It was a time of conspiracy, a time when brother fought brother. It was a time when men fought men for honour, when men fought for religion. It was a time when men struggled for their morals, even if they were wrong. It was a time when people fought for their king...
"All hail, His majesty King Richard Plantagenet," the voice said, behind the fanfare of the brazen, gold trumpets. The crowd was instantly on their feet, yelling and shouting for their Lord and Master. The powerful white steed pranced regally afore the crowd, gathered to watch the oncoming spectacle. The man, dressed in the fuzzy robes of a king, slid off his big, powerful, animal. He stepped toward the centre of the stands, where his solid throne stood, elaborately encrusted with jewels. The brilliance barely managed to match his eyes, as he eagerly awaited the tournament. The men-at-arms lined the front of the stands, their pole arms waiting at ready. The High King grinned, and leaned over.
"Are they ready?" he asked his advisors, standing about his throne.
"Yea, my Lord. All knights are ready."
"What about the five Lords of the Eagle?"
"Nay, my Lord. Only one has shown himself this glorious morning."
"Which one?" the King asked, a worried look crossing his face.
"Sir Bothail, his Lordship."
The King sat back in his throne. "Well, we had better begin." He raised his right hand. The crowd went deathly still, awaiting his word.
"Welcome, my people. As you know, we are gathered here to celebrate my return from the Holy City and the establishment of the Order of the Eagle. We have here, to fight in this tourney, the highest rank in this Order, the Eagle, himself, Sir Bothail!"
The people were on their feet, chanting for him. The roar of the crowd slowly died down. The Knights began to ride forward from the tents of their dwellings, their surcoats flapping gently in the breeze. Their armour shone in the light of the early morning, and the trumpets again played out the fanfare for the approaching Knights. The Kings eyes quickly scanned the oncoming men, dressed in full chain mail. His eyes, not finding their goal, squinted into brush of the surrounding area. He laughed when he remembered the choreographed opening. Sitting back into the throne, he relaxed. The trumpets ceased blowing the loud ringing, and the Knights split. The space in between them was quickly filled as a Knight came bursting from the brush. He was dressed in a green surcoat, a white Eagle sewn to the chest of the garment. He held his lance aloft after arriving to his preset spot, sending the crowd once more to their feet. This time, it took a graceful bow to settle them down. The King once more began to talk.
"May I present to you, my power behind my throne. Let it be known that Prince John, my brother, will no more attempt to acquire my throne by force. I now have five powerful vassals who will fight by my side in times of treachery!" The crowd leapt to their feet, letting out a tremendous roar. The High King paused and let it die down. "May I present to you, my people, the power behind my throne, Lord and Knight of Honour aside me and proven in battle, the Eagle himself, Lord Bothail!"
The crowd again erupted into a monstrous roar. The Knights turned their horses and began to make their way to their positions amidst the noise of the crowd. Bothail stopped, then reined his horse back over to the throne. He stopped his horse before the King. The High King rose from his throne, and stepped toward the mounted Knight.
"I wish you luck, good Sir."
The knight nodded and turned his horse, and the animal began trotting toward his post. When he arrived, the field lie before him, the dew still on the grass. The centre partitions flags barely fluttered in the cool breeze. The deep blue sky was littered with the angry, black clouds of rain. But they were quite a way off. He reached out to the page standing beside him, holding up his lance. The page turned, a look of horror on his face.
"My Lord, the Fabled Four are missing!"
"Nay. They have slipped out," Bothail answered. He felt a feeling of dread spill out from his heart, as he knew the page could be right. He tightly grasped the reins in his hand, the charger ready to run. He glanced over at the throne. Prince John, Richards biggest threat, sat beside him gloating over some unseen move. Bothail's heart leaped at the sight, and he turned back, facing his opponent opposite him on the field. Suddenly, the trumpets blared out the charge signal. Jamming his heels into his horses flanks, he lowered his lance. The horseman was closer now, and they were coming together with an astounding sixty miles an hour!
Bothail nervously approached the man. Suddenly without warning, the horseman's lance swung into the body of Bothail. The blow knocked his breath from him, but he was lucky. The Horseman had a weak grip and strength. Bothail swung his horse around and waited the next blast of the trumpets fanfare. When it did, it nearly shattered his skull, since his horse stood beside the trumpet callers.
His trained horse shot into action, without the spurs touching its flanks, and Bothail once more lowered his lance. The horseman before him quickly closed the gap between them, the lance held out toward Bothail's shield. Bothail raised his shield, the point of the base outward, giving the shield a slanting shape. The horseman left his lance in that position, which deflected over our Knight, unable to do any damage.
Bothail swung his lance neatly toward the shield of his opponent. The shield and lance met, with an unreal scraping of metal, as the lance quickly punched a hole through the horseman's shield. The sound echoed around a while, amidst the roar of the blood thirsty crowd, coming to their feet. He silently rode back to his position to take his place, waiting in some sort of a line for his next chance.
A page came running from the tents, sweating profusely. "Lord Bothail, my Masters are missing!"
"Master Golmyth. And Lord Praileth and the rest are gone away this day, also!"
Bothail rode toward the throne, the crowd quickly hushing into silence. The sounds of his steed thudded deeply into the ground, dully echoing into the silence.
"My Lord Bothail, what bothereth thee, this day of combat?" King Richard asked questioning, rising to his feet.
"My Lord and Master, my Fabled Four, the Knights thou hast called Lords, have disappeared. I beg of you, grant me three knights, that I may search them out..."
A rush went through the crowd, starting from the nearest, who could hear, and probably becoming a rumor.
The High King turned and snapped his fingers. Instantly, four messengers stood ready aside the King.
"Let this tournament continue!"
The crowd roared with excitement, and the tournament continued in high fashion. Both of the next Knights, rode to the starting positions. The trumpets blared, and they spurred their horses into action. A loud crash erupted, and a monstrous cloud of dust lashed out from the ground. Bothail, standing beside the throne, chuckled, as both horses trotted out from the dust cloud, and both of them were riderless. Men flew from the sidelines and pulled the Knights and horses from the vicinity of the tourney run. The next two Knights rode to the starting position.
Again the trumpets blared the charge, sending the chain mailed men hurling at each other at tremendous speeds. Both lowered their lances, and the crash that came silenced the crowd. Both the knights hung limply in their saddles, the broken point of the lances protruding from their chests. Almost simultaneously, the two knights fell from their saddles, pushing the points the rest of the way through the body. The horses wandered about aimlessly, until men came from the sides and pulled them back toward the stables. Stretchers were placed beside the men, who were lifted recklessly up and dropped onto the stretcher. The men from the sidelines stepped up and lifted the deathbeds into the air and walked off the field.
The next knights trotted their horses nervously onto the field, glancing over at the dead, and then back to their opponent. The trumpets blared, the brazen notes sending the men hurling at each other.
The first knight to the centre swung his lance around in a deep arc. The second, the weight of his horse sending him careening into the fifteen foot wooden shaft, penetrating his shield, his armour, and his rib cage. The scream pierced even the loud crowd, turning the cheering into a hush as the second knight was lifted off of his horse, his weight pulling the lance from the first knights hands. The first knight wore a crest of horns on his helmet, like those of a bull. The horns were big in diameter, and lengthy, protruding out from his steel helm past his broad shoulders. He slowed his steed and turned it, Bothail catching the blazon. The black bull, placed upon the field of deep blue, wore the crown of a duke. The duke gave a slight bow toward the High King, then spurred his horse over toward the line of winners. The next knight spurred his horse toward the starting position, awaiting the trumpet call. He was dressed in the same blue, and wore a crest of the same type on his steel helm. His shield carried the same bull, but wore not the crown of the Duke. Obviously, this was the dukes son. His opponent wore a surcoat of yellow, decorated with the black crescent of the Prison City. They had sent a knight to battle, and he wore the crest of one of the three Lords under the Lord of the Crescent, the master of the Prison City, which professed allegiance to Prince John. The trumpets blared, and the knights spurred their horses into action. The two came careening at each other. The surcoats flapped in the wind as the two collided. The separation shuddered under the weight of the two horses and their armoured riders. The chain mail clad men slid from the tumbling mass of flesh, and stepped back. The Dukes son began to step away to his tents. The Knight of the Crescent leapt to his feet and ran after the young knight, the flash of a blade showing evilly in the bright light of day. The crowd roared a warning, and the young man spun, sending a glint of flashing metal off into the distance. His quickness caught the Knight off his guard. He held a six inch blade protruding from his mass of metal surrounding his hand. The Knight jumped back, but leapt into the boy, sending him hurtling to the ground. Instantly, the High Kings men-at-arms flew from their places, the partisans lowering to do damage. They surrounded the Knight of the Crescent, and lifted him off his enemy. The Dukes son lay unmoving on the ground, a large blade protruding from his chest amidst the blood soaked, ripped surcoat, showing shattered chain mail links beneath. The men-at-arms pulled the boys helmet off. The look of death hung still in his eyes, the pupils tiny pin points of the dead. His heart had ceased to beat, and the circle of men opened as the Duke and Bothail, still mounted, rode menacingly into the circle. They simultaneously slid off their mounts and stepped toward the dead boy. The Duke pulled his helmet off his sweating face, and kneeled over his son. A look of hatred plastered across his face. The Duke rose from his haunches, the blade that delivered the blow in his shaking hands. The Duke walked slowly over toward the Knight, held by the men-at-arms. Bothail jumped forward, stopping the Duke. The Duke spun.
