Kanan wrapped himself in a wooly blanket as he allowed the memory to play in his mind, hoping to keep the details fresh in his mind:
Swordsman Kanan Al'Barran had allowed himself to be led South, he recalled. The Five knights had walked; they did not ride. The longer it took before they had to face the Orcish brood the better, Kanan had thought.
Kit Kurl slowed his steps, as if sniffing the air.
"We are close," he warned.
Sir Corbin nodded, "Yes it is over the bend .. we will be upon them in about 100 feet," he whispered.
A noise captured Cassius' attention. Alder caught it too.
"I do not believe we will be required to walk the one hundred feet to be upon them.." Alder was poised to unsheath his sword.
"I believe you are correct, brother," Cassius smiled, "Methinks they are upon US!"
Behind them a large form came into the dusky open. Features were muted by the dim light of the Astelbanian moons, but by the sheer size of it, there was little doubt that this was an orcan scout. Kanan turned his head slowly - and his gaze fell upon beady dark eyes that seem to glow in the pitch of the night. Its large dog-like bottom teeth jutted out from it jaw and over it's snouty nose. There was a definite odor; earthy and too hoglike. The creature held a large battle axe inside a hand that could grip Kanan's head and twist it like a dwarven water-fauset. Arms the size of near tree-trunk connected to a body 2 times the size of a man. It would take two of his men, at least, to take this one down.Corbin was first to unsheath his sword and took steps to attack. But Kanan was quick to shoot a restraining hand over Corbin's swordarm. "No, brother... let us see what it wants.."
"We must attack it before it warns the others of our presence... else, the element of surprise is denied us, and there will be little chance of victory."
Kanan looked skyward. The boy was trying his patience. "Victory is not always won with the edge of a sword, Corbin .. " with a stiff index finger, Kanan tapped the young man on the forehead, "Sometimes it is won with the use of our noodle!"
The orcan scout simply stood there - observing. Unusual for an orc. By all counts, these grotesque creatures tended to attack first and interrogate later.
"We seek only passage South!" Kanan said.
"Human not allowed!" it said, in a gutteral timber voice.
Kanan unhooked his sword and displayed it, Heron-Mark facing the Orcan scout. It's eyebrows - bushy and dishrevelled met at the center of it gargantuan head. Kanan lay the sword at the orc's feet and bowed.. "We do not wish a confrontation.. only passage.. There is little to be gained here. We are only travellers seeking passage to Marrokville... that is all,"The orc made to move forward... Cassius and Alder stepped in front of Kanan.. The orcan raised his axe in defence, but cocked its head, and bent down to pick up the sword."
Do not touch it!" Kanan squeezed between his Knight-Brothers, "It is magicked in such a way that hands not of its ilk will burn upon contact.."The orc stayed his huge mit. It instead spied the mark upon the scabbard. The Lion's Head and Eagle suspended in a silent war-cry.. "Take sword!" grunted the orc, "With me; come!"
With that, the orc strapped the axe to its gnarly muscled back, and walked pass the knights with little regard, and over the bend towards the camp.
"Grace burn me ...." Alder stood stammering.
"I cannot believe it either..." Cassius echoed the sentiment.
"Keep your heads about you, gentlemen.. we're not out of this yet," Kanan picked up his sword and strapped it to his back. When passing Corbin, the young knight looked furious,
"Commander, what are we doing.. we cannot consort with these ... things!"
"He is trying to keep us alive," Alder's voice was heavy with warning. He would not put up with insubborndination. No, only Alder could get away with that!
Corbin turned to the tracker, "Kit - surely you will agree.. "
Kit shrugged, and got in step with the others, following the Orc-Scout into the camp.
Having dealt with the orcish merchant, and having been given 2 vials of Elvish blood as a GIFT TO THEIR KING, Kanan Al'Barran led his men into Marrokville; home, for all it was worth now to him.
His men, for the most part, walked in muttered silence; dumbfounded by what they had witness; an open acceptance of Rael Marrok's coat of arms by an Orcish raiding party... proof of the King's corruption.
"We must get news to Viceroy Gren of this!" Cassius was all ahush - eyes peaking in shadows among the Knight-Halls of the main castle of Marrokville.
The Five returned home safely, 8 days after their journey home began from Dirkshire. Their journey took them south, through the marshes and through Orcan occupied territory, where developements of their peaceful release irked Kanan and his most trusted men."
Telling the Viceroy is a little too high up on the Political ladder, wouldn't you think?" Alder Lorenquick said.
Kanan was silent; thinking as he walked towards his chambers - on the main level of the castle.
