The New Guard (Crossroads Book 1) (23 page)

Chapter
25

It was
late, and many of the taverns on Dauntalus’ South Road were doing brisk
business catering to the diverse night life of the mega city. At Rowley’s,
nobody noticed the three foot cloaked figure slipping through the crowd. It
stopped in the middle of the room and scanned the occupants. The figure found
its quarry in the back, away from the hearth and a majority of the crowd. The
cloaked figure slipped through the tavern and sat down on the other chair at
the table next to its target.

Jared
didn’t notice the small figure join him. He was eating and brooding. The
cloaked figure sat at the table and observed the half-breed boy for several
minutes. The figure could have sat there for as long as it wanted without being
noticed; however, it needed to talk with him.

The
figure removed his hood, revealing the unusual features of a nisse. His ears
were pointed, both at the top and bottom. His skin had a luminosity to it,
though it was not bright enough to light the space around him. His eyes,
however, did glow a deep blue with no hint of white irises or the black of
pupils. He adjusted a ring on his right middle finger before clearing his
throat.

Jared jumped
slightly, then quickly recovered. In all of his travels he’d never seen such a
being as this. He stared unabashedly, trying to study every detail.

“I am
nisse,” the figure spoke with in a soft tone, “My name is Pax.”

“You are
one of the hidden ones?”

Jared’s
amazement was amusing to Pax, and he let a smile rise upon his lips. When he
spoke, his voice held some joviality to it. “We have been called that, yes. We
are a highly secretive race, and it has led to some speculation on the fanciful
end.”

Pax paused,
waiting to see if Jared was going to add anything. When he didn’t, Pax
continued. “I am seeking to deliver a message, and have come across information
which leads me to believe you may be able to help me.”

Pax
stopped again and waited once more for Jared to speak up. The boy didn’t,
though. The young carriage driver was staring at Pax still. When he realized
this, he abruptly stopped and mumbled an apology.

“Sorry,
I’m being rude.”

Pax shook
his head, “No slight was received. It is a typical reaction when somebody first
meets us.”

Before he
could stop himself, Jared asked, “Do all of you. . . glow?”

Pax shook
his head. The light from the distant fire caught the motion, and Jared realized
that Pax’s hair was not black; rather, it was a dark midnight-like blue. Jared
drew his attention away from the observation and focused on the nisse’s words.

“We vary
in size, physical form, and attitude, as do all the other species. The
luminosity of our skin is apparent in sixty percent of our race, though the
single eye color and luminosity of our eyes is nearly universal.”

“Oh,” was
Jared’s only response. Pax let there be silence between the two of them for a
brief moment, to make sure there would be no more questions forthcoming. When
there weren’t, he cleared his throat once more.

“You are
a carriage driver, correct?”

Jared
nodded.

“Several
weeks past you brought in a carriage. . .”

Pax
stopped abruptly, noticing Jared’s posture stiffen and a hand disappear under
the table. Pax raised his hands in front of him.

“Please,
we have no quarrel,” he said softly.

“You’ll
forgive me,” Jared responded guardedly, a hint of warning in his voice. “The
carriage and its contents have enemies. My friend and a good deal of Coterie
fell bringing it here safely.”

“I am no
enemy,” Pax said, lowering his hands and placing them on the table top, “just a
messenger. From your description of the carriage it is truly you I seek. I have
been sent here by a Truth Blade in search of his wife. I was told she was
traveling from Haven to Dauntalus. After some searching I’ve found you. You
have driven in the only carriage from those two points in some time.”

Jared
studied Pax for nearly a minute, then sighed. “A Truth Blade, you say. Well,
that may explain the attack on the carriage.”

Jared
moved his hands back to the table and took another bite of his meal. Pax let
the silence between them lengthen, knowing the carriage driver was willing to
share more. After finishing a second bite, Jared did continue.

“We were
transporting two women, a human and an elf acolyte. We were attacked by
goblins, a Dark Rider, and I believe at least one demon. Luckily we had Coterie
from Haven riding with us, or we could not have made it here at all.”

Pax
nodded. He’d heard some of the tale of the damaged carriage’s arrival.

“I
believe the human female is who I seek.”

Pax
produced a well wrapped parcel. it was nearly flat and looked as if it could
only have a few sheets of paper within. Jared looked more closely at the
elaborate seal covering the length of the parcel. Small, yet detailed scenes
were etched into the wax, as were twelve sigils which Jared had never seen
before.

“He used
the Sword of Truth to seal it, and only his wife’s hand can break it open.”

Jared
stared at the envelope for a moment, then frowned.

“There
are complications you should know about.”

“Such
as?”

“The
carriage was attacked, as I said. We barely made it to Dauntalus alive. The
human female was injured, a poison dart or arrow. I brought her to the best
place that had a chance to help her and used the last bit of my influence to
get her in. As far as I know, she is still there.”

Pax could
tell that Jared was reluctant to go on, yet he needed the information so he
prompted him. “Where did you take her?”

