you're attached to Voda, at least with your title?"
                "Well, as I told you, he is a good Lord.  I've served with others who were not."  He pauses a few moments.  "Tell me what it's like living in Brasov."
                "Well, it's nice.  It's home.  For one thing, everyone knows me there, so I don't get the crazy looks I do when we travel elsewhere."
                He seems surprised, and in all sincerity, he asks, "Why would people look at you crazy?"  In answer, I merely point toward my horns and tail.  He shrugs.  We continue walking, and he starts to move his arm toward me, but stops.  I reach out and take his hand and we continue walking.
                After about thirty minutes, we begin to turn back toward camp.  I look over at him, "You seem nervous."
                "Why would I be nervous?"  He looks around, "I'm sure there's nothing out here I can't take care of."  I grin to myself, realizing that I must be what's making him jumpy.  A few moments later, despite his prior grace, he actually trips on a root.  I make myself not giggle.
                "Assuming we both survive our respective battles, would it be okay if I come by and visit you in Brasov?"
                "Of course," I reply, "you're always welcome to visit me!"  He smiles and asks about my parents.  We talk a bit about how I'm not in touch with them much anymore.  I explain how to get to our house in town and tell him how welcome he would be coming to visit.
                I stop walking and turn to him.  I steel myself and take a big breath, "I don't know how to ask this . . . .  May I kiss you?"  He smiles and pulls me into his arms, laying a magnificently passionate kiss on me.  When he pulls away, he actually looks sheepish.  I blush and smile and cannot stop the "wow" that I mutter under my breath.  As this was my first real kiss, I wonder whether they're all this lovely or if he's just quite good at it.  I think better of asking him that, and he takes my hand again, and we actually skip back into camp.
                We join the other nobles and leaders in the tent for dinner.  There is much drinking and dancing and laughing and carousing.  Many of the knights and nobles dance with Briggette.  As the night wears on, people begin to leave the tent a few at a time.  I spend long hours into the night talking with Boffin.
                The next morning, as we make ready for the ceremony to honor and beknight Aethelred, roughly 500 people gather in the area to bear witness.  Briggette gives a speech detailing his worth and his merits, but it is not up to her usual standards; she must be quite tired from the partying the night before.  She knights him in the name of St. Cuthbert, Delrith and the Grand Paladin, and then backhands him with all the force she can muster.  He takes the blow like a man, and stands before the crowd.  A massive cheer rises from the assembled spectators, and then we go on about getting ready to leave.
                Ulric pulls Sir Sebastian and Sir Sorin aside and speaks with them about the coming battle.  He asks where they prefer to be.  After much discussion, it is decided that they will stay to represent Zurwald at Tulcea.  Ulric summons Gustav and hands his pennant over to Sir Sebastian.  "Fly this as you fight.  Do not let them forget what we have done here."
                His eyes well up with tears as he takes the standard and pledges, "Whatever happens, the west will not submit to him.  We may die, but we will not submit."  The men share a bear hug and go their separate ways.
                As we are mounting up, Count Rothschilde comes riding up in all his red livery, "Sir Ulric, Sir Briggette."
                Both nod in reply, "Your Excellency."
                "I know this is a sacrifice.  I pray for your success.  Remember that dying in glorious battle is only worth it if you break them.  It's okay to not engage the enemy; that's not retreat.  If you're going to get more men so that you can come back and defeat them, it is best to live to fight another day.  No matter what happens, I will not forget what you've done here."  He bids us safe journey, and we start to travel out of the area.  Many of the knights salute us as we ride out.
                On that first day, there are heavy rains for most of the afternoon.  Ulric grins, "Hextor weeps for his future fallen."  We all smile, and withstand the onslaught until it stops just before sundown.  We stop for the night, planning to push hard for the next several days to arrive as quickly as possible.
                We travel for five days, passing through several small villages on the way.  On the sixth day, we see two riders approaching.  Once they catch sight of us, they wheel around and gallop back in the direction from which they came.  Ulric turns and looks at Briggette who takes off at full speed in that direction, Aethelred not far behind.
                The interlopers have no pennants and are wearing black cloaks.  At one point, one of them reaches out and makes an odd hand gesture, then turns back toward Briggette and Aethelred.  His comrade continues in the opposite direction.  Briggette signals Aethelred to handle the one turning back while she continues to follow the flight of the other. 
                Aethelred meets him in a charge with his lance and lands a solid blow before dropping the lance and attacking with his new flail won in the battle.  The man hits him back, but doesn't seem to cause as much damage.  They trade blows for another few moments before Aethelred smashes in his skull.
                Meanwhile, Briggette catches up with the other man and attempts to plant a blow with her lance to knock him off his horse, but can't quite unseat him.  However, Chancellor issues a command to the man's horse and it simply stops moving, flipping the rider off onto the ground.  He starts to get up, but is not quick enough to escape Chancellor's hooves.  At Briggette's command, Chancellor allows one hoof to rest on the man's chest, pinning him to the ground.  Briggette dismounts and places a foot on the man's arm, leveling Helga at his throat, "Who are you?"
                He does not respond verbally, but instead brings his shield over with his other hand and slams it into Briggette's knee.  She manages to keep her hold on his axe arm and smacks him with the flat of her blade.  Chancellor kicks at his head, but doesn't kill him.  The man drops his axe, grabs onto Briggette's leg, and once again bashes into her leg with his shield.  "Don't make me kick you in the head," she threatens.  He continues to struggle, and she raises her foot for the blow that splits his lip, but doesn't yet knock him out.  Chancellor once again kicks as well, and the man's shield finds Briggette's leg once more.  "Submit!"  Briggette screams, striking one blow with the flat of Helga on each syllable.  Finally, he falls unconscious.
                Before Briggette and Aethelred return in our direction, she notes a strong smell of the ocean.  When she peers over the edge, she sees a bay below with five ships in the distance and one in the shallows.  People are milling about on the shore, setting up a camp.  There are about seventy people there, but only a few horses.  As we meet back up with them, we decide to mount the ridge and then charge.  While we are in battle, Cal will ride for the ship with Alchemist's Fire and destroy the ship.
                We line up on the top of the ridge, Finn blows the horn and the knights and soldiers ride down the hill.  The crossbowmen and Korvinean remain at the top of the ridge to pick off any stragglers.
                "Raise the flag high and let those degenerates know who comes to claim their lives this day!"  Ulric screams as we charge forth.  A bevy of crossbow fire from the enemy greets us as we approach.
                Briggette charges through the camp, making a beeline for a man wearing a tabard with a symbol of Hextor.  She slams into him with her lance and rips him to shreds as a brilliant flash of white light fills the area.  
                Ulric charges right through one of their tents and continues until his lance collides with what appears to be their leader, a large man in armor riding a horse with a flag of Hextor mounted on his saddle.  Briggette soon joins him in attacking this marked man, and together, they quickly kill him.
                From a tent in the back of the camp, two minotaur burst out and join the fray.  As I charge across the field, I fire at him and my bolt strikes well.  Meanwhile, another one of the group leaders closes with me to attack.  Finn is fighting nearby and sees his intent, turns and trips the man before he can get to me.  The minotaur closes with us and we both focus our attention on him, and he quickly goes down. 
                Meanwhile, a little farther afield, Briggette and Ulric easily destroy the other minotaur and return to fighting the remaining humans in the area.  After mowing through those that remain, we move through the area collecting anything of value and lighting the tents on fire.
                As we look into the bay, we see fighting on board and see that it is moving away from shore.  Hopefully, Cal and his men have it well in hand.