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Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 7 -Uncertainty

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  • Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 7 -Uncertainty

    Chapter Seven
    Uncertainty

    Isolde ran back to the Healer’s house and emptied Roline’s bag out onto her bed. There was a short, blood red velvet dress and a long cloak of matching colour, along with a pair of long leather boots. Everything was of good quality, the cloth and hide softer and finer than anything in Isolde’s own wardrobe. She slipped into the expensive garments and looked herself over in a long mirror that hung by the door. It wasn’t her style, but it suited her well enough. And she barely recognized herself, which was, after all, the point. She pulled the cloak’s broad hood over her head, nodded at her reflection, satisfied that the disguise was complete, and bolted back out of the door to rejoin Beltheron in the street below.

    “A most excellent disguise,” said the Seer as Isolde approached.

    “Is it?” asked Isolde, “I was a bit worried about the colour. It’s not exactly discreet.”

    “The city of Luxis is the jewel in Midgard’s crown, Isolde,” Beltheron said, smiling, “It is place of marble palaces and gilded statues. Your velvet robes will pass well among the finery of the courtiers. Come…”

    He held out a hand and waved his free arm in a lazy arc. A portal fizzed into existence before them.

    “You must go alone, child,” said Beltheron, ushering Isolde towards the threshold of the portal, “I would draw too much attention for you to remain unnoticed, and you must not be seen. Not at first. My portal will carry you within a stone’s throw of the scene I would have you witness. A meeting has been arranged, Isolde. A new alliance forged, perhaps, however unlikely that may seem.”

    “What do you mean?” asked Isolde, confused.

    “Perhaps it is nothing. Perhaps it is… something,” said Beltheron cryptically, “Go, Isolde. Be my eyes and ears. Then both of us will know more.”

    Isolde opened her mouth to speak again, but she knew the Seer would answer no more questions. She nodded to him and felt reflexively for the dagger sheathed at her hip, as she stepped into the whirling portal and vanished from Dawnshire, leaving behind the smiling Beltheron.

  • #2
    Isolde stepped out of the portal onto a polished marble floor, rose pink with spidery veins of gold. She gasped as she took in her surroundings. The Seer had chosen a quiet corner of the city for her arrival, but even so, the grandeur of the place she found herself in took her breath away. The ceiling above her head was higher than the tallest tree in Lambley woods and magnificently painted with scenes of battle from a bygone age. Its weight was borne by gigantic marble pillars topped with ornately carved golden cornices.

    The portal blinked out of existence as she gazed, but the wide corridor in which she stood was still well lit from a dozen well-trimmed lamps, hung at regular intervals along the walls. To her left and down the broad passageway, more light spilled through an open door and the sound of voices could be heard from an adjacent room. A cavernous hall, Isolde thought, judging by the way the voices bounced and echoed. At the far end of the corridor before her, things were quieter and darker. Peace and quiet were perfect for a clandestine meeting, noise and light were not, thought Isolde, as she set off towards the shadowy end of the passage.

    The wooden heels of Roline’s boots clicked terribly on the marble floor as Isolde crept towards a turn in the corridor. They weren’t the sort of silent slippers she would have chosen if Beltheron had been more forthcoming about his mission in the first place. Every footstep sounded like the crack of a snapped twig. She stopped beside a statue of an elderly orator wearing a laurel wreath, and bent down to unbuckle the boots. Then she slid them off quietly and stashed them in the little alcove behind the statue’s plinth.

    “Look after these for me,” she said to the stone figure, before continuing barefoot and silent along the hall.

    At the turn, she paused and stood flat against the wall, listening. She could hear the pacing of feet on the marble floor beyond and a muttered voice that was too low to make out but still, somehow, familiar.

    Slowly, gripping her dagger to steady her nerves, she slid sideways and peeked around the bend in the wall. There was a figure, a man, pacing to and fro impatiently as he waited for the meeting Beltheron had spoken of, Isolde presumed. And no stranger either. His armor, and the insignia on his cape and shield were quite distinct and Isolde recognised them at once. When he briefly turned towards her as he paced - too distracted to spot her watching him from across the room - Isolde’s suspicions were confirmed; it was Sir Hagen.

