It was going to be a bad day.
Shortly before dawn, a messenger arrived with dispatches form the front. The Jester lit some candles and leafed through them. Among them, one written in the tight military script of his brother-in-law, Sir Augustus, it read:
I feel I must write this letter and address it to you, because I fear that Forces of this land might confiscate a letter addressed directly to the Commander.
It has been near a month since my dispatch to protect the Western Border. My forces have held strong, with no real activity as of yet. I have recently given Sir Cristos his own command, in charge of Siege and Heavy Weapons, due to his extensive knowledge on the subject. With that in his hands, I have more time to concentrate on our strategy. I have also given him a battalion, in order to build and man his weapons.
I think it important to give you all of the information I have received in the short month I have been in command. In the first few days of my Occupation here, Sir Cristos and I have discovered two of the local militiamen, Richard of Seka, and Jean Michael the Dominant. Richard is a well-respected man with the locals, and is our spokesman to the townspeople. They call him "King", as he commands the respect of the locals. I have many times sought advice from him, as well as help with matters of the local villages. Jean Michael is a close advisor to Richard, and is more known for his short stature, and his great strength. Many a times he was broken a man's arm for mistaking him for a dwarf. He is the man I think could lead these people to war, if needed.
Because of my dealings with these men, I have learned much about this land. I have learned of a vile Cult that dwells in the province of Chevans. They are commanded by Collen of Letics, a fierce warlord; who suffers from severe vainity. His second in command is a woman, if you can call her that, Sha' Tuk. Rumor has it that she is not completely human, but part ogre, and that she easily stands eight feet in height.
I have never seen this half beast, but pray that these are just legends.
Of course, not everyone in this land is corrupted by their proximity to the Cult. I have met an old man by the name of Gilbor. He is a wise man who lives in the Cave of Life, upon Mount Normal. Sir Cristos goes to him often for his advice. Some say he is a wizard, and his appearance does nothing to dispel it. Cristos has also found Gilbor's young apprentice, Geitra, to be his enchantress. Of course, he tells nothing of this to Gilbor or Geitra, for fear of the repercussions.
Reports have just come in; a skirmish has just begun, I must return to the front, but I will send word soon, as I have more to tell you about the Western Front.
Until we speak again,
The Jester set down the correspondence. Interesting, he thought. Perhaps security was not as tight as once thought. Saing should be made aware of this. Or perhaps there are too many loose ends. The Jester put on his traveling cloak and headed for the seedier sections of Gothex.
Baron Saing sat in his wardroom with maps strewn about the table. There sat Gothex, surrounded by greedy nations looking to conquer the Port-City. As he moved some markers around on the map, a heavy rapping came from the anteroom.
“You summoned, my Liege?” came the reply from the door.
“Yes.” Saing rasped. “I see that young Augustus is doing well on the Western Border and that the Scorched Iron Brigade has smashed opposition north of our Border holdings. Tell Cristos to proceed and secure out to three days ride from our Border. If he needs more Outriders, send them. His heavy machines may be slow, but they demonstrate our power. As soon as he has erected fortifications, he shall return here, to begin making more war machines for Goettch and Gregor. He’ll have the summer, then I want Augustus and him to push further in to the Northern Wastes.”
“As you command, Mi’Lord.” Tintar continued, “As you know, the Eastern incursions are accelerating and Gregor’s time is more consumed with his Lady’s well-being then the tactics at hand. There are reports that an army may be moving close to the Lake in an attempt to overwhelm our defenses. Perhaps we should move another four divisions to the front to repel the attack?”
“Of course. What has Benedict to say for himself?”
Tintar moved opposite of Saing. Tapping the map, he said “He spends his time trying to determine a way to destroy the P’jai’us. Also, I have heard that he is renewing old ties.”
Saing’s gaze darkened, “I thought that nuisance girl had been destroyed? The fool told me as much himself.”
Tintar shifted uneasily, he too had heard the rumors of Princess Thumper Head’s fiery demise. Maybe they were a bit too optimistic. “I will look into it Mi’Lord. I am sure the fool will have some insight. He was quite good at such things. Before his parlor tricks, he once held the respect of many. Now he just makes the Nobles laugh.”
