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Thread: Shades of Eire

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    Default Shades of Eire (Part 1 Complete)

    Okay, this is going to be a long one. I'm sorry if it starts out slow; I'm trying to establish setting and characters. I promise it'll pick up. This post is for notes on the story. The first chapter is in the next post.

    Some points probably require explanation to those not intimately familiar with Faerűn and Aber-Toril. I'll put explanations here so as to not confuse anyone.

    The story is set in Faerűn starting in 1373 Dale Reckoning, the Year of Rogue Dragons. I am using the ten-day week (tenday) and the Calendar of Harptos to denote time. The Calendar of Harptos is as follows: It is a 365-day calendar. There are 12 months of thirty days each, as well as five feast/festival days that fall outside of any month to round out the year. Every four years there is a sixth feast day called Shieldmeet to account for the leap year. Shieldmeet will not figure prominently in this story, as it starts in 1373 and the last Shieldmeet was in 1372. The calendar is laid out like so:

    {table=head]Month|
    Name
    |
    Common Name

    1|Hammer|Deepwinter
    {colsp=3}Midwinter
    2|Alturiak|The Claw of Winter
    3|Ches|The Claw of the Sunsets
    4|Tarsakh|The Claw of the Storms
    {colsp=3}Greengrass
    5|Mirtul|The Melting
    6|Kythorn|The Time of Flowers
    7|Flamerule|Summertide
    {colsp=3}Midsummer
    8|Elesias|Highsun
    9|Eleint|The Fading
    {colsp=3}Highharvestide
    10|Marpenoth|Leaffall
    11|Uktar|The Rotting
    {colsp=3}The Feast of the Moon
    12|Nightal|The Drawing Down[/table]
    Every four years, another holiday called Shieldmeet is added as a leap day immediately following the Midsummer holiday.

    The story is set in Faerűn's Western Heartlands. Now, this is where I deviate from standard Forgotten Realms geography. The nation of Eire does not exist in the FR canon, and it's layout requires a few minor changes to the Heartlands geography. For those with access to a map of Faerűn, the kingdom is located on the Trader's Road between Easting and Priapurl, straddling the major trade route between Baldur's Gate on the Sword Coast and Westgate at the mouth of the Dragonmere. Alterations include a midsized deciduous forest in the western part of the kingdom and a range of low, rocky hills along the northern border. Apart from that, everything outside Eire conforms to Forgotten Realms canon as far as I can determine.

    I whipped up this quick and dirty map using the Campaign Cartographer demo.

    Spoiler
    Show


    And that's about it. The first chapter follows. I hope you all enjoy.
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2008-04-17 at 01:57 PM.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Shades of Eire

    Book One

    The Tale of Prince Gilchrist of Eire

    Greetings, gentle reader. Within this tome is the strange tale of Gilchrist, paladin in Torm’s service and crown prince of the realm of Eire. His adventures across the length and breadth of Faerun were recorded by Erasmus of Candlekeep from the prince’s recollections some years after the conclusion of his ordeals, and are presented here for the perusal of any visitors to the fortress of Candlekeep who wish to read of it. May this book find its way to many rapt readers.

    Chapter One

    Prince Gilchrist was born in Tirisfal Castle on the 29th of Uktar in the Year of the Arch, 1353 in the Dale Reckoning. He was a rambunctious and wayward youth in his childhood, with a habit of sneaking out of Tirisfal Castle and into the city. There he would fall in with street urchins and other assorted miscreants, none of which knew who he truly was. They called him Gil, not at the time realizing that it was the Crown Prince of the realm who they took along on their misadventures and occasional misdeeds. The prince learned the usual skills of the street-dwelling opportunist during this time, discovering how to pick his way among the street clutter without being seen or heard, and also how to strike vulnerable places in the human anatomy, to make up for the short stature and weakness that were naturally his as a child.

    He grew out of this by his thirteenth birthday in 1366, and was made squire to Lord Ewaine, commander of the Knights of the Silver Hand. Under the tutelage of the great paladin, he learned both the skills of the cavalry knight and the responsibility of his position. However, he never quite lost touch with his old street contacts; he now felt that they were a useful barometer of the mood of his people. He little knew of the other uses they would have later.

    Tirisfal Castle, Midsummer, 1373 DR

    Prince Gilchrist’s eyes sprung open in excitement at the sun peeking through his window. He was to be knighted today. The nineteen year old prince quickly rolled out of bed and reached for his tunic.

    Upon dressing, Gilchrist ran for the great hall. Rather than break his fast, however, he strode past the assembled knights and courtiers at the great feast table, out the front gates of the keep, and straight to the chapel of the Triad that stood in the corner of the inner courtyard. He entered small building and immediately fell to one knee before the altar on the right, which displayed the upright gauntlet of Torm. Ignoring the central scale-topped altar of Tyr for the moment, the young knight-to-be began to pray to his god.

    “Torm, grant me the courage to face my enemies as you faced Bane. Help me to stand strong against my foes and in the pursuit of my duties. Bind and consecrate my fealty to my rightful lord, my oaths to my peers, my obligations to my subjects, and my duties towards all. Bolster my loyalty to lord, land, justice, and god. Help me to obey every rightful command given me, so that I may always keep my duty to faith, family, masters and all good beings of Faerűn. And help me stand with my comrades in arms through all trials and travails, for we are your paladins and we live to serve.”

    As he finished, Gilchrist felt his heart swell, a quiet courage flowing into him. The crown prince remained motionless for several long moments, contemplating what he had requested and the vows he had made. Then he stood and moved to his left, again kneeling before an altar, this one displaying the bound hands of Ilmater, the Broken God.

    “Ilmater, I ask for the strength to endure the trials before me. Help me to alleviate the suffering of others even as you relieve the suffering of the faithful and of the world. Grant me the will to persevere even through the worst of difficulty, and the compassion to help others free themselves from suffering, evil, and tyranny.” He sighed briefly, though not with regret. “And should my duty require it, help me face death and martyrdom with my head held high and my blade in my hand.” An overwhelming sense of peace flowed through him as he spoke the last sentence. Every minor discomfort and unease washed away, leaving nothing but an overwhelming sense of peace and calm.

    Turning to the altar of Tyr, the young squire bowed his head lower than for either of the previous two, for although Torm was his deity, Tyr was Torm’s master and leader of the Triad. “Tyr Grimjaws the Even-Handed, help me to pursue justice for all and fight injustice wherever it stands. I ask for clarity of sight in my judgments, certainty in my pursuit of justice, and the will to pursue the unjust and correct their wrongs wherever they may reside.” A sort of fire rose in his breast at this prayer, and though it was calm now he knew it was the seed of righteous fury, to be unleashed in the service of justice.

    With this he stood, still facing the central Altar of Justice, spreading his hands to encompass the Altar of Courage and Altar of Compassion on either side, and raising his face to the heavens. “On this day I consecrate my mind and body to the service of the Triad. May I ever exhibit the virtues of justice, mercy, and valor all the days of my life.”

    He lowered his head and turned to see Father Khalar standing behind him, clad in his clerical vestments, and Lord Ewaine waiting in full armor at the chapel door. The big Tyrran cleric clapped a hand on the Prince’s shoulder. “Well done, Gilchrist,” he said as he led the prince towards the door of the chapel. “You shall make a fine and devoted knight. I congratulate you; I believe you have the Triad’s favor.”

    “Come,” cut in Ewaine. “The ceremony starts soon, and after that the celebration.” The red-headed Knight Commander grinned between his moustache and black-tinged beard.
    __________________________________________________ ___________________

    The Great Hall had been cleared of the trestle tables that occupied the floor during mealtimes, and it seemed the whole court was present in full raiment. As Gilchrist walked in, flanked on either side by Khalar and Ewaine, guards lining the central path to the dais snapped to attention, as did knights of several orders, increasing in prominence and importance as the lines approached the throne. As the three men proceeded down the path thus formed, halberds were pulled back before them by the guards, giving way about halfway down the path to presented knightly swords. Except for their footsteps and the clank of presented weaponry, the throne room was silent.

    Within moments, the companions reached the throne and knelt before Artair, King of Eire. “Rise,” Gilchrist’s father instructed them.

    They did. “Your Majesty,” began Ewaine, “I present my squire, Prince Gilchrist. He has proven himself in every aspect of chivalry and skill at arms, and I request that on this day he be made knight in your service.”

    Artair’s eyes tracked to the left to focus on Khalar. “My king,” spoke the priest, “Gilchrist has proven his devotion to my satisfaction. I too request that he be made knight, in the service of Torm, of the Triad, and of the realm.”

    Gilchrist spoke next. “My lord king, I believe that I may say with no pretense that I am prepared in every way possible to enter the service of the realm as a knight.”

    Artair rose, taking his sword from its place to the right of his throne. “Then kneel, Gilchrist of Eire.” He did so.

    “Mindful of your prowess in the field, of your faith to the Triad, and of the wishes of your peers, we are minded to make you a knight. To become a knight of the realm is to hold a most sacred trust and duty. The obligations of your knighthood will demand your efforts every moment of your life. Do you accept this charge?”

    “I do.”

    “A knight of Torm and of this realm must respect all good religions, never offending the faith of another who is not following evil. Do you accept this charge?”

    “I do.”

    “A knight of the Triad and of this realm must respect all those who are weak and defenseless, and spare no effort in defending them. Do you accept this charge?”

    “I do.”

    “A knight of the realm must love this kingdom and its inhabitants, and must fulfill his duties to king, lords, and country. Do you accept this charge?”

    “I do.”

    “His word must be dependable and beyond doubt or question. He must never flee from his foes, and he must be generous to all who seek his aid for rightful purposes. Do you accept this charge?”

    “I do.”

    “A knight of Torm must accept the threefold Penance of Duty. The Debt of Persecution requires that he must offer aid to good faiths who were wrongfully persecuted by the Church during Torm’s absence in reestablishing themselves and their flocks. The Debt of Dereliction requires that he must work towards the elimination of Banites, Cyricists, and the Zhentarim wherever they may be found, to atone for the failure of the Church to guard against their depredations. The Debt of Destruction requires that he do all in his power to repair the destruction to Mystra’s Weave caused during the Godswar. Do you accept these charges?”

    “I do.”

    “The laws and customs of the realm require that a knight be prow, as you have demonstrated you are on the field, and that he be courteous and faithful, as you have shown yourself to be and as these nobles attest you are, and that he be loyal to the kingdom and his lord. Do you then desire to accept the burden of knighthood and swear fealty to the Crown?”

    “I do.”

    “Then swear fealty and pay homage to the Crown of Eire.”

    “I here swear fealty and do homage to the Crown of the Kingdom of Eire; to ever be a good knight and true, reverent and generous, shield of the weak, obedient to my liege-lord, foremost in battle, courteous at all times, champion of the right and the good. Thus swear I, Gilchrist of Eire.”

    “This too we hear, and shall never forget nor fail to reward that which is given: Fealty with love, service with honor, and disloyalty with vengeance.

    “Lord Ewaine, bring forth the sword.”

    Ewaine hefted Gilchrist’s sword, bending to gird it to his squire’s waist. “Your sword; it has one edge to cut to the truth, one edge to administer Tyr’s justice, and a scabbard to counsel mercy. Bear it well and with honor.”

    “Lord Khalar, the belt and chain.”

    Khalar produced a white belt and fine golden chain from within his robes and knelt beside Gilchrist. “Your belt; it symbolizes purity; purity of body, purity of purpose, and purity of strength. The chain you wear to bind you to your oaths, that you may always remember your duties to people, country, king, and god.” He finished fastening the sash and chain as he spoke, and he and Ewaine both stood.

    Artair raised the royal sword, and struck Gilchrist’s right shoulder with the flat. “In remembrance of oaths given and received.” He struck the left shoulder. “In remembrance of your faith and obligations.” He struck Gilchrist’s head. “Be a good and loyal knight.

    “Arise, Sir Gilchrist of Eire.” The assembled courtiers finally broke their silence and applauded. “Know, now that you are made a knight, that you must succor the defenseless, seek justice for those of every station, and maintain the honor of Knighthood. Let this blow remind you that knighthood shall bring you pain as well as honor.” With that, King Artair struck his son a sharp blow to his breastplate.

    Gilchrist almost staggered back, but stood his ground. The court erupted in cheers.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Two

    New Tirisfal, dusk, Midsummer, 1373 DR

    Gilchrist, clad now in a plain tunic and cloak, strode through the gate of the city, having finally managed to excuse himself from court after a long day of formalities. It was Midsummer Night, and time for the festivals. He certainly wasn’t the only young nobleman out in the town that night. Festivals were happening in towns and cities all across Faerűn, and nobody, high or low in station, wanted to miss out.

    Bonfires lit the fields outside the walls, and a truly gigantic fire lit the city square, held in check by magical barriers to keep it from setting the buildings alight. The streets were filled with throngs of celebrating people, most of them drunk and all of them dancing. The town’s bards and street musicians were out in force.

    They weren’t the only ones. As Gilchrist strode grinning towards the town center, he felt the slightest of tugs on his cloak near his left pocket. Spinning, he seized the wrist of the pickpocket. The slightly older man grinned.

    “Gil, I’d wondered if you still had it. Long time no see.” Gregor handed Gilchrist’s purse back to him while wearing a large grin. “You haven’t been down here in awhile. I was beginning to wonder if you’d cleared out for good.”

    Gilchrist accepted his belongings back with a sigh and half grin. “Greg, I thought you’d gone legit. I set you up as a farrier’s apprentice to get you off the streets, didn’t I?”

    “Yeah, you did. Tell you the truth, it still rags me a bit that you ran with us for so long and didn’t say who you were. Yeah, I’m a journeyman now, not that there’s a lot of journeying involved in nailing shoes on horses,” he said with a chuckle. “Still work for old Giles. I just couldn’t resist when I saw you, though.” He arched an eyebrow at the look on Gilchrist’s face. “I was going to give it back.”

    Gilchrist allowed himself a smile. “I’m sure you were.” He placed a hand on Gregor’s shoulder as his old friend suddenly remembered their places and began to bow. “No, none of that. I’m not king yet.”

    Gregor grinned again. “Glad to see you haven’t gone all high and mighty on us yet. You were knighted today, I hear?”

    “Yes; why do you think I’ve got my hood up?” The men both laughed at that.