"Commander!" Alder called, careful to use title while in the King's realm.
"I do not know what to do, Alder .. we must think on this, and tred forward for fear of great peril," Kanan Al'Barran rounded a corner of the corridor, and came upon the door, for which, only he had a key. With a rattle of steel on steel, the key was turned, and the door openned to admit Kanan and his two friends.
Within these chambers, the men removed their swords, their cloaks and their titles and spoke as free men; equals without rank. Kanan shut the door, and barred it!
"We can speak openly, but keep a hush to your tone. Any one may be on the other side of that door, and Knights loyal to the King will seek our heads for the subject of our discussion!" Kanan warned, and Alder Lorenquick and Cassius Correl nodded.
Kanan Al'Barran was a high-commader in the Shadow Knight ranks. This afforded him large quarters, furnished with some of the finest chairs, cotton filled sofas and silken throws. Goblets were silver and the wine was Kezian, Tajyean and elvish.. Brandies were distilled in Westbridge.. and the Spirits dwarven.. all very expensive. All lost on Kanan Al'Barran, now, and he had always cared little for riches.
He poured some brandy for his men, and himself a goblet of Kezian wine... the least expensive of the lot.
"We must tell somebody! The king cannot be allowed to rule here... Marrokville will fall or worse.. " Alder said.
"What can be worse?!" Cassius asked.
"We can be made to fight for a Dark Wizard against our brothers in Devensheer and Westbridge..." frowned Kanan.
"That would make for a sad day, indeed," Cassius sipped his brandy absently.
A wrap came at the door. Alder and Cassius stood bolt upright and stared at Kanan, who walked towards it.
"You are right, my friends. We must tell someone - but we must be cunning and we must choose our allies carefully."
Kanan openned the door to admit a tall, armored knight, the Heron-mark crest on the left breast of his platemail, marking him a servant of Goldenbane: A Devensheer Knight. He was an older fellow - with bright green eyes and graying red hair. HIs beard was equally laced with grey, but it distinguished the man as one of character and strength and wisdom.
"Uncle!" Alder stood agap.
"Lord Lorenquick," bowed Cassius - "I am honored."
Taking Kanan's hand, the Lord Brandyn Lorenquick smiled,
"The honor is mine!"
The three young knight retold the story of the dark-mage in Dirkshire and their encounter with the orcan party, who, by all counts never should have left them go, to Lord Brandyn Lorenquick.
Kanan Al'Barran, with much backing from the Lord's nephew, continued to express great concern for the evidence pointing to a corrupted King and patriarchy. Back Alley Justice taking place in the shadow of night. Gold changing hands in shady bribes. Dealings with the North and Black Robe mages. Trading elf blood for favors and safe passage through orcan occupied territory.
"Marrokville is not what it once was," Alder concluded.
"All of it sounds like a prelude to war - and our King has seen fit to align with the axises of evil... " Kanan shook his head, "I cannot, will not, fight for a king who has dealings with Black-Robed Wizards."
"Keep your voice down, Kanan!" Brandyn Lorenquick was short...
"I said..." the elder Lorenquick raised a closed fist; and there was little translation needed.
The three men stayed silent and allowed the good commander to think. Brandyn Lorenquick eyed each of the men, and he concluded..
"We have suspected, for a long while, that some parties in the Marrokian government, were selling information, weapons and making trade with the badlands for illegally obtained substances for the intent to distribute material to a Citidel North-West of Dirkshire.." Brandyn Lorenquick said, "But we had no idea that the dealings were dealt by the king himself..."
"By "we", you are saying the Shadow Sect of Devensheer?" Kanan asked.
"Nay," Brandyn shook his head, "By 'we', I mean Devensheer's King, its Prince, and their advisors and myself, as a trusted representitive of the Shadow Hand,"
Cassius sighed slightly, "Well at least it is good to know that we are not alone in our thinking,"
"Indeed, " Brandyn smiled, "And thanks to you three, we understand the full scope of the corruption."
"So then... " Alder wondered, "How do we proceed.. Do we include the Viceroy .."
Brandyn's eye were wide, "NO!.. that would be a great folly!" Brandyn's voice was ghostly - fearful.. He poured himself a brandy, and took a long sip. "I am unsure about who we can trust. For all we know the Viceroy is part of this great conspiracy. He would be afforded great wealth perhaps even a kingdom of his own, should Sakkarr Sorendragon sees fit... "
"What do you know of this Dark Wizard?" Kanan queried.