After an
additional moment's hesitation, Jared looked up from the table and made eye
contact with Pax. “She is in the care of the crown. I took her to the royal
healers. I have been accorded visitation rights, though they require the
bidding of the lady. I left word as to where I could be contacted. As of yet I
have not had such a summons. I could help you; however, I don’t know that my
presence so near the citadel will be well received.”

Pax
studied the young half-breed’s face. There was more to his answer, yet the
nisse knew it would not be forthcoming.

“Thank
you for your information. I don’t wish you to put yourself into any uncertain
situation, though I would be further grateful if you could at least make
introductions. I have letters of identification I can use to help grease the
gates, as it were.”

Pax
waited while Jared mulled over the request.

The boy
nodded before he said, “I’ll help. I’m curious as to her condition. Perhaps I
can find out more by helping you. Meet me here two nights from now and we’ll go
together to see what we can.”

Chapter
26

The dead
body was found outside the castle gates in the early hours of the morning. The
head was found outside the king’s quarters shortly thereafter. Lord Avrant
looked down at the head of Brother Brogene and knew his enemies were going to
be patient no longer. Brother Brogene had been of one the most enthusiastic
backers of Lord Avrant, even in light of all the rumors of the new twelve.
There were those on the council who were not enamored of Avrant and sought to
align themselves with the Koens. It was no doubt a group of such a persuasion
that had sent him this gruesome message.

The king
stepped around the head and closed his chamber door behind him. There was no
sign of his personal guard and thus he had to travel down the corridor and
around the bend before he found one of them. Silently he beckoned the young elf
to follow him and returned to his bedroom door. The guard saw the head and,
though his face was awash with revulsion and confusion, he silently picked the
gaeder head up off the ground and wrapped it in his uniform cape.

“Where is
my door guard?” the king asked coolly.

“I’m not
certain, sir,” the guard responded quietly, trying to keep fear and
apprehension out of his voice. “I just came on duty and was assigned roaming
patrol this morning.”

The king
was not pleased; this much was evident in his look. He opened his door slightly
and reached around, then pulled on something. He then silently closed the door
and stood, waiting. Within a minute another elf came running. This one wore a
servant's uniform. Ignoring the young guard, Lord Avrant turned his attention
to the servant.

“Do not
disturb the queen. Her maid will bring her breakfast, but no other is to be
allowed entrance. Prepare a carriage and a heavy guard. She had been feeling
ill of late, and wished the comforts of her estates to convalesce. In addition,
let General Kolk know that I require a full guard around the council tent, and
ask him to inform the council to meet after lunch.”

The king
turned back to the guard, who did not care for the hawkish focus of the calm
yet irate lord. “Relay to General Kolk the need to also oversee the flogging of
those responsible for the late watch in the castle. You are dismissed.”

Even
before the king’s back was completely turned the guard was running off, head
still in hand.  Lord Avrant eyed the servant, then the bloody mess at his
door. For the first time the attendant noticed the blood and balked.

“Have
this mess cleaned up. I will take breakfast in my study, where I will be until
this afternoon’s meeting with the council.”

The king
turned and went back into his room. From there he opened an adjoining door that
lead into a paneled room. There was a large bookshelf, a comfortable looking
alcove with cushioned seats and a small table, several display cases with
various objet d’art, and a large wooden desk. It was to this desk that he
headed. Once at his destination, he pushed a button on the underside of it. Two
metal rods rose from the desk and began to disperse a light mist that hovered
between the two poles. With a small spark from the left rod, images began to
form in the mist.

Lord
Avrant put on a pair of leather gloves he had retrieved from a desk
drawer.  Within moments his hands were in the mist and the images slowly started
to fade, save a strengthening image of the castle proper. Avrant made an
enlarging gesture, and the image zoomed out to reveal a topographical map of
the Council Rock and the surrounding area. He could easily see the council
troops’ encampment and numbers popped up, informing him of the various numbers
each tent supposedly represented. He made another enlarging gesture, and the
scale changed to include most of the entire kingdom. There, just inside the
northwest border, three red dots, were converging. These red dots and the
number displayed within them, represented the forces sent by the rulers of the
Third, Fourth, and Ninth Kingdoms. At their steady rate of progress Avrant knew
they would be at Council Rock by noon.

In the
early evening, the night prior, Avrant had sent a messenger to intercept them.
They were instructed to march directly into the camps between Council Rock and
Ven and begin to kill all aggressive forces therein, save those that bore upon
their chests the sigil of the Seventh Kingdom. Lord Avrant’s own guard wore
this uniform, and patches were handed out to four council members’ troops to
place on their clothes. Brother Brogene had been one of those council members.

Once
again the king stuck his hands into the mist. This time, however, he shrank the
scale of the map and focused on the image of Way House. A nasty grin curled
upon Avrant’s lips. Soon Kolk would have his orders and the Sword Bearer would
know council would meet again. The Truth Blade would be present while Avrant
dissolved the council and arrested those not loyal to him. Avrant was not sure
how the man would react, but he would not be present when a special band of
horsemen assaulted Way House and killed them. The king’s grin broadened in the
hope that the Truth Wielder would bring a few of his children along so he would
have the pleasure of killing a few of the upstarts himself.