    “Come on, let’s hit the Dragon’s Head for an ale. I’m sure you could probably use it after all that fancy court food, eh?” The old street urchin ducked into a nearby alley for a shorter route to the pub, followed by the prince. The celebrating crowds were left behind them as they vanished into the narrow darkness.

    The two followed the alley for a short way, chatting about old times, when Gilchrist caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Placing a hand on Gregor’s forearm in their old signal for when one spotted danger, he casually turned his head towards the movement.

    There was a blur of motion as he looked. A dark shape leaped almost straight up onto the roof of the single-story row building to the left. Gilchrist’s sword came out as Gregor saw it too and went for the dagger in his boot. A heavy cloak flapped up in the wind and whipped out of sight onto the rooftop as both spun fully towards the threat.

    Fully alert now, the two streetwise young men crab-stepped quickly down the alley towards its terminus, weapons at ready. Suddenly Gilchrist’s head whipped around to the right, in the direction they were going. The shape of a hooded head protruded over the building ahead of them. He shoved Gregor back the way they came, but the shape leaped over them and landed in a crouch behind, about fifteen feet away. As Gilchrist rounded on the figure, a sudden light blazed down the alleyway. A large party of revelers had entered the alley at the end they had been heading for and was approaching loudly, torches and lamps in hand.

    The shape took no chances with the light or witnesses. It again went straight up the wall, this time on the taller building to the other side, climbing straight up the surface and disappearing onto the roof.

    Gil and Gregor shot each other apprehensive glances as the group of torch-bearing young men and women danced their way past, on the way to the main street of the city. Without a word, the two turned and jogged out of the alley and into the fire-lit street they had originally headed towards.

    “I really don’t feel like that drink at the moment,” said Gilchrist. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Three

    The two young men bolted down the street to the New Tirisfal garrison, skillfully weaving in and out of the crowd in what was for them an almost subconscious attempt to evade pursuit. There had been a time when they would move like this to avoid the Watch, and the irony that they were now running to them was not lost on Gregor. Gilchrist thought nothing of it; after all, what did he have to fear from the soldiers of his own kingdom?

    They came to a skidding halt in front of the doors to the outsized towers and thickened wall section that served as the barracks for the Guard and Watch as the pair of troopers guarding the gate eyed them suspiciously. As Gilchrist approached with Gregor behind him, one stepped forward, hefting his halberd from the ground.

    “’Ere now, wot’s all this then,” he demanded, eyeing the cloaked figure and the obvious workman behind him.

    “Guardsman, I need to speak with Captain Dunlock immediately,” responded Gilchrist in a perfunctory manner. “Official business.”

    “Oh, and who ‘as official business with the captain, then, eh?”

    Gilchrist swept back his hood and the left side of his cloak before answering, revealing his face and the seal of the Knights of the Silver Hand with the royal seal atop it before proceeding in a slightly irritated tone. “The crown prince of the realm, now get the captain and get him now.”

    The guardsman went pale. “Guardsman Kael Greensward at your service, sir,” he stammered out. “I’ll fetch Captain Dunlock at once.” The poor man fairly bolted for the gate while his companion looked on in a slightly stunned silence.

    Another crowd of revelers traipsed past, prompting Gilchrist to look back. He thought he caught a glimpse of a shadow looking at them from a rooftop across the street, but when he looked again it was gone.

    He turned back to the second guard. “We will wait for the captain inside,” he stated matter-of-factly. The guard nodded and opened the smaller personnel door set within the gate. Gilchrist and Gregor stepped through it and heard it close behind them. Gregor craned his neck looking around the torch-lit entrance hall, but Gil had seen it all before. Captain Dunlock came clattering down the stairs in a moment with a mildly surprised look on his black-bearded face, tailed by Greensward. Both men bowed at the waist when they reached the entryway before the guard went outside to resume his post.

    “Prince Gilchrist, this is… unexpected. What brings you to the garrison?”

    “A strange encounter that my friend and I had in Cairbeck Alley between the main thoroughfare and Evenfall Street. May we continue this conversation somewhere more private?”

    “Certainly, my lord. Please follow me to my office.” The captain led the prince and the farrier back up the winding stairs of the tower as Gilchrist explained the events of that suspenseful half a minute in exquisite detail, Gregor occasionally interjecting things he’d noticed that the prince had missed. The three men ascended two flights of spiral stairs in the tower as they talked, turning left at the second landing to go down a branch corridor leading into the body of the building and entering the second door on the right.

    “And just before we came into the garrison, I thought I saw the figure again on the roof of the house of records across the road,” Gilchrist concluded as all three took seats in the captain’s office. “I don’t know what it was for certain, though I have several guesses. Without reasonably accurate information, however, I feel it unwise to wildly speculate on just what it was. But what is fairly certain is that it meant to attack us; the behavior it exhibited could have meant little else.”

    “I agree,” said the experienced soldier, rising from his chair and sweeping aside scattered papers, pens, and a dagger to reveal a detailed map of the city stained into the top of his desk. He promptly seized the dagger and, leaning over the desk supported by his left arm, began tracing street routes with the knife in his right. “And if it was indeed your attacker that you saw outside then I doubt it was a random attempt at robbery or some such, not that someone with the abilities you describe would waste his time and talent on petty street theft. We must treat this as an assassination attempt on your person, Highness. I will dispatch the city stalkers at once to search for this individual, but the priority now is to get you safely back to Tirisfal Castle without delay.”

    “As you wish, Captain,” said Gilchrist, inclining his head. “By what means do you plan to spirit me away,” he added with a wry grin.

    “Open and armed escort would be best, I think,” responded Dunlock. “A stealthy exit would not likely evade this foe; he did, after all, find and recognize you when you entered the city anonymously and found you again after you fled through the crowds across several busy streets; leaving quietly would not pose any major hindrance to him. Sir Bradley of the Order of the Crown is here currently, along with Sir Haerborn of the Silver Hand. They and some men from the Third Light will escort you out of the city and across the fief to the castle. You should be safe there.”

    “Agreed. My friend here, Gregor Reeves, lives at the farrier’s guildhall on Knight Street. I ask that you detail a patrol to return him to his home, on the small chance that this was an attempt on him for whatever reason for which I was simply in the way.”

    “As you command, Highness. Please follow me.” Dunlock walked around his desk and out the office door, the two friends behind him. He turned right to go towards the tower at the other end of the complex, reaching it shortly at a brisk pace. Descending the stairs, the three men emerged from the tower into the low-slung stables attached to the stone complex.

    “Sir Bradley! Lord Haerborn! If you would wait a moment,” called out the captain to two knights on horseback, who quite apparently had just mounted and were about to leave.

    “Yes, Captain, what is it,” asked Bradley, turning his horse to face the approaching men.

    “We have something of a situation,” answered Dunlock before launching into a brief explanation of the night’s events.

    “That does indeed sound serious,” answered Haerborn thoughtfully. He turned to Gilchrist. “Gilchrist, what on Toril were you doing in the city by yourself in the first place? And on the day of your knighting!”

    “Sir Haerborn, I’m afraid my business is my own,” Gilchrist spoke, cutting him off. “If anyone is to lecture me, it will be my father as my sole liege lord or Lord Ewaine as head of my order. It may be the day of my knighting, but it is also Midsummer. And you’ll find I’m hardly the only nobleman on the streets tonight.”

    “Of course, Highness, I forgot myself,” responded the paladin. Dunlock had gone back into the tower briefly and returned now with six chain-clad cavalrymen at his back, still pulling on helmets. Five fanned out towards the stalls to get their horses as Dunlock approached the prince and knights with the sixth, who wore the badge of cavalry captain on his breastplate.

    “Prince Gilchrist, this is Captain Rael of the Third Light Cavalry. He will lead the detachment to the castle, under my lords, of course,” Dunlock said, inclining his head towards the two knights at the last.

    “Highness,” said Rael, half-bowing to the prince. “The good watch captain has explained the situation to me. We had best move quickly. My men are bringing a horse for you,” he said, indicating the approaching cavalrymen, two of them leading riderless warhorses.

    “Captain Dunlock, what of Gregor’s escort?”

    “I will lead my best foot patrol myself to return him to his home,” responded the watch captain. “He will be safe with us.” As they spoke, four burly men in leather and chain shirts emerged from the tower barracks and approached the group. “Now you had best go quickly. Torm speed your way.”

    “And yours, Captain,” responded Gilchrist as he mounted the light warhorse provided for him. Captain Rael did likewise with his own mount.

    “Ready?”

    “Yes, Captain.”

    Sir Bradley nodded to the two guards beside the stable doors. They nodded back and swiftly threw the doors of the stable open. “Make way!” the knight bellowed as the group thundered out of the stable and onto the streets. Gilchrist scanned rooftops and the top of the city wall for his assailant as he and his escort thundered towards the city gate, but saw nothing apart from the crowds scattering out of the way of the oncoming horses. The group traveled a circuitous route along the wall road, so as to keep the guard-manned city wall on one side of them should they need assistance. They presently arrived at the city gate without incident, and the gates were flung wide before them as they approached. Thundering through them without pause, the group turned to the right to proceed directly to Tirisfal Castle and safety.

    As they galloped across the gently rolling fields towards the great fortress-home, an ear-splitting howl broke forth very close to the group’s left. Sir Bradley’s head shot around to see the outline of a wolf flying at him out of the darkness. He quickly raised his shield and belted the canine across the face, knocking it away and behind him with a yelp. “WOLVES!”

    A chorus of howls answered the first as he said this, and several pairs of dimly red-lit eyes glinted in the moonlight. “Ride on!” Sir Haerborn raised his lance as he cried out, and spoke again, this time invoking the power of Tyr. His voice thundered out the holy words of power, and the end of his lance was engulfed in blinding bright sunlight. Gilchrist’s quick count in the sudden illumination took in over a dozen black and dark grey wolves as he flipped the reins and spurred his mount to greater speed. The cavalrymen didn’t bother to count. Seizing their composite bows, they opened fire on the attacking wolves without slowing. Arrows found five of them, and three fell, yelping as they twisted to the ground.

    Sir Bradley took a more direct approach. The armored knight slipped his mount to the left, bearing down on a grouping of three wolves. The beasts attempted to scatter, but he steered his horse towards one while reaching out with his lance to skewer the unfortunate one that had tried to break to the right. As he shook the weapon to get rid of the tongue-lolling body, a second fell yelping under his horse’s hooves. Snapping his reins, the knight steered back towards the group to ride close by his charge. The remaining wolves closed on the tight-grouped riders while arrows continued to pour from the men. Two more fell to arrows, but as one of the men was drawing back his bowstring for another shot, a pair of wolves leapt over his horse and bore him to the ground, immediately beginning to worry at the mail around his throat.

    “NO,” shouted Gilchrist, sweeping out his sword. Over the shouts of Haerborn and Captain Rael, the prince wheeled his horse and bore down on the fallen man, leaning low in the saddle to sweep his blade across the pair of wolves on the fallen soldier. He cleaved them across their necks as he passed, the illumination from Haerborn’s lance dimming as their opposite paths took him towards the edge of his spell’s range. Gilchrist hauled his horse to a halt as the soldier sprung up and drew his own sword.

    The light grew again as the riders turned and thundered back towards the prince and dismounted man. The soldier fended off the beasts as Gilchrist’s horse reared and plunged at his back, the prince skillfully wheeling his mount to bring his sword towards the snapping, snarling wolves, keeping them at bay. Still for all that, another pair of wolves leapt at him, and he saw the same fate as the dismounted man coming at him as he raised his left arm to cover his face.

    Then suddenly the light vanished and a large, dark shape thundered before his field of vision, leaving no wolves behind. The prince looked to his right to track this shape and saw Sir Haerborn flinging two wolf bodies from his lance, where they had obscured its light. The brightness returned as strong as before once the tip was no longer encased inside the bodies of the wolves as Captain Rael stormed up behind the prince, leading his man’s empty-saddled horse. The soldier lightly leapt back into his saddle and joined his captain in riding down the remaining wolves. There were five left by Gilchrist’s count, a number quickly whittled to one as the survivors finally began to flee. The last, a great grey beast, looked like he would escape, bolting out of the immediate illumination and into the shadows beyond, when he let out a guttural scream and fell twisting to the ground. Gilchrist looked back and saw Rael lowering his bow, having just released the final arrow, with a grim look on his face.

    “Ride,” he said simply. No one needed encouragement. Laying spurs to their horses’ flanks, the men galloped off towards the castle. Gilchrist looked around uneasily, but all he saw was a single hunting bat, fluttering out of the uncomfortable light as they approached to resume searching for bugs. They presently reached their destination and rode across the drawbridge and through the castle gates without further incident, the great portcullis crashing shut behind them as they pulled up in the outer courtyard.
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2007-09-05 at 01:29 PM.
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    Chapter Four

    Tirisfal Castle, just after midnight, 1st of Eleasis, 1373 DR

    Gilchrist leapt out of his saddle as guards and servants came running towards the group of riders, Father Khalar at their head. The cleric ran first to the prince.

    “Your Highness, are you hurt? When we heard the howls and shouts across the field, we feared the worst.”

    “No holy father, just exhausted, but see to the corporal there,” responded Gilchrist, pointing out the man who had been dismounted. “The wolves bore him to the ground from the back of his horse at speed, and chewed on him for a moment before he could be relieved. I don’t know what injuries he sustained; we concentrated on getting to safety first of all.” Khalar nodded and dashed over to the man, who was being helped from his saddle with a stiffness that belied his earlier performance. Captain Rael pulled off his helmet and tucked it under his arm, jogging along behind the high priest to see to his man.

    Gilchrist was looking on when he suddenly realize how very exhausted he truly was. He trembled at the knees as his eyes went out of focus for a moment before recovering himself. He thought no one would notice, but was wrong.

    “Highness, we must get you to your chambers,” said Gannon, Gilchrist’s personal servant of eight years, coming up behind him. “Come, before you collapse out here on the flagstones.”

    The prince nodded assent and followed the man around the second curtain wall to approach the keep, stumbling once or twice in his weariness. He was half-leaning on his loyal servant by the time they reached his room, and promptly collapsed onto his bed without another word.