"Very little," Brandyn Lorenquick was frank, "What we do know is through our eyes and ears at the Wizardry Tower in Westbridge. A deligation is coming to Devensheer for the Harvest Festival, as a contigency with the Silveharts, the Royal Family, in a week. IN fact, it stands to reason that they are on their way now... A Red-Robe named Weyoun Braxa will be with them.. he could shed some light on this.. He is to meet with Master Cyphus - the King's Wizard during their visit,"
Brandyn shrugged, and nodded, "IT is at that time we will ask the Princess to deliver a message to her father in these matters,"
""That is a relief.. " Alder said."We've known of a plot against the elves for a time." Brandyn continued, "An elvish ambassador paid a visit to the King via one of our Ship Captains a few years ago. Most of what the elf recounted was rumour; speculation - nothing could be prooven. And tho' the elf seemed honest enough, the implications of investigating another kingdom's inner-sanctum seemed too risky. But as Marrokville seemed to flourish and other realms struggled both with crops and economy - I was asked to speak with various members of our underground regarding illegal trade among the theives' guilds and bounty hunters throughout the inner-cities." he sipped at his brandy, and looked each of the men in the eye, "The answers that returned to us were astonishing. There was a full-on demand for the trafficing of elvish blood out of the badlands.... ""To what end?" Kanan asked.
"That, we do not know.. but the Elves are begging for our help,"
"What are we going to do!?" Kanan put forth the question. As the answers came, he regretted ever asking.
Kanan Al'Barran slept fitfully that night. Whenever a deep slumber beckonned too closely a sound beyond his windows, the wind or the odd fowl crowing, would bring his mind back.
By Mid-night, a sound not of the outdoors awakened him. His hand went instinctively to his sword, and before he could unsheath it, a hand pressed over his mouth and the full weight of two men crushed him.
"Take his feet -- HIS FEET!" grunted one of his assailants. Kanan struggled with all he was worth, receiving several blows for his troubles. There were 5 men in his room, 3 of them binding his arms and legs. When he was able to breathe again, he coughed and looked up at a man standing over him. The pug-faced Knight was the captain of the King's Knights - Captain Ramus Ran.. behind him was Corbin Crowley. "Corbin ...?" Kanan stammered, "What is the meaning of this.. I demand to know..."
"Silence, traitor!" the captain's voice was loud, authoritative and quivering with rage, "By order of the king, I am to place you in the dungeons pending a hearing against charges of treason, consorting with the enemy, and conspiracy to murder the King!"
"What?! That is outrageous," Kanan pulled at his binding, his vision blurring red, "I have always been a loyal servant of Marrokville.. " Kanan spat, "Corbin, what have you done!"
"I am sorry Commander, I could not stay silent!"
Kanan's body rocked with rage - his eyes were wild, his teeth seethed, "You FOOL! YOU KNOW NOTHING OF...." a mailed fist took Kanan in the jaw, and he was silenced.
There was alot of pain. Pain in his head. Pain in his jaw, which he had little doubt was broken. Pain at his still-bound wrists and feet.
The dungeon cell was cold, dark and wet. The sounds of dripping water, moaning from fellow inmates and odd sliding of iron doors was the soundtrack with which filled this lonely place. The smell of urine was strong and repugnant. The floor was dirt and stone, the walls were mortar - with no windows leading outside. He knew this place well; only he never thought he be a resident.
Kanan Al'Barran did not know how long he'd be left alone. He did not know if it was day or night. He forced himself to sit up, and a guardsman peeked inside, "Well well.. good afternoon, inmate! I thought you were dead!"
When Kanan went to speak, he yelp as a sharp, jagged pain went through his jaw..
"It's broke good!" said the guardsman, his stoney voice held an ounce of mirth, "I don't know what you did, but by the sounds of it you'd have thought you slit the throats of every knight leading all the way to the King... I do not know about you, my friend, but if I'd be you, i'd rather be dead me-self." the guardsman spat on the floor.
"I must speak to Alder Lorenquick - he is a Knight of Marrokville.. " Kanan said through gritted teeth; his jaw was slightly askew.
"I imagne you'll not be speaking with anyone any time soon!" came the guard.
"Can you at least set my jaw?!"
"Hmm? Set it, you say eh? " the guard motioned, "Come closer than .. i'll have a look at ye!" sniffed the man. edging forward despite his bound hands and feet, he made like an inch-worm to the gates, where Kanan displayed his clearly crooked bottom jaw.
"It's a shame that.. " the guard grimaced, "I'm not much of a cleric, but..."
