Author: I’ve rewritten the prologue, and will no longer be tracking silvers.
The miners surrounded Forte and Nightmare as if they were heroes. “I heard stories about hunters fighting wyverns, but to see it with my own eyes…”
“Incredible. Simply incredible. I’ll tell my grandchildren about this battle. A lone man, against a fearsome wyvern!”
Nightmare snorted loudly. Disperse this rabble, Forte. I need to speak with you in private.
“And your dragon too. So majestic!”
We may let them stay a while longer.
Forte laughed at Nightmare’s vanity. The miners continued to clamor until Forte silenced them with his hand.
“The wyvern has been defeated. Tomorrow, we celebrate! But tonight, let me rest, and let my dragon rest,” said Forte.
Frank Strongarm stepped forward and began speaking. “He sure as hell deserves the rest. Forte, the wyvern slayer! Let’s delay celebration until tomorrow, and call it a night, men.”
The miners dispersed, and a weary Forte walked back to his stone house with Nightmare. Nightmare slept outside, but they could still communicate through their dragon and master bond.
“So what did you need to tell me?” Forte asked Nightmare.
The dragon stayed silent for a while, and then began to speak.
These are dangerous times. I feel the presence of an ancient power across Varia. After a thousand years of slumber, Ismas of the great storm is rising again. He may not have a physical form yet, but you must not underestimate the dark tyrant—his tendrils of influence have already spread through Varia. The Rottheim king has been corrupted. This, I know.
“King Richard?” Forte asked, suddenly intent. Thunder cracked, and it began to rain outside.
One and the same. The Rottheim king has fallen into the dark tyrant’s grasps. How, I know not. But the dark tyrant’s rise has been foretold. We must tread carefully to escape his gaze. We are not ready to face his wrath.
“How do you know about Ismas of the great storm?”
How I know is beyond your comprehension.
Forte mused over the thought as he drifted into sleep, exhausted.
Wake up. The dwarves are here.
Forte woke with a start. Nightmare was staring at him through an open door.
“What dwarves?” he asked sleepily.
Half-foot and his friends.
Forte got up, threw on some clothes, and rushed outside to see Half-foot and a crew of dwarves carrying masonry equipment.
“Ay, bloody time you woke up. It’s half past noon,” the dwarf remarked impatiently. “I’ll leave you lot to negotiate terms.”
Forte walked up to the crew of dwarves with a hand in his pocket, rummaging through the silvers he had on person. “I need a guard tower constructed, one that can observe a mile around. That should give fair warning before any beasts approach. And I need a proper blast furnace.”
“The guard tower’ll cost you a pretty silver,” one of the dwarves said.
Forte handed the dwarf a hefty pouch of silvers. “Will this do?”
The dwarf weighed the pouch, then peeked inside and rubbed the coins together with a smile. “Yes, this will do just fine. It’ll take a few weeks to finish the tower.”
Forte nodded. He would need to leave soon for to meet with Bumbus, and could not manage Avalon on his own.
He called over Frank Strongarm from the mines. “I need you to take care of Avalon while I’m gone. My proceedings from the ores, invest it all into the city’s infrastructure. Consult Nightmare before planning a building. If he agrees, he will nod his head. If not, do not go through with the deal. I will leave the negotiating to you while I’m gone, and pay you a small fee for negotiating on my behalf.”
“Understood,” said Frank tentatively. Forte knew that Frank was a competent negotiator, and felt safe leaving Avalon to his hands. His purchase of the miners’ loyalty was already beginning to pay off.
A wise decision, said Nightmare. Strongarm is a good man. An honest man.
After leaving the builders to Frank, Forte headed over to the dwarf merchant, who was busy inspecting the ores that the miners had produced.
The dwarf merchant looked up and addressed Forte. “There you are, lad. Finished your negotiations so soon? The miners are telling me that you promised them a share of the proceeds. Is that true?”
“It is. Sixty percent to the miners, and forty to me,” said Forte cooly.
The dwarf raised his eyebrow in surprise. “That is a generous offer. Very well, as you say.”
The dwarf did some calculations, and then paid each miner individually. He handed the rest of the silver to Forte, and left shortly afterwards.
Forte dined with the miners over a campfire, and then prepared to leave. He stored Blackbeard’s soul into his amulet, while leaving the other three pirates in Avalon. It was dark, and Forte headed to bed.
“We leave tomorrow morning. Any longer and these miners will begin pestering me over the killing of the wyvern,” Forte whispered to Nightmare.
As you wish. Best of luck on your journey.
At the break of dawn the next day, Forte woke up Nightmare.
“Let’s leave now,” he said to his dragon.
Nightmare stirred as Forte mounted his back, and walked into the open valley. The majestic dragon leapt into the air and spread its wings, levitating in the air with the help of magic. With a powerful flap, they were off.
Forte felt comfortable allowing Nightmare to leave Avalon for a short while. With the addition of the dwarves, it would take a disaster to bring down the outpost.