Tintar barely heard the words. They were not much louder than a hiss. He caught himself leaning in to better hear Saing. “Things are not all that they seem. Things may be changing, with the news of Count de’Gruse’s death.”
“When did the Count pass?”
“Some days ago. Lady de’Gruse is just finding out. The Jester left shortly after the clergy arrived to console the noble-lady.”
The Commander was intrigued and asked, “Where do you think he went?”
“Old ties are stronger than new bonds, sometimes. He may have gone to seek help. He may be a fool, but he rarely fails to notice things.”
On the Eastern Front.
“Captain, dispatch a runner! Tell the General the attack has begun! They are 20 fold stronger. Tell the Thunder Brigade to charge! Get those ballistas in place! Archers! Stand to! Prepare to fire.” Gregor steadied his warhorse and prepared for the worst.
He didn’t have to wait long. The horde of beasts ripped through the front lines, rending arms and legs off of soldiers. The archers fired into the ranks, felling dozens if not hundreds of creatures. And yet they surged forward. There seemed no end to the river of half beasts that streamed towards the highways that lead to Gothex.
The ranks looked as though they were about to collapse when a horn rang out above the din of battle. Everyone, man and beast, were stunned to a halt.
Gregor searched the field of battle for the source of the horn. The ground began to tremble, trees toppled, and the battlefield seemed to rise up. Monstrous sized creatures began to appear in the secondary ranks of the attacking horde, they also approched from the Lake. It took Gregor a full minute to recognize the shapes of giants as seaweed, roots and earth chunks of fell from their bodies. There were hundreds. They had buried themselves under the battlefield and hid in the shallows of the water.
It looked hopeless to Gregor.
They began their attack. They marched through the ranks of the horde, destroying whole companies of beasts with each footstep. Then they did a surprising thing. They wheeled about in a coordinated fashion and began to sweep lines of attackers aside as though they were insects. The horde saw this and began to break formations, afraid that they would be next to be destroyed. Gregor’s men stood in stunned silence, watching as their enemies were crushed, trampled, and swatted to death. They rallied around this and rushed forward to press the attack. Man and giant marched shoulder to kneecap to punish the invading army.
Gregor saw one giant head towards his command tent atop the ridge. Gregor urged his mount forward to meet the enormous man. “I am Sir Gregor, Knight of the War Torne Tower. To whom do I owe a great deed of thanks?”
The giant replied, “You know of the wandering Fool? Tell him that Tah’Pal of Xplihor repays his kindness. My tribe will take care of these things for your men. You will send word to the Fool before nightfall, I wish not to be late on our wager.”
With that, Tah’Pal turned and headed off after the retreating battle scene.
Sir Gregor did not wait a second. A dispatch left his hands for Gothex immediately.
In the slums of Gothex.
An urchin bumped into a wandering pilgrim. No one noticed the exchange nor would anyone have cared if they had seen it.
Seated in the back of a dark tavern, the Jester pulled out the scrolls from his pilgrim’s robe and by candlelight read the three messages.
The first from Gregor, described the battle that had taken place 3 days ago with the sudden appearance of the Wolk tribe of Giants and the route that ensued. It was careful to include the exact message from the Chieftain.
The Jester almost laughed.
The next was two pages long and chronicled the reported death and resurrection of two people from the Jester’s past. The first was of a girl named Lynn de’Hor who seemed to be the missing Princess from Edwardoland. The report includes details of her new husband who out of the kindness of his heart married a commoner and recently made her Queen. This did in fact make the Jester chuckle. So, she became a Queen anyway! Life’s little irony. The second page listed the rumors of a Gypsy, who could come and go with the wind. There were more than two dozen sightings listed on the page. This is not a good sign, thought the Jester.
The third scroll was another dispatch from Augustus:
I once again write of news of this land.
Before the hot sun of summer rises in this land, Richard of Seka will be leaving. He must return to his land of Seka, far to the South of here, in order to tend to his aging family. He will be a great loss, as he has guided me much in my dealings with the townspeople. While he is still here, I will be sure to learn everything I can from him.
Another blow will be dealt to my forces when Jean Michael the Dominant
leaves town to join the village protection faction, which calls itself the Elite Troopers. I will still keep in contact with him, but I will not have his services to myself.
