Knights of the Couch - Part V - The Disappearing Ships
“The Black Adders you say?” Captain Gelpas asked from his seat behind the desk in his office. The room was somewhat crowded. Glorfindle, Elvisda, and Aksel were all there. Seated in front of them was their “prisoner”, the hapless archer, Martin.
Martin had been retelling his story to the Captain. He did not look very comfortable at the moment, and Gelpas’s burning gaze was not doing much to put him at ease. “Yes,” Martin continued, “as I said before, they are a sect of the Serpent Cult”.
“And this Serpent Cult you speak of is what exactly?” Gelpas questioned.
Martin took a deep breath and answered “A group of dark magicians who worship serpents. Many of them can change into snake form. They are based in Serpents Hollow.”
“And you were accompanying this dark wizard, Voltark, did you say?” Gelpas inquired. Martin nodded. “Voltark, then,” Gelpas continued, “to Restonford. And what was his business here?”
“I was never told,” Martin replied anxiously. “They weren’t exactly the trusting types. They kept their business pretty much to themselves.”
“And the whole time you were with them, you never overheard anything?” Gelpas asked with obvious doubt.
Martin looked down and sighed. Then he looked back up directly in the Captain’s eyes and said “Look, as I told you earlier, I was just a hireling. It was my job to lead them to Restonford. I spent most of my time ahead of the party scouting. I was hardly around them most of the time, and whenever I was, they would stop talking. So I really don’t know much of anything about what they were planning.”
Martin finished and continued to stare at the Captain. Gelpas stared right back and drummed his fingers upon his desk. Finally he got up and motioned for the others to join him outside in the hallway. As they exited, he closed the door behind them. A single guard stood outside next to the door. “We’ll be right back,” Gelpas told him.
The Captain led them down the hall and into another room. This one was rather plain, with a table and a number of chairs surrounding it. The banner of Restonford was hung on one wall. “Please sit down gentlemen” Gelpas told the little group. They all took seats with the Captain sitting at the head of the table. “Well, what do you think of his story?” Gelpas asked.
“Well,” Elvisda was the first to respond, “It is true that elves of Kai-Arborous are not very trustful of humans. If Martin had been found in the vicinity of the city, it is not at all surprising that he ended up in one of their jails, even if he had not really done anything illegal.”
“But what about these Black Adders and this Serpent Cult?” Gelpas posed.
“There are many dark magic practitioners in the world,” Glorfindle began. “And the control of serpents and shape shifting into serpent form is a quite real branch of the dark arts. However,” the elf wizard paused, “these practitioners are not notoriously the kind of folk to band together. Dark magic users are not exactly a trusting lot, even of each other. So if there is a group of serpent worshipping dark magicians out there, we might be in for a bit of trouble.”
“Whether this Serpent Cult exists or not Captain, I can assure you that these Black Adders were definitely real. That body we brought back with us belongs to the dark wizard Voltark, head of that group. And he had quite a crew with him,” Elvisda took over the conversation. “If we didn’t have the Golem with us, we would have had a hard time beating them.”
“Ahem”, Aksel cleared his throat. “I think what the Captain is asking is whether we believe that Martin was an unwilling participant in all this or not. What I can tell you is that his motives are not evil. Whatever, he may have gotten himself involved in he meant no harm to anyone. But if you can hang onto him until tomorrow, I can cast a spell which will detect if he is lying at all.”
Gelpas was quiet for a moment then responded “I am inclined to agree with you, Master Aksel. I do not detect any ill intent in his story or behavior. So I too believe that the archer was just an unwitting participant in this affair. But we will hold onto him till tomorrow as you suggest. The Baron will want to hear his story first hand anyway. But what really troubles me then is that this dark wizard and his companions were headed to this town for the gods only know what reason.”
“That is why we brought the body of the wizard back with us as well Captain,” Aksel replied. “If you can hold on to it until tomorrow as well, then I can use a spell to talk to Voltark’s spirit and see if we can get more information from it on what his purpose was in coming to Restonford.”
“Very good,” Gelpas said. “We’ll keep the dark wizard’s body and the archer under guard here in the castle.
He stood up and continued, “I need to inform the Baron on what has transpired here. We will expect your return tomorrow morning to continue the interrogation in this matter.”
They all got up and followed Gelpas out into the hall. “Till tomorrow then,” the Captain said then he turned and headed down the corridor in the direction of the throne room.