"My enemy deserves to die!"
"Nay, Duke of Northumbria. He will pay for thy sons death, but not by his life," Bothail stated blandly.
"But he deserves to DIE!" The Duke lunged forward, trying to cram the slim, bloody blade into the Knights chest. The Knight cringed, then broke free, running at the Duke. The Duke tottered over backwards when the weight slammed into him. The Knight then fell upon the reclining form of the Duke. Bothail jerked the Knight off the Duke. Metal met metal as the Master of the Order of the Eagle's plated fist ripped forth from its silent position beside him. Blood spattered from under the Knights helm as the sharpened plates careened into his facial area. The Knight dropped limply to the ground as the Duke slowly rose to his feet, trying to muster up as much dignity as possible. He slid over to the fallen Knight, and pulled the helm from off the Knights head. The men in sight all gasped as the helm slid deathly off of the bloody remains of a deformed face.
"May god grant you a place in the deepest, worst part in the depths of hell!" The Duke spat in the oozing face. "My Lord and Master, High King of England, I must needs avenge my sons death. May you grant it unto me."
"Apail, Duke of Northumbria, I hereby grant you the privilege to avenge my sons death aside Lord Bothail of the Order."
"It will be an honour, Your Majesty." The Duke walked back to his horse and swung his foot over the saddle. "Lord Bothail, let us be on our way..."
"Nay, good duke. We have need of one more companion," he stated. Then, turning to the crowd, he shouted "Let the tourney continue!"
The Crowd was on their feet and roaring with a deafening noise. The next two knights rode forward, the random selection casting a gloomy look over the knights. The knight on the left wore a surcoat, striped with a tigers stripes. The shield carried the blazon of a tiger in a deep roar. The other knight wore a plain white surcoat without badge or blazon. The brazen horns called the charge, and the chargers were spurred into action.
The knights began to careen toward each other, and the smaller knight, in white, swung his lance, knocking the tiger from his horse.
"That's the one, King Richard," Bothail stated with satisfaction. King Richard leaned forward and whispered to one of his messengers, pointing. Prince John chuckled and slid to the front of his seat, obviously trying to listen in. The messenger rose to his feet, and walked down the steps from the stands. He spurted out toward the knight without a blazon. The moist ground beneath his feet left his footprints, as he leapt in front of the horse, walking over to the winners circle. The horse stopped, and probably the riders heart stopped along with it. Here stood a messenger of the king standing in front of him, halting him. He pulled of his helm from his head, his youth becoming ever so apparent. He nervously slid off of his horse, and he and the messenger stepped toward each other. A silent exchange of information rolled around between them, and they turned, the young knight walking toward Bothail, the messenger toward the Duke.
"If thou, good Knight, wilt follow me and the messenger," he stated, his youth showing forth in the lines of his smooth face.
"Yea, I will," Bothail stated, and slid onto his charger. The others climbed onto their horses, which neighed around for a second or two, and they fell in, line, the messenger on foot in the lead. The damp field slowly gave way to the brush and foliage of the forest. The birds sung sweetly afore them as they stopped beside the stables. The messenger disappeared a while, and reappeared with a white stallion like the youths. The black stallion beneath him neighed at the new comer, and they fell back in line. The only sound around was the thud of the horses heavy weight, an occasional neigh by one of the animals, and the chattering of birds. The brush grew in around them, whence they could no longer see the trail. The damp, cool morning breeze persisted, giving them a wonderful ride. Suddenly, the messenger halted without saying a word, his hand in the air. The three riders rode up beside him.
"The King asked me to tell you this. He has heard Prince John talking about the prison city. He said they were awaiting a very valuable cargo, probably the Fabled Four under you, my Lord. He said to check there before you check anywhere else. He said, and I quote, 'Be true to thine Master, the High King of England, good knight. Thou hast been the only true knight left unto me. All of mine vassals have deserted me because of the missing four. This medallion I bestow upon it, that they might know I have sent it. Thy King will bestow upon thyself the rank of Prince Regent, if thou wouldst only liberate thy powerful equals, the Four Fabled Knights of Richard Plantagenet. Remember thy quest, and be true unto it, for thy seed depends upon it. Go, and forever be true to thine own self," the messenger whispered.
The messenger stood up in the stirrups and glanced around. "I, not King Richard, hereby advise you to be very careful, for these woods are crawling with Prince Johns paid bandits. The Brigands are very faithful when paid enough."
He grabbed his reins in his hand and whirled his horse about, jamming his spurs deeply into the horses flanks, the poor animal leaping forward. The white horse quickly disappeared in the underbrush, leaving the nearly silent rustle of foliage. The three turned back to face one another. Without passing a word betwixt them, they leaned back and started toward the camps of the tourney. Skirting the tourney, they trotted their horses through the soft mud toward the tents. Bothail waved them toward his tent, bathed in emerald greens, and silver trimmings. The Silver Eagle flashed brilliantly in the light of mid day. The three pointed to the pages of the Knight of the Eagle, who quickly slipped forward, silently at the movement of hands of Bothail in some sort of a secret language. The pages took the reins and disappeared to the rear of the tent. The guards at the front, carrying the pole arm of a fauchard, stood rigidly at attention. The three stepped forward inside the tent, the entrance toward the . A wooded table, quickly able to be dismantled, stood in the centre of the room, a map lying gently on it. The light from the penetration of sunlight bathed everything in a deep green. The cloth separations, or walls, of the rounded tent were lined with metal plates, unlike anything the white knight and the Duke had ever seen, lining the south eastern section.
Noticing their stares of amazement, he walked over toward them. Pulling off his surcoat, he revealed a chain mail suit. This was standard for knights at this period in time. Bothail was a little ahead of his time. He slowly began to fasten the plates onto his chain mail, revealing a suit of metal plates. The silence still wafted about the cloth chambers. Bothail pulled his surcoat back on, the silver plates ringing musically in the tent. He bent over and picked up a coil of rope, a grappling hook dangling from the extremity of it. The hook rang as it glanced off his technically advanced plate armour. He signaled the guard, who was immediately standing in front of the bulky man. Bothail pulled off his helm, and spoke quietly to the guard. The guard dropped his fauchard to the dust, the ringing slowly dispersing as he jogged out the entrance. The neighing of the horses sound aloud from behind the tent amidst the voices as the guard told the page to ready his travel charger. They walked over to the table and pulled up cedar chairs. The map was positioned, and his finger began to trace a faint line.
"This is the road leading to the Prison City. We are positioned," he stopped his finger, "here. We must be at the Prison City by the weeks end. I strongly advise you to get your chargers, and come."
