The Final Tale
By Alex White.
"So, you want
the story of Tâche le Morceau. It is a tale of fear and cold-heartedness.
Well, so be it. I do not like this story. No heroes grace this story, yet
is part of our history, the legends of Pela Orso, the lands of man. But
before I tell this tale, you must promise me that you will tell no one.
This story is not liked by the Lord. And I tell the tale as it happened;
I tell the truth. You will not find it in the Tomes of Randalus. It is
not a pretty tale, the story of the Dragwyn Knights.
"Who was Tâche? That is a good question. To answer that, I must go back a long way. Back to when the Fisher King still ruled, when the War Lord still led armies… Yes, long ways back indeed. This was when Tâche was not a Dragwyn. Oh yes, once there was a time when Tâche le Morceau payed allegiance to Radigund. He was a Knight of the Rose, one of the elite of the Warlord's army. A mere knight, he came from a humble background. His father, Sir Lèthal, was also a Rose Knight, and the lord of Solinda Manor.
"Don't bother to look for the manor now, it has long since been destroyed, yes by Tâche himself. But once Tâche was noble and pure. A hero to Radigund, he performed many great deeds, honour was his life. He left the Rose Knights when he was but twenty-three summers old. They deny it of course, but I remember. I was at his knighting ceremony, and there was none finer. Even as a squire Tâche outdid himself.
"But it was his pride that was his downfall. As Tâche grew more famous, completed more great deeds, he began to set himself above his peers. He scorned his father, refused to take orders. Hubris is mankind's greatest downfall, and Tâche fell far and fast.
"Our King, Argun the Wise met with Tâche. And why not? Tâche was a hero, a great warrior and a knight of Radigund. The Fisher King had but a simple task for Tâche, to deliver a message.
"Now I must remind you of the Dragwyn Wars. Fifty years ago, before the Antorians came with their longships and their screaming hoards, the Fisher King battled with Dragwyn. There was a stalemate, our king unable to gather support from the Barons and Dragwyn suffering from a great famine and drought. A peace was negotiated and fast riding messengers carried out correspondence between King Argun and the Grand Master of Dragwyn.
"But there was increased goblyn movement that year and the messenger had been killed, or so they say. I believe now that it was the Dragwynians who wished the messenger dead. And I know that they wanted Tâche…
"So the Fisher King sent Tâche to deliver the message. And he went, where no Rose Knight had ever been. He went into the jaws of the lion… And the lion swallowed him. I do not know what the Dragwyns did to Tâche while he was there, but they say that the Black Knights can reach into the corners of your mind and make you see yourself. They can cause great pain at a touch, spread fear among their enemy like the wrath of the One God himself. Yes, the Black Knights of Dragwyn have their ways to get what they want.
"And they wanted Tâche le Morceau.
"So, sit still child. I will tell of how the Black Knights, led by Tâche, ventured to the very walls of Fortress Theraen. And I will tell of the Green Knight, the foe of Tâche, for it is his story as well. We shall start at the beginning, where all stories start.
"Stay close by the fire, wrap your self up, for the ghosts of the past listen for their names. Pass me my mead young one, and I shall begin…"
PROLOGUE: In the Halls
of the Justicar
up at the dark, cavernous ceiling of the Justicar Hall. Great pillars disappeared
into the shrouded shadows, lit only dimly by the lamps hung at intervals
along the boundaries of the hall.
The two armoured knights that held Modron firmly stepped forward, presenting him like a trophy to the Justicar. Sitting like a king lording over his subjects, the Justicar seemed diabolic, his black robes seeming to merge into the darkness around him. Deep shadows lined the Justicar's face and although he was young, harsh creases had formed around his mouth.
"Well? What is the charge?" The harsh voice stilted Modron out of his contemplation. Not wanting to think of his possible fate, Modron's mind had diverted away from his present situation.
A knight, who seemed to be in charge of those that held him, spoke, "A traitor, Honoured Justicar, caught with a Momur woman."
Modron bristled with anger and humiliation, remembering his arrest at the hands of the Politzi, the secret police of Dragwyn. He had been visiting his ladylove, a common girl who he had become enamoured with while patrolling the city of Korvesk. For the past three months they had been meeting in secret, each swearing their undying love for each other. Now, that love was to never be realised.
"What is your name Sir?" The Justicar nodded his head at Modron.
"I am Modron nar Ceyerlin, Knight of the Black Harness. Captain of the Honour Guard of Lord Grelath. Honoured Justicar." Looking at the large tome that lay in front of him, the Justicar shook his head.
"Sir Knight," he said to the first knight, who stood next to Modron, "do you have the woman?" The knight nodded and gestured behind him. Another knight, garbed in black dragged forth a girl, barely sixteen. Her eyes were red rimmed and tear stained, her left arm badly bruised and a line of blood flowed down her forehead. She whimpered as the knight's grip tightened. However, even through her rough treatment, her beauty was evident. She seemed as an angel. An angel that had had its wings clipped, but an angel non-the-less.