As Aksel, Glorfindle, and Elvisda were leaving the castle, one of the guards stopped them. It was Francis, the guard who had befriended them and named them the Knights of the Couch.
“So how do you like my new name for your order?” Francis asked as he walked up to the group grinning.
“It’s not a name I would have picked myself,” Elvisda replied.
Francis looked hurt.
“…but, it will probably grow on me given time” the bard amended.
“Well, you can always call yourselves the KOTC for short” Francis said dubiously.
“The KOTC?” Elvisda responded. “It kind of has a ring to it.”
“Not to be rude or anything,” Aksel interjected, “but it’s been a long day and we have to be back here early tomorrow.”
“Yes, right,” the bard replied. “Please excuse us Francis.”
“Certainly,” Francis said, his grin returning. He waved them off as they walked down the road.
The next morning the entire KOTC headed to the castle together. On their way up the hill towards the keep, they noticed a bunch of wagons parked outside castle. When they got to the gate, Francis was on duty once again.
“Guard duty again?” Elvisda asked him.
“Yeah,” Francis replied. “We are all pulling double shifts, with the party coming up and all.”
“What party?” Aksel asked.
“You don’t know?” Francis replied incredulously. “I thought everyone in town knew.”
“You’ll have to forgive us, but we’re still new to the area, and we’ve been out of town a lot, fighting monsters and such,” Elvisda replied.
“Well that makes sense,” Francis responded. “Anyway, the Lady Andrella’s 18th birthday is coming up in a few days. And the guests and entertainment are starting to arrive already. It’s a really big event. I hear even the Duke of Dunwynn himself is going to attend.”
“Hmmm,” Elvisda said, “that does sound like a big event. I wonder if the Baron will need any more entertainment…”
The group headed inside the castle and met Captain Gelpas. He led them to the familiar meeting room adjunct to the throne room. Inside Grellus, Fairwind and Andrella all were seated waiting for them. Gelpas sent a guard for Martin while the group relayed their side of the story to the royal family first hand.
When Martin arrived, he was seated down across from the Baron. Aksel cast his “Zone of Truth” spell and Martin proceeded to relate his story once again to them all. When he was finished, there was no doubt he was telling the truth, but that still left them with a lot of unanswered questions.
“Well,” Grellus spoke after a few moments of silence, “you were obviously an unwilling participant in all this. And you’ve give us a lot of information we would not have otherwise had. So, my young friend, you are free to go.”
Martin looked at the Baron and then at the Baroness with disbelief. Then he said, “That’s it? I’m really free.”
Elvisda stood up and walked behind the archer. “You heard the Baron. You’re free.” Then the bard reached into his purse and pulled out some coins. He handed them to Martin and said, “Here. As the Baron said, you gave us a lot of information. This is for your time and trouble.”
Martin looked down at the coins in his hand and then up at the bard. A tear filled his one eye. Then he said, “This is the first kindness anyone has shown me in a long, long time. Thank you. Thank you all,” he said turning to the entire table.”
The Baroness smiled and nodded her approval to Elvisda for his act. The Baron smiled as well and said, “Very good. Gelpas, please have our friend Martin here escorted out of the castle.”
Gelpas called a guard in and he left with the archer.
“Well now,” the Baron said, the smile fading from his lips, “we know a lot, but there is still a lot we don’t know. If you are up to it Master Aksel, perhaps we can see what this rogue wizard was up to.”
“I’ll try my best your lordship,” the cleric responded.
Gelpas stepped out and then returned. A minute later, two guards came in carrying the dead wizard’s body, wrapped in cloth. They placed it on the table and left the room.
Aksel stood over the body and prepared himself. Then he cast his spell of Speak with Dead. An eerie feeling crept across the room. It was almost as if a hole had been punctured in the air in the center of the room over the body. Waves of darkness seemed to emanate from the hole, spreading uneasiness around the room. Then a disembodied head appeared floating above the dark wizard’s corpse. It had the features of Voltark.
Most of the participants seemed unaffected by this visage. The Baron looked grim but determined. The Baroness Fairwind was cool and calm, fixing the image with an icy stare. Gelpas stood at the Baron’s side in a defensive posture. Glorfindle did not seem impressed by the spirit. Elvisda seemed unimpressed as well. Aksel of course was in deep concentration. Seth had a bored look on his face. Lloyd was mesmerized, but not scared. Andrella, however, seemed unnerved. She was sitting next to Lloyd and inched closer to him as the visage stared around the room malevolently. When it turned to look at her, she grabbed his arm and held on tight. The big warrior did not seem to mind.