The other two hesitated, looked at each other, and stood up. Quickly turning, they disappeared from the tent. Bothail glanced around, making sure all was in order. The entrance, facing the east, was lined with a wooden framework. Toward the south, his weapons lined the tent with the imprint of the armour. His sleeping quarters, separated by a wall of thin, veil like cloth, stood totally on the south extremity. On the west side, stood a rack of wooden spice containers, above the containers of food. Beside this rack, stood upright partisans, each slot containing some sort of paperwork, his strategy maps. On the northern portion, stood a few miscellaneous supplies. The table, at which he had just been, was built around the centre pole, the one that held up the tent, and held the map. He walked over to the southeastern section, and his eyes scanned the rack of weapons. Skipping over the axe and the mace, his eyes fell on the most common weapon, the sword. His sword was a specially tempered silver, and was stronger than any other blade known. He reached down, and guided his calloused fingers over the elaborately carved dragons, winding around each other to form the hilt. The blade, a thin blade like that of a sabre, protruded straight from the hilt. His fingers closed around the gilded hilt. He lifted the weapon to his side, and strapped the scabbard around his waist. He reached for his shield, also of pure silver. Strapping it on, his eyes fell back on his mace. He debated it over for a few moments, then reached forward and slid his hand beneath it. He jumped when he heard the sound of hooves outside his tent thundering to a hurried halt. A quick rasp of metal sounded as the entrance guards crossed their pole arms.
"Lord Bothail?" Bothail recognized the sound of the white knights youthful voice.
"Let him enter, I pray thee," Bothail replied. The small, broad youth entered the tent.
"We are ready, Lord Bothail. Let us move forward into battle." Bothail called his pages to bring his horse. The white animal pranced around with the high spirits of a stallion. The saddle was the ordinary leather one, despite being advanced for his time. His plates jingled harmoniously beneath his surcoat as he swung his leg over the back of the animal. The horse quieted considerable when he felt his masters cool grip on the reins. The ball of spikes, dangling freely from his hand, was swinging dangerously back and forth. The endangered animal stood quite still, waiting the horseman's signal. Bothail slid the morning star into his horse pack amidst the rope and grappling hook, beside the food. His page came running from behind the tent, his lance in hand. Bothail reached down and effortlessly grasped and lifted the long shaft from the struggling servant. His pennant hung without breeze, as the threesome spurred their horses forward.
The trail they rode on, rutted with the over use of wagons, opened up toward the north. The fresh foliage hung about them, a good five feet from the trail, cleared away by the flames of a recent fire. The aspen trees, very common to this part of land, were hidden by the heavy, tall underbrush, still damp with the morning dew. The birds talked heavily betwixt themselves in the cool morning of a new day. The soft ground, still slightly muddy from the weeks heavy rain, provided a silent clod of horses hooves. The three, all holding their lances aloft and pennants flapping in the breeze they themselves were creating by moving in the still air, rode steadily forward. The destination was a good two days journey, and they did not want to exhaust their animals. The horses snorted contently with the three armoured men riding a top them. The journey wore on, and the aspen gradually gave way to the pines of a mountainous country, still laden with the heavy underbrush. The sun shone brightly and merrily upon them, showering them with the warmth of its light. They rode dressed in their armour, and helmets in hand. The shields were strapped to their backs by use of the shield belt. The swords hung limply on their left sides, and jingled with each step the horse took, on the youth, and on the Duke. Bothail's great sword, strapped to his back beneath the shield, flashed brilliantly in the warm light. His plates beneath his surcoat gave a sure ring beyond the slight chink of chain mail. The air was filled with the scent of pine. The under brush slowly began to erode away, revealing loose dirt in between the pines. The trees were tall, and scrubby, unlike the decor trees of today.
The trail led up toward the mountains, getting steeper by the minute. The horses, soon breathing hard from the suns beating down on them, slowed, the weight on their backs becoming unbearable. The knights slid from the animals, and led them still upward along the trail, the trees now very sparse. The thin pass loomed toward them in the distance as they steadily climbed toward the foggy, fluffy cloud surrounding the hole in the mountains. A slight breeze quickly wafted up, and grew in strength as they continued to climb. The pass crevice stood just before them, a slit in the sheer cliffs of the range. The cliffs rose some two hundred feet into the air, and were nearly impossible to climb. Bothail looked amazingly at the monstrous height, pausing only a second to glance up.
"This short cut will cut travel time in half. It is perilous and dangerous, but we can make it to the prison city before the day is out," he stated. He stepped forward, pulling his horse into the fog. His feet, with every step, searched effortlessly. "There his a fifty foot drop inside, and we don't want to find it by accident. But there is a way around, I believe." His nervous voice, dimmed only by the fog, echoed through the pass, less than ten feet across. His foot, not putting any weight on it and he finds the hole, searched. When finding nothing, he stepped forward. Nothing. He stepped forward again. He gasped deeply as his foot found nothing but air.
"I've got it," his voice echoed around. No answer abounded back to him. "Sirs, I have found the chasm."
Still no answer. His head glanced along the wall, barely visible in the fog. His alert eyes scanned. The silent noise of falling rocks echoed around. His eyes moved toward it, and barely caught a movement. The rasp of sliding metal issued forth in the walled passage way. His ears caught a grunt, and metal on stone. He looked down into the gaping, ten foot hole splitting the men. Suddenly, stones started falling around him, and he heard the thud of flesh colliding with the ground. He opened his eyes, and four men stood before him. The rip of a bow erupted from behind him, and the centre man, obviously a brigand, toppled over backwards, a steel shaft protruding from his chest. The last three jumped forward toward Bothail. His mace rose in his hand. The spiked ball and chain swung around. The scream pierced the chasm as the spikes sought out the sparsely armoured bandit. The scanty armour protected little, but the leather covering prevented the splattering of blood. The ball and chain weapon would go through even normal chain mail, but these brigands wore only leather, and what was underneath. The last bandit shrieked and spun on his heels, very nearly losing his balance.
Bothail raced after him, swinging his mace in a small arc. The bandit leapt up the mountain side, his strong hands deftly searching for quick hand holds. Bothail brought the spikes down. Dirt jumped up, scattering sand and rock everywhere. The snap of metal echoed around, taking time to sink in. Bothail glanced down.
His morning star lay shattered from the rocks afore him in its self-made crevice. He glanced around the fog, and two more figures stood before him. The smaller wore pure white, now spattered with blood droplets, and the other wore a blue surcoat, a tiger on it. The fog, slowly drifting through the crack, began to diminish into nothingness. Now, Bothail was able to perceive from one side of the pass to the other very clearly. His eyes began to scan the ground for the gaping hole which blocked their way to the other side of the mountains. Upon seeing it, he led his horse to the edge, and began to muster up some way of getting past this obstruction. The side of the hole was vertical where the edges touched, with some sort of ledge in the middle of the side, about five feet away. His eyes followed the edge he was standing on to both sides of the pass. The first side held no footing whatsoever between the wall of the pass and the wall of the hole. The last side, however, was split by a ledge about two feet across.
"Here. I have found a way past this crevice."
"Come, then, let us pass," the Duke stated to his younger companion. Bothail led his horse and the other two over to the ledge. He stepped out onto it, his horse giving a slight tug of uneasiness. His feet, giving the precept of sliding, ground into the loose gravel on the ledge, which he now knew to have a slope to. He pulled again on the reins of his animal, leading him across the ledge, nearly too small of the horse. The charger eased up, and began to follow his master, the others following behind. After about thirty feet of ledge, the hole beside him was gone, with the level rock of the ground of the pass. Now, they could see the exit from the short cut, and moved freely to it. Bothail held up his hand when he arrived for the others to stop. Before his stood a sheer drop, about two hundred feet down. He reached into his saddle bag, fingering the twine cord of rope. He only had fifty feet. It would be of no use. He pulled it from the pack, and readied himself to rocket it toward the ground. His eyes fell on the start of a winding trail beside him. He walked over to it. It was about three feet wide, enabling his steed to use it also. He walked back, and grasped his reins, pulling the animal with him. The slope was about halfway between level and vertical. No gravel was on it, showing the users that it was wanted, in that people were using it all the time.
Reaching the bottom gave them all a good feeling. Glancing back up, they gasped at what they had just transversed. The astounding height churned their stomachs. They turned back to their goal. They stood in a clearing, about twenty feet in diameter. Two trails led in different directions, one on the south, and one to the north. They mounted their steeds, and headed for the north trail. The brush around the base of the cliff was not as heavy as before, but it was not as well taken care of, either. The trail was seen only because of use, but on the other hand, it was trimmed to prevent surprise ambush with small arms. Bows and other projectile machines were another story.
This brush, although, was not neatly trimmed to trap ambushers asunder. It had grown to where only use had kept it. The foliage around stood parted about a half a foot apart, very nearly covering the trail beyond recognition. It was separated enough that they could follow it wittingly. The pines were almost hidden by the dry brush.