"Well girl, speak. Did you fraternise with this Knight?" At first the girl did not answer, but the first Knight nodded and the girl was slapped across the face. She cried out in pain as the metal covered fist slammed into her face, splitting a lip.
Modron struggled to break free of the two knights that held him fast, crying out at the first knight. His stomach heaved to see his love so roughly treated, to see her hurt for his folly. The girl continued to cry as the tight grip of her captor bit into her arm.
"Enough!" The sudden order from the Justicar silenced the angry outbursts from Modron, "if you refuse to answer, then there shall be no defence for this man. If you wish that, girl you may remain silent, now and for the rest of your life."
"Ivoire," Modron called out, "tell them everything. I care not for my own life, as long as you live-" He was silenced by the first knight who thrust a gauntleted fist into his stomach. Ivoire, a thin red line coursing down her cheek, said nothing. The only other noise was the wheezing of Modron, who hung limply in the arms of the two ebony clad knights.
"For your silence girl, there is a price, which stands on your head. From this day forth, you shall never speak another word, the rest of your life shall be in the service of the Grand Master. Your punishment shall be carried out immediately." the Justicar lifted a small, thin bladed knife from his desk and handed it to the first knight. Struggling against the man who held him fast, Modron watched with pain filled eyes as the first knight took his loves jaw in his hand and opened her mouth. He shut his eyes, as his love's tongue was cut away and the young woman's screams filled the room. After a moment, the screams became a gurgled moan and he looked up to see Ivories face covered in blood, and her limp body being dragged away. The knight who had mutilated her stood with the dagger in his hand, and Modron screwed his eyes. His hatred gathered, focusing into a ball of pure revulsion.
"Before I die knight, tell me your name so that I may find you in the halls of the dead." The first knight said nothing in reply to Modron's solicitation. The Justicar lifted a small hammer and banged it on the desk before him.
"Modron nar Ceyerlin, I sentence you to be stripped of your knightly rank. All your lands, wealth and property is forfeit to the Grand Master. Your deeds and name shall be struck from the records so that it shall never again dishonour Clan Ceyerthin. Your name is now extinct, void, dead. You shall relinquish your battle harness and blade. You will leave the Realm of Dragwyn with nothing but the clothes on your back and the mark of a traitor branded to your body. You will be given a day to leave this land, after which you shall be hunted down like the dog that you are." Modron tried to break free of the two knights, to smash the Justicar's head in, to wreak revenge on the man who had calmly ordered his one true love to be mutilated, who had sentenced him to a life as an outcast. The terrible fate of the Justicar's decision was too great for Modron to bear.
"You condemn me for showing that I'm human?" Modron cried out, "For showing that I have feelings, that I can care, I can love. There is no crime in loving, in seeing the wonders of another's company." The knights that dragged him away paused by the door to the hall.
Removing his black helm the first knight spoke, his scarred face young and handsome, "I am Tâche le Morceau."
PART ONE: Into the Camp
of the Enemy
"Sir, they have
killed Sir Cathell, slaughtered his troops and are even now, on their way."
The speaker, a young man in his late teens, was nervous, almost fearful.
His hands trembled slightly, his face creased with lines of worry. This
caused some apprehension for Lord Lokan ran Theraen, the ruler of a large
fortress to the south of Randalus. Three days before, Lord Lokan had dispatched
the boy and three others to Sevain, the lands of a knight called Sir Cathell.
Curious as to why Sir Cathell had not answered any messages, or sent troops
to aid Randalus against the approaching Antorians, Lord Lokan had had the
four scouts and messengers to discover the reason. Arriving back only hours
ago, the boy, his name Owain had told a tale of horror.
The evil Dragwyns had broken the treaty with the Fisher King and sent an invading force at a time when Radigund was weakened by the war against Antoria. Embarking on a violent campaign of fear and slaughter, the Black Knight's, Dragwyn's elite, had captured the lands of Sevain. Sir Cathell himself, said Owain, was crucified upside down before his manor.
Owain had told Lord Lokan of his group's brief encounter with one Black Knight, an encounter that had left all but Owain himself and a bow-woman alive.
With all his resources being drained by the besieged Randalus, the main city of the area, the lord of Theraen could not afford another war with Dragwyn. Not only were the Black Knights deadly in battle, but legend told of unnatural powers, balls of fire and storms of lightning turning at the word of a knight to destroy any that stood in their path. It was said that the Black Knights were not truly alive, but the restless spirits of knights who died an ignoble death. Whatever the truth was, Lord Lokan was certain that no conventional tactics would work against them.