    * * *

    Tirisfal Castle, morning, 1st of Eleasis, 1373 DR

    Gilchrist’s eyes once again sprang open. Although the joy of his knighting had been only the day before, it seemed a tenday had passed since he last awoke, and an instant wariness was upon him. Dressing without a word, he strapped on his sword and slipped out of his chambers, bypassing the dozing Gannon in the antechamber without waking him. He went down the stairs and through the keep until he reached the great hall, where to his surprise he found most of the leadership of the Orders of the Crown and Silver Hand gathered around his father at the throne, many of them wearing full armor. Lord Ewaine was speaking as the prince entered.

    “And that’s all it seems to be, your Majesty. Baron Falmarsh’s chambers were locked; his men had to break down the door to get in and there he was dead in his own blood. We don’t know how or why, but…”

    “Wait, what’s happened?” Gilchrist wore a shocked look on his face as his longtime master turned toward him, his features grim.

    “Baron Falmarsh of Emberholme was found dead in his keep this morning. I rode out last night to determine why he had missed your knighting, only to find his household in a frenzy because the baron had not emerged from his chambers since the previous night, when he usually rises early. I had several of his men take a ram to his door, and there he was in his last chamber, dead by the window with his sword lying by his side. As you know, his chambers are on the third floor of his keep; an intruder would have had a very difficult time getting in using any conventional means.”

    Gilchrist almost snorted in derision. “Falmarsh had any number of political enemies; all his scheming and backbiting at court saw to that. But I can’t think of any who would assassinate him, least of all in so brazen a manner.” He waved one of the servants at the edge of the chamber to him, signaling for food, before turning back to the assembled knights. Ewaine looked at him curiously.

    “I understand you had your own adventure last night, Gilchrist. I think it may be related. Please, tell the council.”

    Gilchrist launched into the explanation of the night’s events in New Tirisfal once again in detail, recounting every move from when he first spotted the mysterious figure to the moment he and his escort thundered into the castle gate, attempting to convey every sensation to the assembled knights. By the time he finished, many of the Silver Hand paladins were looking at each other in grave concern.

    Sir Griflet spoke first. “Prince Gilchrist, presuming the attacks on you were related, there are very few possibilities. There are ways that mortals can perform the feats you mention and set wolves on you as well, but the most likely, and most worrying, possibility is that your attacker was a vampire.

    “But how could a vampire force entry into Baron Falmarsh’s private chambers? They cannot enter a private residence without an invitation, you know this,” interjected Sir Haerborn in a perplexed tone.

    “And who’s to say one wasn’t invited? You knew Falmarsh as well as any of us; it would be just like him to set up a clandestine meeting for whatever reason if he thought the person he was meeting could help him in his machinations at court.”

    “Are you saying that a lord of this realm would knowingly consort with vampires, Sir Griflet?” King Artair leaned forward on his throne. “That is a very serious accusation, sir. Falmarsh was a schemer, but we have no reason to believe his petty politics went into outright treason.”

    “He need not have known he was dealing with a vampire, Majesty. One could have received an invitation in any number of ways, and it need not have been from the baron; any resident of the castle would have done. Regardless, they may have communicated in writing or the vampire may have been in disguise.”

    “But this is still all speculation,” cut in Ewaine.

    “Yes my lord, it is,” responded Griflet.

    “And we can’t go on speculation. All we know for sure is that two high nobles of the realm were attacked on the same day, one successfully and one not.”

    “Captain Dunlock promised to dispatch the city stalkers to search for my attacker,” interrupted Gilchrist as he took a cold chicken breast and flagon of wine from the just-returned servant. “Have reports come in from the city?”

    “Patrols found nothing,” said Sir Bradley. “I just returned from the city garrison an hour ago; your attacker vanished. Not that such a thing is difficult in New Tirisfal, but still disappointing.”

    “Indeed, Sir Bradley,” answered Artair. “Is there any other business?”

    “One more thing, your Majesty, if I may,” spoke Lord Jocelin, leader of the Order of the Crown. “There is still the matter of Sir Raibert, missing these two tendays. He gave no indication that he intended errancy, and it’s wholly unlike him to go off without so informing me or the court.”

    “Yes, we’ve dispatched riders already. At this stage it’s still likely that he was confronted with a sudden duty that he had to discharge; you know the codes of your order. Still, he is gone overlong. We shall expand our attempts to locate him. Anything else? No? Then I adjourn this council.”

    * * *

    Gilchrist followed the other knights out of the keep and began to walk towards the stables before hesitating and then heading for the armory. Once there, he collected a chain shirt and wooden shield from his personal armor cache, eschewing his heavier and harder-to-don plate mail in favor of convenience and swift riding. He knew he had to be careful now, but felt that there was far less danger in sunlight. Once the light armor was comfortably situated underneath his cloak, he set out for the stables once more.

    “Good morning, Aidan,” he said to the nearest stable hand. “Saddle up Éimhin for me if you would; I’m of a mind for a ride around the fields.”

    “Yes, Highness,” responded the boy, bowing before dashing off to retrieve a saddle and bridle. Gilchrist went to the stall and led out his horse himself before Aidan could get a chance, holding him still while the lad brought the saddle.

    “Thank you, Aidan,” said Gilchrist to the boy as he finished strapping on the saddle. The prince mounted his horse as the stable hand moved to open the door to let him ride out.

    “Hold, Gilchrist,” he heard behind him as he made the gate. Pulling Éimhin to a halt, he turned to see Lord Ewaine riding towards him. “I was just going out for a ride myself, and could use company. Would you care to come along?”

    Gilchrist grinned. “You want to make sure I’m safe and wish to go with me when I leave the castle, in other words,” he said with a chuckle. “Certainly, as my lord wishes.”

    Ewaine returned a weak smile of his own. “I won’t deny it, though I would like to talk with you all the same.”

    “Of course,” said Gilchrist, flipping his reins and spurring Éimhin to a light trot as he did so. Ewaine quickly did the same. “I assume you want to discuss either my circumstances or Baron Falmarsh’s death?”

    “Both, actually, but Falmarsh first. You of course know that he was no friend of the Order of the Silver Hand; always backbiting, complaining that we were meddling in court affairs, that sort of thing. And then there was the nasty business with Sir Tristram nearly five years ago. Of course none of the paladins would involve themselves in this, but there are some who would see a motive. And you…”

    “If you’re suggesting what I think you are about my old street habits, none of my childhood friends would do such a thing and none have the capability to execute a murder like that in the first place even if they cared to.”

    “No, I’m not at all suggesting that your friends had anything to do with this, but there are some in court who will say that one of them might have decided to protect his old friend’s order.”

    “Ridiculous. I’ll have words with anyone who seriously suggests that Gregor, Auliffe, or any of the others had anything to do with this. At the very worst they were street urchin pickpockets, nothing more, and as you well know I’ve ensured that they all got the opportunity to leave the alleys and get honest work.”

    “I know, but when have the fine details of the truth gotten in the way of an ambitious courtier? Your father runs a very tight ship as courts go, but petty politics will always be a problem in any capital. You should know this better than you do by now.”

    Gilchrist looked out to his right over one of the fields, where a pair of peasants was bringing in a wheelbarrow full of summer squash and berries. “I do know, Ewaine, but I just can’t wrap my mind around some of what they do sometimes.”

    His old liege knight looked at him with a smile. “I don’t myself, sometimes. Still, it would be best for you to be on your toes in court these next few weeks, and don’t rise to the bait.” He looked out towards Greenglade Forest in the distance before going on. “And the backstabbing you should worry about isn’t all figurative. There isn’t a whole lot of connection between you and Falmarsh beyond him being an influential noble at the court that you are heir to.”

    Gilchrist groaned. “Don’t remind me. Heir to the kingdom I can stand, but heir to presiding over that pack of self-serving schemers…”

    “It is part of your duty, Gilchrist. But the more immediate concern is to ensure that you actually do inherit it. As I said, there isn’t much to connect you and Falmarsh beyond being members of the same nobility, but we can’t discount the possibility. Keep your sword close, and in case Griflet is right, don’t invite anyone into your chambers unless you know who they are.”

    “And if Griflet is right?”

    “Then our troubles are only just beginning,” stated Ewaine grimly.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Comments and criticism are welcome, by the way.
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    Chapter Five

    Cairnstone Road, 5th of Eleasis, 1373 DR

    Menace in the night or not, it was Eleasis, which meant that the hill orcs and goblins would begin raiding south into the fiefs of Eire to steal crops within the next month. Within a few days, Gilchrist was assigned to the detachment of knights dispatched to lead the customary reinforcements to the northern border fortresses. He and Sir Ethrael of the Silver Hand were leading the largest contingent, a full company of infantry, to Hillwatch Keep, the fortress charged with safeguarding Cairnstone Pass and the lynchpin of the northern defensive line.

    Gilchrist was clad in full plate and astride Feoras, not his preferred Éimhin. His helmet was slung along the left side of his saddle, over his shield, as he scanned the downs on either side of the road. There were three ancient barrows in view, but the prince knew that they had been scoured by knights and adventurers years before, and so looked for no special threat from them; besides, it was mid-morning.

    Sir Ethrael was more restless than Gilchrist, riding his prancing warhorse up and down the line of marching men periodically. The more patient prince suppressed a grin as his fellow knight snapped his reins and steered his horse around for his fourth inspection over the previous fifteen minutes. Ethrael was himself new to knighthood, having been knighted little over a year before, but was already known as one of the best horsemen in the order. He was also known for a quick and forge-hot temper, and for this Gilchrist spared an eye for watching him; it wouldn’t do to let him decide to take offense against a footman.

    A dust cloud rising above the next down, where the road turned to go around the hill, caught Gilchrist’s attention as Ethrael returned to the head of the column. He raised his right hand in a fist to signal the men before reaching down to seize his helmet.

    Securing the helm upon his head, he raised his visor and brought Feoras to a trot as the soldiers fanned out behind him. The heavy warhorse’s body accelerated beneath the prince as he closed the gap between himself and the bend in the road that the source of the dust cloud was about to turn. Sir Ethrael flipped his lance upwards out of it’s sling, catching it midair as he moved his horse to the right, the sooner to see what was coming around the bend, and to have a clear line to charge it if necessary.

    Gilchrist placed his hand on his own lance, though he did not draw it. In the next moment, the head of a horse appeared around the bend, soon followed by a careening wagon driven by two terrified-looking men. Two other wagons followed, along with four armed men on horseback. One of these was leaning low over his horse’s neck, bleeding from a head wound.

    Gilchrist reacted instantly. “MEDIC,” he bellowed out, causing the company’s clerics to dash forward from the combat formation. “Hold!” The wagon drivers pulled their teams to a halt upon seeing the knights and men-at-arms, and were now nervously looking back as they proceeded towards the soldiers at a more sedate pace.

    “What happened,” he asked hurriedly, removing his right gauntlet as he rode towards the wounded man. The guard groaned and shifted a little, raising his head to take in the paladin riding towards him through the blood flowing over his eyes. “Hold still,” Gilchrist admonished as his hand began to take on a shimmering blue-white glow, as sunlight through water. He reached across to the other horse, placing his hand upon the wounded man’s temple. The light seemed to flow from his outstretched arm into the wound, knitting the edges together as the wound shrank and almost vanished. Ceasing his concentration, Gil looked up to hear the caravan master frantically speaking to Ethrael as a pair of Ilmatian military clerics leapt into the back of one of the wagons to tend to a pair of wounded men howling in agony among the cargo.

    “The orcs came out of nowhere, sir! One minute we were on the road, and the next they came tearing over the down!”

    “Calm down, my good man,” said Ethrael impatiently, eager to be on the hunt. “Keep riding south, you’ll be safe enough once you’re behind us. Get to New Tirisfal, no orcs will go that far south, nor could they attack the city if they did.”

    “Thank you, sir,” stammered out the merchant. He then turned to the prince. “And might I ask who our protectors are?”

    “I am Gilchrist, crown prince of this kingdom, and these are the men of the 2nd Company, 4th Infantry Regiment.”

    Something vaguely like recognition flashed through the rather rotund merchant’s eyes for a split second before he resumed a bland expression. Gilchrist’s eyes narrowed.

    “Sir Ethrael is right, you should probably get moving. We’ll see to the marauders.”

    “A thousand thanks, Highness, and thank you for assisting our wounded. As I was telling your fellow knight, the orcs attacked us about a mile up the road.”

    “You are most welcome.” He slammed down his helmet visor and pulled his gauntlet back into place. “Now we have business to attend to, as do you I’m sure.” He turned back to his men. “Company! Quick time, MARCH!”

    The merchants and their guards, their wounds now attended to, watched as the column of troops filed past, hurrying towards the hills. As the last ones marched around the curve, the man next to the caravan master leaned over.

    “So, that was him, was it?”

    “Yes. Yes it was. Most interesting indeed,” responded the merchant, half in reverie. Snapping out of it, he flipped his reins. “No matter, we have other things to attend to.” The caravan slowly rolled out and faded into the distance.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Six

    Cairnstone Road, 5th of Eleasis, 1373 DR

    “Damn,” muttered Gilchrist as the orc raiders fled over the downs, outpacing his heavy infantry. He and Ethrael could easily run down the barbarians, of course, but the prince didn’t like the chances of the two of them against a score of savage orcs, mounted or no. A final volley of arrows flew from the back ranks of troops, but the short bows were not accurate at the rapidly increasing range required, and most of the arrows fell short.

    ‘No point now,’ thought the prince to himself. “FORM UP,” he called out to the scattered lines of men as he turned his horse away from the fleeing marauders. “Squads Three and Four, cover left and right flanks! MARCH!”

    The weary soldiers reassembled into columns, with the men who Gilchrist had ordered out spreading out into the road edges to watch for more trouble. The Realmspine loomed ahead, and the men knew they were only a few miles from Hillwatch Keep and their barracks. But they were also closer to the orcs.

    * * *

    The sun was setting to their left as the men marched out of the downs and over the first foothill. As Gilchrist’s horse reached the crest of that nameless ridge, the great fortress of Hillwatch came into view, on an outlying crag overlooking the entrance to Cairnstone Pass. The ancient standing stones marking the pass entrance were also strikingly prominent in the fading sunlight, but they were of little interest to the soldiers, many of whom let out a cheer at the sight of the keep. Their pace quickened at once.