They made about five leagues in the allotted time remaining in the day. The last half hour of sunlight glowed beautifully through the pines, casting a red outlook about. The Prison City loomed in the distance, after the sun dropped from sight. They hurriedly set up the tent. The stars glittered down upon them in a radiant manner, along with the crescent of the moon.
"How profound, dear fellows. This moon is rooting for the Prison City. Ah! But we will have fun proving yet this humble giver of light a change of heart!" The voice of the Duke of Northumbria laughed. Suddenly, horses hooves sounded. The gallop of the animal was apparent, along with the fact that the animal was tired. It was more obvious the animal was tired. The gate of it was uneven and impossible to predict. Bothail rose from his haunches to stop the rider. But, to no avail because they were to close together, the rider careened into the body of Bothail. The messenger spurred steadily by, the limp body of Bothail lying in a puddle of blood. Everything had gone black for him...
Everything was black. Deep black. His mind was blank. For how long, he cannot remember. All he can recall, is a charging horse, and all before this event. Nothing else. His senses were dull and numb. But they continued to improve. His sight slowly faded from black to gray, and then to many shades of colours. He slowly regained movement, and his hearing dramatically improved. He was back to consciousness.
"How long have I been away?"
"Lord Bothail, it has been, in the year of our Lord, thirteen years past since thy event. The charging messenger rode on to the Prison City. He relayed a message."
Bothail looked around him at his former tent. The deterioration of time was too apparent. The walls had eroded to the point of protecting none from the cold.
"Yea, good Duke. I can remember nothing that occurred whilst I was unconscious. Brief me, Sir."
"King Richard is dead. The ruthless King John, formerly Prince John his brother, now reigns in his stead. He has already begun to loose power. His advisors have forced him sign the Magna Charta. Tis strange to see the usurper get what he taught." Both men who were with him afore were with him still. Age had begun to show itself in the eyes of the white clad youth, who sat cross legged, like Apail, the Duke, on his left side.
"Phillip, move to the village and retrieve some herbs."
"Good Sir, none remain in the village. I would have to travel to the nearest city to obtain them."
"Go then. He needs to heal." The youth was instantly on his feet. The thud of horses hooves resounded without any brilliance into nothingness, covered by the chirping of the birds. A fog had enveloped the area. It was ideal to stage an attack on a fortress. Bothail sat upright. Blood rushed from his head and into his feet. The world spun a while, and he regained his balance. He rose to his feet. He ached vehemenantly from the charging horse. He clasped his sword. The cool feel brought life to him. He stepped out into the field. A few trees stood round about. He laughed, and slid his leg over his horse.
"Lord Bothail! You are not healed yet. Give yet another week to properly regain thy faculties!"
"In the name of King John, King Richard Plantagenet, and the Master of the Eagle, I command you to get up and ride!"
The Apail walked to his horse and rose into the saddle. They turned their horses and headed into the fog, every moment thickening. They moved forward, and to the Duke, this was death for the both of them.
Bothail slipped forward into the dark mists. The deadly twang of a bow sounded silently forth from somewhere in the midst of the fog, and the last of Bothail's companions fell gruntingly backwards with the thud of an arrow. Another twang reeled the knights horse beneath him. The armour on the powerful steed rang metallically under the man as the horse dropped heavily to the grassy forest ground. Bothail stood up, and stepped nervously forward, the fog closing in behind him. His silver armour plates slid back and forth across one another, creating the simple monotonous sound of grinding silver. The twang of the bow sounded forth yet again from nowhere, and Bothail felt the wooden shaft embed itself through the shoulder plates and into the flesh of himself. The arrow knocked himself to the plains, and he painfully arose. The faint outline of his target slowly began to materialize in the smokey atmosphere, and the Castle began to grow to tangibility, still barely perceptible in the distance. He slowly began to realize the little silhouetted figures darting back and forth between the battlements had intentions of death pursuing him toward the fortress. He paused momentarily, and saw the corpses of three dead men, and his best charger lying lifeless upon the grassy forest. He slowly turned to his mission of destruction, and stepped forward. He saw the men lining the battlements, searching forward into the dark, grey mists. He saw the weapons of death guarding this incredulous stronghold. He saw the work of death held calmly in their hands.
Again, the memory of his quest came rushing back into his head, as the words of King Richard flowed once again. "...Be true unto thine Master, the High King of the whole of England, good Knight. Thou hast been the only true knight left unto me. All of mine vassals have deserted me because of the missing four. This medallion I bestow upon it, that they might know I have sent it. Thy King wilt bestow upon thyself the rank of Prince Regent, if thou wouldst only liberate thy powerful equals, the Four Fabled Knights of Richard Plantagenet. Remember thy quest, and be true unto it, for thy seed depends on upon it..."
A quiet cry of enemy sailed out to meet him, and many arrows instantaneously followed with the strong whistle of speed. He saw the trees give way to open fields as the steady rain of wooden shafts pestered the soft soil around him. The arrows ceased to fly forth, and he stepped again toward the looming stone walls about the city. One low lying branch seemingly reached forward, and caught on the shaft in Bothail's shoulder. He fell backwards again as the pain filled his whole body. He lie there on the damp ground waiting what seemed like forever for the pain to subside. Gaining his courage and strength back, he reached over and grasped the arrow carefully as not to send another shock of pain. He breathed deeply and, mustering all the strength he could, jerked the shaft away from his sweating, clammy body. He dropped the crossbow bolt beside him, and rose to his shaky feet, the silver armouring his hand covered with his own agonizing blood. His trained, observant eyes strained powerfully forth into the foggy sky, where he was barely able to perceive the quick, tiny figures scanning meticulously the area before them for himself, Bothail. Another cry and shout of enemy echoed eternally away from the cold wall, and another wall of wooden shafts rained forward. Instinctively and almost effortlessly, he brought his silver shield around from his back, where it was strapped to his back, and grasped the handles. As he crouched nervously behind his only protection, in which he knew just a single well aimed bolt could pierce the thick plating lying before the quivering man, a single metallic ring glanced off his shield, and he saw the lonely arrow fly uncontrolled over his head. He fumbled for the leather buckles and pulled them tightly around his arm, strapping the leather bands across his chain mail. He rose back to his feet as the last of the arrows darted deeply into the soft soil, and started forward toward the wall. He realized the closer he got, the quicker, deadlier, and meaner they would come.
As he neared the fortress wall, he noticed a small clump of trees faintly silhouetted in the thick atmosphere. The main portion surrounding the castle had been burned away for the purpose of protection, as to alert the watches before they could get to the wall, some days earlier. Even then, the grass had grown to a considerable height, and bothail had to wait for the next foggy dawn to erupt into the middle of the Prison City. He noticed how nervous all watchmen were, crying out at nothing. He started edging his way toward the clump of foliage, his heavy feet sounding in the slush of the moist dirt. He looked away from the wall, and toward the trees, when he heard the sound of paranoid shouting. He glanced toward the wall again, and saw archers armed with the bow and crossbow again scanning the horizon and the ground that lay in front of them. The trees loomed hopefully closer and closer. Suddenly, a shout erupted from the battlements, and the shafts of arrows and bolts were flung effortlessly from the top of the fifty foot wall. Bothail ducked quickly behind his shield, as the heavy rain died down. Bothail instantly leaped to his feet and quietly trotted toward the trees. As he arrived to his safety, he glanced down to grasp his sword in an effort to ease the monstrous pain in his shoulder. His hand hit nothing but the crisp moisture slowly being burnt of the air by the new sun. Another cry went protruding forth from the evil wall lying before him, and, almost simultaneously, thousands of wooden splinters burst from the wall, carrying only the quiet sound of whistling wind. The wood ended up in a fifty foot diameter area, beginning less than a foot away from where he stood. He turned back to the object before him, the fortress, and realized the closeness of the looming wall. He nervously walked slowly toward the magnificent structure he would have to defeat. He stopped short, searching in what seemed like an eternity for solid ground beneath one foot, which hung silently forward in the air. He hesitated, and, daringly, took his eyes off of the wall, to look horrified into the dark depths of the slimy waters in the moat. He paused momentarily, and dropped his weight into the murky waters, below a blanket of fog. He stepped forward into the waters again, and his foot struck the cold feel of steel.