He dismissed Owain, who was glad to leave, and warned him not to tell the other soldiers in the Fortress. Lord Lokan did not want moral to plummet even lower than it already was. Many of the footmen had family in the Antorian ravaged north. If they knew that a host of Dragwynian Knights were headed towards the fort, there would be widespread desertions.
"Hmm, what to do?" The man who had stood quietly in the shadow of a large tapestry stepped into the light.
"The answer to that question, my lord, is simple. Strike off the head of the serpent and the body will die."
"You mean..." Lord Lokan turned his mouth in distaste, his eye narrowing.
"Yes my lord," said the dark Amitu Adviser, "assassins. The best."
The inn was
small and crowded, smoke hung motionless in the air and the many conversations
were but a murmur. At a table next to the small window that looked out
onto the thin, dank street, two men sat in silence. The first, tall if
he was standing up straight, wore a deep blue cloak, his grey clothes underneath
setting off his hair. Clean shaven, the man's eyes were the most striking
part of his features, they were black, as if diseased. The second man,
looking noticeably uncomfortable in an environment that he was probably
not used to, was garbed in fine scarlet and black cloth. His eyes darted
back and forth, his Adam's apples bobbed nervously. The small mug of ale
that sat between the two was untouched. Both men hands were by their weapons.
"Ten thousand crowns for disposing a Black Knight? Do you think I am a fool?" The first man spoke, in a harsh whisper; his black eyes fixed on the nervous man opposite him. "The Dragwyn commander no less. Does Lokan think he deals with a common cut throat, a mere killer?"
"Lord Lokan understands the nature of this employment, and believes that ten thousand is an adequate sum for a knight." The second man, betrayed by his manner and accent, was obviously a member of the Haese, or noble class. His eyes refused to look at the black orbs of his companion.
"A knight? A Dragwyn knight! I will take no less than forty." The tone was laced with a hint of menace, the man's features growing cold.
"Ten thousand is all that Lord Lokan can afford, ten is a princely sum, and one such as yourself could live for the remainder of his life in luxury."
"Like a dead prince if the Dragwyns discovered my name, " The man in the blue cloak frowned, his gloved hands on the table, "There are no others in this region who would even consider this mission. And I am sure that the Fisher King would be most interested in discovering that one of his trusted Lords was consorting with an assassin." The other man squirmed, his inexperience showing through like a hurricane lamp through a thin mist. The blue cloaked man laughed.
"Thirty is cheap compared to the cost of waging a war with Dragwyn. Your lord would do well to consider that."
"Very well, thirty it is then." The two men shook hands, the Haese dropping the other's hand like a dead fish.
"Half now, half when I return."
"Lord Lokan requires proof of the death."
"Very well, what?"
"His signet ring." The Haese smiled as he handed over the fifteen thousand crowns. Lord Lokan had authorised him to go up to fifty.
up on the stirrups of the hose he had stolen from the inn and looked with
sightless black eyes at the plain, gentle hills that dominated the landscape.
The orbs in his head, long unused for conventional sight, looked at a different
view to what normal eyes would have seen. With his age's dead eyes, he
saw the world in a hue of red, blues, whites and oranges, the whole vista
of heat radiation that living creatures emitted were plain to him. With
these eyes in his head, Addoan could see every thing. Nothing could remain
hidden from his sight, and that was why he had been given the title, The
Hunter. No quarry had ever escaped him, or hidden from his sight.
Far in the distance, his eyes picked up the cool cloud of dust, the dust thrown up from the passage of horses and men. A lot of men. Some three leagues away, Addoan started to ride towards the camp of the Dragwyn Army.
hose tied to a tree a mile from his current position, Addoan was lying
on his stomach looking over the camp. Order and discipline were the two
main precepts of a Dragwyn battle host, Addoan remembered, and indeed the
camp was laid out to battle manual specifications. Predictable, Addoan
thought, you can always anticipate how they will react.
Dressed in a close fitting shadow grey suit, Addoan was almost invisible in the darkness of the night. Overhead, the low-lying clouds split. With a curtain of rain pouring over the camp, Addoan padded towards the canvass watchtower. Unlike the guards who were watching out for intruders, Addoan was not hindered by the night's darkness. Dropping to all fours as he reached the canvass tower, Addoan squirmed through the mud and came up next to it. Reaching to his leg, Addoan slipped a small, but sharp knife from a sheath, it's blade covered in dark grease and ash.
With practiced ease, Addoan cut the edges of the canvass away from its wooden support. Easing through the tight hole, he took three pins from his belt and secured the loose fabric back to the wood. Although a hood and mask covered his face, Addoan grinned widely. These fools, he thought, they obviously don't expect anyone would be as bold as to slip into the lion's den.
Above him, he heard the movement of the Dragwyn soldier, sitting looking out at the soaking hills. The small brazier offered little or no comfort to the man, and although Addoan wanted to end the wretch's life, he had larger prey to catch.
Addoan slipped out the tower door and into the rain sodden camp.