    Gilchrist grinned as well, and flipped Feoras’ reins a little to bring the warhorse to a trot. Ethrael followed suit, and the two knights quickly outpaced their company, riding towards the keep and the men drilling outside on the parade grounds.

    Circling the rocks, partially natural and partially battle-minded earthworks, between the pass road and the fortress, the paladins approached the fortress guards and the knight on horseback waiting for them in the fading light.

    “Hail and well met, Prince Gilchrist, Sir Ethrael,” called out Sir Faerin Down, commander of the Hillwatch garrison. “I trust your journey was safe.”

    Gilchrist grinned. “Can the formalities, Sir Faerin. Getting a couple whacks with the flat of a sword and a thump on the chest from my father doesn’t mean I’m not still the prince you taught swordsmanship to all those years ago. How have things been out here on the back end of nowhere?”

    Sir Faerin smiled in return. “Aye, you are that. So, Gilchrist, since you’ve been so kind as to inquire into my affairs, things have been going wonderfully. Now how’s life back at your stuffy old court, eh?”

    Sir Ethrael wore an incredulous, almost stunned look on his face at this treatment of his liege and the royal court. “Sir Faerin, I hardly think…”

    “It’s all right, Sir Ethrael. Go see to your horse and get the men situated; we have old times to catch up on.”

    “Y… Yes, Highness,” responded the young knight, still somewhat puzzled at the blatant breach of protocol as he rode off, following the passing column of men towards the gates.

    “So, how have you been? Still haven’t joined any of the orders, I hear. Going to be a simple knight of the realm forever, then,” asked Gilchrist, half-grinning. “Have the orcs been much trouble?”

    “No, I haven’t; I rather like keeping my fealty ties to a minimum, and dealing with the army and my liege-baron at the same time is taxing enough,” said Sir Faerin with a half-smile of his own. “And actually the orcs are rather quiet this year. Unusual. Perhaps they’re finally learning.”

    “I doubt it. We ran into a group of orc marauders today, a little past highsun,” said Gilchrist as the last of the column filed past. “They ran from the troops, but had attacked a small caravan earlier that was heading south from the pass.”

    “From the pass? No caravans have traversed the pass today,” responded Sir Faerin in puzzlement. Gilchrist’s gaze snapped from the catapults and ballistae topping the fortress towers to Faerin’s face, shadowed by the sun setting behind him.

    “Are you certain? It was a merchant caravan bound for the markets at New Tirisfal, three wagons and four mounted guards. The leader was a rotund merchant, scared out of his wits when we came upon them fleeing down the road at full tilt.”

    “There were two single wagons today, along with a group of riders, but no three-wain caravan, of that description or any other. Most curious.”

    “Too curious. Faerin, there’s something strange going on lately. First I was attacked on the streets of New Tirisfal on the one night of the year when there would be the most risk of witnesses. Baron Falmarsh was murdered the night before, and now we have caravans in distress conveniently appearing out of midair in front of me as I lead a column of troops against the orcs. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

    Faerin snorted. “Surely you don’t think that this caravan intended to attack you, do you? Particularly as you led a company of armed soldiers?

    “No. It might be paranoia talking, but something’s still not right.” Sir Faerin cocked an eyebrow at him. Gilchrist slumped a little. “Well, perhaps these merchants had nothing to do with anything, but I still think…”

    “And you have reason to, but honestly, what could a few men and three wagonloads of trade goods have to do with whatever’s going on in the capital and with the court? Perhaps they came through yesterday and were foolish enough to camp within a couple hours of the hills after getting through the pass. It would explain much.”

    “Maybe you’re right. Check the caravan records to be sure, will you?”

    “Of course, Highness. Mess should be served soon; we’ll both be expected at the officers’ table.”

    “Of course,” responded Gilchrist. “I’m famished after the ride. Come on.” The two knights flipped their horses’ reins and trotted off towards the massive keep and barracks.
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2007-09-13 at 05:56 PM.
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    Interlude: Convocation of the Shades

    New Tirisfal Market, Sunset, 7th of Eleasis, 1373 DR

    The rotund merchant, now smiling, closed his wagon-mounted stall and, accompanied by his workers from the other two wagons and a pair of his guards, made his way down the street in the fading sunlight, weaving through the last of the evening shoppers. A patrol of city watchmen eyed the foreigners and their armed guards briefly before continuing into the market district.

    The party did not go to the inns as one would expect, nor did they go to the taverns, or anywhere else that a fairly well off traveling merchant and his entourage might be expected to go after a lucrative business day. Instead, they turned down an alley off of Evenfall Street.

    They did not emerge at the other end on the main thoroughfare.

    * * *

    The merchant stepped lightly onto the ground of the bolthole from the ladder leading from the hidden trapdoor in the alley. Two figures loomed out of the darkness as his companions followed him down.

    “Ah, my lords, ‘tis good to find you well,” said the merchant in a slightly smug tone, sweeping off his hat as he spoke. As he did so, his appearance radically changed, becoming that of a tall, almost skeletally slim man with a full head of midnight-black hair. “I have encountered Gilchrist on the road, as you predicted, at the head of a marching column of troops. We wounded some of our own men and pretended to be fleeing orc attack; the fool took it in completely.”

    The figure on the left shifted slightly. “And what was his reaction, Kerreck?”

    “The foolish mercy of the Tormites, of course,” smirked the erstwhile merchant. “He healed this man here,” he said, jerking his head at one of the guards. “It seems he has indeed learned the skills of their paladins.”

    “Come here,” the first shadowy figure commanded the indicated guard. The second still stood in silence.

    The man approached, clearly frightened. The figure seized him by the head, and the guard struggled for a moment, but the viselike grip of the other man held him still. The figure examined the scar from the wound. “Learned their skills, yes, but he is not yet powerful in them if he left a mark like that,” stated the darkness-shrouded man, releasing the hapless guard. A fang glinted in the darkness as the figure’s half-shadowed face half-grinned.

    “So what do we do, my Lord,” asked Kerreck as his man fell back to the group, plainly terrified out of his wits.

    “Well first,” said the figure on the right, speaking for the first time, “we take care of that watchman that has invited himself to our doorstep.”

    * * *

    City stalker Haervar Althonien started at the words, heard through the listening cone he had applied to the trapdoor that he had observed the illusion-cloaked merchant descending. ‘Time to leave,’ the elf thought, wasting no time in breaking into a run. Too late. The trapdoor exploded open as a vampire leaped straight up out of it into the gloom of the early night, throwing the stacked crates that partially concealed it flying into the air. The ranger tucked away his lenses of true seeing as he whipped out his longsword and a large dagger. The vampire’s own longsword came out in response as it landed splayed on the ground, knees bent and left arm, shield strapped to it, splayed out in support. The creature looked up, gave a feral grin, and launched itself at the watchman.

    Crying out in Elven, the ranger leapt to the side as his companion, a great shaggy half-wolf dog, leapt forward to attack the undead horror. It simply laughed and waved its hand, sending the canine skidding sideways into the wall. Haervar flipped the dagger over in his hand and threw it, burying the blade in his opponent’s neck. The wound would have debilitated any living humanoid, but it barely slowed the vampire down. The elf’s short sword came out, but before he could move to engage the vampire, a swarm of bats descended on him from the night sky. He barely caught sight of another lot of bats swarming over Graenir, his dog, before he was engulfed in biting, swarming mammals. He threw his arms over his face to protect himself when he felt a blow. His body went cold, and then another blow came and everything faded to black. He barely felt his limbs as his body folded to the ground.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    This is the last of the chapters that I have already completed. Further updates will come more slowly, probably once or twice a week if I can keep up my writing pace.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    For those unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms setting, the Heralds are a continent-spanning organization that enforces rules of heraldry and regulates the use of blazons and symbols of all types. If you wish to use a coat of arms in the Realms, then according to the setting's rules as written, you have to shell out a few thousand gold pieces to the Heralds to register your right to use your symbol, especially if you're nobility. If you do not, they will censure you and suddenly no one will have business with you at all, including temples and other nobles in your own realm.

    I think this idea is stupid, and so part of the following chapter is me venting through Gilchrist. I hope you enjoy anyway.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Seven
    Tirisfal Fief, 27th of Marpenoth, 1373 DR

    It had been yet another quiet harvest season. Highharvestide had come and gone, and Gilchrist had celebrated it with the men of the garrison and the goodmen of the surrounding fiefs, bringing in the harvest (and watching over the work), and feasting on it’s bounty that night, as was traditional. The orc raids had remained limited to forays by warbands attempting to seize food stocks for winter. ‘At least they didn’t try to form a horde again,’ thought Gilchrist to himself as he rode around the last spur of Greenglade Forest and entered the fief of Tirisfal. Sir Ethrael had elected to go errant for a short time at the end of his duty on the border just to alleviate the boredom.

    The last leaves of autumn were still stubbornly clinging to their trees, resisting for a short while their doom of joining their brethren on the ground for the Rotting. The snows would come within two tendays at most.

    Gilchrist nodded to a pair of patrol riders as they passed him headed the other way, out for their assigned rounds over the highways. Tirisfal Castle came into view as he crested the hill, with the walled expanse of New Tirisfal just beyond. Gilchrist smiled and flicked Feoras’ reins, bringing the horse to a trot as they descended the last down towards the plain surrounding Tirisfal. He would soon be home, and was glad of it.

    * * *
    TirisfalCastle

    Gilchrist went directly to the kitchens after the usual pomp and ceremony for returning royalty, famished from the ride. He collected a slice of beef and a round loaf of sourdough bread from the larder and started walking towards his chambers.

    “Prince Gilchrist,” called a voice behind him as he traversed the castle corridors.

    He turned to see Godric, the court herald of Tirisfal. Though supposedly necessary, Gilchrist had never liked the idea of the Heralds and their high-handed, bullying ways of coercing everyone they pleased into following their arbitrary rules for noble behavior, and it showed, though only just.

    “Yes? What is it,” he asked, stopping and half turning to face the approaching courtier.

    “Welcome home, sire,” he said with a half-bow. Gilchrist adopted an impatient look.

    “Thank you,” he said irritably. “We’ve done that already. Do you have something else to say, or are you simply wasting my time?”

    “Now Highness, there’s no need for that,” the Herald said smoothly. “As it happens, I do have something to say. I have reason to believe that the throne is in danger.”

    “Of course you think the throne is in danger,” Gilchrist responded in a soft, dangerous voice, “since you, like all the Heralds, are under the delusion that you can bring down a king who refuses to be cowed by your blackmail.”

    “Highness, the work we do holds the Realms together. If proper rules of heraldry are not followed…”

    “If proper rules of heraldry were not followed as you would have it, perhaps two blacksmiths working as far apart as Waterdeep and Suzail might have similar signs hanging outside their shops without anyone ever being the wiser, and oh what a tragedy that would be,” he shot back sarcastically. “Wherever would we be without the great Heralds to step in to force whichever one started his business second to change, and charge him a king’s ransom for his trouble? There’s no justice or honor in that, which leaves me at a loss to explain why you’re still tolerated in this castle,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

    “I have many other functions, Highness, one of which is…”

    “One of which is to get out of my sight if you wish to remain at this court,” Gilchrist roared at him before turning and storming off toward his chambers again.

    Godric looked at the prince’s receding back. Oh, that one would be trouble when he ascended the throne… if he did. The Herald shook his head. He’d have to go about trying to preserve the royal line from harm without the heir’s cooperation, then. Nothing he hadn’t expected. Hopefully Gilchrist would learn the necessity of the Heralds by the time he came into his birthright. The balding man turned and moved back towards the great hall.
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2007-10-10 at 10:11 AM.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Eight
    Tirisfal Castle, 11th of Uktar, 1373 DR

    Sir Haerborn stood next to Gilchrist on the battlements topping the curtain wall, a grim look on his face as they stood and watched the sun set.

    “Are you certain, Lord Haerborn? No traces?”

    “None. The disappearances seem almost random. It started with a city stalker, but the next victim was a blacksmith, the one after that a street minstrel. The only thing connecting them all is the pattern; two every tenday, five days apart, and that once they disappeared they were never seen again. There have been occasional gaps in the five day pattern, but when that happens it always starts again ten or fifteen days later. I think we may presume that there are other missing people who simply haven’t been reported for whatever reason.” The mustachioed paladin’s expression seemed set in stone, cast in sharp relief by the red light of the setting sun. “I think Sir Griflet was right. New Tirisfal is infested with vampires.”

    “Well then, we must find the beasts and clear them out,” Gilchrist responded decidedly, fingering the pommel of his sword. He didn’t like the idea of a vampire or, Tyr forbid, an entire coven preying on the underside of New Tirisfal, not with all the friends he’d made in low places in his youth.

    “Hunting vampires is rarely so simple,” Haerborn responded. “Not many of us have ever done so. Once lodged in a city, I’d rather be asked to slay a dragon. But you are of course right; it must be done.”

    “You said Taur’Ohtar Althonien was the first one the Watch noticed missing?” Gilchrist didn’t bother to point out the obvious; it had taken the disappearance of one of their own, and one of their most skilled, to even alert them that something was wrong. “If one of the elves’ rangers was unable to outmaneuver the vampire on the streets he knew so well, I don’t see what chance most of the watchmen have,” he continued. Gilchrist knew precisely how well Haervar Althonien knew the streets of New Tirisfal; the ranger had caught him nearly innumerable times in his youth, no matter which alleys he ducked down.

    “You speak the truth. There aren’t many who have the skill to hunt a vampire to his lair and at the same time the strength to defeat an elder example of the horrors. One hears rumors of an order calling itself the Night Guardians or some such, but with what we have on hand, we’d almost have to trust to Tymora’s own luck to run across the horror while it feeds.”

    “Then to Tymora we shall trust,” the prince sighed. “We should dispatch knights on the next night of the pattern.” He paused. “When is that next night, in any case?”

    Haerborn didn’t turn to face his prince, instead gazing intently out at the last rays of the sun. “Tonight.”

    * * *

    Outer Bailey, Tirisfal Castle

    Darkness had fully set in as all the paladins Gilchrist and Ewaine could assemble thundered out of the courtyard towards the city astride their warhorses. The knights were magically bolstered against fatigue as they expected to work all night. They traversed the darkling fields with great speed, led on by Gilchrist and Sir Griflet, who took a keen interest in hunting the vampire that he’d predicted months before.