With his mind darting betwixt reasons of its belonging, he gasped for breath and dove cleanly into the water. The cold liquid softly whispering by his face, he grasped around, and found the object his foot had struck, he felt his way around the small, spherical object, finding two cavities, and a protruding portion. Realizing the object, he calmly rose to his feet. He rose quietly from the depths, and looked toward the top of the wall where the helmet had fallen from. Then he pushed off with his foot yet again, and glided swiftly toward the bottom of the moat from the weight of the one hundred pounds pushing him. His armour held him fast. He jerked and snapped, trying to free himself from the oozing fingers of silt as they glided and squeezed inside of his chain mail, whilst he frantically tried to retain his short breath. His quivering hands searched the sands. Sinking his hands deeply into the muddy ground, he tried to free himself of his fate. His weak hands fumbled over the silt. He found the short shaft of a fractured pike, and planted the stick into the silt. With all his strength, the ever increasing pain in his shoulder, he pushed, using the shaft for extra surface area...
Again, the pain, from the previous stick in his shoulder, ripped painfully through the whole of his body. Trying to ease the pain, he had cringed and rose quickly to his muddy feet. The water dropped from his armour and splashed back into the moat. The sound of death echoed defiantly off of the stone castle wall. He heard the shout of sight, and instantly arrows darted from the battlements, raining heavily down upon him. His hands ran for his thick shield, and found the nothingness of eternal death. The shield had dropped to the muddy grounds of the moat. He reached down into the murky waters, pulling his only hope, a simple steel chassis for the head. He held it aloft to protect his quivering body. The arrows rained steadily down upon their target. The ripping of metal sounded harshly through the moat chasm as a crossbow bolt came nearly clean through the steel helmet. The bolt hung limply by the leathern fletchings of the shaft. Another bolt glanced ringing off of the steel, and yet another shaft careened cleanly through the helmet and piercing the chain mail of his shoulder yet a second time. The force of the blow knocked the heavily armoured man backwards into the icy cold moat. The murky waters closed once again around him, and he slowly sank deeply into the depths, the silt again oozing through the tiny interlocked rings of his chain mail coat. The pain, stifled only a little bit by the coldness of the liquid of life, water, steadily began to envelope the armoured hero. He rolled quickly over to his stomach, and, using the helmet, pushed off. He rose only part way, and, to give effect, kept himself above the silt and below the murky depths. The slope of the simple moat began to rise, and he rose above the surfaces on the inner side of the moat. As the water splashed deathly off of the armour, he filled the helmet with air, and pushed it under water toward the centre of the moat. He glanced up to where the guards were desperately scanning the surface of the trench filled with water. The guards saw the lonely helmet rise, lose its air, and tranquilly drop through the murky depths. The guard turned and walked on down the walkway. Bothail rose from the muddy water and grasped the second shaft. The pain ripped through his body, now being nearly a walking pin cushion. He pulled outward, the shaft finally coming loose with a broad head full of flesh. The blood trickled out of the fresh wound.
Bothail slid toward the wall, his aching, nervous, cold fingers searching for a grip. His hands glided smoothly over the stone and mortar, and found no grip. He glanced up toward the top of the fifty foot height, and fear began to steadily grow in his courageous heart. The watches and the Archers were again scanning the field before them. The first watch leaned out from the battlements and searched the ground below them. Bothail flattened himself against the stone partition, every prayer running strongly through his heart. His heart pounded eternally, the very beat of his soul hammering in his head. The watch paused momentarily, then moved silently back to his post. A second watch leaned out and began to intently scan the area below. He, too, paused for a second, then lunged back towards his post, screaming out commands. The first wave of missiles flew nowhere except into the brush around him. Bothail silently began to pray, the increasing pain causing everything to go blurry. He glanced up.
The archers had ceased the waste of needed ammunition. He began to nervously make his way toward the monumental gate house. Unable to walk a straight line anymore, he wandered toward the stone structure hoping to find an empty door to conceal himself in. The large gate house continued to loom in the distance, marred only by the fog and blurred vision from pain. He suddenly began to lurch around having no control over his sweating, quivering body. As he lay on the moist ground, he felt his blood flow freely forth. The guards up top stared down at the fallen man. One of them hollered out a special strain of commands, and the gate house guards sprinted out into the field. The voices of the armour clad gate house guards steadily grew closer and closer. He opened his eyes. The left side of his face lie in a pool of his own blood, his eye seeing nothing but his blood. His other eye opened to a world of blurred figures darting around his body. The blurring effect slowly faded out, the pain in his shoulder erupting into the pain of an open wound. The light in his eye slowly faded into the blackness of incoherence...
His vision started slowly from black. He felt nothing but numbness. His gray vision slowly began to fade toward the dim, blurry colours of sight. His left eye was now fused shut from the blood he lay in. The crusty blood crackled and broke as he slowly rose, putting all his weight upon his hip bones. The numbness was immediately replaced with a sharp pain inside his shoulder, as it came erupting into the head of this courageous man. He quickly lunged to his feet, his armour grinding noisily against themselves. His right eyesight gave way to the fog of early morning. He glanced around, all perceptions of depth gone from his mind. He stumbled forward toward the castle, his memory dispersed along with his sight. Seeking refuge, he ambled, uncontrollably toward the stone wall, his walk striking up a wild random pattern. The cold, damp moisture in the air brought his memory reeling back towards him. The memory collided suddenly with his mind, bringing a whirl of his former activities. He stepped back towards the moat, and silently splashed water on his face, in an attempt to get his sight back of his eye. The dried blood crackled and flaked under the pressure of the scrubbing, and the tension of the eyelid muscles in a struggle to open his eye. The freedom literally overwhelmed him as the eyelid burst open under the strain. He washed the blood from beneath his eyelid swiftly, as the irritation caused by the oils from his hand. He rose to his feet, his world spinning from the dizziness caused by his aggravation. He steadily and silently began to creep towards the gate house and the portal into the city, all pain a distant prospect. The gate house portal reached out toward him as he crept stealthily closer. The wall stood silently afore him. He reached out and touched the wall, the echoing eternities of nothingness exploding from within it. The cold hardness of stone reached out and guided him towards the portal. He paused, hearing the voices of the guards echoing in the stone portal. No person stood in his view, which meant that he stood in no persons sight. The endless problem of entering the city struck him hard in the head. The problem stood unanswered inside his mind.
Suddenly, the sound of running footsteps echoed to this outer world of Bothail. He cringed from fear of what might be happening. The sound of metal rang harmoniously throughout the portal as the guards jerked to attention.
"Sir!" they chorused, almost harmoniously together.
"Get off your feet you dolts! I need your full attention to the ground afore you!" the voice angrily echoed to emptiness, obviously a voice of a commanding officer.
"Sir?" the guard questioned.
"I thought you dolts said that man out there was dead!"
"He was!" they nervously replied, under a lot of pressure.
"Then where is the knight his Majesty called Bothail? His body is gone! Corpses usually don't get up and walk away!"
"Sir? What are we to do?"
"You! You stand guard here. Another guard will join you in a moment. You! Circle the perimeter of the walls!"
"Yes, sir!" they chorused, and one pike slowly drifted into the vision of Bothail. He glanced around, trying to find a hiding spot. Realizing the extent of his problem, he grasped for his sword, and remembered where it lay. He turned to face the oncoming guard weaponless. The pike still hung in the air, quickly filling to its fifteen foot length, the fauchard blade upon the end glinting dimly in the fog. Bothail momentarily closed his eyes and muttered his last prayer. He felt the breeze of morning, and opened his eyes. The Guard had gone the other way! Bothail let out a sigh of relief and stalked to the edge of the stone portal. Bothail paused for a second, then quickly spun around the corner, reaching for his blade. His hand again grasped nothing but air as his mind reached forth with a danger he had walked himself into. Miraculously, the guard was turned the other way! Bothail glided silently forward toward the guard and stopped just inches away from him. Bothail reached for the guards sword, or where it should be, hung on the left side. His hand found yet again the air of emptiness. The guard spun, the fauchard no longer useful, clattering to the stone floor, and pulled a dagger from beneath the black surcoat of the Dark Lord.