 

Avrant
was not aware of the identity of the horsemen that had been arranged to attack
Way House. Though the Dark Riders would not be a full strength in the middle of
the day, they had a complement of thralls as reinforcements. In addition,
nearly all the Riders had been trained in hand to hand combat without the use
of their Void powers. All of this, coupled with the fact that the Truth Blade would
not be present at the house, bolstered the confidence of all involved. The
Riders chose metal weapons, knowing they would not have access to their shadow
tools. They also chose fresh horses, as the ones they typically used were so
infused with Void power as to be nearly useless in daytime combat. Once these
preparations were complete, the Riders waited for the signal to move out. Each
one was eager. Each one was ready to have the new twelve under their blades and
out of the Way World.

*

Yero paused.
The Coterie brothers looked concerned. David stood, hand upon his sword,
thinking things over. The Beagle waited. Finally, David spoke up.

“I think
we all agree that something is happening, something we can’t see.” They all
nodded, and David continued. “Very well; we now have to figure out the best
plan moving forward.” At this David turned to the Beagle who shrugged.

“This
future is not mine to see,” the angel said. “However, I would ask you all to
consider two options. First, we could wait here and see if anything happens.
The Way House is defensible with the numbers we have, though our enemies know
this territory well. Second, we can move the children to another location, in
hopes of not being where our adversaries expect us to be.”

First
Thunder growled and pounded his fist on the table. “So we should expect to be
attacked!”

Rock
nodded and spoke gravely, “It makes the most sense, brother. Yero said the king
was not really reactive to the death of one his allies. He has plans in motion
that aren’t disturbed by this turn of events.”

“Would it
be above him to have ordered the act himself?” asked Fleet of Foot.

Everyone
looked at Yero, who shook his head before answering. “I’m not sure, but other
members of his family have done worse. Let us just say, it is not out of the
realm of possibility.”

“Let us
not forget,” said the Beagle, “that other forces are at play, too. The Dark
Riders have mysteriously been absent since shortly before our arrival at
Council Rock. There are Void forces behind the scenes.”

“What
likelihood is there for additional angelic aid?” asked Yero.

The
Beagle shook its head. “Unless there is an overabundance of demonic forces, I
will be all there is.”

“Very well,”
David said, “then I say we fortify Way House and make a stand here. Should
things go awry at the council or here, we can reach other relatively quickly.
I’d like the children armed and centralized.”

“I hope
you don’t plan on going to the council meeting alone,” commented Fleet of Foot.

All eyes
were on David, who stood silently scowling. “What do you suggest?” he asked, a
sharpness in his tone. “None of you can be there. Yero, the closest ally
available who is allowed to be in the tent, said he was already assigned to
patrol the camps during the meeting. Honestly, I feel something is more likely
to happen at the meeting than here, and thus I don’t want my children present.”

“To that
point,” Yero responded, “it is probably best for you to have help at the tent.
Hogan has been detailed to the royal guard. I can have him carry two swords,
giving you an extra one available for, say, Mel.”

“The boy
has become fairly good at defending,” said Rock. “Your daughters Eve and
Deborah also have a good sense of defensive fighting. All are good options for
watching your back. Besides, if Yero is able we can get a
bo
staff in the tent ahead of time for either of the girls to use.”

“I just
said. . .” David began, but the Beagle cut him off.

“David, I
know you desire to protect your children at all costs; however, you have to
understand they will one day be out of your sphere of protection.”

“That
time is not now.”

“David!”
the Beagle said sternly.

David
fell into a chair, clearly battling with frustration. The Beagle trotted over
to him and stood placing its front paws on David’s leg.

“David,”
the Beagle spoke softly. “We all are in God’s care. He has brought you here to
fulfill a great destiny. Trust in the Word, in the people He has put in your
life, and trust your children.”

David
reached out and rubbed the dog/angel’s head. Finally, he spoke. “I know old
friend; it’s just. . . to me I still see them as my little ones toddling
around, needing me to watch over them.”

“They
will always need you, David. However, they will now need you more as a guide
and a moral center. They still need you to protect them and stand up with them
from time to time, though your oldest are stepping into manhood and womanhood,
as kings and queens. Trust in them and those who have been teaching them. Most
of all, trust God.”

David
looked at those surrounding him and nodded. “Very well,” he said, with tired
resignation lacing his words. “Deborah and Mel can come with me as they
typically do anyway. Yero, hide the staff and let Hogan know we need his help.
The rest of you will fortify and defend here. I only hope we are ready for
whatever happens.”

 

Final
plans were made by everyone, be they soldiers, councilors, demons, kings, or
the smallest of the Koens. An oppressive air of apprehension hung over the
vicinity of Council Rock. Noon came and meager meals were eaten. Then came the
heralds, and council was called. The hour was at hand.

Other books

A Daughter's Secret by Eleanor Moran
The Ghost of Grania O'Malley by Michael Morpurgo
Bad Boy by Jordan Silver
The Falls of Erith by Kathryn le Veque
Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston
Her Alphas by Gabrielle Holly
The Love Wars by Heller, L. Alison
Banishing Shadows by Lorna Jean Roberts