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Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 6 -Reinforcements

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  • Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 6 -Reinforcements

    When Isolde woke, she was lying on a straw-stuffed cot in a dark room. She sat up slowly, wincing as a sharp pain shot through her head. Carefully, with the very tips of her fingers, she felt the lump above her right eye and winced again. The door opened, bathing her in torchlight from the corridor beyond, and a pale, porcelain skinned woman with fine blonde hair stepped into the room, carrying an earthenware bowl of medicinal herbs steeped in steaming hot water.

    “You’re awake at last,” said the woman, warmly, “Sir Hagen will be glad.”

    The woman floated silently across the small room, and placed the bowl on a table by Isolde’s bedside. Then she returned to the corridor and lit a long taper from a torch on the wall. She cupped her hands around the tiny, flickering flame and carried it back to the table, where she touched it to the wick of a small oil lamp. Then she closed the door of the chamber and sat down on the edge of Isolde’s cot.

    “Where am I?” asked Isolde, who remembered nothing since her fight with the black-robed man in the dungeon realm.

    “Safe in Dawnshire,” said the woman, “You were injured in battle. Beltheron, Seer of the Angeli carried you to my door, chosen one. Two such distinguished guests!”

    “I don’t understand,” said Isolde, groggily.

    “My name is Sethe. I am a healer,” continued the woman, “I have sworn service to all who oppose the Dark Lord.”

    “Then I am glad our paths crossed,” said Isolde, grimacing as she touched the lump as big as a wood pigeon’s egg on her forehead.

    “Here,” said Sethe, “Let me.”

    She folded a small muslin cloth, dipped it into the bowl by the bedside, then wrung it out. The smell of camphor laurel and wild thyme filled the air.

    “Sit back,” said Sethe, holding the cloth gently against Isolde’s wound. The pain in her head seemed to ebb away under the healer’s touch. Her mind cleared as the pain subsided, and new thoughts began to push their way in.

    “Sethe, what of the Captain?” she asked, remembering the ambush and her failed rescue mission, “Did Tal make it back to Dawnshire?”

    “He did,” said the healer, but her eyes were downcast and the warm smile slipped from her full lips, “But his injuries were grave. He lived long enough to impart a warning. There are machinations underway among the factions of men and elves, chosen one. Not all see the wisdom of opposing the Dark Lord’s thirst for power.”

    “Pajo,” said Isolde, clenching her fist, “I met the lieutenant in the dungeons and learned first hand of his treachery.”

    “Aye, Pajo, but others too,” said Sethe, “Be wary, young warrior. My herbs are powerful, and I have a little magic too, but I cannot promise to heal any wound. The forces ranged against you will not rest until you and all of the chosen are dead.”

    “Chosen. Hah!” said Isolde, bitterly, “What power I have was not enough to overcome the spellcasting of a single dark mage. What hope have I, or any of us, against the Dark Lord?”

    Sethe put aside the wet cloth and held Isolde’s hands in hers as she spoke.

    “The Dark Lord reckons himself the rightful ruler of all,” she explained, “His ambition is solitary. He has no allies, only acolytes, driven by fellowship but by their fear of the consequences of disobedience. Ours is a common cause,” Sethe continued, “We fight for loved ones. For our friends and our families. For our homes. You carry Gelderrin’s spirit, but his heartbeat still echoes in all of Midgard. While we are united, the light will prevail.”

    “I wish I had your faith,” said Isolde, glumly.

    “You are not listening,” said a resounding voice that made Isolde jump. The Angeli Seer stood in the doorway, his robes glinting in the flickering light. “Forgive me. I could not help but hear. Sethe, how is your patient?”

    “Beltheron,” said the healer, nodding to the serene visitor, “The danger has passed.”

    “Good,” said the Seer, “The call of destiny is strong, but it can be silenced in an instant by a well-timed shot from a determined foe.”

    “Everyone keeps talking about my destiny!” said Isolde, furrowing her brow, “I tell you, I am not strong enough to walk this path!”

    The Seer spoke again.

    “Isolde Hart,” he intoned sonorously, “Has Sethe’s lesson been lost on you? Yes you have power. But no warrior can stand alone at all times. The key to our victory over the Dark Lord lies in the alliances we make. It is time for you to seek reinforcements. Learn to lead, Isolde Hart, for one day you will lead a great army.”