    The city gates were opened before the collection of knights, some 23 in all. They rode onwards around the wall road to the same Watch barracks Gilchrist had sought aid at on Midsummer Night. The guards were surprised, but opened the stable doors, allowing the knights to enter.

    “Are you sure this is wise, Highness,” asked Ewaine quietly as he brought his own warhorse to the stall next to the one Gilchrist was putting Éimhin in. “We do not know our enemy. This is dangerous, and it’s likely we won’t see it at all.”

    Gilchrist didn’t look up from removing his mare’s bridle as he answered brusquely. “Our citizens are dying. The longer we let the vampire feed, the more spawn it can create, and the more will die. We have no choice.”

    “You are right, but there are still risks to consider,” the experienced knight hissed. “We don’t know this thing’s power. It could very well kill one or more of my men. You are not king yet; this is my order.”

    Gilchrist did turn at that. “You are my mentor and a great friend, Lord Ewaine,” he said in a more considerate tone. “There is truth in what you say, but I for one cannot allow this to go on when I might prevent it. You may refuse your order’s aid to me and I will accept that, but I will then ask for volunteers and do this myself with whoever will follow me.”

    Ewaine sighed. “You know I can’t leave you here. Very well. But you go with Captain Dunlock and the best men he can hand-pick, and Sir Mathias goes with you.” He motioned the paladin he’d named, an experienced hunter of barrow-wights, over as he spoke.

    Gilchrist sighed and nodded his assent. “Very well. Address the men, will you? They are, after all, yours.”

    Ewaine nodded and moved to stand on a nearby mounting step. “Knights and yeomen, tonight we hunt a vampire,” he said to the assembled paladins and watchmen. “Ready your weapons, and keep holy water and iconography close at hand.” Officers were passing out flasks and carved symbols of Tyr and Torm to the men of the watch; the paladins were already well-equipped in this respect. “The abomination must be stopped. If you find it, call for help. It can likely overpower any of you alone,” he said, casting an eye at the burliest of the watchmen. “Be careful, and use your signal whistles the instant you think you’ve spotted it. The Triad be with you all.” He hopped down and slung his shield on to his left arm. “Move out.”

    The paladins each joined a foot patrol and left as soon as they were assembled and satisfied. Gilchrist, as promised, joined the watch captain and a band of his best men, as well as a black-cloaked figure that looked at the prince intently from under his hood.

    Dunlock introduced each of the men in turn, and then turned to the cloaked figure. “And this, Highness, is Lorcan Healy, the best of the best when it comes to beating cloak-and-dagger tricksters at their own game,” he said with a warm smile.

    Healy nodded to the prince almost irreverently. “I can’ ‘elp but notice you’re not wearin’ tha’ damned noisy plate,” he drawled, indicating Gilchrist’s light chain shirt. “That’ll ‘elp, that will,” he finished.

    “That will do, Lieutenant,” Dunlock said, looking slightly mortified, but Gilchrist simply smiled.

    “Yes it will,” he said. “Well you doubtlessly know these streets. Lead on!”


    * * *
    A small alley off of Knight Street

    It was nearing midnight when Lorcan’s left hand shot up as he moved ahead of the patrol. The men instantly came to a stop.

    That was when Gilchrist heard what the stalker, as those in his service were called, had undoubtedly already picked up on: A woman sobbing and what sounded like heavy blows from the other end of the alley ahead.

    Lorcan moved so quickly he seemed to simply vanish into the shadows. Captain Dunlock motioned his men forward and they quickly moved to the alley mouth. The prince carefully looked for a chance to take to the shadows, and quickly got it, leaving the patrol when no one was looking directly at him and moving up in front of them, weaving through bins and midden heaps as he moved towards the source of the sounds. That was when one of the watchmen struck a bull’s-eye lantern.

    The cone of light flared out and caught a dark-robed figure standing over the cowering form of a woman, something clutched in his hands. He shielded his eyes at the sudden flare of light and took off running down the alley.

    Gilchrist barely had time to curse the man’s haste to alert their quarry before the running figure tripped and went down and a black-cloaked shape rose behind him and struck him on the back of the head. Lorcan turned and swept back his hood as Gilchrist ran up, the patrol that had so perfectly spooked the quarry into his trap right behind him. Gilchrist dropped to one knee beside the sprawled figure, who groaned and tried to get up.

    The prince savagely seized the man and wrenched him upwards into the lantern light as Sir Mathias ran up behind him, silver-edged sword clutched in his armored fist. The steady beam revealed an unshaven human face with a normal complexion and no fangs. They’d captured an ordinary criminal, one who was now wincing and trying to reach for the back of his head.

    He never made it before one of the burly watchmen seized him and hauled him into a standing position against the wall, where he held the captive for one of his fellows to frisk.

    Gilchrist looked disappointed, but tried to hide it as the groggy man was locked into a set of manacles. “Well, I suppose we’d best take him to the…”

    He stopped at the shrill, carrying sound of one of the Watch signal whistles. Captain Dunlock didn’t waste any time. “MOVE,” he shouted. The watchmen who had just shackled the prisoner dropped him as the others who had been comforting the victim sprung up. The whole lot ran down the alley and took off south down the street, sprinting as fast as their legs would take them.


    * * *
    They were not the first on the scene. Haerborn’s patrol arrived right before them, and Ewaine was already on the scene. The sprawled forms of four unconscious Watchmen littered the alley surface in the light of the paladin lord’s spells.

    “What happened,” asked Gilchrist, nearly out of breath and holding his sword.

    Ewaine did not answer immediately. Instead, he merely held up a bloodstained gorget from a suit of armor. “This was Griflet’s patrol,” he said grimly. “They’re alive, but he is gone.”
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2007-10-03 at 02:03 PM.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    have you thought of submitting to the Iron Author contest?
    Not Currently Using Forums.
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    Thanks for a great time here while it lasted!

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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    Your ideas intrigue me and I wish to know more. Do you have a pamphlet?

    (No, mainly because I've never heard of it.)
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Iron Author.

    Check it out.

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    Chapter Nine

    New Tirisfal, 12th of Uktar, 1373 DR

    “We’ve got to find him,” Gilchrist said in an almost panicked tone, looking around the alley for any traces of where the horror might have gone.

    “The abomination could have gone anywhere in this city,” Mathias said grimly, looking up at the surrounding roofs.

    “Not if it’s carrying a body,” Gilchrist responded with finality. “We’ve got to hurry.” He looked down the alley, where a red patch of liquid caught his eye, dimly gleaming in the light of the spell. “This way. Come on,” he ordered, and started jogging down the alleyway without waiting for anyone to follow.

    The other three knights looked at each other briefly before hastening to follow the prince, Lorcan and some of the watchmen coming along behind while the rest started to see to their fallen comrades.

    Lorcan caught up to Gilchrist as the prince knelt to examine the puddle of blood. “Whoever left this was bleeding freely, Highness,” the stalker noted quietly. “The wound happened here, but something stanched the blood.” The hooded man pointed a few feet further down the alleyway, where there was a single drop of blood at the edge of the light. “If we’re lucky, it’ll still leave enough of a trail.” He stood and started moving, bent over to examine the ground as he went.

    The trail led them for three blocks of alleyways before the light of Ewaine’s spells of light revealed a slumped shape in the shadows ahead. As the group moved forward, the intensifying light revealed the shape to be that of Sir Griflet, slumped over limp against a building.

    Gilchrist rushed forward before thinking. “NO,” shouted Lorcan, but too late.

    A dark figure dropped off of the roof of the warehouse to the left , sword raised to strike Gilchrist from behind. The prince started to dodge, but too late.

    Lorcan was not too late, however. His thrown dagger lodged itself low in the attacker’s shoulder, scraping between two armor plates and throwing off his aim. The sword rushed past Gilchrist’s ear as the prince rotated to face his assailant.

    The figure turned. His arm should have been limp and useless, but it wasn’t. He laughed menacingly as the knights and watchmen rushed forward, and swarms of bats swooped down from the night sky to envelope the oncoming men. Shouts of confusion arose as the flying rodents ripped and tore, their bites individually insignificant, but the thousand or more of them able to inflict serious injury.

    Gilchrist’s sword came out as the figure swung again. He barely managed to parry the blow; the strength behind the stroke was phenomenal, nearly numbing his arm. He snarled and launched a riposte, but his attacker simply swatted it aside, chuckling darkly as he did so. Gilchrist tried to make out his opponent’s features, but the bats swarming around Ewaine were blocking the magical light from his sword, creating a guttering, strobe-like effect that was hard to see by.

    Lorcan cursed under his breath, but launched himself into the fray anyway, going straight for the creature’s back, rapier point first. The blade entered the back straight towards the kidneys, but all the blow elicited was a grunt of annoyance and a counter-blow from Lorcan’s would-be victim. The rogue was smashed backwards and slid across the alleyway, barely maintaining a hold on the basket hilt of his weapon.

    Gilchrist took advantage of the distraction and brought his sword down in an overhand blow, the blade glowing at the edge with Torm’s holy power. Laughing, the attacker caught Gilchrist’s blade at the crossguard with the forward-pointing crossguards of his own weapon and twisted, wrenching the sword out of the prince’s hand. The smiting power faded from the weapon as it left Gilchrist’s grip and clattered to the ground.

    Gilchrist hurriedly fell back as his assailant followed up with a swing that would have decapitated him if he’d not moved. He began to circle around to where his sword fell, but his opponent didn’t chase him; rather, he simply walked over to the weapon and stomped on it.

    The sword’s blade snapped under the strength of the blow, leaving only a few inches still attached to the hilt.

    A burst of fire emanated from within the giant swarm of bats and threw his opponent’s pale face into stark relief. The pale complexion, the fangs… If this wasn’t a vampire, Gilchrist didn’t know what one was. The creature of the night laughed menacingly as he advanced deliberately towards the prince, dark plate armor softly scraping beneath his midnight-black cloak.

    Another small fireburst came from the swarm of fighting bats. The guards were throwing their lanterns, scattering burning lamp oil over the rodents. A third came and the bats partially scattered. Sir Ewaine burst forth from the melee and came running towards the vampire.

    Too late. The creature dealt Gilchrist a withering blow with its left hand and before the prince could recover, ran him through, the sword passing underneath the edge of the prince’s chain shirt and up through his guts.

    ‘I should have known better,’ was Gilchrist’s only thought before sliding into blackness.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Ten

    Lord Ewaine stopped his sprint as the vampire stood over Gilchrist, preparing to finish him off. There was no time for anything else, so the paladin went for his holy symbol. Tyr’s warhammer-and-scales icon dangled from its silver chain, clutched in his fist that still gripped the pommel of his sword. “In the name of the Triad, begone from here!” Golden light flashed from the symbol, seeming to coalesce towards the undead horror. The vampire cursed before turning into a bat and flying away as fast as his wings could take him.

    Ewaine rushed over to Gilchrist as the prince lay spilling his life’s blood onto the dirty pavement. Sword and holy symbol were both dropped as the familiar watery, translucent light played over the paladin lord’s gauntleted hand as he reached down towards the prince’s wound.

    Gilchrist shifted as the light flowed deep into his skewered abdomen and started to repair his ruined vitals. The prince opened his eyes and feebly coughed before trying to pull himself up in a sudden panic.

    Ewaine’s hand held him in place. “Let it work, Highness,” he said quietly, head up and alert to his surroundings rather than focusing on his charge. Gilchrist promptly stopped attempting to rise, and Ewaine picked up his sword and symbol, standing and warily scanning the surrounding alleyway as Sir Mathias dashed past the two towards Griflet.

    It didn’t take the hunter of the dead long. “He’s gone,” Mathias said, not needing to check for a pulse after seeing the ugly tear in his fellow knight’s neck. A cloth had been jammed into the wound to stop the blood from escaping so readily, but the lack of active bleeding clearly announced that Griflet would rise no more. “It might come back yet,” he warned as the rest of the bats scattered.

    “We have a little time, at least a minute,” Ewaine said as he helped Gilchrist to his feet. “Someone carry Sir Griflet. We’re leaving.”

    “What? But we’ve got him on the run,” Gilchrist protested.

    “Yes, we do, but he’s fed. It won’t come at us again tonight, not now that we’ve driven it off once. It knows we’ll be ready. The abomination’s probably run straight to its lair, and we don’t have a prayer of finding that, not with how little we know.”

    “But what if we can find it before it gets away?”

    “It’s already done that, Highness,” Sir Haerborn cut in as he approached, watchmen in tow. “We need to get Sir Griflet’s body out of here in any case; he must be consecrated quickly or we risk his rising in a mockery of life himself.”

    That got the prince to assent. “Fine,” he said with a sigh. “But we don’t stop, not until this thing is done.”

    “As you say, Highness,” Ewaine agreed as a pair of watchmen lifted Griflet’s body with as much dignity as they could muster.

    The group left, bearing their grisly burden. Although several of the knights stayed to patrol until morning even as Ewaine and the prince returned to the castle, there were no more attacks that night.

    * * *

    Tirisfal Castle

    Father Khalar read the last rites for Griflet at highsun, the syllables of the Celestial language sounding clear and joyous even when used for such a somber occasion. His fellow knights of the Order of the Crown stood at the front of the assembled mourners, heads bowed in respect at his passing.

    As Khalar finished the rites, Lord Jocelin stepped up before the crowd so he could address the assembly.

    “Knights, nobles, assembled gentles of all stations. We gather here to remember the life and deeds of Sir Griflet of the Crown, a knight steadfast and true, who both lived and died according to his duty. He was a great credit to…”

    Gilchrist stood in the back between his father the king and Lord Ewaine, surrounded by the cream of the Order of the Silver Hand. Lord Jocelin was a valiant knight and good leader for his order, but he did tend to wax verbose when praising gallantry. The prince was much more concerned with the events of the wee hours of that morning.

    The thing’s face had almost seemed… familiar, somehow, but the prince couldn’t place a name to it. He’d only had brief glimpses anyway; it could easily have been a trick of the shadows. He could only hope he was wrong. The prince resumed listening to Lord Jocelin as the knight commander’s speech drew to a close.

    “…this day we commend his dutiful soul to the House of the Triad. May he dwell there with Torm’s celestial host for all time.”