The dragon and his master soared over familiar stretches of forestry and clear rivers. Within a week, they arrived in the southern outskirts of the Rottheim kingdom.
It is time for us to part. Safe journey.
“Safe journey,” echoed Forte, as he headed north while Nightmare headed south. Forte retrieved his horse from the local stable, paying a small sum, and continued on into the north. He was bound for Burstranton, the capital and heart of the Rottheim empire.
A nervous young man stood in front of the gate of an intimidating manor. A large sign hung from the gate with the inscription Property of the Leblanc family engraved. Two stone gargoyles flanked the gate, and a wisp of wind made the young man feel like they could come alive at any moment. Behind the gate was a garden, and behind the garden was a mansion with four pillars. A servant walked hurriedly on the front porch.
It was approaching evening. The young man walked up and paused, then pulled the bell to the gate. He could hear the sound of gruff footsteps, as someone sauntered out of the guard house. It was the gatekeeper—a brusque looking man with a scar over his eye and a missing tooth.
“Who is it?” the gate keeper demanded.
Vaun swallowed. “I’m here to deliver a package to Gerald Leblanc.”
The gate keeper nodded and reached his arm through the gate. “Give it here, then.”
Vaun ignored the gatekeeper’s extended hand. “He said I should hand it to him in person.”
The gatekeeper raised an eyebrow. “Oh did he now. Wait here. I will check with master Leblanc.”
Vaun watched as the gatekeeper walked slowly towards the manor.
Only families of extraordinary wealth could afford to live in this part of the capital, he thought to himself. He looked around, and saw that the estate’s lamps were lined with silver, and there were several guards patrolling around. The atmosphere was eerily serene, as land stretching for miles in all directions belonged to a just a few families, including the Leblancs.
After what felt like an eternity, the gatekeeper returned and clinked open the gate.
“You can enter,” the gatekeeper muttered. “I don’t know what’s going on, but master Leblanc wants that package untouched by anyone else.”
“It’s an urn of his relative’s,” Vaun lied. “That’s why.”
The gatekeeper’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “I see.”
The gatekeeper slammed the gate shut behind them, then locked it tightly as if he was expecting a burglary. Vaun followed him through the well trimmed rows of daffodils and roses. Before long, they reached the front door of the manor, a tall mahogany door the length of two full sized humans. The gatekeeper rummaged through his keys and pulled out a golden key. He fitted the key inside the mahogany door and turned. The doors opened, revealing a display of opulence Vaun was not familiar with. An elegant glass chandelier hung from the ceiling, as a great set of stairs dominated the middle of the room. Large portraits of the Leblancs hung high on the walls, and silver candelabrums lit up the entrance. Vaun stepped in gingerly, as if his very presence was a disgrace to the wealth.
“Wait here,” the gatekeeper coughed, pointing at a furbished seat.
Vaun sat, as the gatekeeper called for a maid. They chatted briefly, and the maid ran upstairs. The gatekeeper left the house and locked the door. Vaun tapped his fingers against the chair as he observed his surroundings. There were two knightly suits of armor against each wall, and he could spot the corner of a dining table in another room. Servants walked back and forth, casting him a glance or two but no more. They carried elegant trays topped with fruit and tea upstairs.
After what seemed like an eternity, the maid reappeared with Gerald Leblanc. He was an ailing man with a touch of gray in his hair, wearing a night robe. He walked with the help of a cane, and the maid carefully helped him down each step. He smiled at the young man with straw blond hair.
“You must be Vaun!” he said loudly. He continued down the stairs, then extended a hand shake to Vaun, who took the offer.
Gerald Leblanc shook Vaun’s hand vigorously. “I heard many good things about you from my acquaintance. She said that your draught of eternal sleep was highly effective. That is an extraordinarily difficult potion to brew, is it not?”
“It is, sir,” Vaun answered timidly. He was still not accustomed to the affluence of the house.
“Why don’t you come with me to my study? We have much to discuss,” Gerald said, as he began walking to another room. Vaun followed him earnestly.
The room contained a towering bookshelf with an assortment of books Vaun had never seen before. A suit of armor stood in the corner of the room, and an expensive rug laid on the ground. Gerald sat behind his mahogany desk, and beckoned Vaun forwards. Gerald walked towards the door to the study and locked it.
“Sit, my son,” he said.
Vaun sat nervously, glancing at the ticking clock hanging from the wall. It was half past eight. He placed a brown bag on the desk.
“That is the potion of veritas,” Vaun whispered. “Eye of owl, egg of chimera, rat’s tail, diamond dust, wolfesbane, stirred counterclockwise thrice—“
Gerald Leblanc raised his hand and silenced Vaun. He carefully took the silvery potion out of the bag, and held it to the light to examine it. “A beautiful silvery sheen. This potion looked like it was lifted from a textbook. Angela was right. You are exceptionally talented.”
Gerald swirled the contents of the potion around, peering closer at the silvery liquid. “You must know that this is a forbidden potion.”