    Isolde imagined herself at the head of a mighty army and laughed inwardly. How could she, a mere slip of a girl, hope to command the forces of Midgard, even with Gelderrin’s ring on her finger? She tried to disguise the incredulity in her voice as she spoke.

    “Where then can I find these reinforcements?” she asked, “Everyone I know with skill in blade or bow lies far away in Lambley.”

    “There is no need to look so far afield, chosen one,” said Beltheron, “There are a great many mercenaries to be found in Dawnshire. Men and women whose loyalty can be bought for a few pieces of gold. They fight for their own reasons, and while some are villains to be sure, others are pure of heart. They need only be shown the course of righteousness and their thirst for riches will be replaced by a deeper cause. The Angeli believe that you can be the one to polish these rough diamonds and rally them to our cause, Isolde.”

    Isolde had heard tales of mercenaries as a child. Criminals and cutthroats all. Was she to trust her life to such ne’erdowells? To the Seer she said only, “Tell me where I can find these mercenaries and I will do my best to recruit them. But first, let me pay my respects to Captain Tal.”

    “His body lies in the chamber below,” said Sethe, rising from the cot and joining Beltheron in the open doorway, “Come. I will join you in prayer before your quest continues. And you may take lodgings with me if you wish, Isolde. Though I hope,” she added, smiling warmly again, “That you will not have to be carried home after every battle.”

  • #2
    Isolde stood staring up at the sign of The Stuck Pig, a seedy looking tavern on a side street not far from the healer’s house. She had accepted the offer of lodgings gratefully and stood with Sethe over the body of the fallen captain. He looked peaceful in death; saved from the Dark Lord’s transformative curse by Sethe’s skill in counter curses and charms. Then Beltheron had directed her to this place…

    On the sign, which swung in the breeze from an iron pole fixed at a right angle to the tavern wall, stood an impossibly muscular barbarian warrior. His legs were planted firmly apart, with one hand on his hip and the other holding a bronze spear twice his own height, on which were skewered four boars, their tongues lolling from their mouths. Isolde sighed and steadied her resolve. There was no inn like this in Lambley, where the taverns were the same kind of welcoming watering hole where she had dined with Sir Hagen. This place looked like the haunt of robbers and exiles. From within came the sound of angry shouting and raucous laughter. Isolde reached subconsciously for the dagger on her hip then, reluctantly, she stepped over the threshold into the tap room of The Stuck Pig.

    The laughter and shouting stopped abruptly as every face turned towards the door where Isolde stood. Her heart thumped in her chest but she showed no outward sign of nerves as she scanned the motley crowd of mercenaries. There were warriors and mages, priests and archers, elves even, and some creatures to which she could not put a name. In one corner sat a tall figure in jet black armor, with a flaming skull where his face should have been; a denizen of the Dark Lord’s dungeon realms, Isolde assumed, who had switched his allegiance to fight the forces of his former master. In another, sat an elven archer in brilliant green robes, staring down his nose at Isolde with haughty disdain. She puffed a strand of her brown hair out of her eyes and returned his gaze. Then she cast about for an empty table, strode purposefully over to it, sat down and beckoned to the maid, who filled a pewter cup with ale and slopped it down on the table before retreating without a word.

    Isolde drank as the crowd gradually grew bored of the new arrival and turned back to their own business. The noise of rowdy conversation began again, and a minstrel perched by the fireplace turned the drone handle of his hurdy gurdy and began to play a melancholy song. Isolde listened to the mournful tune, wondering what to do next, when she was jolt from behind knocked the mug from her hand and tipped its contents in her lap. She leapt from her seat, brushing the foaming ale from her leather breeches before it could soak through to her skin.

    “A thousand apologies, friend, said a silky female voice in her ear, “Here, let me help you with that.”

    Isolde turned to see a young woman with short silver hair, wearing a red dress with a panel of stiff black leather armor at the front, and carrying two short-stocked crossbows over her back. She was holding a clean rag and leant forward to mop at Isolde’s wet clothes clumsily, knocking her again.

    “Hey!” said Isolde, “You’ve helped enough. I’ll thank you to take your hands off me.”

    The young woman stepped back and shrugged.

    “Will you at least let me pay for your ale,” she asked.

