With Fire They Came
By Alex White.
It had been
a cold and harsh winter that year, and the crops had suffered because of
it. The people of Dunnbarrow, a small farming village on the border of
Kandor and Nesh, had also suffered badly, with seven people dying in the
heavy snows that had blanketed the land. Father Adrik, the priest of the
village had taken ill and hadn't been able to bless the village for the
feast of Alban on midwinter's day. Many farmers had also brought back rumours
of goblyn roaming the hills and pointed the disappearance of several sheep
Finally, as spring approached near, the reeve and a small group of farmers went to see Sir Cathell, the vassal knight whose duty it was to protect the surrounding lands. When the reeve, whose name was Farrel, petitioned the knight Sir Cathell was so furious that a mere commoner would make demands of him that he threw the reeve and all the farmers with him into prison.
Spring came late that year. The people of Dunnbarrow were fearful. Sir Cathell did not mention the goblyn raids or their lack of food for the Kings Tithe. When the king's representative did come there was not enough grain to pay. Sir Cathell, angry with the people of Dunnbarrow, executed the reeve and had flogged three of the farmers for illegal storage of grain. At the end however, Sir Cathell had to pay the king's messenger out of his own treasury.
As summer arrived,
the goblyn attacks lessened and less livestock and farmland were lost.
Unfortunately, one week before Pentecost, a young woman disappeared while
gathering firewood in the forest nearby. The beadle this time went to see
Sir Cathell because it was his daughter that had gone missing. Although
Sir Cathell did not want to waste money on an expedition into the forest
to look for the girl, he did so.
With five men-at-arms and many village people, the knight entered the forest. After half a day, almost ready to turn back, one of the men-at-arms found the girl. The first thing that was obvious was that she had been tortured. Father Adrik, who was still sick, was summoned immediately. The girl had been staked to the earth and, as one man said later, sacrificed. Father Adrik confirmed Sir Cathell's worries. Dragwynians had killed the beadle's daughter.
The messenger sent to the King in Urandor, the second capital, never made it. As people grew more and more fearful Sir Cathell was readying his defences. Dunnbarrow was not the only village that he controlled and he had brought to his manor food and weapons.
The Black Knights
of Dragwyn were seen on the surrounding hills just as the night's air grew
a bitter chill. There were five of them, riding around the countryside
near Sir Cathell's manor, Dunnbarrow and several other villages. For seven
days and seven nights the Black Knights rode the hills. The people of Dunnbarrow
were fearful of leaving their homes. Seeds meant for the fields started
to rot in their bags. Rumours of the power and evil of the Dragwyn Knights
started to circulate, growing more terrible with every telling until finally,
on one the holy day of Lascoh when all the people of the village were in
the small wooden church praying, they came.
Blacker than the darkest pit, the lead knight rode slowly down the road to the church. Dull oily metal gleamed in the early morning sun from the knights black lacquered armour. With slow, heavy clops the five Great War Chargers of the Black Knights approached, their flanks covered in sheet of metal seeming to belong to another world. All the sound they made seemed muffled, as if there was an unearthly quality to the knights. They seemed like slits of darkness itself.
The villagers stared in mute horror as the five shadows came near. Father Adrik started to whisper a prayer but it caught in his throat as one of the great, black helmed men turned to face him. As the people of Dunnbarrow watched the five figures dismounted and started to walk towards them.
The Black Knights stopped some forty yards in front of the church. With a graceful movement, the lead Knight's gauntleted hands reached up to his helm and pulled it away.
Gethek, the new reeve stepped forward, with trembling hands and said in a faint, quavering voice, "Pray thee, my lords. Welcome to Dunnbarrow. Is there anything we can to for you."
His words faded away as he looked into the face of the lead knight. It was young, no more than twenty-five, the features were startlingly handsome, marred only by the massive scars covering his left cheek. They seemed to have been caused by some spiked weapon and were very deep. However, it was the man's eyes that were the most difficult to look at. They radiated an aura that was felt by all those who looked at him.
A feeling of cold dread raced up Gethek's spine as the full force of the knight's gaze was turned upon him. He felt he needed to run, to flee and hide forever. He had never felt such fear. Everyone felt it, as the aura grew in force, turning into terror. Several people broke down, children started to cry and one man, who was close to the door pushed through the people in his way and started to run. The lead knight's eyes turned to the running man and a single word escaped his lips: "Burn." It was barely a whisper, yet it was heard by all. The fleeing man screamed as flame started to burst from his skin. A few seconds later the man was a raging inferno, Gethek felt the heat even at such a great distance.
The knight turned back to the reeve, who swallowed. As he gazed into those eyes, his knees gave way, collapsing under him. He felt himself being drawn into the knight's eyes, the fear welling up, growing, yet he could do nothing. He was helpless, everything faded leaving just himself and the knight.
The voice that came forth from the mouth of the night was clear and noble, barely above a whisper, it was heard by all.
"I am Tâche le Morceau. Your new master. Kneel down before me." The tone was that of a request, yet every knee bent at his words.
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