There was a hint, just a taste, of something foul on the air. The kind of air, that rises out of the sewers. The kind you find lurking near cemeteries. There was an underlying nervousness in Gothex. Nothing overt, but something slipping just under the skin. The markets were full, but eyes searched left and right. Feet shifted uneasily as peasants bought breads, meats, and fruits.
A half of a year had passed since Gothex had been happy. The wedding of Lady de’Gruse to the Royal Jester had seen the streets lined with pretty colors and rejoicing faces. The air had been fresh, the sun warm, and the spirits had flown freely at every pub and tavern. But those days were now just a fond memory. A growing darkness was approaching and the people did not want to spend too much time out of doors.
The first reports began to come in, even before the Jester has left on his honeymoon. Dark things were lingering too long on the Eastern Front. Outriders skirmished with creatures that were beyond the intelligence of normal beasts. Dar Benedict and Brand sat in counsel for many hours, debating when to bring this to Saing’s attention. They agreed that shortly after the festivities to report to the War-Lord.
The fireworks had scarcely stopped and eight men entered into private chambers to confer. The man at the head of the table wore blackened ceremonial armor, with a helmet that was both horrifying and beautiful at the same time. He has a black goatee and looked to be so gaunt that he could not possibly wear so heavy a protective layer. To his right sat a much larger man, also goateed, but his armor was well polished, more functional and the silver and purple seemed to be woven in intricate patterns across the breastplate. Embossed in the center, just above the Sword and Shied of the State, was the Royal Crest, awarded to the most loyal of warriors.
“Commander, where are we on this Eastern incursion?” Saing asked.
“My Lord, as you know the Ministry of Intelligence has interrogated some of the beasts captured. Their reports are a bit startling. More information is necessary before action can be taken. As you know the Eastern Brigade stands ready to march at your command.” Tintar replied.
“Excellent. General, do you have anything to add?”
Dar Benedict stopped writing as soon as the question had started and looked around the table. ‘Were these men, these hard fighting men, ready for what he was about to tell them?’ He looked around the table, what he saw told him that they were ready to die if need be. Four men sat in hardened armor, trained soldiers dedicated to the sword. The eldest was from the Southern Plains, a former monk named Sir Goettch who sat across from Tintar, with whom he had done battle against the Eastern Empire. To his left sat Sir Azon, the Unbreakable, who, it was said, had the lives of a cat. Across from him sat his contemporary, Sir Gregor, a Paladin who currently commanded the Western Brigade. To his right, sat one of his captains, Sir Augustus, a young man who seemed to be, by all accounts, a brilliant strategist. Brand slid the most recent reports in front of him.
“Leige, the most troubling is that these beasts appear to have a collective intelligence. If we interrogate one, the others seem to know what was asked. As though their minds are linked.” the Dar responded.
“Their minds are linked?”
“Mi’Lord, as you are versed in some magics, you are aware of the power of P’jai’us? We believe that these things are from It.”
Saing crushed his goblet and hissed, “This does not bode well for Gothex.”
“Baron,” Gregor spoke up. “We must reinforce the Eastern Front, as you know Lord Decker never paid much attention there.”
“Well put. Then do it, you have a fortnight. You leave in two days.” Saing adjusted his gaze, “Augustus you will survey the Western Border and dispatch troops four days hence. I do not want our borders weakened. Welcome to command. Try not to die.”
Gregor, Azon, Goettch lept to their feet and left for their respective commands. Their aides-de-camp were immediately at their sides, taking orders and readying mounts. Augustus, recently promoted, sent word for Sir Cristos, his soon to be aide-de-camp.
Meanwhile, south of the Kingdom of Twisting Rain, the Jester received a scroll, delivered by messenger. It had the seal of Boones on it. It read:
I have always enjoyed the tales of your travels, again congratulations on your wedding. I wish I could have been in better spirits for the event, alas, a malady hid my joy for the happy couple. I fear that this has once again weakened our alliance. I would sacrifice many a head of heard, if it would once again strengthen our bond. Forever we are sacred. As soon as I rebuild my estates and regain power in my lands, I will begin to repay my debts to you. It is to be soon, my aide, JerRand, tells me.I have heard that you are celebrating the Feast of the All Saints; it is my hope that you send well wishes to all that attend. It is also my hope to once again return to favor with the Court of Gothex.
Peace to you my brother and hope for more good word soon,
The Jester took quill and ink and penned a quick note to Errien. He left it to set and dry, while he returned to his new bride and the lovely lake by which she sunbathed.
Upon the Jester’s return, he was summoned to meet at Eeipr Kahz’s abode. When he arrived; drink, games of chance, and good friends set him upon. Kahz had organized a game of chance and many were there to partake. Tintar and Brand made toasts of good fortune to the Jester’s return. They played cards till all hours and discussed, many things, including the affairs of state, personal lives, and the comraderie of men. It was agreed, that such meetings should occur every fortnight; as much was accomplished and the politics of court could be left aside. Even Saing made an appearance, once. Thoughts of war were distanced by thoughts of friends and cards.
These to only be soured, when news arrived, Brand was to be dispatched, to Springville, south of Gothex, to maintain a vigilant eye on southern movements.
And then there was the errant comment, one night, made by a man-at-arms.
“Those damnable gypsies, every time me mates and me go for a pint, we trip over one. Thieving scoundrels. Met one, week back or so, claimed to be a ‘Lady’. ‘A lady in bed’ I said. She thought she’d tell me ‘I know many a lady-in-waiting, I once held the favor of Kings and Fools alike.’ Would’ve showed her my kings and fools, but she disappeared, just like that! Right before my bleedin’ eyes.”
“That’s de’Guile for you. Just when you think she’s gone, she reappears, as if from the Mists.” the Jester murmured.