    A general murmuring of assent went up from the crowd as two black-liveried knights closed the lid of Griflet’s coffin.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Interlude: Preparations of the Shades

    New Tirisfal, 13th of Uktar, 1373 DR

    “Gilchrist survived.”

    “Luck, nothing more,” the vampire answered the shadowed man in a dismissive tone. “He can’t stop us in any case; his attempts at fighting me were pitiful.”

    “You’d be surprised,” the other figure in the shadows responded coldly. “It’s not what he can do, it’s who he is. A stable monarchy is inconvenient to the Dark Lady’s plan, to say the least.”

    The vampire grunted. “What is this plan you keep going on about? I’ve never heard a hair of it.”

    “You don’t need to.”

    “Don’t treat me like a petulant servant, priest. I am a lord of…”

    “You can be lord of as many things as you like, but not of me,” the shadowed man said in a bored tone. “You know the bargain. We’ve held up our end; it’s time you started doing yours.”

    The vampire bared his fangs, but before he said anything else, the man’s arm shot out, holding a purple-rimmed black disk hanging from a silver chain. “Lord Ewaine was lucky. I don’t need to be. And I take to threats even less kindly than failure.”

    The vampire stood hesitantly for a moment before knuckling under. “As you say,” he said grudgingly. “What must I do?”

    “Your part. It’s high time others faced the fate of Baron Falmarsh.”

    Both fangs glinted in the minimal light as the vampire grinned ear to ear. “Artair?”

    “No. We have a special plan for him, one I think you’ll like,” the dark man told him with a chuckle. “Lord Jocelin first, I think. Lord Ewaine too if we can manage it; throwing their orders into disarray at the same time would be ideal.” Unable to resist a final jab at the vampire, he added: “I think I’ll use another means of eliminating Ewaine, though. Wouldn’t want to risk him sending you fleeing into the night again.”

    His grin faded, but the vampire simply nodded in assent. “It will be done. At least it’ll finally make the fool shut up.”

    The large man in the dark threw back his head and laughed.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Chapter Eleven

    Tirisfal Castle, 15th of Uktar, 1373 DR

    Gilchrist and Ewaine sat together in the courtyard talking. A bandage was still wrapped around the prince’s abdomen; something in the wound had resisted the healing of the gods and while it had knit together, the line of the cut remained stubbornly present. Father Khalar hoped it would heal naturally in time, as it indeed seemed to be doing.

    Gilchrist frowned. “So Tyr would have us enforce even the cruelest law, as long as it was consistent with its legal code?”

    Ewaine paused. “Yes and no,” he said after a moment. “If the government of an area has broken down, it becomes our job to restore…” He paused and looked up at the curtain wall above them.

    His hearing hadn’t been wrong. A man jumped off the battlement above towards them. Such a fall would break most men’s legs, but the stranger landed lightly before standing.

    He was heavily muscled, and wore the baggy gold cloth clothing of a Calishite noble. His hair was long, almost to his knees, and tightly braided. A curved blade was lashed to the end of the braid.

    Ewaine started to stand, but before he could say anything, the stranger spoke in a thick accent.

    “You are Lord Ewaine, yes?”

    “I am,” responded the paladin lord. “And just who are…”

    He never finished the sentence. The stranger launched a punch with his right arm that took Ewaine squarely in the chest and sent him reeling backward. Gilchrist heard the crunch of cracked ribs.

    Gilchrist gave a wordless shout as he leapt to his feet. Cursing the breaking of his sword, the prince pulled out the dagger on his belt as Ewaine’s own blessed blade left its sheath.

    Gilchrist launched himself at Ewaine’s attacker, but his blade seemed to skitter off of a solid object about a foot before it would have reached its target. The prince cursed as Ewaine stepped around the other way and, taking a two-handed grip on his sword, launched a devastating sweep of the blade towards the strange attacker.

    The stranger moved one of his arms up in an attempt to catch the blade on the bracers he wore, but too slowly. The sword slashed across his chest, drawing a deep wound, or what should have been a deep wound. The telltale sizzling almost-burn of the holy weapon against the flesh of an evil being manifested as the sword continued its swipe, and the stranger howled in fury.

    The slice, which should have eviscerated the man, barely bit. The cut was there, but it was not deep. Ewaine suppressed his confusion as he reversed the sword to bring it back again, but not before the stranger responded.

    And respond he did. The man’s fists and feet flew at a speed hard for the eye to follow. Ewaine took three piledriver-like punches and a kick before the stranger followed up by smashing his fingers and wrenching his sword out of his grasp.

    The hilt of the sword seemed to burn him, and he dropped the weapon with a surprised shout as Gilchrist tried to take advantage of the distraction to strike at the stranger. But despite having his back turned, his enemy seemed to know it was coming; he twisted out of the way as Gilchrist thrust, neatly dodging the dagger and bringing a vicious chop down on the prince’s arm.

    Ewaine gasped for air through his crushed ribcage. It was only through immense force of will that he channeled Tyr’s power through his wounds. The blue light glistened momentarily as bones knit together and wounds started to close, but he was still not in a good position. His sword was on the ground, but if he bent over to get it, the stranger would kill him for his trouble. He drew his own dagger and stabbed as the stranger struck at Gilchrist, shouting for help as he did so. The short blade bit, but the stranger’s supernaturally tough flesh prevented it from penetrating as it should have, instead being turned aside by a rib and drawing a shallow cut along the stranger’s left side.

    Guards began to rush towards the scene from the inner gatehouse, but they were too far away to make a difference in time. The stranger responded to Ewaine’s attack by gripping his left fist with his right hand and driving his left elbow back into the paladin’s face, smashing his nose and breaking his jaw.

    Desperate now, Gilchrist called on Torm’s power. His dagger’s blade began to glow with white light as he drove it home.

    Guided by his god’s power, the blade slipped between their attacker’s ribs. The light seemed to rush from the blade into the wound it caused, expanding it and driving it deeper.

    It hardly seemed to matter. The wound started to heal before the prince’s eyes as the stranger backhanded him almost contemptuously.

    The blow sent the prince reeling, but what was worse was what came next. The stranger reached back, grabbed him by his tunic, and threw him fifteen feet across the courtyard before turning back to Ewaine.

    The paladin backpedaled, trying to keep distance between him and his enemy, but to no avail. The stranger simply rushed forward with supernatural quickness of foot and delivered a crushing blow to the paladin’s solar plexus, knocking him to the ground.

    It was then, as the stranger towered over Ewaine, raising his foot to crush the life out of him, that Father Khalar strode out of the gatehouse behind the onrushing guards.

    The cleric was clad in gleaming plate armor, and bore a shield displaying Tyr’s symbol on its face. As the stranger prepared to dispatch Ewaine, Khalar spoke a terrible celestial rune of wrath and pointed his finger at the man.

    The effects were profound. Divine power assaulted the stranger, attempting to destroy him. He survived, but only just. Great open wounds had spontaneously appeared on him, and it was clear that he had nearly died.

    The stranger cursed in the language of Calimshan before speaking a few arcane syllables. Fog suddenly billowed up out of the ground to surround and conceal him and Ewaine.

    From within the fog cloud, the people around heard a sharp clang of steel on steel and then a faint pop. Khalar invoked another spell as Gilchrist stood up from the ground, and a divine wind started to blow through the fog. The mist blew up and away, revealing Ewaine, hair blowing in the wind but clearly still alive. The paladin lord coughed and tried to rise before collapsing back to his elbows. There was no sign of the stranger.

    Khalar rushed forward to Ewaine’s side. He muttered a few words of prayer before a bright bluish-white light shot through Ewaine’s wounds, healing them all as if they had never been. The priest then waved his hand, and the winds ceased.

    “Who was that?” Gilchrist heard Khalar’s question as he rushed up to the two. Father Khalar reached down to help Ewaine to his feet.

    “Hells if I know,” the paladin lord answered. “He asked my name and then just attacked. If you hadn’t shown up when you did, I’d be dead.”

    “No doubt,” responded the priest. “Now the question is whether or not he’s still around here.”

    “I think he teleported,” Ewaine said. “After he brought up that blasted fog, he tried one last time to crush my throat. I caught his bracer with my dagger, and then he was gone. If he vanished, he also moved away insanely quickly, because he wasn’t there when I tried a counterstroke.”

    The captain of the gatehouse finished gulping down a potion as Ewaine finished his sentence and then looked around. “He’s not here that I can see, sir,” he said, his eyes now glowing a faint blue.

    “He came down over the wall,” Gilchrist offered. He then pointed at two of the guards. “You and you, get up on the battlements and give it a look.”

    The guards nodded and rushed towards the nearby ladder up the wall. It didn’t take long for one of them to shout back as they reached the nearest tower.

    “By the Triad,” he breathed. “Sergeant Hernan is dead,” he shouted down as he and his companion looked in through the tower door.

    Gilchrist grimaced. So much for that. Khalar and Ewaine looked at each other in the gathering dusk as the sun finally set, and started walking towards the tower.
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2007-10-29 at 10:59 AM.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


  21. - Top - End - #21
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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    Chapter Twelve

    Ewaine stopped to pick up his sword as they passed the point where the mysterious attacker had thrown it, just as Gilchrist caught up to him and Khalar.

    “Father, how’d you get into your armor so quickly? He couldn’t have been attacking us for more than a few seconds before you came.”

    Father Khalar smiled. “I have a few tricks up my sleeve yet, Highness,” he said as the three men reached the narrow stairway up the side of the curtain wall. They began to climb.

    The scene inside the tower was gruesome. Sergeant Hernan had evidently been bodily thrown down the stairs after having his face literally shattered.

    “Ilmater’s mercy,” Gilchrist breathed as he came in the door behind Ewaine and took in the bloody scene. “Where are the rest of the guards?”

    One of the guards that Gilchrist had sent up merely pointed up the stairs. “Atop the tower, Highness,” he said in a low voice. “Not a pretty sight, my lords.”

    Gilchrist didn’t heed the footman’s warning and rushed up the spiral staircase to emerge at the top of the tower, Ewaine hot on his heels.

    The other four men in Hernan’s watch shift lay scattered across the top of the tower. One, his trachea crushed, lay slumped against the ballista on top of the tower, clutching his throat. He’d clearly been trying to cry out, but died unable to breathe. The other three lay here and there, in varying states of having been savagely beaten to death. Their weapons lay beside them, not a one bloodied… with the exception of one, who’d had his own sword rammed through his gut.

    “By the Triad,” Ewaine said with a mix of astonishment and disgust as he surveyed the scene. Gilchrist was too busy doing his best not to vomit to take time to invoke the gods.

    Had either of them looked out over the plain, they might have seen their attacker, sprinting away in the distance faster than any horse in the royal stables could gallop.

    * * *

    Tirisfal Castle, 20th of Uktar, 1373 DR

    The royal council met in Artair’s great hall after the midday meal. One seat was conspicuously absent.

    “Why has Lord Jocelin not answered the royal summons?” Artair’s question was heavy with foreboding.

    “Lord Jocelin of the Order of the Crown has not been heard from by this court since the 16th of Uktar of this year,” responded Godric the court Herald in a loud, formal voice. “Hierarchy dictates that Sir Bradley of the Order of the Crown represents his Order in the absence of his Lord.”

    “Thank you, we are well aware of the Order’s hierarchy,” Artair answered the Herald. “Sir Bradley, you may take your Order’s seat,” he went on, indicating the first chair on the left side of the main table.

    Sir Bradley bowed at the waist before moving forward from his station at the edge of the room towards the council table. Artair waited for him to sit before continuing.

    Gilchrist took the moment to look around at the faces of the assembled lords from his vantage point at his father’s right hand on the dais. It had been well over a year since every lord of the kingdom had been called to council at once. Even the lords of the lesser knightly orders were present. The Thane of the Realmspine dwarves sat at his place next to Sir Bradley, and the Coronal of the Greenglade sat across from the dwarf, next to Lord Ewaine; it was rare for the leaders of the elves and dwarves to actually come to council, though it was their right to do so.

    “My lords, five days ago this castle was attacked by an unknown and apparently unarmed man. Though he did not get past the outer courtyard, he did manage to slay one of the tower watches and attempted to assassinate Lord Ewaine and Prince Gilchrist.” The king paused to let that sink in before continuing. “Now with Lord Jocelin missing, and in light of the various assassinations and assassination attempts of the past few months, we fear that there is indeed a conspiracy against the rule of our kingdom.”

    Lord Kendrick of the Order of the Grey Mist spoke up from his place further down the table. “Majesty, what enemies would do this, and in this manner? I can think of precious few.”

    “There are any number of groups that have reason to undermine this realm,” pointed out Baron Piaras. “I can think of half a dozen shady trade consortiums, to say nothing of bandit groups, any given major thieves’ guild, the Cult of the Dragon, or some of the city-states to the east, to name a few who might have a motive to weaken Eire.”

    “Oh come now, you think a trading coster would want to assassinate the heads of the Orders? They’d be more likely to go after you, since policing the traffic on the Trade Way is your responsibility,” pointed out Lord Tiernan, leader of the Order of the Blade, right before taking a large bite out of a round loaf of bread that a servant had brought him. The young head of the Blades had ridden in too late to catch the castle’s mealtime.

    “This is no trade coster,” Ewaine cut in irritably as Piaras opened his mouth for an angry reply. “New Tirisfal is now home to a vampire of considerable power, and I find it nearly impossible for that to come about at the same time as this string of killings and still be coincidence. The vampire obviously has mortal aid from some quarter; the man who attacked the castle did so right before sunset, and was exposed to sunlight without harm, so he is obviously not the vampire, but this is too much to consider unrelated.

    That there was a vampire in the capital was a revelation to some of the more remote barons, and a round of muttering went around the table before Artair raised his hand for silence.

    “Related or not, we must of course take this threat seriously,” the king said slowly. “The court wizards will start divinations in earnest to determine the exact nature of the menace. In the meantime, we expect every lord of this realm to thoroughly investigate his fief to ensure that nothing untoward is happening there. This council shall convene again on the Feast of the Moon to report findings. Is there other business?”