And a hand flailed forward and took Kanan clear in the bulging part of his injured maw. Kanan heard the crack before the pain rendered him unconscious.
A clang woke him.
His hand were sticky with dried blood. His body quaked with a deep chill.
"Clean him up!" came a voice; familiar, but hollow.
His right eye was swollen, and his head felt as tho' a sword had been thrusted through it. But his jaw worked, albeit painfully.
"Do not fight, brother," Alder Lorenquick whispered.
"how long...." was all Kanan managed to say..
"Four days... I tried to get here sooner - but much has happened,"
"Bring the prisoner," this voice was that of Captain Ramus Ran, loyal subject to the king.
Kanan was dragged, for his feet were still bound - and even if they were not, he doubted he had the strength to walk on his own.
"What is to be done with me?" Kanan asked; his voice was little more than a croak.
"Your sentence of death has been commuted," Alder whispered, "You are to be transported to Devensheer to stand trial for crimes of illegal trade. It would seem that our King, in good conscience cannot kill an innocent man, and so he will make you Goldenbane's problem!"
"Coward!" spat Kanan.
"Silence!" the captain struck Kanan with a gloved fist. Unconsciousness pulled at him and he was too weak to prevent it. Before giving in, he heard the captain warn Alder..
"Speak not to the prisoner, or share his fate, soldier,"
Cold water soaked his head, and with a start, Kanan shook awake. His eyes were wide, as he beheld a guardsman bathing him with a sponge. "The king will not see you smelling like a Alley-Urchin. You smell of feces, for Grace's sake... "
A veteran Guardsman removed Kanan's shackles and bade him, "there is a warm bath there.. clean yourself - and do not even think of escape."
"Water..." croaked Kanan.. "i've had naught to drink or eat in 4 days"
With a moment's thought, the guardsman elected to comply, handing Kanan a mug of water. Kanan's first thought was to gorge himself with the water... to drink it down as fast as he could... he, instead, took tiny sips. and limped towards the washing-room. Looking at himself in the looking glass, bloddied, soiled and puffy with injuries to his forehead, lips and crown, Kanan Al'Barran stared into the eyes of a stranger.
"What have I done?" he asked the reflection.
Hours had past in to the night of the fifth day of his incarceration. None spoke to him. None would even look him in the eye. Passing Knights along the corridor would stop in their tracks, and turn their backs upon him; a symbol of disgrace.
Kanan Al'Barran, a once proud Commander of the Shadow Knights - tall and strong, was now a weakened man, with slumping shoulders, a prounounced limp and a shameful stride. His jaw still worked upon a piece of apple, that had, thus far, taken him nearly a quarter of an hour to chew. With each bite, came a sharp pain.
Kanan was sure the good guardsman had not properly set his jaw. If he'd had the energy, Kanan would have laughed at his own irony.
He and his escort of 6 knights made their way into anti-chamber beyond the Throne Room of Marrok Castle.
"Wait.." Kanan called.
"We are late as it is; we cannot keep the King waiting!" said the guardsman. The guard was neither impatient nor sour.. If Kanan did not know any better, there was sympathy in this man's eyes.
"Do not PITY me!" grimaced Kanan, forcing himself to stand upright .. wincing, and forcing himself to swallow what was left of his apple.
"I call Cassius friend, Commander," whispered the young man.
A tear fell from Kanan's eyes - to have an ally in the den of wolves in this, the most bleak moments of his life was almost too much for Kanan to bear. Fighting through the pain, Kanan fought back the plum that filled his throat, and offered a solumn bow of his head
"If that is true, Guardsman -- Then you MUST not pity me!"
The guardsman swallowed at the others neared. "Are you ready now, Commander."
"Prisoner!" kanan corrected.. "You must ...." Kanan was shoved from behind by armored guard, whose face was shielded, another show of dishonor and disgrace.One could argue that it was Kanan's face that opened the door to the anti-chamber room, and he winced as he felt the already purple lumps resurge and flare.
Within were Alder Lorenquick and Cassius Correl. They looked on him with great sadness."Graces burn me," Alder's lips muttered - but he could not be heard - and he rolled his eyes.
"Leave him!" he ordered. The armored knight that held his arm, tossed him forward, and though, usually this would do little to make him stubble, Kanan was tired and walked on shaking legs. With the shove, Kanan fell to one knee. Alder came to help, but Kanan shook his head. Lorenquick stopped in his tracks, as he stood upright. "I am ready,"
The king sat upon a replica of his great throne within his Den-Chambers. This Den was his official work space off the Anti-room to the Throne, and was a place where he would invite deligates from foreign lands to negotiate treaties and trade agreements in the comfort and privacy of a room that had no prying public eyes or ears.Before he was allowed to enter, Kanan's hands were bound behind his back, and his ankles were shackled. The King looked at him smugly and ordered the guard to shut the door behind him; leaving Kanan and the King alone!
