Friday, September 10, 2010

Love and Justice

Zender looked back over his shoulder while driving the wagon. Most of the children were sleeping, even with the morning light shining down on them. There was one, a small girl, no more than seven or eight years old with long blond hair chatting with William. While Zender had not known the big man very long, he had never seen the man as happy as he was in that moment. Once they carried the children from the dungeon, it seemed a great weight was lifted from all of them. The fear that clung to them in the dark was abolished by the morning light. Looking past William, Zender could see Hans and Zackary. Zackary warmed right up to the mercenary. Zender only hoped that letting Hans live wasn’t a mistake.

“Pay attention priest before you drive us off into the forest.” Lomark remarked. Zender snapped his head back around and pulled on the reigns to set the wagon back on the well worn path. “You know we are not done down there, we have done nothing but delay the cultist plans, whatever that may be. If they discover that we slipped out with the children, they will just go find more.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it, do you still have the papers we found? The sheriff will want to see them.”

“What if the sheriff is in on the plot? Can you trust him priest? Many good men turn a blind eye to evil for a bag of gold.” Zender only shook his head at the wizard.

“Not everyone is like you Lomark, hiding their true self. I see who you are and you are not the image you present.”

“Baaaaaaaah, you know nothing priest.” Lomark said as he snapped his book closed. “Do not pretend to know the darkness inside of me.” As Zender started to laugh the wizard squinted his eyes, “what do you find so humorous priest?”

“You are about as dark as the underside of a fluffy bunny rabbit rolling around in the fields, warming itself in the sun. Everyone has darkness inside of them Lomark but true evil, I do not see it in you.”

“Perhaps you are just blinded by the sun you worship.” With that Lomark pulled his hood back over his head and opened his spell book again. Zender shook his head at the wizard again and gave the horses another slap with the reigns. The forest around them faded away to grassland and they were soon on a main road to town. Sometime after noon the group rode into the main section of town. In his mind Zender expected to see some kind of welcoming party, like something from the stories he had read as a child. Instead all he saw was some fool standing along the side of the road with his mouth hanging open. Zender could only shake his head at the wide eyed young man in his wide brimmed hat, with that absurd feather sticking out of the top. When the dirt roads fell away and ran into the cobble stone streets Zender stood up on the wagon and called out to Zackary.

“Zack, you and William take Hans to the inn. Get some food, get some rest. Lomark and I are going to deliver the little ones to the sheriff. We are going to be on our way back to deal with those cult members before the sun sets, understood?”

“Aye laddy! Food, ale and wenches til it is time ta fight again.” Zackary smiled at the cleric before turning away on his mount. “Come along lads, there be mugs to drain.” Zender turned back to watch the three ride away, the small blond girl was waving to William, as he was waving to her, with a simple smile on his face.

“Interesting, you send Zackary to an inn and expect him to function later. Yes, very interesting.” Lomark remarked from under his hood. Zender decided he had enough of the wizard for the moment and ignored the remark.

“We are almost to the sheriff. You should take off that hood and put a smile on your face. We wouldn’t want to scare the children.” Zender could see the wizard shaking his head inside of his hood. With a smile on his face he had the horses pick up the pace. More than anything Zender was eager to return the children to their families, the faster they handed them off to Sheriff York, the faster they would be at home in their own beds. He also wanted to give him the papers they had found, letters from Bishop Drent pleading with the cultist for more time to find the children they needed. Part of him also wanted to be there when Drent was arrested for his crimes. Zender only hoped that the reputation of the order was not too damaged by what Drent had done.

“Whoa” Zender called out to the horses as he pulled back on the reigns to get them to stop. So deep in thought about what was to come, he had nearly driven past the jail house. As Zender started to climb down from the wagon, he saw one of the guardsmen come out of the building. The guardsman looked from Zender to the children in the back of the wagon and went straight back inside. “Lomark, help the children down from the wagon I am going inside.” Zender ignored the remarks the wizard made to his back and walked straight into the building. From the door Zender could see the guard that had come out. He was standing near a door, hand held up as if he was about to knock on the door, yet he was frozen. As Zender moved past the front counter he understood why. The voice on the other side of the door was one of pure fury. As Zender stood along side of the guardsman, he asked, “Who is in there?” When the guard did not answer right away, Zender placed his hand over the raised fist of the guardsman, pushing it down. “Who is in there I asked?”

“One of the Red Falcon Guard.” The guard said.

“The Kings personal guard? Why are they involved in this?”

"That fool Silvermorn had a fit one night and started spouting off gibberish. From the corrupted souls of the innocent, comes creeping death. Blackened wings will fly in the night to devour the crown and spread blight. Silvermorn told the king it had something to do with the missing kids. Damn court wizards always make things cryptic. Well Captain Herschel took it as a threat. He tends to take that kind of thing seriously. At first, Darius was going to call in the military. York pleaded with the king to be allowed to handle this. Truth be told, he didn’t want the military called in, running all over the capital, pushing him under the rug. Not that I blame him, one little thing like this and the military would be running the constables for a year. One of the search parties that York sent out was found slaughtered. They are not too happy with York right now. It has been over a week and the king wants results, not excuses.”