    She darted back behind the cover of the wall and thought hard, fingering her dagger nervously. It slipped from her hand and clattered noisily to the marble floor. Her breath caught in her throat and she screwed her eyes shut, praying she had not been heard. Her mind swam with thoughts. Sir Hagen’s face was the first she had known in this strange new world of chosen warriors and sacred oaths. It was he who Isolde looked to for guidance, at least as much as the strange and distant Angeli, who spoke in riddles and came and went by their own mysterious timetable. But she knew to trust the Angeli first. They were the true guardians of Gelderrin’s tomb and and the power they had shared was Midgard’s only hope against the Dark Lord’s megalomanic ambition.

    Then again, what had Beltheron actually told her? That there was to be a meeting; nothing more. ‘Perhaps it is nothing.’ Those had been his exact words. Well, if Sir Hagen was involved, she would be able to report just that. It was nothing. Hagen’s honor, Isolde reasoned, was beyond reproach.

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    • #3
      She considered her options, wondering whether to slip away quietly back to Dawnshire and set Beltheron’s mind at ease at once, or to announce herself to her Sir Hagen and risk getting under his feet if he was waiting to attend to important business. After much consideration, she decided that it would be discourteous to spy on a friend and ally from the shadows and resolved to make herself known. He would want to know about the reinforcements she had hired; Park and Roline’s gang of mercenaries.

      She stepped out from behind the wall, ready to announce herself, only to find Sir Hagen staring right at her. He glared directly into her eyes and waved for her to get back behind the wall. Then he held a finger to his lips to silence her, and turned away, just as a tall, man in a silver cloak and cowl strode into the room from the far side. No, not a man, Isolde realised, peeking out from her hiding place, an elf! The new arrival’s pale pointed features seemed to glow in the shadows beneath his hood. His lips curled in a sneer as he bowed a greeting - a lazy, perfunctory gesture which was barely finished before he started spitting questions at Sir Hagen. Isolde ducked out of sight and craned her neck to listen.

      “Where do your loyalties truly lie, Hagen?” the elf began, “To my lord the King or to his daughter?”

      “My word has been given,” Sir Hagen replied, firmly, “I see no need to repeat it here.”

      “My King’s council need to know that we can rely on you to play your part in this… difficult business. We all must make sacrifices to defeat the Dark Lord, not least the King himself.”

      “Aye,” said Sir Hagen, solemnly, “You can count on me. The path has been set. I will follow it. Be sure your King knows where he leads us, elf.”

      Isolde’s head spun. The elves had suffered under the Dark Lord’s advance, perhaps as much as the cities of men, but the enmity between them and mankind was long established. They were cold and aloof and kept to themselves in the main, but there were tales of treachery and betrayal whenever the paths of man and elf crossed. Surely Sir Hagen, a leader and one of the chosen himself, would not consort with such dangerous and untrustworthy types. She fingered her dagger nervously and as she did so, it clattered noisily to the marble floor. The talking on the other side of the wall stopped abruptly and for a few seconds there was absolute silence. Then the elf spoke again.

      “Are you sure you were not followed here, Hagen?”

      “It’s Sir Hagen,” the knight replied, “Show some respect. And of course I was not followed. Do you think me a fool? My authority would not survive this... association.” He waved a hand at the elf, dismissively. “Tell your King to press on with his plan. I will wait to hear word from him again.”

      “Very well, Sir Hagen,” the elf sneered, “May the Gods protect you in battle. At least while you remain useful.”

      The elf turned quickly on his heels with a sweep of his flowing silver cloak, and disappeared into the shadows, his light footsteps receding into silence. Sir Hagen stood stock still, staring after his visitor. Isolde crouched behind her wall, clenching her fists and feeling the anger rise in her blood. Was Sir Hagen a traitor to his men and a spy for the elves? It seemed impossible but what other explanation could there be after the meeting she had witnessed? No, no. She was jumping to conclusions. Would not Hagen have sent her away - or maybe even run her through with his sword - rather than expose himself, if he were a traitor? The man who could give her an explanation was right there, within reach. Isolde swallowed her anger, took a deep breath, and, pulling back her hood, she stepped out again from behind the wall.