As he slipped
from shadow to shadow, Addoan closed in on the main tent, situated at the
centre of the camp. There, Addoan had been told, the leader of the Dragwyn
The leader of the Black Knight was a devil, a fire summoning demon, rumours circulating the fortress of Lord Lokan had told of anything from a twenty foot tall giant, to a horn studded monster. Addoan relied more on the information that was given to him by Lord Loakn's man, Owain. Owain claimed to have actually seen the Black Knight himself, and although he was a bit vague on details, Addoan managed to discover that the leader's face was badly scarred. Young, no more than twenty-five, was the boy's guess, and tall. A short beard and hair was the only other things that Owain could recall.
Addoan stopped short, his heart hammering in his chest. He had heard a sound, as if someone was following him, his every footfall mirrored. Quickly, his eyes glanced behind him, yet all that he could see was the wall of rain and the cold shapes of the tents. Must be my imagination, Addoan thought as he turned back. He continued forward several paces, then stopped again. That feeling was still with him, someone was following him, and he knew it.
Slowly, Addoan turned around, his sightless eyes scanning the area with care. He saw the coldness of the rain, the dull heat of sleeping bodies, his own superheated body, shivering. Nothing else, his eyes told him that he was alone in the camp of the Dragwyns. But he could not ignore the feeling; it preyed on his mind like a splinter, the sound of mirror footsteps, feet that were not his, squelching through the mud. Cursing silently, Addoan faded into the shadow of a tent flap. Desperately, his mind raced back, had anyone seen him enter? It was not possible that the Dragwyns could know that an assassin was among them. Unless the stories that the Black Knights could read minds was true.
In front of
him, some twenty paces, was the tent of his quarry. With the ground around
the tent turned to thick, slimy mud, Addoan started to crawl forward, hidden
by the rain. As he reached half way, a sudden pain caused him to wince.
The pain was dull, yes a feeling of heat suffused the area, his side. Glancing
down, he saw the cold blue aura of metal. Reaching down with his slippery
hand, he pulled out a small, pointy caltrop, which had punctured his suit
and plunged into his flesh. Fighting a feeling of the heat of the pain
and the freezing cold of the rain and mud, Addoan continued to move forward,
checking each move carefully with his hands and sight.
A cold blue line was strung across the path above Addoan's head; most likely a garrotte line for would be assassins, he thought as he reached the side of the tent. No light issued from the tent as Addoan repeated the process of cutting away the sidepiece of canvass.
Inside the tent it was dark, cold and silent. A small double cot lay in the centre of the tent on a floor of planks. This Tâche, Addoan thought, does not like to lie on the ground. As he sidled in to the tent, a feeling of fear, starting at his feet, but quickly moving up to his stomach started to invade his body. He shrugged it back. It was unlike him to feel fear when hunting someone, it was meant to be the other way around, the prey laying awake, sleepless from the knowledge that any moment may be their last.
On the cot, a figure lay, sleeping peacefully. Addoan watched the motionless sleeper, hidden deep within the shadow of the canvass tent. There was definite heat in the sleeping shape. It was not a decoy and sure that his target lay close at hand, Addoan crept forward. As he came near the sleeping man, the feeling of dread, the aura of cold, increased until, only a yard away, Addoan could go no further. His mind was screaming at him to stop, to flee and never return. Taking deep breaths, silent, though to Addoan they seemed to scream. With a trembling hand, he drew forth a long, thin stiletto blade from a hidden pocket. Gulping, Addoan fell the last yard and stopped, kneeling before the sleeping figure.
The man was deep in shadow, and had his face turned away from the assassin. With his heat-sight, Addoan could not see the features of the sleeper. All his being told Addoan to turn and run, to flee. As he raised his stiletto, he felt the feeling of dread increase, then a hot liquid stain running down his legs. Vaguely he wondered if it was blood, he hoped so.
His mind clouded by an all-encompassing terror, Addoan collapsed to the wooden planks that covered the damp earth below.
"Well done assassin, you did better than I expected." The voice made Addoan start; it was deep and low, like growl from beyond the grave. He meekly turned his head and saw a tall, cold shape step out of a heat shadow. The man had remained invisible to Addoan's sight, as if he had known about it.
He watched as the man raised a cold long shape that seemed to extend forever. As the terror of his fate hit him, Addoan whispered the final words. Then the blade swept down.
There was a hiss, and the assassin's head fell the floor, his sightless eyes staring sightlessly.
PART TWO: Every Fear is
The valley was
still, basking in the frail heat of the dying sun, slowly dipping behind
the gentle hills that surrounded the land. All was quiet, no animals announced
their presence, and there was no wind to disturb the long grass. Everything
sparkled, as though it was covered in crystal, the small drops of water
from the storm that had only abated recently. It was as if the entire valley
was holding its breath, waiting for something, or someone.
