Clouds fashioned a misty veil around the branches of the Machoann trees, embracing the Elven village of Tarlis-Leah. A lone figure, hooded and robed in gray, to blend with moonlight and shadow, stole across the darkened bedchamber.
Guided by a stunted candle, flickering fitfully on a small bedside table, the thief knelt at the end of the bed, pulled a golden key from her pocket, and fitted it to a lock attached to a carved wooden chest.
The lock clicked ominously into the silence.
The thief tensed and a bead of perspiration trickled down her back.
The occupant of the bed slept on. The sleeping draught she had administered earlier had achieved its desired result.
She lifted the trunk’s heavy lid and again the silence broke.
The thief stilled.
Vellandril Ballindoch groaned, rolled over and mumbled several words, then settled. A sigh slipped between the thief’s lips, and she stroked the handle of the small poniard at her waist. She would not be thwarted in this plan. Revenge was such a sweet word. She could taste it on her lips.
Wrapped in a soft red cloth, buried deep among Vellandril’s clothes, she found that which she sought. Her hands trembled as she claimed her prize. The Sword of Niraz felt light, not at all what she expected from such a large weapon.
Now the elf would pay for all the suffering and lost summers, all the pain and humiliation. Gently, she closed the trunk and crept toward the window where an Elven rope, soft, thin and durable, dangled from a nearby branch. Rewrapping the sword deftly in a dark cloth, she strapped it to her back, stepped into a loop formed in the fine but tough Elven rope, and descended into the darkness of the forest.
Gabriene rode from the cover of several tall oaks and stared at Baron Tollnak’s squat gray Castle at the bottom of the cliff. Angry and upset on hearing of his friend’s death, Gabrienne had ridden with his grandfather to meet with Jon’s father to gain answers.
Sir Gwayne eased his mare up alongside him and called the fifteen knights behind them to a halt. He raised a shaggy eyebrow at Gabrienne. “What are you waiting for? I thought you would be through the gates by now, demanding to know why Tollnak has not avenged Jon’s death.”
“And so I would, if the gates were open.”
Gwayne’s eyes narrowed and he struggled with his long distance vision. “Not like Tollnak. Not at all, yet with Jon’s cowardly murder, I suppose one cannot to too careful.” Gwayne raised his arm. “Proceed! But go with caution.” He waved the soldiers on, and their horses thundered across the field. However, they were no more than half the distance to the castle moat when the drawbridge dropped, the portcullis rose and twenty armored knights in scarlet capes and black and red shields cantered over the bridge and spread in a defensive line before them.
The silver visors, which shone in the brilliant morning sun, hid their identities. Their livery was unfamiliar to Gabrienne. Only one rider was not dressed as a knight and wore no helmet, yet still, his or her face lay concealed within a deep, gray cowl.
He recognized the cloak as Elven as it was the same as the one the king gifted him with at his coming of age ceremony.
Sir Gwayne motioned the Knights of the Stars to proceed, but two hundred paces before the unfamiliar riders the stranger riders stopped. Horses snorted and whinnied in protest, reared and pawed the air. The jingle of bridle and harness broke harshly in the cold crisp morning. Gwayne and Gabrienne wheeled their horses, forming a line of defense, and Gwayne instructed his men to follow suit, matching the rank of strange knights.
The leader of the red knights rode forward from beside the figure in gray to confront Gwayne.
“Where is Baron Tollnak?” Gwayne demanded.
“Dead,” the squat knight’s voice echoed from his visor. “This land no longer belongs to the Dragon King. ’Tis now the property of the House of le Mordah, by right of conquest.”
“The Barony of le Mordah died out with the death of Madric le Mordah twenty-one summers ago.” Gwayne bristled. “I demand you state your name.”
“Wiliame le Mordah. Baron Wiliame le Mordah.”
Gabrienne noted Gwayne’s slight hesitation, before he spoke again. “How and when did Baron Tollnak die?”
“Two days past and he died on the end of my rope. As you will should you not take your men and quit my land!”
“I shall see you dead first!” Gwayne struck at le Mordah, but the sword blow deflected, as a dark-haired knight in le Mordah’s colors leaned in, giving the gray-cloaked figure time to push forward and pass le Mordah a large ornamental sword.
The sword glowed and began to hum. With one fluid movement, Gabrienne watched le Mordah round and slice through Sir Milroy’s arm, the knight cried out, then le Mordah pulled back, twisted and put the blade through Sir Richard’s side.
Sir Richard grunted and dropped his sword, and Gabrienne repelled a blow from another enemy. He then, struck Sir Richard’s gelding on the rump and sent it cantering into the trees.
Gabrienne turned in search of his grandfather, saw him heavily engaged, and cut a swathe to Gwayne’s side. Gabrienne fighting with sword and dagger felled a man with a knife hilt to the jaw and a swift dagger across the throat, then twisted in time to send another enemy toppling from his horse with a ferocious slash of his crystal dagger finding its way through the man’s ribs.
Gabrienne heard his grandfather’s cry of retreat, plunged his sword into the belly of a red knight, wheeled, and rode, but as he gained the safety of the trees and the Knights of the Stars regrouped, he noted he and his grandfather were the only ones to survive unscathed.
The sword le Mordah carried was no ordinary sword, the magickal blade glowed with a white light as he fought, and any who stood in his path were struck down. It cut into their defenses like silver-fire into steel.
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