      Sir Hagen smiled as she approached.

      “Isolde,” he greeted her, “What brings you to Luxis?”

      “Save the pleasantries, Sir Hagen,” said Isolde, fixing him with a fierce stare, “What manner of deception are you tangled up in? What business do you have with elves?”

      Sir Hagen stared back, assessing her.

      “How much did you hear?” he muttered after a pause.

      “Enough,” said Isolde. “Enough to know that you have been meeting with elves and conspiring with their king. Enough, I’ll warrant, to see you stripped of office and locked in a windowless cell.”

      “Enough? Ha!” laughed Sir Hagen bitterly, “Too little have you heard to know my true intentions, Isolde Hart. I saved you from the dragon and set you about your sacred purpose. Have you not learnt to trust me yet?”

      “I trusted you well enough before today,” Isolde replied, “Now, I am not so sure.”

      “Isolde,” Hagen implored her, “You are young and new to the world outside your village. The politics of Luxis can be dizzying to an incomer. Allegiances are made and secrets shared. I can only assure you that my loyalty lies with the forces of light, and my only aim is the destruction of the Dark Lord and his infernal armies. Remember the trust you had in me. Hold it in your heart a while longer. I swear by my oath that I will not give you cause to regret it.”

      “And I swear by my own that you will have much for regret if I find you are lying to me, Sir Hagen,” said Isolde, relaxing her grip on the handle of her dagger as she decided inwardly to give the knight the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being.

      “We are still friends, then?” asked Sir Hagen, sensing the change in her mood and slapping her on the shoulder playfully, “Good. While you are in the city, there are some people you should meet. Members of our factions that make up the armies we lead against the Dark Lord. A finer introduction to the politics of the city, I cannot imagine,” he laughed marching off, with Isolde following close behind.

      As they walked, Sir Hagen told Isolde of the factions’ history. Midgard - its tradesmen and its soldiery - had been organised into guilds since ancient times. The guilds regulated trade, provided training in everything from carpentry to combat, and served the interests of their members. For centuries, they had cooperated peacefully, until rivalries and grudges drove the guilds into competition and they divided into two separate factions, The Order of Light and the Brotherhood of Light. For the trade guilds, the split was insignificant. Merchants always put profit above politics, and business had continued as usual for most. But for the guilds of fighting men, the division of the factions had been catastrophic. Centuries of feuding meant that the soldier guilds of the Order and the Brotherhood had lost more men to each other than to any other foe in living memory. Now, in Midgard’s time of need, an uneasy truce had been negotiated between the quarrelsome factions. But, Sir Hagen explained, the tension between them was never far from boiling over. They may have been brought together by a common foe, but they often had very different ideas about how to tackle the Dark Lord, or who was best placed to lead the coalition of men that stood against him.

      As she listened to Sir Hagen’s tale of old grudges and bitter rivalries, Isolde wished she could erase the last few hours from her mind and put aside all thoughts of the city and its politics. At home, she thought to herself, good was good and bad was bad. It was simple. Here, the machinations of ambitious men blurred the lines between the two. She thought of her brother at home among the spreading oaks of Lambley. Safe, she hoped, for the moment at least. I was for him - for her family and her home - that she fought. So that the simple, good life of the Lambley villagers could continue as it always had.

      Presently, they arrived at a large, low-ceilinged hall, rougher and less ornate than the marble edifices that surrounded it. At the door stood two sentry guards, one from each of the guilds who met within. They crossed their spears across the doorway and spoke in unison as Hagen and Isolde approached.

      “Who goes there? Order or Brotherhood?”

      “Neither,” Sir Hagen replied, “Let us pass.”

      He held out his hand and flashed Gelderrin’s ring at the guards. Isolde did the same and the sentry guards parted their weapons and to let the pair pass.