The long knife slashed out toward the unarmed man. The quick movements of Bothail brought his pain erupting back into his body, again causing a dizziness and blurring of vision. He spun for a minute, trying to disengage the oncoming blackness of unconsciousness. The guard slashed out with the deadly blade, the glint of death ringing eternally out from the tempered steel. Time shattered into a billion pieces as the blade spun, in slow motion, into the camail, the head piece of the hauberk, shattering the tiny rings of the chain mail. The pain careened into the body of Bothail, and the bloody blade was withdrawn. He stumbled backwards, and began to fall, his world beginning to spin once more. The edges of his vision began to gray out, becoming blacker and blacker. His vision becoming nothing but a pinpoint white spot, he heard the voices running around him.
"This is Bothail? He is a dead man!" the voices echoed throughout his head, his senses becoming dimmer and dimmer. The blood inside of his mouth spurted cleanly from the wound towards his teeth. The blood gathered slowly and created a continuous stream pouring from his teeth. His jaw fell open, for the muscles of it were cut in pieces, and the stone ceiling from the portal rolled down toward his vision. His head, losing nearly all control, rolled viciously back towards his neck, and the blurred vision handicapped him terribly. His footsteps echoed harmoniously upon the hard stone floor, and his legs finally gave way freely. He felt his body flailing helplessly to the floor. His vision blackened out, and all he heard was the loud clamor of metal ringing on the cold stone. His hearing quickly faded to a simple ringing of his ears, and his body gradually went numb.
"....dead that the body had to be dragged into this dungeon. I don't understand why they just didn't kill him and throw him in the moat!" The partial conversation flowed into his aching head, as awareness slowly and gradually flowed back into his mind.
"Well, they had killed him afore this incident. What nerved them all, was the fact that he will not die. They went out and checked his pulse, which was gone, and the */?1#@ was lying in a pool of blood. They told me, that this was the only way to make sure that he didn't get up and walk away from this, was to put him in the shackles of imprisonment. I have seen some really sickening injuries, but this knights wounds churn my stomach! Look at his shoulder. A big hole right through it! They say twenty years ago, he got two broad heads in it, and pulled them out. They say the arrow heads did come free, along with a head full of flesh!" He heard them say as his sight slowly came back. "Look at his jaw! I think that he received an arrow right below the nose! Usually, people die from that alone! And I thought everybody had heard his poor tale!" His poor, tunnel vision gradually faded back into what he considered normal vision. The aching in his shoulder, mixed with enormous pain, strongly came back with a recognition of his hazardous expedition. The memory, rushing back with the intensity of taking a match to gasoline, exploded with violence inside the head of our hero. He jerked uncontrollably back and forth in a seizure, waiting for eternity for the problem to subside. The wrenching of literally all of the muscles in his body from the flashback halted the guards conversation, and a look of horror washed over their faces. There they stood, faces white with fear, watching the now legendary body of Bothail quivering painfully on the stone floor. The shaking filled the dark, damp hall way with the rattling of the shackles. Four feet in front of him, stood the opposite wall, the old mortar cracking under the weight of the heavy stone. Gradually, Bothail regained the control of his person, and closed his eyes, his mind searching for a way out. His head raced for time, in which he had every chance of being executed. He could feel the air against his sweating body, and realized he now had no armour to protect himself against the blows of weaponry. His hope slowly began to sink into the depths of despair...
"Hey! We have the guard change in just a couple of minutes!" the first guard said with a change in moods. " Lets go early."
"Are you kidding? What if this guy gets up and escapes?" The second questioned incredulously.
"Hey, he is not going anywhere in the condition he is in, and besides, he's shackled to the wall!"
"Right. I guess I'm a dang fool. Come then."
They chuckled together for a moment, and Bothail heard their resounding footsteps echoing down some hall. He opened his eyes and glanced about. He prayed with the most intent of his life, as his eyes darted from object to object. His eyes fell on the old, bleached skeleton, the outstretched hand seeming to grasp at the air. The golden ring resting on the old fingers glinted in the darkness of the dungeon. Then he recognized it. His great friends ring! The disappearance of the four fabled knights of King Richard Plantagenet! He now knew where one of them was! His mind kicked into high gear. Now he only needed to know where the other three were!
He rose to his feet, his blood rushing from his aching head. As he rose, his left shoulder caught on some steel, protruding from the stone wall behind him. He fingered it for a moment, realizing this steel piece held his chains to the wall. He wiggled it, and snapped it outward, the mortar breaking easily free. He turned and looked at the other, and, with the strength he did not poses, pulled outward with the echo of freedom in his ears.
The dull thud of rock on rock echoed down the endless hall, as the old mortar crumbled to the floor, freeing the last shackle. He paused, and glanced around, looking for some form of armour. The people lining the wall, most of them unconscious, wore nothing but their under tunic. The rusty chains holding them in their places clanked and clashed in with the moans of the unconscious. He glanced toward the way the guards had supposedly gone, and started toward the end of the hall. He trotted silently. He, too, wore no armour, only his under tunic. Toward the end, his eyes were finally able to perceive the doorway in the dim, dank hallway.
The chains jingled musically aside him as he slowly, and carefully, crept toward the exit. The moans of torture evasively covered the clanking of his own chains. He paused, and glanced along the new faces he stood before. The agony and pain of imprisonment was shown clearly and deftly on each one. The looks of horror continued to flash across their faces. They moaned at the freedom of one man, when they had been there the longest. Bothail turned back toward his goal, and stopped. In one of the faces, he caught a familiar look. He quickly turned back toward the man, lying in chains in a position, somewhat crooked. He stared intently at the face, and a wave of relief flowed over him. Two last knights to find!
He stepped toward the shackles, and jerked them from the wall, sending another shockwave of pain crashing down his body. Bothail's wounds, still unhealed in twenty years, were newly opened from the harsh movements, crackled and cracked beneath the tenseness of the muscles. He felt his blood begin to trickle down his arm. Ignoring the obvious, he snapped the other pin from the wall, and pulled the man to his feet. The others, realizing how easy it was to escape, leaped to their feet, and began pulling at the pins. The prisoners, way to weak from disuse and malnutrition, pulled with violence at the immovable pins. The old cement would simply not give way. The captured gradually gave up, and fell back into the positions they had originally occupied.
"Many thanks, my dear friend," the knight humbly bowed.
"Praileth?" Bothail asked, trying to place a name with his old acquaintance.
"Nay, my Lord. I am, though, one of the four. I am Golmyth, the second."
"Sir, where hast thy friends been taken?"
"My Lord, one," he started, "has been locked up in this very hall. We have been chained, so we cannot see each other."
"Golmyth, I was chained beside his bleached bones," Bothail sadly started the tale. "I was able to arrive at the conclusion that it was truly Faulton, when I perceived his ring."
"The other two were taken into the torture room. There, they were, most likely, tortured beyond hopes of recovery, as we heard the deathly screams of pain," Golmyth continued his horrible tale. "Then, those relentless guards escorted Faulton and I toward those very chambers. The room was empty, except for the guards. Every device for torture is in that cursed room. I was taken out early. They chained me back into these shackles, and left me. When they came by again, they carried the limp body of Sir Faulton. I never saw them again, but the blood spattered upon the rocks still haunt my memory today."
"What of Sir Praileth and Sir Haubern?" Bothail asked, the question rattling through his head.
"I know not of them. But their names are always resurfacing among the gossip of the guards, my Lord," They both paused.
"Yes, my Lord?"
"Whose voices ring the halls?"
"The voices of the guards returning to their posts!" They both froze, and then lunged toward an empty spot on the walls. The shackles were grabbed and placed into the old cracks to give an appearance of being chained....
"....Yes. That stupid Bothail Knight has cost me my rank!" The first guard stated with a bit of anger stirring in his heart.
"But I still don't understand. How could a chained Knight cost someone his rank and honour?" the second questioned.
"Well! You really MUST be new! Look at it this way. I was a wall archer afore this man attacked the city. I was the one who put the arblast bolt into..."
"Arblast? I don't understand!" he interjected.
"An arblast is just another high term for a crossbow. Well, I was the one who put it through his helmet, and..."
Bothail could hold back his anger no longer. He flashed to his feet, ignoring the sharp sting rolling through his body. The startled guard jerked backwards at the freedom of a prisoner, and the second, seasoned with much experience, leaped forward drawing his dagger. Bothail stopped, realizing his mistake, and then began searching for ideas for freedom. The cold, moist air clung heavily to his under tunic, and the shackles jingled evilly aside his sweating body.