Rising up like a man made mountain, the fortress looked like an ancient stone god, surveying the lands that were under its dominion. Emerging forth from the great gates, which were the only portals past the huge walls that clad the massive keep, was a well travelled road, made of thick cobbles, it rode the landscape like a horse, cutting through it like a river. It too was covered in water, puddles littered it like leaves.
As the sun dipped lower, a mirage forming on the horizon, seeming to merge both sun and hill as one. The great fortress, two double walls of solid stone, able to defend against an army of five times the defending forces. Its designer had chosen the sight as the most prominent place of the local countryside, built into the very living rock. Made from the local stone, dark grey in colour, was dark and ominous, enough to give any besieging force pause to think.
Clad in brilliant
green armour, the man stood next to his horse and gazed at the fortress.
His face obscured by the dull emerald helm, only his eyes were very clearly
visible, narrowed against the last dying rays of the sun. Behind him, only
a league away, the battle host of Dragwyns approached, bearing down on
the fort like a wave on the beach. The Green Knight glanced behind him,
at the rolling hills, at his long shadow extending down the curved surface
of the headland.
He turned to his horse, unlike any other, because its hair was a dark, misty green. At a close inspection it was clear that the hair had not been painted, that it was natural, if a green horse could be called natural. The barding too, was lacquered green, the saddle, the blanket, even the bridle were green. When the Green Knight was astride the beast, it was as if the two were joined.
To the knight's left, a hard packed road, glistening from the rain that had fallen in the storm the previous night, led down to the fortress, which dominated the landscape.
Built on a sharp rise out of the otherwise gentle hills, the fort was perched like an eagle, it's immense shadow blackening the land right up the next hill. The structure itself was built out of the stony plinth, it's walls and borders shaped by the contours of the land. Tall and imposing, the walls looked impenetrable, huge and massive. They seemed to dare anyone to try and breach them, to break them down and penetrate the keep with in.
...And now someone was going to take up that dare. A man to whom the idea of defeat would never occur, to whom the word defeat was something that happened to other people. The Green Knight knew of this man, this Black Knight. Knew him and hated him. This Black Knight, whose name was Tâche le Morceau.
How I hate him, the Green Knight thought, sucking in a great lung full of air. As he has wronged me, so shall I wrong him, wreck the greatest of revenge, that which he denied me when they took my love Ivoire's tongue and then life. I shall see his lifeless body lay out before me… And all of Dragwyn shall not stop me!
With a swift movement, the knight is green traced a rune with his gauntleted fist. The rune hung in the air and burned a deep green, before fading slowly. Around the knight, mist started to rise from the earth, spreading around the Green Knight and his horse, flowing like water down the hill and towards the fort. Urging his steed into a canter, the Green Knight rode swiftly towards the gates. Unable to prevent the slaughter at the Manor of Sevain and the murder of its lord Sir Cathell, the Green Knight had only been able to hinder the Knights of Dragwyn, calling up a thick fog to obscure and worry them. But his efforts had been in vain, the leader, Tâche burning the very gates away before him.
This time, thought the Green Knight, this time the Black Knights will be defeated.
And Tâche le Morceau will die.
Lord Lokan ran
Theraen stood behind his large oaken desk, leaning on his fists. He scowled
at the dark skinned man who stood before him.
"Now what do we do? Now that my honour has been sullied in the dealings with you assassin. He failed; or else he would have come back for his gold. Well, what do I do?" Lord Lokan slammed his fist on the table to emphasise his last words, the sound making the Amitu start.
"My lord, surely we cannot give up hope that the assassin completed his mission? We must be positive and-"
"Positive? While the north is ravaged by the Antorians and the Fisher King himself flees? While Randalus is laid to siege? And now the Dragwynians rise up like a savage beast from the south. What, my adviser, is there to be positive about?"
The adviser tried to smile, "well my lord, you still have your health."
"Bah! We are ruined, the Dragwynians will be arriving to knock on our gates and kill every last one of us. Soon, I will not even have my health." He walked around the front of the desk and looked out the narrow window slit, used for the more deadly purpose of firing arrows.
Examining the plain in front of his fort, he saw a thick mist flowing down the hills, blanketing the land; he saw the single lone rider, clad in green armour, moving like a ghost. As the figure neared the gates of the fortress, the mist condensed, growing thicker, turning into a fog, into which the rider was lost.
Turning quickly away, the lord of Theraen ran out of the chamber, leaving his adviser to consider a career move. Hurrying down the corridor and descending the short flight of spiral stairs, Lord Lokan grabbed the nearest guard and ordered him to fetch the Captain of the Guard.
Leaning against a statue if a saint of the One God, Lord Lokan caught his breath as the Captain of the Guard rushed towards him. Saluting, the Guard Captain spoke.
"Sir, a man clad in green armour approaches."
"I know Galeron, " Lord Lokan said to the Captain, "Double the guards on the wall, this may be a Dragwyn trick."