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      • #4
        It was sundown when Isolde returned to Dawnshire, her head swimming with the whispered conversations of the guild hall. She returned to her room, desperate to be back in her own, comfortable clothes again, then grabbed her coin purse and headed for the tavern to drown her sorrows in ale. She was on her third flagon of strong porter when Park found her, singing woodland songs to the bored looking bartender.

        “Park!” Isolde slurred, pulling up a stool for him to sit down, “C’mere… siddown…”

        “You’ve been drinking, boss,” said Park.

        “Well spotted!” said Isolde, slapping him on the back, “I have very much been… doing that thing.” She hiccoughed loudly.

        “Come on, Miss Hart,” said Park, helping her to her feet and steering her out into the cold night air, “Let’s walk off some of that ale, or you’ll wish you were dead in the morning.”

        “Oh, Park,” said Isolde, leaning against him as they staggered through the darkened streets, “I almost already do.” She was gulping down great lungfuls of air and sobering up fast.

        “Anything you want to share?” asked Park. They had arrived at the Healer’s house and Isolde was steadying herself against the front wall. “I am not much older than you, but I have seen much. Perhaps I can offer a solution to your woes.”

        “Nobody can,” said Isolde, miserably. She lifted her hand and squinted at the ring on her finger, with its shard of blue crystal. “I’ve been chosen,” she snorted, “And I want to help, I do. Only…”

        “Only what, Miss Hart,” said Park softly. He was gentler than he had been when they first met, Isolde thought. She choked back a sob and fought the urge to hug the kind - and undeniably handsome - young fighter.

        “Only I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes,” Isolde admitted, casting her eyes to the ground, “Today I thought I had found a traitor in our ranks, only to have my assumptions overturned. And then the guilds! By the gods, those men have so little trust in each other, Park! The Order and the Brotherhood both tried to bend my ear this afternoon. They would have me sign up with their guilds and pledge my powers to their cause. Both have ambitions to rule Luxis once the war is over. I have sworn to fight the Dark Lord. Must I also defend against the plotting of the men in our midst? No!” She turned to face the wall kicking at its base. “I cannot fight this war on many fronts or watch our allies for treachery at every turn. Let the guild men and the courtiers have their plots and meddling. I will return to Lambley and turn my skills to the defence of my own home.”

        Park placed a hand lightly on Isolde’s shoulder and turned her around. He gazed at her kindly, squeezing her gently as he spoke, “Chosen one,” he told her, “Your gift is rare. Remember that.”

        Isolde sniffed and met his gaze, feeling her cheeks color.

        “You are strong. You are special. My sister and I - our accomplices - we do not fight for anyone, you know. Roline and I are from a family of means. We pledge our weapons only to the noblest causes. Your righteousness was clear to us at first sight.”

        “Pah!” laughed Isolde, “We met in a bar room brawl when you were trawling for trade.”

        “If that’s what you believe, I can do little to change your mind, Isolde,” said Park, “But we were watching your rise before you ever set foot in that tavern. Our priest, Carason, believes you are destined for great things in the coming battle.”

        Isolde considered Park’s words carefully.

        “What can I do?” she asked, glumly, “This war will reach its climax before I learn to harness even a fraction of the power the Angeli claim is mine to wield.”

        Park’s brown eyes brightened and a smile stretched across his well-proportioned face.

        “There I may be of some use after all,” he said, “For I know the finest military tutor in all of Midgard. A master of all forms of combat, who will turn your talent with a bow into a deadly martial skill. Coupled with the spirit of Gelderrin that flows in your veins, Isolde, you may yet find you have the makings of a legendary hero.”

        “I wish I had you faith in me,” sighed Isolde, but Park’s kind words had lifted her spirit greatly. “I’ll see this tutor of yours. Perhaps it’s not yet time for me to return home after all.”

        “Good, then it’s agreed,” said Park, “But first, bed. Sleep off that liquid supper, chosen one. I’ll find you in the morning and take you to meet your new tutor. Sleep well and stay strong. You have a sacred duty to perform, and my sister and I will stand by you every step of the way.”

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