“Ahem,” Aksel cleared his throat. “You who were known as Voltark in this life, we have called you hear to answer our questions.”
The head turned to look at Aksel, but said nothing.
“Why were you headed to Restonford?” the young cleric asked.
Voltark’s spirit remained silent.
Aksel waited a minute and then said “What was your mission here?”
The bodiless apparition did not respond. It continued to glower around the room.
Aksel waited a bit more, then he tried one more time.“What did you hope to accomplish once you got here?”
The spirit continued to be uncooperative.
Finally, Aksel, turned to the Baron and said, “It’s no use. I cannot seem to control him.”
“Very well,” Grellus replied, “release him.”
Aksel turned and with a wave of his hand sent the spirit of Voltark back to the plane it had been called from. The oppressiveness in the room lifted and Andrella noticeably relaxed. Then she realized that she was holding onto Lloyd’s arm, and she let go quickly, blushing.
Elvisda, ever observant, smiled at the big warblade, but Lloyd was too busy blushing himself to notice.
“Sorry your lordship,” Aksel was saying. “If you want to hold onto the body, I can try again in seven days.”
Grellus was about to reply when Fairwind interjected, “Although it would be good to try this again, we have Andrella’s party coming up. With all the planned festivities, I think it would put a damper on things knowing this dark creature’s vessel still resides in the castle.”
The Baron nodded his head in agreement. “You are very wise my dear. Glorfindle, you are apprenticed now to our friend Peltar, are you not?”
“Yes your lordship,” the elf wizard replied.
“Do you think you could take the body to him and ask if he could keep it under wraps until we are ready to try again?” the Baron said.
“I could ask him your lordship,” Glorfindle replied.
“Very good,” the Baron said. “Now that that’s settled, we can concentrate on Andrella’s birthday party.” He turned and took his wife’s hands in his. They smiled at each other.
Everyone else got up and began to shuffle out of the room. Andrella remained seated, but her eyes never left Lloyd.
“Oh,” Grellus suddenly said turning around towards the departing group, “Elvisda?”
“Yes, your lordship?” the bard replied.
“Would you be able to play at Andrella’s birthday party?” the Baron asked.
“Why I would be honored your lord and ladyship,” Elvisda said with a bow and a flourish. Then he walked over to Andrella grabbing Lloyd by the arm and dragging the big man with him.
“My drummer here and I would love to play all your favorite tunes my lady,” the bard said to Andrella. “Can you please tell us what they are?”
The young noblewoman began to blush again but quickly recovered as all eyes in the room were on her. “I would be happy to provide you with a list.”
“Excellent,” the bard replied. He pushed Lloyd down into the seat next to Andrella. “My drummer here can work on the list with you. I have to go off and begin making preparations. I need to check all my instruments and outfits and stage equipment…”
“I understand good bard,” Andrella interrupted him. “He will do just fine,” she said looking directly at Lloyd.
Lloyd looked down at the table in front of him and shifted in his chair uncomfortably.
Across the table the Baron and Baroness smiled at each other knowingly.
Aksel, Seth, Elvisda and Glorfindle stood outside the guard station at the castle gate. A box containing the dead mage Voltark’s body sat next to them. They were waiting for a cart to be brought up to the entrance so they could load the box onto it and then head over to Peltar’s house.
As they looked outside the keep, they could see a number of wagons were parked down the hillside leading into town. Quite a few tents had been pitched as well. “Looks like the party entertainment has begun to arrive,” Glorfindle observed.
“Yes,” Elvisda responded rubbing his hands together excitedly. “Care to join me while I check out the competition?”
“Francis?” the elf wizard called.
The guard came out of the station and said “What can I do for you my friends?”
“Do you think you can keep an eye on this box for us while we peruse the entertainment outside?” the elf wizard replied.
“Sure”, the guard responded. “I’m on guard duty anyway for the rest of the day. Might as well stand out here and take in the sights.”
“Thanks,” Glorfindle answered with a grin. Then he turned to Elvisda and said “Lead on.” Seth and Aksel both shrugged and followed along.