For a long while, they sat in silence. Kanan only watched the king as he fed his face with cheeses and breads, sipping at wine. The king had gotten fat - his beady blue eyes shadowed within the depth of his jutting fat cheeks. Kanan knew well enough that the king was aware that he'd barely eaten or drunk a thing for days.. This was the king showing his upper-hand. He wore royal purple robes, and a golden crown, which barely fit over his huge head. He did not look kingly at all.
"You had need only shown yourself loyal to me, Kanan Al'Barran.. that is all i would have asked of you," The King said between mouthfuls, "I could have made you richer than a common king.. But some of you knights are too bent on honor over duty or..." he chuckeled, "Money.. "
King Rael Marrok spat a grape seed upon his desk which seperated the two. "I am your KING!" Marrok shouted.
"You are a coward!" Kanan spat, "Colusions with Dark mages. In leagues with Orcan Raiders, hunting down elves and killing them for blood - selling it to the highest bidder -- what honor is their in that?! You may as well kill me .. i am ashamed to have served The Coward King!"
The king was enraged and as large as he was, he closed the ground beween them in two steps and struck Kanan with the back of a ringed hand, splitting the flesh and causing his right cheek to bleed. Kanan winced - but looked the king in the eye.
"I would kill you, myself," scowled the king, "But it seems as tho' you have made enemies in Devensheer as well.. and the King there has asked to oversee your punishment personally. Treason is a high-crime in those parts, Kanan Al'Barran!" the king laughed despite himself, "And," he flipped his hand dismissively, "If I kill you now, it would draw too much attention from those that need not be so attentive to the goings-on in my borders... I think..."
The king paused dramaticaly returning to his throne, and taking his golden goblet of wine and sipping at it, "I think that Goldenbane will have you executed by the first nightfall after your arrival... I shall look forward to that report.."
"He would do well to ensure my death!" Kanan said, "For I shall not rest until i see the day where you die by a Knight's sword.... "The king laughed.
"You surprise me, Kanan. You are in no position to make threats, and yet, here you sit before your King - uttering disnicities and the like .. i do not believe you fully understand the trouble you are in," The King chuckled and pointed at Kanan, "...or perhaps you do not understand the power i have over you." King Marrok nodded, "I know more than you know!" he whispered in the end.
"GUARDS..." called the king.
The door openned, and a helmed guard entered, "Take the prisioner and prepare him for transport... The King of Devensheer wishes to try him for further crimes and execute him himself, who am I to deny a fellow king... Take him..."The guard pulled at Kanan .. and hauled him into the anti-room where Alder and Cassius stood waiting a verdict. THe king came in the room.
"HOLD!" he ordered, "So that i may deliver your penance,"
The guard turned Kanan to face the king, and forced him to his knees.
What happened next, Kanan could not have predicted..The king pointed to Alder Lorenquick and said,
"The prisoner has implicated that Knight as a fellow conspirator and a mastermind behind the thwarted attempt upon my very life...."
"WHAT?!" Alder had lost his composure - as three other helmed knights rushed him..
"I SAID NO SUCH thing.. I..."
"SILENCE!" the king ordered... Kanan receieved a blow to the back of the head.. and his vision swam in chaos...
Pandamonium rented the room as the King's Knights fought to remove Alders' weapons, by cutting the straps loose with knives.. Cassius went to his aid, but Kanan's eye went wide and he shortly shook his head, nose flaring, breath coming and escaping with quick rapidity. He could not have Cassius implied in this false conspiracy. Cassius stood fast, gritting his teeth beneath closed tight lips. Alder's armor was removed and he was brought before the King, face bloodied from the melee.
"Those that are not with the King - are against the King... " said King Rael Marrok.. "Treason means death," the king knowingly looked at one of his Knights, and before Alder knew what was afoot, he saw the blade of sword jut out of his chest.
"NO!" Kanan's scream was primal, "You treasonous creton!!"
Now his body was wracked with sobs, "He was a loyal knight...." kanan's voice was only a whisper.. "He was just a boy..."
Kanan's body was limp as guards lifted his form off the floor and away from the anti-room. He caught a brief glimpse of a tear-faced Cassius who was ordered by the king to clean up the blood. That would be the last time he would see Cassius Correl alive.