“So instead of telling him that we have some of the missing children, you are going to stand there and listen to your leader get lambasted. Where is your loyalty man?” Zender shook his head at the man and stepped in front of him. Knocking on the door once halted all talking from inside of the office. “Sheriff York, it is Zender. Could you please come out, we have some good news.” As the door opened, Zender saw the man who had been doing all of the shouting. While he had heard many stories of the Red Falcon Guard, the stories never seemed to measure up to the real thing. When he thought of it later, all he could say was that the man was impressive. Yet in his mind, impressive seemed too small a word to describe the man he saw and the feeling he had when standing under that steel eyed gaze. Looking from York to the man in the Red Falcon Guard tunic Zender wasn’t sure who he should address. “Gentlemen, my companions and I were able to rescue twelve of the missing children. While I regret to inform you that the others were sacrificed by some dark cult, we were able to safely return the ones we found.”

“Thank the gods.” York said while pressing his hands to his face. “Where are they Zender?” Zender waved a hand hoping to lead the men outside only to turn around and see all of the children standing in the door, Lomark was standing behind them all, his arms stretched out to either side. He said nothing, only nodding his head once before turning to leave.

“I also have these.” Zender said as he removed a bundle of scrolls from one of the pockets in his robes. The man from the Red Falcon Guard stepped forward and held out his hand. “They are letters from; I am ashamed to say, from Bishop Drent of the temple of Solarth, to the leader of the cult. It would seem he accepted gifts for having children delivered to them. I only ask that you punish the man, not the entire temple. As far as I know, none of my brothers had any knowledge of this.”

“His fate and the fate of the temple will be up to King Darius and the king alone.” Zender looked at the man as he spoke; true fear began to form around his heart. “York, I expect you will be able to handle getting these children to where they belong. I expect a full report for Captain Herschel before the sun sets. Is that understood Sheriff York?”

“Yes sir, before the sun sets you will have it and the children will be safe in the arms of their mothers by then as well.” York looked like a man who had been physically beaten.

“Do not fail the King. Also, thank the priest; he may have saved your job.” With that the man left the jail house. Never once looking back at those he left behind. Zender looked at York once that red tunic was out of sight. York could only shake his head at the priest.

“Who was that?” Zender asked quietly, as if the man was still about.

“Does it matter? Now, get out of here unless you have something else to tell me. Come back tomorrow and I will see that you are given your reward. That is if you and the rest of you priest are not in the stocks before then.” Zender just nodded his head at the Sheriff and left him with the children. As he rejoined Lomark on the street outside of the jail house, he wondered what would happen to Bishop Drent. Part of him wanted to go directly to the temple and face Drent. Another part of him was terrified of what would happen if he did that, afraid of what he might do. Fear was not something Zender ever handled well. It just wasn’t something he was used to. So lost in thought he was, he had not noticed that they had walked all the way to the inn.

“You are coming in yes?” Lomark asked the bewildered priest. Zender shook his head and looked at the wizard. As he looked at Lomarks face a thought dawned on him. He had nothing to fear. This was not the fault of the temple. This was not the fault of his god. One man ignored the teachings of the good god and gave into greed. This was not a question of his faith. As he placed a single hand on his war hammer, Zender knew he had nothing to fear. Drent knew what he was doing when he abandoned his faith and gave into evil. As a small smile formed on his face Zender started to walk towards the inn. Solarth would see that justice was done, in both this life and the next. As Zender walked past the man in black, Lomark reached out to him. “What madness has taken hold of you priest?”

“No madness, just faith that all will be well. For even in the darkness, those with faith can see his light.” Zender smile at the wizard again and continued on towards the inn. His good mood did not last long once he was within the inn. He could see the large table his other companions were sitting at. While Hans was slowly picking at his meal, William looked to have finished off three plates and Zackary was shouting for another mug of ale. He had two empty mugs in front of him.

“Yes, I told you this would happen.” Lomark whispered to the cleric. “That fool doesn’t know how to do anything other than fight and drink. I shall retire to my room, come to me when he is able to ride again, in two or three days.”

“Four hours, we ride. Be ready.” Zender told him.

“Yes…quite!” The wizard remarked as he turned away. Zender ignored him as he started to move towards the table. As Zender reached into his robes he pulled out the symbol of his god, cupping it in his hand.

“Solarth grant me this prayer.” Zender said as he closed his eyes. “Sleep” was all he said while pointing towards Zackary. The sound of an earthen mug shattering on the floor silenced the room. Every man and woman about turned in time to see the man with fire red hair pass out, slamming his head down on the table. A solid thump of flesh and bone meeting wood ushered in the sounds of laughter. Soon all the laughing faces turned away, leaving the ‘drunken’ man to his fate. As Zender came to stand behind Zackary’s chair the only people looking at him still were Hans and William. “William, take your cousin up to your room. We have four hours to rest before we ride.” The large man nodded his head as he shoved the last bite of food on his plate into his mouth. While Zender watched the big man carry Zackary away, Hans turned a careful eye towards Zender.

“He only had two, is this normal for him?” Hans asked.

“No, I highly doubt this was normal for Zackary. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like in order to make sure the gods work is done. As I told William, we ride in four hours, be ready Hans. Now, if you will excuse me.”

“What do you mean? Where are you going?” Hans asked as he stood up from his seat.

“What I mean is this. In order to keep Zackary alive, I have to keep him sober. He is a skilled fighter and tough as the day is long. Yet if he is pickled from head to toe he is worthless to us and will get himself or someone else killed. I made sure that did not happen. As for where I am going now, I have to return to my home and see that justice is done.” With this Zender turned from the mercenary and marched out of the room. As he stepped out onto the street he lifted his face towards the sun. Feeling the warmth on his face he smiled as he knew this feeling well. For even in the darkness he could feel it. It was the feeling of his god’s love.