"Yes sir," Galeron, the Guard Captain turned to go, his blue and red cloak billowing as he walked. Lord Lokan followed, his long strides matching Galeron's.
"Galeron, see whether you can burn away the fog that comes down the hill. It is unusual for it to come after rain. Especially in autumn."
"Yes sir." Galeron stopped to talk to a soldier, who hurried away. As he spoke, Lord Lokan walked across the courtyard to the tower gates. A soldier holding a torch saluted as he walked past, into the tower.
Peering over the wall, Lord Lokan tried to make out the green figure, but the fog was to thick and reached halfway up the wall. The entire valley, caught between a range of hills, was filled with the thick fog. Emerging like a clenched fist from the fog, the fort, perched on its outcrop looked dark and menacing.
Behind him, Lord Lokan heard Galeron speak, "Sir, Landos the Merchant demands an audience."
"Send him up."
"Sir, he wishes you to see him and the other town elders in the Guild Hall. Sir."
Lord Lokan cursed, slamming his hand down on the battlement, "Damn it, doesn't that pompous fool realise that I have more important things to do than listen to the whining of the town elders. Ask him- no order him to see me here." Galeron saluted smartly and marched into the tower. Lord Lokan continued to look for the knight in emerald armour, but the fog creating an opaque veil. Looking back into the courtyard, he could see that some of the fog had started to trickle through the tightly shut gates. He felt a chilling feeling of dread, as if someone had walked over his grave.
Some minutes later, Landos the Merchant staggered on to the wall, two soldiers behind him. Breathing heavily, Landos took a silken cloth from his embroidered sleeve and wiped the sweat from his baldhead. The chill wind of the open battlements made the fat man shiver. Licking his lips, Landos bowed callously to the lord of Theraen.
"My lord, you wished to see me, "his voice was as smooth as silk, even though he was short of breath. Lord Lokan scowled, turning his lip up and baring his teeth in a scowl.
"No Landos, you wanted to see me. Unfortunately I have more urgent matters that coming at the beck and call of the town elders. There is the small matter of a Dragwynian army."
"That is precisely the matter which the elders and I wished to talk to you about. We feel that to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and loss of life, if you were to negotiate a treaty with the Dragwyns so they would not feel threatened by the presence of this fort and would continue on their way."
"You mean betray Radigund and sell our souls to the Dragwyns?"
"No, no. We simply mean for you to express a sympathy with the leader of the Dragwyns, who I hear is a civilised, honourable man-"
"He is a blood thirsty fiend!" yelled Lord Lokan
"And will more than likely honour any settlement that is made" finished Landos smoothly.
"Let me make this absolutely clear," Lord Lokan said slowly, "there will be no deal made with the Dragwyns. You and all the other space wasting elders can go back to the holes in the ground from where you came, and if you ever speak of surrendering to the enemy like that again... I will see you all flogged."
"You are making a large mistake, Lord Lokan. A mistake you will come to regret."
"Get out of my sight you miserable cur!" The merchant hurried away, disappearing back into the tower gate. Taking deep breaths, Lord Lokan slowly got his temper back. Damn it, he thought, where has that Green Knight gone? I've lost him in that damn fog.
"You!" Lord Lokan called over a guard who was standing to attention some five yards away.
"Look out for the knight in green. Call me if you or any of the other guards see him. There will be a reward of ten crowns. I shall be in the War Room."
"Yes sir." The guard saluted as Lord Lokan turned away and walked into the gate tower. As he headed to the War Room, Lord Lokan thought about his predicament. With the two fronts of fighting, to the north and now to the south, Radigund would be torn apart. Lord Lokan knew the costs of fighting against the Dragwyns, when he and hundreds of other lords and barons rode with the Fisher King against them.
had been disastrous, hundreds of men dying on the journey over the Southern
Mountains, being ambushed by a force of Dragwyn Knights. There had been
wholesale slaughter as the aura of fear and terror had swept down on the
troops between the two peaks. Their own men did most of the damage, as
soldiers saw their greatest fears come to life.
Lord Lokan remembered the swarms of insects, crawling all over him, how they had caused him to flee in terror of continuing on. Even the knowledge that they were only in his mind did not dull the terror. It had later turned out that only five hundred Black Knights had opposed an army of twenty thousand Radigund soldiers. However, the loss of life was also great for the Dragwyns as the Fisher King ordered the range bombarded with great siege weapons, relics from an earlier age.
The Dragwyns, never numerous, had not been able to sustain an army to keep the Radigund nobles from invading. But at the same time, many barons had suffered heavily from the ambush and wished to return home.
In a master stoke of negotiating, the Fisher King settled a treaty with the Grand Master and signed a peace contract.