    “Just stay away from me,” sighed Isolde, pulling at the uncomfortable wet leather of her breeches, “I’ve no need for your coin. I’ve money of my own.”

    “I meant no offense,” the stranger begged, “And I owe you my thanks.”

    “Eh?” Isolde shrugged, “Thanks?”

    “In a den of villains such as this tavern,” the young woman explained, smiling, “I count myself lucky that my clumsiness wasn’t answered with blade between the ribs.”

    Isolde felt the corners of her mouth turn up, despite her effort to maintain a cool exterior. She tugged again at the wet leather clinging to her thighs and sighed.

    “I think I will let you buy me that drink,” she said, beckoning to the girl to join her at her table. The stranger signalled to a serving maid at the bar and a fresh jug of ale was swiftly set before them.

    Without invitation, a tall young man with fine blue robes fringed with gold pulled up a stool, sat down and refilled his empty mug with ale from the brimming jug. He took a long swig and wiped the foam from his chin.

    “Mind if I join you?” he grinned.

    “I think I do,” said Isolde, standing up from the table.

    “Park, please!” said the silver-haired young woman, “Don’t be obnoxious. I must apologise for my brother, miss…?”

    “Isolde Hart,” said Isolde, “So, you two are family?”

    “Yes,” said the woman, “And what must you think of our family? Clumsy and rude! I assure you we are normally neither. My name is Phantom Roline. This peacock is my brother, Park the Viper.”

    “Please to meet you,” said Isolde, “Sort of.”

    “If I may say so,” Park said, fixing Isolde with a pair of sparkling blue eyes, “You don’t look the type to be drinking in The Stuck Pig. What brings you here, Miss Hart? If you’ve heard good things about the food, I’m afraid you’ve been sorely misled.”

    “I didn’t come for dinner,” Isolde protested, her cheeks warming under the handsome stranger’s gaze, “I have answered Gelderrin’s call and fight for the side of all that is good in the war against the Dark Lord.”

    “Blimey,” grinned Park, taking another swig of his ale, “That’s a big speech. One of the chosen, eh? I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting one of the Angeli’s champions before. Hey! Show me the ring!”

    Instinctively, Isolde covered the large blue stone on her finger, blushing.

    “Park, for heaven’s sake!” said Roline, kicking her brother sharply in the shin under the table before turning to Isolde.

    “No, go on,” said a deep voice from behind the group, “Show us the ring… Better yet, give it to us.”

    Isolde turned to see a small mob of grinning, thuggish men, armed with coshes and knuckledusters, swords and daggers, looming menacingly over the table. Leading them was a huge man with wiry black hair. He was naked except for a loincloth made from what looked like bear hide, a huge bronze shoulder guard the shape of a turtle’s shell, and a leather belt, from which hung a heavy, twin-bladed battle axe.

    “Miss Hart, my brother Park and I are mercenaries of some renown. Perhaps you would enjoy a demonstration of our combat prowess. It would seem, after all, that an opportunity has presented itself.”

    Isolde looked up and down the row of leering thugs.

    “Go on then,” she shrugged, “You’re hired. For the next five minutes at least. After that, we’ll see.”

    “There are two more in our party, Miss Hart. With the numbers against us, I-”

    “Fine!” said Isolde, “Let’s just concentrate on getting out of here alive.”

    “Scher! Carason! To arms, men,” called Roline, “If you don’t mind putting down your drinks that is.”

    Two men pushed their way through the tavern’s patrons to join the little group lined up against the mob; a tall guardian in armor of blue steel, and a solemn looking priest wearing armored robes and carrying a tall staff, that was somewhere between a bishop’s crook and a guardsman’s deadly pike. It fizzed with some divine energy of its own.

    “Scher the Guardian,” said the first, nodding at Isolde, “I was hoping to wet my blade as well as my lips tonight. Delighted to make your acquaintance, miss…?”

    “Isolde Hart,” said Isolde.

    “And I am Carason the Priest,” said the second, “May the gods look kindly on our cause.”

    “Well now. The gang’s all here!” laughed Park.

    “This is all very touching,” said the towering lug with the battleaxe, “But let’s get on with it, eh? I’ve got a leg of boar going cold over there. I’d just as soon crush your skulls, take the ring and get back to it.”

    “Fine,” said Park, drawing his sword and looking to Isolde, “If my lady allows it, let’s dance!”

