Swords and A Squandering Snail: Dramatic Entrances

As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.

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One: Dramatic Entrances

Once again, we found ourselves in a tavern I could call acceptable only with extreme charity. I rested my back against cool stone. It was the only place I didn’t expect to sprout a blade. The few broken and bent people in that establishment had a nefarious look I knew only too well. Woe the individual with coin in purse—that person would likely lose coin, blood, or both.

Beside me sat Sabrine, my cousin. Beautiful, unforgiving and probably smarter than three of me with our heads together, she had wrapped herself in a dark cloak that obscured her shape. It protected her from prying eyes, meaning every male in the establishment who didn’t sit at our table.

A hood and heavy cloak hid Drustan’s features and thick body. Though the quarter called “the Temples” in Bowden had that egalitarian bent I had seen in other slums, we didn’t want to press the acceptance of the mob. He crouched over the table, his arms crossed before him, his face melting into the shadows of the hood.

Cade all but sprawled in his chair, apparently unconcerned with the intentions of those around us. He had his legs stretched out before him and his arm hung over the back of his chair. He had chosen this tavern as he had a connection with whom he wished to speak.

Only a sprinkling of denizens sat throughout the room. They shared the worn, hopeless look of the building itself. The tables, like the patrons, looked as though they had seen many hard years. I could barely swallow the ale and feared attempting any of the wine I had seen others drink.

“You should whip up a spell to remove the bite of this drink,” Sabrine said.

I laughed at that. “I can barely control the magic that touches me. I’d likely turn the ale to oil and leave you with a lantern for a drink.”

“And that’s why you dream of Highstone?” Cade asked. “You think you might find some answers to your magic there?”

“I couldn’t tell you,” I said. “I don’t know much about Highstone, save its reputation.”

“You say this friend of yours studied at Highstone?” Drustan spoke in his usual gravelly croak.

“Studied, though not as a wizard,” Cade said. “She supports herself as a minstrel but has an insatiable curiosity for the ancient and legendary. She sought out answers at Highstone, but really only found tantalizing clues. Those led her here.”

I looked about at the room in which we sat. It rose up some three stories, with stairs leading to a balcony on the second story but not to the one on the third. I wondered how one might reach that. The smoke of the few candles that provided dim illumination rose up to disappear in the darkness above us.

“What could she hope to find here?” I asked.

“Secrets,” Cade said. “Secrets that we can use against the Church.”

“Then it’s worth the risk,” Sabrine said. “But I don’t want to wait much longer. The word has likely spread of the four people lounging in this tavern who don’t look like they are starving and might have some money.”

Cade rose. “She said she worked in the gambling den, which should be somewhere nearby or attached.”

Drustan put his hand on Cade’s arm. “I doubt wandering about on your own would be wise.”

At that moment, a man stumbled through the door. He almost fell before catching a table and righting himself. He wore clothes that may once have been fine, given the embroidery still apparent, but hung like rags from his thin limbs. He had a gaunt face with bright, ice-blue eyes. He gasped as he held the table.

Behind him came seven armoured figures. I stiffened. The lead figure wore the armour of a Holy Knight while those who followed him I marked as Initiates. Could they have found us?

The man turned and began to back away. The Holy Knight pointed at him. “Your terror is at an end. Now you will tell us where you have hidden the staves.”

“Gentlemen, I believe you are mistaken,” the man said. “You do not serve the one true god, only a usurper of gentle gods.”

The Holy Knight surged forward, delivering a backhanded strike to the man’s face. The meaty sound of impact seemed to echo to the rafters. The man rolled with the blow, twisting away. He still faced the Holy Knight. He did not appear injured. His face had no mark on it.

The man smiled. “Ah, the gentle word of the supreme deity, yes?”

The Holy Knight spat in the man’s face. “Your words are as twisted as your masters.”

With that, the Holy Knight gestured toward the man. The Initiates approached, daggers drawn. Cade, still standing, turned to Sabrine. “We can’t leave this.”

“You heard his words,” Drustan said. “He too offers secrets against the Church, and they intend to silence him.”

The Initiates began to beat the man with the pommels of their daggers. He threw up his arms, perhaps hoping to protect himself from the blows, but he faced six men. He shouted, but did not call for help. What help would he expect in this rat’s den?

Without a thought, I stood. The Holy Knight turned and he seemed to notice us. He slid his greatsword out of the scabbard on his back. Like all the blades of those false knights, it had an engraved paean to the god Herotus and a prayer for potency in battle. The etching seemed to suck in the faint light of the room. He let the tip rest on the ground, as though standing guard against us.

“What crime has that man committed?” Cade asked.

“It is not your concern, citizen.” The Holy Knight’s helm muffled his voice, but it still had the force of command behind it.

“It’s our concern if you are beating an innocent man,” I said.

Sabrine frowned at me. I knew her unspoken comment was right. Why would we face seven Knights of the Holy Mount, even if six of them were Initiates? Engaging superior numbers is never a good strategy.

“Are you in league with this servant of evil that you would speak on his behalf?” the Holy Knight asked.

“Servant of evil?” Drustan rose.

I heard Sabrine groan as she reached beneath her cloak. We had come to know that tone in Drustan’s voice. He didn’t like seeing the weak attacked. He didn’t like the Church. He didn’t like sanctimonious, self-righteousness. He had all that within easy reach of that spear of his, and so that is exactly what he drew out from beneath the table.

Spear in hand, Drustan turned on the Holy Knight. “You are the servant of evil, you and your weak-livered cronies. I will bathe my blade in your blood and send you screaming to your god.”

“I know you, Drustan of Teyrs, the Half-Orc.” The Holy Knight went to guard with his greatsword. “You will surrender yourself and your compatriots to trial by the Blessed and Loyal Military Order of the Holy Mount in the name of myself, Brother-Sergeant Heston of the Mount. Divest yourselves of your weapons.”

In answer, Drustan drew a dirk, more sword than knife. While I revelled in calling forth the power I had found buried deep in my heart, I knew we had put our feet in something foul that would take a fair effort to scrape off. My magic wasn’t strong enough to tip the scales in this contest. Before Drustan could close with the Holy Knight calling himself Heston, I grabbed the crossbow from beside my chair. I knew the weak point in the armour of the Holy Knights.

The Holy Knight took a step back. “Iolan, Metres, to me.”

And I released. The bolt slammed into the Holy Knight’s breastplate, though not where I had intended. It did not pierce, but knocked him back a step. With a howl, Drustan stepped in, swinging his broad-bladed spear. Off balance, the Holy Knight failed to counter the attack. Drustan’s spear glanced off the armour, but again drove the Holy Knight back.

The Initiates had turned from the beating of the defenceless man and drew their swords.

“We’re in the thick of it now.” Cade had his sword in his hand.

“It would be a fine time for your friend to arrive.” Sabrine nocked an arrow to her bow. “Your friend and about ten others ready for a fight.”

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Swords and A Squandering Snail continues in “The Minstrel and the Prophet.”

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