Which the Dragwyns were now breaking.
hill, the ebony shadows of the Black Knights were visible only because
they were darker than anything around them. The nightmare steeds that they
sat astride seemed stride through the heavy fog, burning away before the
lead rider. Five knights, their dull, ominous, inky black armour seeming
to be holes in the very universe itself. As they rode towards the fortress,
the last dying rays of the scarlet sun died. The moon, half lost to the
shadow of the clouds, cast a cold, melancholy light on the quintet, who
rode in absolute silence. Even the clinks of their armour and the breathing
of their mounts were swallowed up by the nighttime.
On the wall of the fortress, there was a scurry of activity, as guards and soldiers rushed back and forth. The breathless figure of Lord Lokan appeared, examining the scene before the fort. His grim face was hooded by an expression of apprehension. He dreaded what might happen, remembering the time he had last faced the Black Knights, ten years ago.
Stopping just outside of bow range, the lead rider closed in on the gates. As he rode away from his companions, they were enveloped in the fog, which did not seem to affect their leader.
As the knight in the forbidding black armour rode to the great gate and portcullis, Lord Lokan spoke.
"Do not shoot. Let him speak first." There was a general feeling of nervousness as the knight came closer. Then it hit them. The cold, menacing, hopelessness, fear swamped the soldiers on the wall, just as it had the men of Sir Cathell. The feeling clutched at their stomachs; waves of fright threatened to swamp them. Many gazed up at the faint illumination of the constellations, hoping to gain heart at their light.
Lord Lokan swallowed as he noticed a shape on the back of the rider's horse, like that of a body. Coming to a rest one hundred yards before the gates of the stronghold, the Knight's great ebony helm looked up at the assembled men. Gauntleted hands reached up to the straps and released them, pulling free the helm. Beneath the shadowy helm, the face that appeared looked dire. Dreadful scars crossed the faces left cheek, lit by a fire that seemed to burn from within. A short, dark beard framed the face; the deep-set eyes seemed to peer into the souls of the soldiers on the wall.
"I am Tâche le Morceau. Knight of Dragwyn. If you swear fealty to me and my lord, I shall only slay every fifth person, if not, all shall die. You have one hour to decide, Lord Lokan." With that, the Black Knight reached behind him and dragged off the body of a man, which fell limply to the frigid earth. After the body came a head, it's black eyes staring opaquely up the assembled men. Lord Lokan cursed inwardly; despite the feeling of chilly dread that emanated from the Knight called Tâche.
"I return to you this unwelcome gift which you sent me. Your actions have forced my hand." With that, the knight wheeled his horse away, riding back to his awaiting companions.
Below, in the
courtyard, fog was oozing like a liquid through the thin crack between
the gates. An icy feeling made Lord Lokan shiver as he walked though it.
Suddenly, he came up short, stopping in his tracks. The frown that creased
his brow deepened as he watched an image in the fog take shape. Slowly
combining into the bulky form of a man in armour, the fog took on a green
hue. Drawing his sword, and with several other men surrounding the smoky
green man. Several moments later, the formation was complete; Lord Lokan
recognising the green armour of the man whom had ridden outside the gates
Surrounded, the emerald clad man bowed to Lord Lokan, ignoring the ten or so soldiers.
"Greetings Lord Lokan."
"You know my name?"
"I do." The hollow utterance that issued from the helm was empty, with echoes reverberating in the ears of all those who heard it, "I have come to rid you of these evil Dragwyns who even now threaten to your live and all those in this fortress."
"How can you help me? Who are you?"
"I am the Green Knight. I have no other title. I alone can defeat this dark knight, called Tâche le Morceau."
"How can you defeat a demon from the pit?" Lord Lokan's tone mocking and disbelieving; "you are an evil magic user, as are they. Why should I not kill you now?"
"Because you could not." The voice was harsh, and none doubted his words.
"Very well, how would you defeat this devil, Tâche?"
"He is a man, as are you and I. He is an honourable fool, and will be bound by his word, unto death. Those who follow his command are also bound by his oath. I shall challenge him. To combat. To the death.
"If he looses, they shall return to the Southern Wastes, if he does by some cursed miracle, defeat me, they shall attack you fortress. You have nothing to loose."
Lord Lokan looked doubtful, weighing up his options. If he put himself in league with a magical green demon, his soul might be condemned to the Pit. However, this Green Knight was his only chance to stop the deaths of hundreds of him men, all of whom were old veterans or raw recruits.
"I accept. What will you want in exchange?" He dreaded what the emerald clad knight may want, one hundred babies for a perverted magical ritual, or perhaps to desecrate the shrine to the One God.
"I desire nothing but the end of the knight, Tâche le Morceau."
"Well, Green Knight, we have an agreement. I shall call back the Black Knight and tell him."
le Morceau looked up at the great grey walls of the stronghold. His eyes
scanned the battlements, noticing every fault, every weakness. He watched
as the soldiers that manned the palisade ran back and forth, heating up
sand and boiling water, waiting for the inevitable attack.