"The shackles! Those glorious shackles!" He started, the statement bringing a look of question to all of the faces in hearing distance. The first guard drew his own weapon, a dagger about twenty inches, and lunged in to get Bothail, a look of unconditional hatred flashing across his face. Bothail quickly sidestepped the attempt, and brought his shackle chain around, the loose end in his other hand. The other guard, realizing this escapee did have a major weapon, lunged in to join his choking companion, a chain around his neck. Bothail tightened his deathly grip, and let the guard drop to the floor. He turned, the second guard circling around him in the echoing hall. Nervousness exploded inside him, and his hand dropped the end of the chain, shaking with fear.
The guard laughed, and stepped prudently forward, to meet this prisoner. Bothail, his hands still shaking with fear, grasped the chain locked onto his right arm, using his right hand, and held it back, ready to brandish it as a weapon. The guard chuckled, and his blade flashed out from his hand. Bothail countered the jab, and swung the heavy chain up over his head, the steel cascading down upon the guard, with no protection but his chain mail. The guard screamed in agony as the weight crushed his skull, fracturing it into a million fragments of bone, and splattering blood everywhere. Bothail quickly stripped the two guards of their chain mail, and dressed himself into the armour. He slowly helped Golmyth into the steel cloth, and buckled the belt across his midsection, and slid the daggers in behind it. The damp, quiet hallway was suddenly filled with shouts and yells. Four guards careened into the hall, almost simultaneously, and very nearly tripping over the prisoners outstretched legs. They were brandishing swords, and glanced around the room, forming a deadly half circle to block escapes. The first spoke.
"What, in Gods name, is going on here?" he asked, his metal blade glinting evilly in the dimness of the hall.
Bothail stepped forward, an evil gleam in his eye matching the glint on the guards dagger. "These prisoners had keys to their shackles! They took us unsuspecting, and locked the chains onto our undeserving wrists!"
"I don't believe it. They wear the under tunics of guards!"
"But, if you recall, I said they changed places on us!" Bothail nearly screamed at them. "They stripped us, locked us in and gaged us!"
"Well, then. How did you get loose?" the other guard piped in, continuing the interrogation of his alibi.
"They were weak from disuse. We were not. Did you know we need to replace the mortar in this wall?" Golmyth asked.
"No, I did not," He sarcastically replied. "Why?"
Bothail stepped toward the shackle pins of another prisoner. He pulled, almost without effort. The pin, cracking the mortar into thousands of small fragments, came quickly from the wall. The guard chuckled.
"To most fresh prisoners, that is very easy."
"What do you want me to do to prove myself?" Golmyth said, stepping forward.
"Kill any of the men in this hall," the guard placidly stated, an evil gleam spreading from his eye.
Golmyth took his dagger, once another guards, and looked swiftly at the prisoners. All looked on in fear. The fear of death sang deeply into each eye. Golmyth slowly scanned again the men chained cruelly to the wall. His eyes fell on one man, who was young and strong. This man held no fear of death. Golmyth slowly stepped toward him, the gleam of evil ripping through his eye. Suddenly, without warning, he spun on his heels and slashed out with the knife. Bothail pulled his knife from his belt, and plunged his blade into the chain mail of the other guard. Both of them, caught by surprise, grunted with dissatisfaction and crumpled into two heaps on the floor, without a sound, save the silent ringing of metal. The last two split the seam at lightning speeds.
"Strip them, knave!" Bothail coughed to the freshly freed prisoner. Bothail turned to the next prisoner and freed him, too, pulling his pins from the wall. The two new companions dressed themselves into the guards chain mail, and quickly armoured themselves. They rose to their feet, and stepped in behind Bothail. The ringing swish of tiny interlocked rings echoed through the halls as the foursome stepped toward the exit door. The dim light made the exit nearly impossible to see, but being accustomed to the lighting, they were able to fairly see it. Once again, those words of the High King rolled through his mind. "I ask thee, shew me the way to the blacksmiths!"
"Good sir, I know not a way to the shop of the blacksmiths, but, lo, if I might, I wouldst be able to shew the way to the torture chambers. I have been led there many a time. I was once a leader of a small band of bandits in this green area. But, yea, I have been removed from power. My nemesis is Spikor. A small robbers free name I piked up from mine armour. This master of the Crescent has been trying to destroy my small, hopeless men. But they give not unto him that which is his. Come." He spun on his heels, leading the way past the prisoners down the dank hall way. The first door he arrived to, he stepped through. The threesome followed suit. The threatening harmonious clink of chainmail resounded off of the old stone. Small candle racks were placed evenly about every ten feet down the hall, each holding three candles. The lighting cast a gloomy, deadly look about the way.
A single, soft set of footsteps stopped the four dead in their tracks. A quick pitter patter of feet, sounding like a hurried person. The volume and quality seemed to preset a female. The long hallway showed no person. The four quietly began to move forward again, caution there every motive. Instantly, a figure darted into the hall. She wore a light coloured dress, its colour unperceptable in the dim surroundings. Her eyes caught the guards garb. She stopped quickly, spun, and fled the other way. Bothail was suddenly sprinting down the hallway, the threat of loud armour no longer in his mind. Suddenly, the rattle of armour reached their ears.
"Pursuing devils! Man, get out of the way!" Golmyth spit out the echoing words. Then Golmyth put one hand on each of his companions shoulders, and jerked them back into a door recession. His calm eyes watched the lonely figure of Bothail somewhere down the dim hall. Five guards almost dove into the hallway, from the same door as the Lady. Now it seemed, no hope existed for the Lady and Bothail, unless their simple ears percieved the audible range of warning. The five guards paused. Splitting up, two spurted down the hall, past the cowering threesome. The last three dashed the direction of the fleeing woman. "Spikor, or, should I call thee, Sikele..."
"Thou hast recieved word of me then. Speak."
"By what name does your companion live by?"
"I, good Golmyth, am Hithra. At one time, I was the Master of the Crescent. But, because of my mercy and my good, the current Master threw my soul into the dungeon. I pray thee, let not my heritage destroy good views of me!"
"Nay, Hithra. Sikele and I must needs use thee. Let us escape from this Home of Rats!" They stepped from their hiding place, and began to make their way down toward their friend, hoping beyond hope he remains alive.
His legs dug deeply into the cracks of the stone floor. The sight of a fleeing woman had instantly churned his belly, and as instinct, he lept after her. The passing lights flickered with his passing, and burned away into oblivion. His mind focused on the Lady ahead. Slowly, her fleeing figure loomed closer and closer.
"Woman! Wait!" He yelled after her. Without a rearward glance, she darted into a side door. Someone yelled something behind him. He stopped and turned. Suddenly, in the distant hall, the threesome dropped back into a door, and five guards popped from a door close enough to them to knife them. Bothail realized his plight, and jumped through the door. It was a small room, without much decoration. Apparently, it was the recieving hall to the garrisons barracks. Twenty doors lined both walls to the sides, and the facing wall. But one door had barely ceased to move. He muttered an angry curse, and ran again. Siezing the handle, he pulled. The locked door merely budged. He jerked, the wooden partition splintering from off of its hinges. Another hall. A tiny figure in the distance continued to run. He sprinted off again, his lungs beginning to burn. He felt his heart racing. Again, the female figure began to loom close. At fifty feet, her features were difficult to pick out in the dim light. Suddenly, she crumbled into a heap on the floor. Bothail froze. The silent echo of footsteps reched him. Spinning, his eyes caught three guards leaping after him. He leaned over, and lifted the limp body into his arms. Stepping into a side doorway, He felt her heavy breathing and he racing pulse. He glanced around the room.
"What luck! The armourers shop!" His eyes danced gleefully around the room, moving across the demonstration weapons held up by pins. He lept to a small crossbow. Grabbing a few bolts from the bin, he spun, hoping the candles would give him enough light to pick his targets cleanly. He loaded the arblast and dropped to his knees. The door quivered, and burst open, three guards pouring into the chamber. His finger pulled the pin holding the bow cord. The first guard toppled over, a metal sliver protruding from his back. He pulled the cord back again and dropped another bolt inside. The remaining two were leaping toward him, less than five feet of distance. Blindly he snapped the pin. Without watching, he lept to the side. Rolling to his feet, he slipped the dagger from beneath his belt. A rasp of steel told him it was a dangerous mistake. Realizing his problem now carried an expanding threat, he jumped aside, his eyes catching the blurr of steel. He spun, his eyes scanning the man before him. Then eye contact paused the man.