    Gilchrist began to tune the council out as the discussion shifted to mundane matters of tax shortages and captured bandits. Who would want to bring down the crown of Eire? He thought back to Midsummer, seemingly so long ago, and his knighting ceremony. During his oaths, he’d named the Zhentarim and the cults of Bane and Cyric as his enemies. A Cyricist cell, perhaps? The Zhents operated in the North; except for their fortress at Darkhold, they were too far away to credibly wish to interfere here, and Darkhold was too wracked with internal strife to present much of a threat to anyone. The church of Bane would certainly wish it, since it was a government that they were not in control of, but the methods didn’t fit. So a cult of Cyric, the god of murder and intrigue, would certainly fit. But that was too easy, the prince thought to himself; for Cyric was also the Lord of Lies. Surely his followers would take greater pains to conceal what was going on than this.

    So engrossed was the prince in his own thoughts that he started when his father placed a hand on his shoulder. The various lords were getting up to leave as Artair looked down at his son.

    “Be careful, Gilchrist,” the king said. “Try not to get that lost in thought when you aren’t surrounded by loyal knights; in times like this, we must all look to Helm’s own vigilance for our safety.”

    Gilchrist merely nodded as he stood, and father and son walked out of the great hall together into the afternoon sun.

  22. - Top - End - #22
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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    Chapter Thirteen

    Tirisfal Castle, the Feast of the Moon, 1373 DR

    Gilchrist came out of the reconvened council disappointed. There had been almost nothing to report; divinations had failed, investigations turned up nothing, and the utterly predictable behavior of the Order of the Blade (riding about challenging everything that moved) had of course produced no results.

    ‘At least the feast will be good,’ he thought to himself as he walked off towards his chambers to give the servants time to prepare the great hall for the feast night.

    His sword was still not yet reforged, a fact that irked him. The castle weaponsmith had said that he would work silver into the edge to help it strike against the vampire, but the process was delaying the work, and so Gilchrist had no weapon at all. The thought bothered him as he strode into his rooms and shut the door behind him. A fire was roaring in the fireplace across from his favorite chair, warding off the cold that was rapidly setting in with the beginnings of winter, but Gannon was nowhere to be seen. Gilchrist frowned at the absence of his servant, but quickly dismissed it; he could have any number of reasons to be elsewhere. The prince sat down in front of the fire and started poring over a set of scrolls he’d gotten from the royal libraries several days before, detailing known lore of vampires.

    The fire was burning low by the time he rolled up the scroll he was reading and stood to go down to the great hall for the feast.

    * * *


    Gilchrist didn’t get far down the torchlit passage before being accosted by Gannon.

    “My prince,” his servant said to him in a low voice, quickly bowing his head before looking up.

    “Where have you been?” Gilchrist also spoke quietly, instinctively taking Gannon’s cue.

    “No time. You’re in danger; you have to get out of the castle.”

    “What?”

    “They’re going to strike at the feast, you have to leave!”

    “Who is? Gannon, what are you on about?”

    “I don’t know who; I heard voices in the dungeons, near the armory.”

    “Gannon, I can’t just leave everyone else. If someone’s going to attack the feast then the court has to be warned; most of them will already be there!”

    “But Highness,” Gannon said with great gravity. “It’s your father the King.”

    “Gannon, you’re not making any sense,” Gilchrist responded in a bewildered tone.

    “Your father’s voice, it was one of the voices.”

    “Maybe someone who sounds like him, but…”

    “No, it was him! I’ve been a servant in this castle for fifteen years; I know what the king sounds like.”

    “Then there’s sorcery at work. I have to go warn the court now.”

    “Highness, if you won’t take my warning, then at least take this,” Gannon said, holding out a long, thin bundle.

    Gilchrist unwrapped the cloth to reveal what he’d suspected it was: A sword. He was about to ask where his servant had gotten it when his eyes fell on the device engraved on the crossguard.

    “Gannon, this is Justitia! What were you doing in the royal armory?”

    “You need a weapon, my prince, and that’s the best one I could lay my hands on,” responded the servant grimly.

    “You realize that if Father finds out…”

    “We have other worries. Whipping for delivering you King Caerlon’s sword will be the least of them.”

    Gilchrist relented as he allowed Gannon to strap the sword onto his belt. “Very well. If you truly believe the danger is so great, you should leave the castle now. Go to New Tirisfal; look up Gregor Reeves at the farriers’ guildhall. Tell him I sent you, and he’ll see to your safety until you’re sent for.”

    His servant nodded his thanks. “Helm watch over you, my prince,” he said before turning and walking briskly down the corridor.

    Gilchrist looked after his servant for a brief moment before turning and hurrying off his own way towards the great hall.

    * * *

    The prince entered the great hall, which was arranged much differently than when he’d left it that afternoon. The floor was scattered with rushes, and the trestle tables were laid with food of every description. Knights and nobles sat around the tables, with proximity to the royal dais indicating rank and position. Gilchrist started to move towards the dais to take his place by his father when the king noticed his entrance and stood.

    The room quieted at once, and Gilchrist stopped in his tracks. No one spoke or moved while the king was standing at feast or in court, not even the crown prince.

    “Now that my son is here,” Artair boomed out across the hall, “we can begin.

    “I am pleased to announce that several of my loyal subjects have managed to reach the bottom of the conspiracy against the Crown of Eire.” A mutter went around the room at that, the courtiers unable to help themselves before falling silent again a bare moment later. Artair waited for it to subside before continuing.

    “Foremost among these subjects is Lord Jocelin, head of the Order of the Crown. Lord Jocelin, if you please?”

    At Artair’s word, the missing lord himself stepped out of one of the side doors near the dais and walked up to flank the king. He was wearing a full suit of field plate and was fully equipped for battle. Maybe it was a trick of the lanterns mingling with the stark light of the magic spells used to light the dais, but Gilchrist thought the lord looked extraordinarily pale. Gasps went up from the section of the table bearing the most Crown Knights as they caught sight of their heretofore missing leader.

    “My lords and ladies,” Jocelin said gravely as he stood next to the king. “Over a tenday ago, I was ambushed by forces loyal to the conspirators. It was only through skill of arms and the swiftness of my horse that I escaped death, and even then their treacherous arrows carried poison that nearly spelled my doom. I am only now able to return.” An angry muttering went around the room.

    “The nature of the conspiracy is most foul. I can say now that the perpetrators are none other than our own fellow knight commanders, led by Lord Ewaine, in a bid to place Prince Gilchrist on the throne in his father’s place.”

    The court exploded in shouts at the accusation. Ewaine stared at the dais in shock from his place just below it.

    Artair pounded his fist down on his table. “Guards, seize them!”
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


  23. - Top - End - #23
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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    Chapter Fourteen

    Gilchrist was knocked out of his stunned silence by the sight of a pair of guards rushing towards him. Ewaine came roaring to his feet, drawing his sword as he did so, but Gilchrist didn’t have a chance of getting to the knight. He ducked the first guard’s attempt to grab him and started to run, but the second one caught him by the shoulder.

    The prince twisted to try and pry open the guard’s grip, but it was too strong. The guard was about to pull the prince in to catch him in a bear hug when he was body-checked by Sir Bradley.

    “Go, my prince!” The burly Crown Knight then drew his sword and moved to stand between Gilchrist and the approaching guards. Come to think of it, there shouldn’t have been this many guards at the feast, Gilchrist thought to himself as he started to run down the hallway.

    The torchlit passage seemed ominous as Gilchrist fled down it. He was trapped in here; he knew it. Even if he got out of the keep, there were still the two curtain walls, and then the long flight across the fields.

    He stopped as he heard the clanking of chain mail coming down the hallway, and then ducked into a side passage.

    A slight mist seemed to be seeping from the walls. Thinking to the scrolls he’d been reading, Gilchrist recognized what that meant, but too late.

    The mist rapidly began to coalesce. Within seconds, it had taken the shape of a short, lithe humanoid with pointed ears. With a start, Gilchrist recognized Haervar Althonien.

    “I’m sorry, my prince,” the vampire said even as he lunged to attack. His fangs glinted in the torchlight as Gilchrist backpedaled, pulling Justitia from its sheath.

    Haervar had run down and captured Gilchrist more than once when the prince was a rebellious youth. He was not an unarmed youth anymore, but then again Haervar was no longer a mortal. Gilchrist swung the sword with all his skill and it bit, the blessed blade searing the elf’s undead flesh even as it also cut into him. The monstrosity hissed, and brought one of its malformed claws around to rake at the prince’s face. The blow felt cold, as though it were draining away his very life.

    At that moment, the sound of the guards’ armor began to get closer as they heard and responded to the sounds of the fight. Haervar hissed and dissolved once again into mist just before the soldiers rounded the corner. Catching sight of Gilchrist, one of them shouted, and the chase was on.

    These soldiers were not the usual household guards; they’d been brought in for the trap. Gilchrist hoped to use that to his advantage as he darted up the spiral staircase of one of the keep’s corner towers. Their heavier armor was slowing them down, he thought with satisfaction as he ducked out at the second floor.

    He quickly enacted his hurried plan. As he ran down the hallway following the outer wall, he quickly reached over to one of the doors he passed on the left – one he knew had an exit other than this hallway – and quickly opened and slammed it.

    He then ducked into the garderobe on his right just as the guards reached the landing.

    “In there,” one of them shouted as they reached the doorway, and the four men barreled through the parlor it led to and through to the hallway beyond, which would take them to the minstrel’s gallery over the great hall, but not to the prince. They wouldn’t take long to realize the deception, Gilchrist knew, so he left his hiding place and jogged down the hallway as lightly as he could manage, trying to make it to the royal quarters. He had some things in his chambers to help.

    * * *

    It wasn’t far to the royal residence, since it occupied most of the third and fourth floors of the keep and the tower stairways led right up to it. He was halfway to the third floor landing when a sudden swirl of mist solidified to form Haervar on the landing. The prince didn’t even slow down as the vampire came down the stairs at him; he was deathly afraid, but he had to get through. He slashed at the vampire and started to dodge right, but as Haervar ducked his blow and moved to block the prince’s path, Gilchrist braced a foot on the rightward wall and reversed his direction, leaping up the narrow stairs on the outside of the spiral. He twisted in midair and landed in a half-sitting, half-reclining position two stairs above the vampire, who had lunged downward trying to seize him. Haervar quickly realized his mistake, but Gilchrist was already scuttling up the stairs backwards, holding his sword before him with his right hand while using his left to climb. He shoved himself to a standing position as he reached the landing, but the vampire was already leaping up at him, fangs bared.

    Gilchrist swiped his sword in front of him in a defensive sweep as he backed through the doorway. Haervar snarled and started to follow…

    Before stopping dead in his tracks. Gilchrist had crossed into the royal family’s private residence, and the vampire could go no further without an invitation, one that Gilchrist was not about to give. The prince sighed in relief as he closed and barred the door.

    He hurried down the hall and turned left to go into his own chambers. He rushed through the antechamber and into his bedroom, where he went straight to the locked chest at the foot of his bed. Producing a key from his belt pouch, he quickly opened the lock and shoved aside the various valuables inside. While he was at it, he removed his circlet from his head and placed it in the chest; he wouldn’t need it where he was going. He pulled out a pouch of coins, several flasks containing holy water and potions, and then reached into the bottom and pulled out the large, flat case underneath it all.

    He opened it and removed a large crossbow from within. He tested the string with a finger; it still seemed to be good. He then pulled out the ammunition, consisting of four small grappling hooks on long shafts and thin elven rope. He tucked some of the flasks and an iron bar into his belt and put the rest, along with the money, a coil of rope, a normal grappling hook, spare clothing, and a round loaf of bread he’d had brought to him the day before but not eaten into a rucksack, which he slung over his back.

    The sound of a ram being taken to the door told him he was out of time. The prince sheathed his sword and seized the crossbow in both hands before running for the exit.

    The door to the tower staircase was shaking with each blow as he emerged back into the hallway. After sparing it and the cracking timber he’d used to bar it a brief look, Gilchrist took off the other way, making for another way upstairs.

    He quickly reached an interior stairway up to the fourth floor, which almost entirely consisted of his father’s personal chambers.

    He sprinted towards the nearest roof access, which lay on the other side of the king’s private audience chamber.

    Gilchrist ran through the doorway to the chamber, but quickly came to a halt as he caught sight of the black-armored figure almost reclining in the throne.

    His assailant of that deadly night in the streets of New Tirisfal looked up at him as his face broke out in a predatory grin, prominent fangs on full display.

    “Ah, Prince Gilchrist! Leaving my celebration of the Feast of the Moon so soon? But we haven’t even served the main course yet.” The vampire laughed menacingly and rose from the royal seat.

    “You’ll pay for this,” Gilchrist said in as brave a voice as he could muster; he was in fact frightened as he’d never been before in his life.

    “I’m sure,” the vampire answered as he took a step forward. “That’s what your good Watchman Althonien said before he ascended. So did Lord Jocelin, though I expected it from him; he was always a blowhard.” The creature of the night chuckled darkly again.

    Gilchrist paused, sword held in front of him as he slung the crossbow over his left shoulder. “I wouldn’t call your state ascension,” he spat. “Who are you?” The face seemed to be stirring a memory, but the prince couldn’t place his finger on it.

    “All in due time, Gilchrist, all in due time,” the vampire answered, continuing to advance. Gilchrist started to circle around to the left, but his opponent simply stepped to the side to stay between the prince and the door. “Come now, do you really think you can just walk right past me? There’s no way out; your guards are watching the gates, and… others stalk the night outside. There is no escape.”

    “If I can’t go around you, I’ll go through you,” the prince said as he brandished his weapon, though they both instantly knew it was an empty bluff. “I wield Justitia now, sword of King Caerlon. Don’t think I won’t use it.”

    The vampire hesitated for just the briefest of seconds before grinning again and continuing his slow advance. “That’s nice. Been stealing from the royal armory? You always were a sneaky brat,” he answered, his voice tinged with amusement.

    “Haervar didn’t seem to like it,” Gilchrist hissed angrily. “I think it’ll burn you just as well.”

    At that the vampire laughed in open derision. “Althonien survived, did he not? He is as nothing next to me; Shar herself empowers my form and grants me abilities far and beyond those of even my first ascension… or death, if you prefer,” he said. “You’ll come to see it my way. Sword of kings or not, you don’t stand a chance.”

    The vampire quickened his pace as he finished speaking. Gilchrist raised the sword as he approached, and prepared to die with as much valor as he could muster, a prayer to Torm on his lips.