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    • #3
      The fighting began so quickly that it was as if someone had thrown a match into a barrel of fireworks. The Stuck Pig erupted with battle cries as two dozen leering, battle-hardened mercenaries raised up their weapons and charged at Isolde and her newly formed band of allies. The huge barbarian led them in the charge, swinging his mighty battle axe by his side and advancing with heavy footsteps that shook the ground beneath him. Isolde was wondering whether even her steel-tipped arrows could pierce the hide of such a mountainous man, when Carason stepped forward and with a fast flick of his staff, shattered the lumbering barbarian’s kneecap. The giant man dropped to the floor, screaming and clutching at his ruined knee. His backers fell silent for a moment. Then all hell kicked loose.

      Arrows, bolts and blades flew through the air like a midges over swampy ground. Isolde darted and dodged this way and that, parrying blows and looking for open spots where there was room for her to draw her bow.
      Roline’s short handled weapons proved more useful in the tight confines of the tavern. She could shoot from the hip at point blank range, and her attackers fell like skittles before her.
      Her brother, Park, was as skilled with a blade as he was handsome. He dived into the fight as if he knew no fear, spinning and slashing at everyone who came within reach of his razor sharp sword.
      Shcer and Carason fought back to back, fending off attackers from all directions until finally the waves of would-be robbers were exhausted. The floor of the tavern was littered with groaning, injured mercenaries, and awash with ale from the smashed barrels that lined the wall by a pile of splinters that used to be the bar.
      “I think we’ve proved our worth, don’t you?” said Roline, stepping daintily over the unconscious body of the barbarian to join Isolde as she retrieved her arrows. Isolde surveyed the carnage wrought by her new acquaintances.
      “I reckon you have,” she nodded, “But tell your brother to show his new boss some respect.”
      “Don’t worry,” Roline smiled, “Park won’t bite the hand that feeds him. My brother and I were born into wealth. Park is happy provided he can maintain his standards. About that. Our fee is four hundred gold pieces per battle. That’s a hundred each and we come as a team. Take it or leave it.”
      Isolde blanched. She didn’t have that kind of money! Roline and her gang would not take kindly to being offered the money in her purse. But then she remembered Sir Hagen’s words and the sight of Midgard’s looted treasures, lying in the Dark Lord’s dungeons. She turned to address the mercenaries together.
      “I am not rich,” Isolde began, “But I am of the chosen. I move freely between this world and the dungeon realm, where treasure litters the ground like autumn leaves. If you fight beside me, I will transport you there too. And all the riches you can carry home can be yours. A fortune enough to last a lifetime!”
      The comrades muttered to each other in a tight huddle before turning to face Isolde. Then Park spoke.
      “We’ll take that offer, chosen one. Partly for the treasure. And perhaps also because we like the idea of fighting for a cause greater than money. Maybe a little of your glorious destiny will rub off on us, eh?” he smiled.
      “Very well,” smiled Isolde back, “Find lodgings in the town and leave notice of your whereabouts at the healer’s house. I will call upon you when I need you.”
      “Isolde!” called Roline as Isolde turned to leave, “I’m sorry about your breeches. Here…”
      She tossed a bag across the room which Isolde caught, raising an eyebrow quizzically.
      “Clothes,” said Roline, winking, “Some of my own. To make up for it.”

      “Thank you. I’m glad we met… I think,” said Isolde, and she stepped out of the tavern and onto the street.
      Beltheron the Seer was waiting for her.
      “You found some help, then?” he asked with a glint in his eye.
      “Aye,” said Isolde, “A brother and sister and their comrades in arms. They make a strange first impression, but I think their hearts are true.”
      “Excellent. But now, there is no time to lose, Isolde,” the Seer continued, “There is scheming afoot in Luxis. Alliances that should never have been made. Intrigue and treachery. I must send you there at once so that you can learn first hand what dangers lie ahead.”
      Isolde, still tired from the fight in the tavern, swallowed hard, accepting her duty and the Seer’s command.
      “If you are to move freely, a disguise is in order,” said the Seer, “Have you any fresh clothes you could put on? Something unlike your usual garb…”
      Isolde looked down at Roline’s parting gift and smiled to herself.
      “You know what?” she said, “I think I might something that will work.”

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