"Traitor!" The guard rasply whispered. He stepped toward Bothail, the menacing blade dancing around. Suddenly, the guard lunged. A quick flash and glint of light dashed beside him, as he toppled over into heap. A loud clash of steel resounded gleefully upon the stone floor. Bothail rose unwarily up. The guard lay on the ground, a small needle protruding from his back. Bothail glanced around the room, his eyes falling on the female he had carried into the room. She was on her feet, a small tube in her hand.
"Get thee hence, oh foolish man!" She chattered, raising the tube to her lips.
"Milady, I need not harm Thee. I but thank thee for my life!" He rasped, his heart pounding. He felt blood trickling down his arm.
"Nay! Leave me not!"
"'Tis such a change! Why dost thy heart falsify thy want?"
"More than this, thy life, is but a great grattitude for mine. But ask, and it is yours!"
"I have but one request. What art thou called?"
"I am known as Taun. Lady Taun of King Johns house. Thy face seemeth unto me as vaguely in familiarity. By what name art thou known?"
"To thee, milady, I am Bothail, former Master of the Eagle's realm. But 'twas supposed I was dead. It seemeth if I am to live, I would need another title. Help, I pray thee, and thou shalt have any request desired!"
"Be thou known within these walls as Liffas, the Panther from the land of spoken German! My request, is to help me regain my freedom. Let us be gone..." She dropped a needle into the tube, and pushed a few more into her hair. Scooping up a sword, she tossed it to him. He bolted the scabbard onto his waist, and hefted the crossbow to his back, where he strapped it on. Shoving a few bolts into his belt, he lifted a length of rope from the cold, stone floor.
"Come, beautiful Taun. Come to freedom!" He stepped through the hole where a door once stood, ignoring the wooden splinters cluttering the floor. He walked cautiously through the door, and glanced down the dim, dank hallway. Reaching back, he pulled the Lady into the hallway, bidding her to follow.
"Not this way! 'Tis the way to the prison and the sleeping chambers! Come. Follow me." She started to turn, but was halted by Bothail. He pulled her onward toward the hallway he had last seen his friends.
"Bothail! 'Tail! Where for hast thou gone?" The lonely voices of his companions echoed through the stone walls.
"Golmyth! 'Tis not my nemisis a moment further within these walls! Be me known as Liffas, of the great cats!" Bothail hoarsly whispered. His voice was answered by the uneasiness of the still air. "Golmyth!"
"Yea, my Lord! I answer thee, Sir Liffas. May thy claws be forever more as sharp and deadly!" The three forms slowly materialized in the hall, drifting around the corner into plain view. The hollow sound of their footsteps clanked quietly, casting a gloomy and a deathly overtone around the chamber.
As Golmyth arrived into the same area, he said "Let us fore with leave this dingy place of death! Liffas, be ye therefor acquainted unto your guards, Hithra and Sikele! Milady, I would be honoured for your acquaintance, for such a lovely beauty cannot travel without a name!" She blushed.
"Dear Sir, my title is but Lady, my name is but Taun! We have not but a moment to lose! Follow!" She spun on her heels, the men following closely behind. The dim hall resounded with the echoing of clanking, steel clad feet. A light fog enveloped the quivering flickers of candlelight. The hall came to an abrupt halt, showing a single door set deeply into the stone. Bothail reached around, his strength invigorated. A slight tug brought the door creaking open. Stone steps led up in a spiral stair case. The simple design enthralled the heart. A few indentations in the wall allowed the evil men to place candles in them, and bring light into an otherwise dark place. A fog still wafted around their ankles. The stone steps rose up toward a lone door.
"'Tis this door which leads out..." Bothail never let her finish. He burst up the steps and jerked on the old rusty handle. It came off in his hands. Kicking, he pounded furiously on the old wooden panel, hoping to burst it inward toward freedom. Then it slid open, revealing two men. Both were clad in the armour of the Shield, designating them as special people. The first swung, knocking Bothail back down the steps. Sikele launched a glinting sliver of steel, pinning him to the wooden door, a knife sticking from his belly. Sikele launched another one. The second guard snapped it up in his hands, and launched it back. Spikor groaned as the knife returned to him. His chest quivered, and fell silent, as he toppled over backwards clutching the blade. The halls suddenly filled themselves with the eternal reverberation of ringing steel. Golmyth raised a crossbow, spitting a sliver of wood. The guard jerked convulsively toward the steps, then rose. The bolt had ended in the door, barely missing his flesh. Golmyth grabbed Hithra and Taun, pulling them in retreat.
"Bothail! Lord Bothail! Dash!" Bothail jerked his blade from the scabbard with a metal rasp. The guard did the same. Shoving the blade towqard the oncoming Crecsente, he dashed toward the weapons room. Hie eyes caught the fleeing figures of Golmyth, Taun, and Hithra. Arriving at his destination, he lunged into the room. Scooping up the first large weapon he came to, he spun, ready to face his challengers, twelve pounds of layered silver hanging over his shoulder. The guard moved around the corner andf into the room. Bothail lost his footing, slipping toward the cobblestones. Rasing, he barely caught a sweeping sword where his head would have been, and his shin ended up. The clatter of metal rang profusively. Bothail raised the battle hammer with his one hand, and brought it down, clasping his second hand onto the enlaid handle as it swept over his head. The Crecsente shoved his blade into Bothail's diaphram. Bothail never got his blow to the enemy. He stepped backward from the shock, letting his forceful silver hammer splinter a cobblestone. The guard circled. Bothail felt blood trickle down his stomach. He shoved the hammer toward his enemys face. The warrior caught the edge of his blade into his hands and raised it, catching the hammer and throwing it off balance. Then, without moving his hands, he punched, the hilt flying toward Bothail. Bothail stepped quickly in behind him, and brought his palm up under his chin. The Crecsente dropped quickly, no blow delivered. The room again crashed heavily as the helm smacked onto the hard floor. The warrior rose slowly to his feet, his blade to his side. Bothail stepped in to crash a sound hit, but the warriors blade swung directly from his side, catching Bothails inner right thigh. Bothail retaliated, attempting to shove the hammer into his eye. The Crecsente moved to the side effortlessly, and proceeded to shove his razor sharp device toward Bothail. Bothail brought his hammer down, smashing it on the thigh. The blade clattered to the floor. Bothail swept his hammer toward the left shoulder, catching a full fledged hit. The Crecsente fell backwards, and jumped back to his feet. Bothail dropped his left hand to his side, pulling his twenty inch dirk from its sheath. No sound eminated from the room. The warrior noticed nothing and lunged into Bothail. Bothail stepped back from the onslaught, enabling the man to grasp his blade. Bothail stepped back into the man. The warrior swung his hilt outward again, holding the blade in his left hand. Bothail hesitated, then began to drop. The crossguard of the sword careened into Bothails left eye. Bothail suddenly shook. His sight differed from its previous quality. He knew instantly he was blind in his left eye. No more depth perception. Suddenly, his instinct kicked in. Bothail jumped into the air, feeling something glide barely beneath his feet. Bothail glanced back toward his opponent, who was still momentarily crouched from his ducking blow. Bothail kicked out, the ball of his foot finding its mark. The Crecsente toppled over. Bothail launched his dirk into thew mans chest. The soldier quivered, then lay still.
"Beautiful. I couldn't have done better myself, although your eye might never work again." Bothail looked up. Sikele held his fatal weapon, blood still on the extremity of the high carbon blade.
"Next time, lend a hand. Okay?"
"What? But you worked so hard to get that! I couldn't..."
"Then forever hold your peace, Coward!" Bothail shouted at the man.
"But, remember. I was indeed dead, and now have risen to save thy shamed soul for bringing such a pity upon..." He never finished. The rasped of steel stopped him short. He glanced directly to the side of his head. The warriors blade protruded from the stone wall. It quivered momentarily, causing fear within Sikele's mind. SIkele glanced back. Bothail wore a look of pure anger.
"I am used to being obeyed. Listen, fool, before you get it in your head next time! When I tell you to or not to do something, obey me!" He spun and disappeared through the doorway in the direction his other companions had gone. "Come..."
They trotted back down the hallway.