He gazed at the soldiers without hate, or even enmity. They were just men who stood in his way. When he had been given this mission, to plunge deep into the heart of Radigund, to capture as much land and cities as possible, to wreck revenge for the hateful treaty that bound the Dragwyns from recapturing Pela Orso. Although Tâche was a man of Radigund, he felt no empathy for them. They had stopped being important to him along time ago.
"Sir. Are you certain that we not wait for the division to reach us before we assault the walls?" asked the knight on Tâche's left.
"No. We do not need them. They will be useful one we have breached the walls. However, the craven lord of this place may be wise enough not to force a confrontation."
Another knight spoke, indistinguishable from the other, "Sir, the fog has followed us. Could it be an omen?" Tâche shook his head solemnly.
"It is unnatural for fog to rise this thick and fast. I think that perhaps another knight, a rogue works against us."
As Tâche spoke, the movement on the walls ceased. Along the battlements walked Lord Lokan, followed by an armoured man. Tâche's eyes narrowed as he watched Lord Lokan signal to the waiting Dragwyn Knights.
"It seems as though our traitor has surfaced and that Lord Lokan has come to a decision. Let us hope that it is a wise one." Spurring his steed into a trot, the Black Knight rode to the gates.
of Dragwyn," Lord Lokan called out, his voice catching in his throat as
the fear started to flow over the wall. He paused to regain control of
his voice, to stop it from breaking or wavering. As he hesitated, the Green
Knight beside him traced a rune in the air, which glowed a verdant emerald,
Instantly, the pounding of dread and fear vanished. To the men on the wall, the Black Knight suddenly looked no more sinister than a normal man. A feeling of hope, faith and confidence filled their hearts, The shadows no longer held any menace.
Lord Lokan, awed by the power of the emerald clad knight standing quietly beside him, continued, "In accordance with the rules of warfare, I charge you to accept a challenge of a duel to decide the fate of this castle. Let your champion and mine fight. If mine wins, your men shall leave this place and never return. If yours wins, then you shall continue to lay siege to this place. Do you accept?"
There was no sound. Soldiers on the wall held their collective breath, as the Black Knight below nodded.
le Morceau watched at the fog before him took in a solid shape, a man in
emerald armour forming before his eyes. He stood before the fort, his burnished
steel blade catching the flickering light of the torches on the wall.
Finally, the green man stepped from the wisps of fog. The Black Knight bowed, making a gesture of respect. Opposite him, the emerald knight repeated the gesture.
"You are a brave man, knight in green."
"More than you know, Sir Tâche."
"What is your name, that I may think of your departed spirit in my prayers."
"I am the Green Knight." A long abeyance of speech followed as the two warriors gauged each other's talents. Standing opposite each other, they looked identical, the only difference the cast of their armour.
"I cannot fight you, Green Knight. You have no sword or weapon. It would dishonour me to kill you, brave though you are."
"If you do not fight, you forfeit."
"Very well, but it gives me no pleasure." Tâche stepped forward, sword raised, eyeing his opponent cautiously.
With a sudden flash, that moved faster than the eye could follow, Tâche leapt forward, his sword sweeping down, smashing into the armour of the Green Knight with a harsh sound of metal on metal. Tâche stepped back, a look of consternation on his face. The manoeuvre that he had just executed was one of the most lethal in existence. As he looked in the hollow eye slits of the emerald helm, he could have sworn that the Green Knight was laughing at him. He looked down with shock; his sword was cracked, a thin line running the length of its blade.
As Tâche watched, a feeling of fear formed, as the Green Knight raised his hands and brought them around, following the path of two invisible swords.
Sudden, all consuming sensations filled Tâche's body. Sensations that he had not felt for years, the sensations of pain. In the back of his mind, Tâche was aware that he was dying; yet he did not care. Gazing with reverence at the Green Knight, who stood silently over him, Tâche saw the thin green glows of light, light that was so sharp, it has cut through his armour with no resistance. A chill raced though Tâche's body, as the very lifeblood drained from the two red streaks across his chest. The blood, pouring from the two slashes like a red river, fell to the chilled soil.
As Tâche felt the fire within his soul start to flicker and fade, he tried to speak. Blood bubbled and frothed from his lips as his last words were uttered, "What is your name?"
With a clang of chain and metal plate, Tâche le Morceau fell to his knees, his body starting to flare. The fire suddenly burst into an inferno, not touching the armour, but instead, consuming the flesh. A moment later, there was nothing, only armour.
The four Black Knights of Dragwyn, sitting astride their steeds in the quickly receding fog, saluted the quiescent frame of the emerald knight. Turning their horses about, they started to ride away to the south, disappearing over the hill and out of sight.
"And that is the tale of Tâche le Morceau. Defeated at the hands of the Green Knight, before the walls of Fort Theraen.
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