    Then another figure stepped into the room from the door Gilchrist had intended to use as his exit. Before either one could react, the newcomer spoke an arcane phrase and the vampire’s advance suddenly halted.

    The figure swept back his hood to reveal the face of Godric, the court herald.

    Gilchrist stared in shock. “What are you doing?”

    “One of my other functions in this court, Highness. Go.”

    “You’ll pay for this, meddler,” the vampire said from where he stood, though he seemed unable to move his limbs.

    Godric ignored him. “Go. The spell won’t hold him long.”

    Gilchrist nodded and rushed out the door. The Herald turned to follow.

    “Thank you. Out of curiosity, which function?” Gilchrist was attempting to hide the fact that he was all but shaking with fear, and failing badly.

    “Preserving the royal line,” Godric said simply as they emerged onto the roof. Gilchrist wasted no time in unslinging the crossbow from his shoulder and beginning to winch one of the grapple-ended bolts into it. He then tied off the bolt’s cord to one of the battlement’s arrow slits.

    “You have my thanks,” Gilchrist said decidedly as he finished loading the crossbow. “I hope you have a way out.”

    “No thanks is necessary, Highness. I have my duty, as you have yours.”

    “I’ve failed in enough of my duties already this night,” Gilchrist said matter-of-factly as he raised the crossbow to his shoulder, taking aim at one of the towers of the inner curtain.

    “You of course refer to your knightly oaths, but you also swore to do your duty to your kingdom in that same oath. Right now that duty is to escape with your life.”

    Gilchrist looked up at the Herald for a moment. He hadn’t thought of it that way, and was about to say so, but a roar of anger echoing up the stairway heralded the vampire’s release below them.

    “There’s no time. Go.” Gilchrist was already firing the hook and line.

    “I hope you have a way out of here,” he said without looking up as he yanked on the line. It seemed to be set in the battlement of the far tower well enough, but there was only one way to find out.

    “As it happens, yes, but here’s something to help you,” the Herald answered. He chanted a short arcane phrase and touched Gilchrist, and the prince disappeared from sight.

    “It’ll end if you attack anyone, and it doesn’t make you any quieter, so be careful. Go.” Without saying another word or giving Gilchrist time to respond, the Herald simply jumped off of the parapet and began to plummet earthward. Before hitting, Gilchrist heard him speak a single syllable, and his fall slowed. Shaking his head, the prince hooked the bar over the rope and jumped over the battlement himself.

    His slide had taken him midway down the rope before the vampire burst onto the roof and started to scan the sky, thinking that they must have flown.

    Gilchrist reached the tower before his pursuer’s undead mind picked up on the sound of the improvised zip-line. Seething with anger, the vampire turned into a bat and began flying over the edge of the keep as Gilchrist seized the edge of the battlement and clambered between two of the crenellations.

    It didn’t take him long as a bat for his echolocation to notice the suspended line, and he flew straight for the tower it led to. Once there, he immediately detected Gilchrist, invisible or not.

    He didn’t have that ability once he resumed his normal form, however. Gilchrist, who was in the middle of winching the string on his crossbow back into firing position, looked up in startled horror as the vampire suddenly sprang into being next to him. He rolled to the side as the creature’s sword came down where he’d been a moment before. He barely managed to keep the winch from unwinding as he moved.

    “Come now, Highness,” the vampire said with amusement. “Surely you must realize this whole farce isn’t gaining you anything. You cannot escape in the end.”

    Gilchrist’s only response, now that the crossbow was securely cocked, was to grab a loose bit of mortar from the slightly crumbling battlement parapet, and throw it to the other side of the tower.

    The vampire reeled around and darted towards the sound before realizing what it was. Gilchrist, meanwhile, wasted no time in looping the rope through an arrow slit and tying it off.

    He would only have one shot at this. The vampire was already starting to sweep around with his sword, trying to herd Gilchrist away from the tower staircase. Gilchrist silently thanked Tymora that his hunter had missed his guess at his intentions before taking careful aim at a tower on the outer curtain and firing.

    The twang of the crossbow’s string immediately brought the vampire lunging toward Gilchrist as the prince put his iron bar over the rope and jumped, not taking time to test it first. The sword swiped through empty air as Gilchrist zipped down and away.

    Having failed to impale the prince, the vampire simply smiled and then laughed before reversing his sword and bringing the cutting edge down on the rope.

    Gilchrist fell. Hard. He tried to twist around and land softly, but it wasn’t enough; he fell nearly twenty feet to the ground right in front of the wall, the wind knocked out of him. To add insult to injury, the iron bar clanged against the wall and bounced off, alerting every guard in the courtyard that something was going on.

    Gilchrist tried to stand, but his leg gave out under him. A bad sprain, he thought. He reached down, and the faint, watery glow seemed to come from nowhere momentarily as he laid his invisible hand on his equally invisible knee. It still ached as his reserves of power drained dry, but he was able to move. Fortunately, he hadn’t been anywhere near the gatehouse, and the squad of guards running over to where he’d fallen weren’t upon him yet. He moved away as quietly as he could into the night. He’d lost all sight of his pursuer.

    Now he just needed a way out. The gate was shut, of course. He stalked off towards the next tower in the wall, avoiding the one he’d originally tried to get to. He’d expect that. He’d climb the next tower and try rappelling down the wall from there.

    Suddenly, a large commotion broke out at the gatehouse. Gilchrist heard Lord Haerborn’s voice raised above the shouts of guards, followed by the sound of the gate opening. Not one to miss an opportunity, Gilchrist started jogging off towards the gate.

    He came around the curve of the inner wall to see Lord Haerborn, Sir Bradley, Sir Ethrael, and a battered Lord Ewaine all on horseback, facing down a squad of troops at the gatehouse. Someone had opened the gates; Gilchrist couldn’t tell who from his position.

    He started running towards the group of men just as the knights suddenly began to push their way through by force. Ewaine, Bradley, and Ethrael managed to bull their way through the press, shields and swords in motion as they parried blows from the disorganized guards. Haerborn’s horse balked and reared as a halberd passed before its left eye.

    In an instant, the soldiers focused on him, raising cudgels to beat the paladin into submission. Haerborn lashed out with a mace, attempting to fight his way through, but the guards would overpower him sooner rather than later. Cursing his ill fortune, Gilchrist ran up behind one of the soldiers, raising his iron bar.

    He brought it down on the back of the man’s head. His invisibility broke instantly, but the carefully aimed blow rendered the man unconscious. He lashed out at the temple of another as the guards began to react to his sudden attack, breaking their concentration on Haerborn. The lord knight spurred his horse into action and reached an arm down to Gilchrist as he went past. The prince seized the offered arm and jumped, using Haerborn’s assistance to swing in behind the saddle. The two sped off into the night, guards shouting behind them.

    “You shouldn’t have done that, Highness,” Haerborn said as he spurred his horse to even greater speed. “Your duty is to escape.”

    “I couldn’t leave you,” Gilchrist answered. “Just ride; we have to get out of here.”

    Haerborn nodded and started to guide his horse towards the road, but then a loud whinny behind them led Gilchrist to look back.

    The light of the almost-full moon revealed a terrible sight. Bearing down on them was the vampire lord, astride a coal-black horse. Sparks seemed to fly from the horse’s hooves, although they were galloping over grasslands.

    Haerborn saw it too, and although he tried his best to evade their pursuer, there was no escaping the fact: His horse carried two men, and could not keep pace with the one behind.

    Their path had taken them towards Greenglade Forest. Haerborn suddenly reined in his mount and pulled his lance from its cup.

    “Dismount and go. I’ll hold it off.”

    “No! You’ll…”

    “Do as I say! This is your only chance.”

    Biting his lip, Gilchrist obeyed, jumping from the horse’s back and running towards the Greenglade. Behind him, Haerborn raised the lance and charged, the weapon beginning to glow white as he lowered it towards his enemy’s chest.

    The undead abomination’s own lance came out in response, and the two clashed. Haerborn wore no plate armor, having only his shield to defend himself; he turned away the lance blow, but it slipped through low on his left flank, tearing a deep wound into the side of his torso. So great was Haerborn’s skill, though, that he bore the vampire from his saddle and threw him to the ground. This did nothing to stop the creature’s terrible steed, and the black horse turned and came at Haerborn again as the knight was turning to ride down the dark creature’s master. The horse, if that was indeed what it was, reached Haerborn with unnatural speed and reared, black shadow seeming to engulf its hooves.

    Haerborn was knocked to the ground, the edges of his wound from the blow of the horse’s hooves blackened and expanded. The knight struggled to his feet as his own horse reared and lashed out in retaliation against the vampire’s mount. The last thing Gilchrist saw before reaching the tree line was Haerborn and the vampire coming together, swords drawn.

    * * *

    Gilchrist stumbled forward through the darkened forest, his mind afire trying to comprehend the events of the evening. He had no clue who else besides himself had lived or died, no idea what had induced his father’s apparent madness (though he had a guess), and most important, no inkling of how he was going to get himself out of this mess. Eventually he was nearly dropping from exhaustion, and located a place in the hole left by a fallen and uprooted tree. He fairly fell into the pile of leaves that had accumulated in the shallow, sheltered pit and fell into fitful sleep there beneath the upended roots.

    End Book One
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    And that's that for Book One. If anyone has comments or criticism before I continue with the story, now's the time. I know people are reading this; the thread views column tells me that much, but I want to hear from you.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    I've got a suggestion, but it isn't grammatical or literary. Please use spoilers. When I finish reading, I'll post more comments.
    Last edited by The Cro; 2007-11-02 at 01:35 PM.

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    Use spoilers for what purpose?

    I also hasten to note that this thread has been around since before the spoiler function was added to the board software.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Spoilers because I have to scroll around in funny ways when I view this page, but I suppose you make a good point. Disregard the suggestion if you so wish.
    Tornatar by Serpentine.
    [Images removed - total image heights too high]
    Original Tornatar by Threeshades. Second Tornatar by The Chilli God. Demonized Tornatar by Threeshades.

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    Scroll around in funny ways? It should be just regular scrolling down the screen, unless I used a word so big that it forces side-scrolling. I don't see how that could have happened, though.

    Edit: Oooooooh, the map. Well why didn't you say so? *Fixes*

    It's hard for me to notice something like that, because my computer runs on a very high resolution; it takes a lot to make me side-scroll.
    Last edited by Renegade Paladin; 2007-11-04 at 08:50 AM.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Book Two

    The Tale of Sir Tristram of Eire


    Sir Tristram of Eire, sometimes given the appellation Tristram the Bold by his friends and those he helped, was one of the greatest knights of the realm of Eire during his time. His story may seem incidental at best to the theme of this tale, but let the reader rest assured that the history of this knight is so thoroughly intertwined with the circumstances of the exile of the Crown Prince that it must be told for the completion of his story. I therefore beg your patience in this diversion, and assure you that the reason for it will become plain as the fabric of the tale unfolds.

    Chapter One

    Tirisfal Castle, 14th of Kythorn, 1369 DR

    Sir Tristram stormed out of the great hall in a rage, shouting over his shoulder as he went, even walking backwards at one point. “I won’t have it! Do you hear me? I shall not tolerate these assaults on my honor for one more moment!” Servants, guards, and yeomen in the inner courtyard started and looked towards the great doors of the keep as the knight burst out of them, still fuming.

    Baron Falmarsh had indeed heard him, and allowed himself a half grin of satisfaction. Now the annoyingly noble knight would go off adventuring again until he cooled down, allowing the baron’s political faction to work in the capital without his opposition. He quickly rearranged his face into a neutral expression before turning towards the remaining members of the council, which had moments before been interrupted by Sir Tristram barging in and demanding satisfaction upon those courtiers who were slandering his name, this time through whispered accusations that he was sleeping with one of the queen’s maidens. This was, of course, untrue, but it had served its purpose as far as Falmarsh was concerned. Tristram would storm about the castle for a day or so, looking for his tormentors so that he could challenge them for besmirching his honor, but would quickly grow frustrated and ride out errant, to vent his frustration in wilderness adventure. He would be gone ere sundown the next day.

    * * *

    Falmarsh’s prediction proved correct. Sir Tristram rode from court the following afternoon, helmeted head held high and his standard snapping in the breeze at the tip of his upright lance. Attempts by Lord Ewaine, head of the Knights of the Silver Hand, to dissuade him from his course had failed, as they were doomed to do against the strong-willed paladin, and he had not had the heart to order the knight to stay. However, Ewaine rode out to meet Tristram at the gate, intercepting him at the outer gatehouse for one last try.

    “Sir Tristram, are you certain that you will not stay? You are allowing yourself to be driven from this place and into danger in anger and frustration. This is what Falmarsh wants, can’t you see that?”

    “I care not one whit what that blackguard Falmarsh wants. I go not for him, but for Tyr, for adventure, for honor, and for myself. If that squabbling courtier wishes me gone so that he can quarrel with those like himself in peace, then let him stay in his arena while I shall go to mine.”

    Ewaine shook his head sadly. “You’re playing right into his hands, you know.”

    “Then he can go and rot in the Hells. I have no use for standing around bickering in the court; it is not my place. Nor is it yours, Ewaine.”

    “But it is, my friend. I don’t like it, but it is my duty. I would trouble you to remember that it is also yours; Falmarsh will get his trade concessions and restrictions on the Orders without your opposition.”

    That almost gave Tristram pause. “The king will not allow it.”

    “He can’t disallow everything by fiat; like it or not, the support of the nobles is part of the foundation of the Crown’s power.

    Tristram then shook his head sadly. “Ewaine, you and I both know I’m no good in court anyway. Besides, I have declared before all the castle that I am going errant; I cannot stay now.”

    Ewaine sighed. “As you wish,” he said in a resigned voice. “I’ll do my best to hold things together here. Perhaps between Haerborn and I we can keep Falmarsh from getting everything he wants.”

    Tristram chuckled ruefully. “Tymora be with you on that, my lord,” he said in a low voice. “But now, I must away.” With that, he shook his horse’s reins and trotted out the gate.
    "Courage is the complement of fear. A fearless man cannot be courageous. He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein


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    Default Re: Shades of Eire

    Not like you're useing up there.

    A spoiler...

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    Like this, no side scrolls.
    Dear Princess Celestia,


    You faithful student,
    Nameless

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