As you may or may not know, we have been living in tents and other temporary shelters whilst staying on the front. I have just commissioned for a more permanent barracks to be built by summers end, which I will name The Spear House. I have also decided that Sir Cristos and myself must return for the summer months in order to build support and raise funds. I know from my experiences here that the Forces here will be nearly dormant during the hot months, and will cause no major problems for the men I will leave to remain on the border. I will leave many high-ranking officers to do my bidding, as well as give partial control to the Elite Troopers, and Jean Michael the Dominant. I have charged Jean Michael to write me letters, when time comes, in order to keep up on what is going on. However, that is many weeks away, and I will keep you updated on the developments.
With Sir Cristos closer to the border of Chevans, he has started to write me letters telling me the events on the border. Even more surprising is that he decided to write them himself, rather than a muse. I have informed him not to write directly to you, but to write to me, and I would relay anything important. While on the border, he has discovered a new town, with a peoples who call themselves the Cabinos. I have included this letter with mine, so that I will not have to reproduce it.
I do not know when the next letter I write will be, but hopefully soon.
Until we speak again,
I must first apologize. I am not accustomed to writing correspondences and this letter may not be of my best. With the newly appointed position I find myself in need of writing you.
I am writing you to give you an update of our present position here. We are camped just outside of Chevans with many new weapons at our disposal. The trebuchet was proven affective against the forces in Chevans and it seems that they have retreated for the spring. We have taken heavy casualties on our main wagon. Earlier some of the horses used to pull it were ill. Luckily they have since healed. Also it seems that one of our axels has taken heavy damage and I fear it will not be able to support the wagon for much longer. I am working closely with locals to help rebuild the axel.
Gilbor has heard wind though of possible movement of the Chevans into their partner province of Statotios sometime soon. I fear that with the mammoth stature of the worriers of this province, my forces may take great casualties. Gilbor is currently working on a spell to make my forces appear invisible to the forces of Statotios thus eliminating any involvement of my forces.
For our successful defense against Collen of Letics, the local people here have decided to have festivals in our honor. They have not given us many details but do assure us that there will be live music by the local townsmen all day with plenty to eat and drink all day. These events are scheduled to last for the next few weeks. The locals, known as the Cabinos, have expressed their concern that the dark forces will make another uprising. I have assured them that myself and my men, while we will be enjoying the festivals, will be ready to fight at a moments notice.
I must warn you though, my forces are anxious to fight. My men have grown restless without the immediate threat of Chevans. While I hope to enjoy the feast, I, as well as my men, are hoping for a small skirmish.
The Cabinos have also expressed their thanks to you for allowing us to stay in our present position. They have said that any of your forces and yourself will be their honored guests. I am anxious for our meeting again in the next few days and will be looking forward to the festival in Ottoin.
Until then I must return to the duties of repairing the siege weapons.
Until we see each other in this world or in the next,
The Jester was almost finished reading the letter from Cristos when his candle failed. As he reached to relight it, he caught sight of someone sitting across from him at the table.
“I was wondering when you would appear.” The Jester said.
“I’ve been around, times are changing. Things are not as they once were.” the visitor replied.
“I know. Saing is looking for me, and I fear the war will not go well with spies within our ranks.” the Jester whispered.
“You know what needs to happen. It has always been your destiny” the shadowy figured said.
“I see that you are in good health. Anything else I should be aware of?” the Jester queried.
“The news of my death is greatly exaggerated. You may want your nefarious Dar Benedict take on an Ambassadorial role. I recall the he knows the Queen of De kat-hor. She goes by, Queen duClarque now, but I think you’d recognize her as Princess Thumper Head. Her realm may become important soon.”
The fool, not taken aback by any of this simply stated, “I will advise Saing of that. Thank you Mistress.”
The Mistress of Shadows said as she rose, “My return is not by accident. Loyalties and friendships will weather the coming war. I must return to my work. You know how to reach me or Kindle if we are needed. Be warned though, the good witch is more then busy these days. But she may spare a moment or two to impart wisdom to you and yours. Take care, wandering fool.” And in an instant she was gone.
The Jester rose from his table extinguished his candle, pulled up his hood and headed for the door. There is much to do he thought, oh so much to do.