“Yes, sir. But few can recognize it, and fewer still can brew it. I believe your secret is safe with me,” Vaun said delicately.
Gerald chuckled. “Safe, indeed. Silver does speak louder than words. But that is not what I am here for. I am about to tell you what I intend to do with this potion of veritas, as I have a job for you. A job only someone like you can do. A long job, and I will pay a pretty silver for your services.”
The clock ticked. It was a quarter to nine.
“But first, I must ask you a personal question. How do you feel about slaves? Angela mentioned that you spoke to her about them.”
Vaun decided to be honest. “I’m sorry, you have the wrong person for the job. My mother… Helen and I were hunted by slave traders several years ago, after my father ditched us. She threw away her life to save me, before the slavers took her. I heard that she died just months later.”
He paused. “I despise slave traders.”
At those words, Gerald Leblanc face lit up with a genuine smile. “Excellent. Contrary to what you think, you are exactly the kind of person I need. Instead of telling you what I intend to do with this potion, I shall show you.”
Cane in hand, Gerald stood up slowly. Vaun watched in amazement as Gerald walked over to the bear rug and pulled it aside, revealing a trap door. He then walked to the bookshelf, and pulled out a book. Vaun heard a sudden snap, and the trap door opened, leading to a set of stairs.
“Come,” said Gerald Leblanc, as he slowly descended the stairs. Vaun followed suit, descending into what looked like an ancient dungeon with empty cells.
“The Leblanc estate was built on the ruins of an old castle,” said Gerald as he lit a torch and passed it to Vaun. They continued walking, brushing past spider webs until they reached a room. Gerald fumbled with the keys, and then finally opened the door. Inside the musty room was a short man tied to a chair.
“Let me introduce you to mercenary extraordinaire, Horace Hammerhead.” Gerald proclaimed with a smile. Horace shot a venomous glare at Gerald.
Vaun looked betrayed. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“His mind is addled by magic,” Gerald whispered. “But your potion will reveal all.”
After weeks of travel, Forte had finally reached the gates of Burstranton. The towering city was the crown jewel of Rottheim kingdom, but Forte could see the wealth disparity at its gates. Rich noblewomen dressed in pearls and diamonds walked past soot covered street urchins, and the city’s city’s gleaming royal guard shooed away the homeless.
As he approached the gate, a city gate guard stepped forward and addressed Forte. “Welcome to the city of Burstranton. Do you have any goods to declare for sale?”
Forte shook his head. “No, nothing.” He truly had nothing for sale this time.
The guard looked Forte up and down. “Alright. You may pass.”
The guards opened the gate and let Forte in. Forte’s eyes widened as he entered. The city was far larger than he had ever imagined, with buildings that looked like they touched the sky, and shops as far as the eye could see. The city was bustling with life, and crowded like no other.
A flower merchant had a stand in front of a noodle shop to the left. A conjoined armory and blacksmith shop was to the right. Further out, a cobbler worked outside of a barber shop, shining people’s shoes. There were people of all sorts, and Forte spotted peasants and farmers, dairy sellers and fish mongers, scholars and bakers, guards and mercenaries, merchants and grocers.
Forte walked around and took in the sites. He passed an infirmary, a tavern, an inn, a tailor, a potion shop, a jeweler, and houses.
His stroll was stopped abruptly by slow ringing of bells, and a town crier shouting.
“Public execution of Halfast scum! Come and see!” the crier bellowed.
Forte shoved into the crowd and followed the crier. He had no idea how or why the king was executing citizens of the kingdom of Halfast. It could be seen as a declaration of war, and did not seem to fit the character of the king.
Forte walked with the crowd, pushing and shoving his way through until they reached the destination—a market that was cleared to allow for public execution. Several torches burned from the gallows, as nooses swayed in the air. The royal guard threw three Halfast citizens on to a wooden platform.
“By royal decree, you traitors have been found guilty for the sale of information and treason against the Rottheim kingdom. Thus, you have been sentenced to death by hanging!” the town crier read from a pamphlet. Trumpets sounded, and the three prisoners were pushed into the forefront of a jeering crowd. A portion of the crowd looked disturbed by the proceedings, while the others jeered and taunted the prisoners.
“Kill that traitor!”
“Burn his arse!”
“Let’s see those filthy Halfasters hang!”
One by one, the prisoners stood on chairs and had the nooses fastened around their necks.
“For Rottheim!” a citizen shouted.
“For Rottheim!” the royal guard roared, kicking out the chairs from underneath the prisoners. Forte watched as they thrashed about, strangled to death by the ropes.
Some of the citizens cheered loudly, while others looked on in disgust.
“May this be a warning to all! We will punish any traitorous spies and the like! Long live King Richard!” the town crier shouted. “Long live the king!”
Long live the king! the crowd chanted.
Author: Thanks for reading a longer than usual chapter.
In other news, I’ve started up a patreon this week! Here's the link https://www.patreon.com/mrinocence.