They made their way down hill and followed the bard as he wandered through the camp. Elvisda zigged and zagged through the makeshift accommodations, stopping to talk with the various performers and stage hands. There were jugglers, acrobats, clowns, stage magicians, and other bards. Elvisda was in his element, trading stories, telling jokes and playing a tune or two. The rest of the KOTC members were quite intrigued to see the bard like this. It seemed that Elvisda really was quite well known, most of the other entertainers either directly acquainted with him or knowing of him by his reputation.
The little group continued to follow the bard around when he suddenly stopped short. A plaintive female voice could be heard singing along with a melancholy tune from somewhere to their right. Elvisda turned and headed in that direction. They skirted a large tent and came across a crowd gathered around a beautiful woman with long flowing blonde hair standing on a makeshift stage. She wore a frilly white tunic, with a forest green vest, tight brown pants, and long brown boots. She held a lute in her hands and was deftly strumming the sad tune. Her melodic voice seemed to enthrall the crowd of performers.
Elvisda stopped a few paces back from the crowd and motioned for the others to halt as well. The group stood there until the female bard finished her performance and most of the crowd had finished clapping and dispersed. When it was obvious that the last few admirers were not going to leave, Elvisda began to clap loudly from where he stood. “Bravo!” he called out.
The female bard looked over and saw the elf bard in his white rhinestone studded outfit. Recognition seemed to cross her face, and she excused herself and walked over.
“That was very nicely done,” Elvisda said to the woman.
“Thank you,” she said with a small smile. Then she took on a quizzical expression and said. “You wouldn’t be the bard…”
“Elvisda”, the elf bard finished for her, bowing deeply. “At your service, Miss…” he added questioningly.
“Shalla,” she replied.
“Shalla,” Elvisda repeated, “A lyrical name for a lyrical lady.”
She smiled and replied, “I see your reputation is well deserved. You are both handsome and charming.”
“I am merely inspired by beauty” the elf bard replied smoothly.
“Touché,” she said laughing and blushing somewhat. “If your singing is half as good as your charm, I am in trouble.”
“Well, let us take out our lutes and see for ourselves,” Elvisda said un-strapping his instrument from his back.
The two went back to the makeshift stage. “You’ve already hear me play,” Shall said. “I think it is your turn.”
“As you wish,” Elvis said, leaping deftly onto the makeshift stage. He began strumming and a crowd began to gather. The bard continued to play some minor melodies and joke with the crowd until almost everyone in the area had gathered around. Then he launched into his main performance. It was electrifying. The elf bard held the crowd mesmerized as he danced around the makeshift stage while keeping the music going. Never missing a beat, he continued to move, play his lute and belt out a melody in a superb contralto voice.
Glorfindle turned to Aksel and Seth and said “He really is quite good.”
Aksel replied “Yes, isn’t he.”
Seth said, “Not too bad at all.”
When it was over, the crowd clapped and cheered and begged for more. Not wanting to disappoint, Elvisda conceded to an encore, but only if the lady bard Shalla would join him.
Shalla accepted his gallant proposal and took the stage next to the elf bard. The two put their heads together for a few moments and then began strumming their lutes moving to separate sides of the stage. Then they turned towards each other and began what turned out to be a marvelous duet. The two bards moved around each other as they sang and took turns singing their parts. Shalla was very playful on stage and Elvisda responded to it in kind. It was very fun to watch. When they were done, the crowd went wild. The clapping and cheering went on for ten minutes before completely dying down.
Elvisda was talking with Shalla on stage, then jumped down and came over to the group.
“That was amazing,” Glorfindle said. Seth and Aksel nodded in agreement.
“Thank you friends,” the bard said smiling appreciatively.
“Looks like you made a new friend over there,” the elf wizard said nodding towards Shalla.
Elvisda looked back over his shoulder and said, “Yes, I believe I have.” Shalla saw him looking over and waved at him with a shy smile across her lips.
He turned back to them and had a broad grin on his face. “Shalla and I had a brief discussion and decided it might benefit us to spend some time training together before the Lady Andrella’s party. We seem to perform well together and might even do a duet.”
“Well then,” Glorfindle said, “go ahead and train with your new partner. We can handle carting Voltark’s body over to Peltar’s without you.”
“Great!” Elvisda exclaimed. “Thanks guys” he responded exuberantly. He winked and then turned and headed back to the lady bard. They clasped arms and walked off together.
“Well, guess we won’t be seeing him for a few days,” Aksel commented.
“Probably not,” Glorfindle replied.