by Daniel Olarnick
The Omniscient Voice Reflects
Karl mounted his injured filly, lifted Joan Talisman behind him and rode hard for the safety of the Black Dragon Inn. "Who was that man - who were they, Captain Strange?"
Karl Strange remained silent, ignoring the question, sensing that their paths would cross again.
Captain Karl Strange convalesced in his bed, trying to recover from his recent battle injuries incurred during the rescue of Joan Talisman from the foul clutches of an organized uprising by a combined force of orcs and nightstalkers, the work of dark forces, his wounds festering, his body poisoned by an unknown potion that had coated his enemies' weapons.
The Black Dragon Inn was filled to capacity, thus necessitating the construction of additional bachelors quarters, which work was in progress, as artisans of all types filled its quarters. The Black Dragon Inn was the natural gathering place for these men, bickering and foul tempers flared among young warriors and adventurers, all looking to make their name through fame and fortune.
The bachelorette quarters housed the finest young warrior women of Talos, who sought their own honors, fame and fortune. Husbands were but a secondary thought to these women, while a lover who would stand beside them in battle filled their hearts with lust and desire.
Diamonds, gold, gemstones, land and property rights, spells, codexes, amulets, magical talismans were waiting to be found and claimed by those brave enough to seek them out and survive the dangers that came with the riches that abounded in Talos Valley. However, now, with the threat of war upon the sons and daughters of mankind, Talos' numerous entrances were sealed off to all who would try to enter or leave. If you possessed wings, perhaps, you could fly the highest mountains that surrounded the mystical valley, that is, if you could but find your way past the dragons that claimed the sky their domain.
There was an on-going alert concerning an all-out assault or invasion by these creatures of the night. All stood ready to fight to the death against an organized army of orcs and nightstalkers in order to preserve Volante.
The Inner sanctum of the Scribal Priesthood had called for a gathering of the clans, and the king-heads of each race had sent their champions and emissaries from their respective kingdoms to be present should the uprising continue.
With the mystical entrances to Talos Valley sealed off from the rest of the world, once more Talos has become "The Womb of the Word." All of Volante awaited news of the uprising by the creatures that despised mankind.
The Council of the Dragon Gods called their incarnations to Talos Valley.
Moultrance readied his army of elite warriors, sons of barons, dukes, princes and kings. His personal spy, whose identity was unknown to even his consort, made way to Talos Valley.
Charisse, the Cat-Goddess, consort of the Lord Moultrance, clad in black and silver danced before Benob the Benevolent, a near-silent invocation escaped from her lips.
From the Prison that Encloses, Tayson the Assassin emerged. "Kill Odan the Scribe," she demurred and commanded of the assassin.
Tayson, prince of the Vrill, sixth-generation assassin, raised from childhood to honor his family's tradition, had not known fear since he was a child. His family line held great honors amongst the Vrill, bred to be the ultimate warrior assassin or die, for he was a Vrill.
Chondra, the chief shaman-priest of the Mount Vrillian Tribe, studied his choices carefully before he had selected Tayson for the mission that Charisse, the Goddess-consort of the Lord Moultrance, had commanded of him, when she demanded the best of the Vrillian best, one who would embrace a death oath should he fail to fulfill their contractual obligation. Chondra had been paid his weight in soul-stones to insure his responsibility. Should Tayson fail in his mission; should he displease Charisse, he too would pay with his life.
"Kill this scribe, assassin, and your fame will be secured for all time. Benob the Benevolent has personally spawned your race to be assassins. Live up to your breeding."
"And how shall I find this scribe with a name that cannot be mentioned?" asked Tayson.
"It is a complex problem, but it is your problem, not mine."
[For some untold or forbidden reason Charisse would not mention that only the essence of the scribe had been felt in Talos Valley.]
"He is crafty. He will not reveal himself in the light of the day, but you will know this scribe when you see him; attired in black, from head to foot, tall as a young sapling and as resilient. He carries a staff made of Angelwood, pure Angelwood; mind you, a deadly shaft in his hands.
"Moreover, beware the beast that lurks somewhere near him, always, at all times. Kill the beast first. Perhaps, you will survive. Bring the scribe here, in chains, have him kneel before Moultrance and myself, and I'll have the Lord Moultrance make you the ruler of your own kingdom, with a princess bred to pleasure you, one from my own race, one who will give you children who will honor your name for eternity.
"But, at the very least, kill the Scribe, bring me his head and that of the beast, their soul-stones, and you will have all that and more.
"Here take these gem stones to heal your wounds, to restore your limbs, a mere token of my gratitude."
Charisse tossed six gemstones to Tayson, his clawed hand swooped them out of the air with almost a contemptuous showing of his honed reflexes, a scowl upon his lips.
"And where shall I start my quest, my Queen?" asked Tayson.
"To Talos Valley, the Womb of the World," said Charisse.
Tayson dismounted his bicorn, letting it graze, as he examined the smoldering grass of the inlet to the town of Trent. He gazed out upon the grass, counting the skeletons that had had their skin stripped from their bodies. "The Gorbs ate well here," he thought. "A fierce battle, no doubt."
A court of inquiry convened a hearing in the Town of Trent to determine the rising suspicion that Captain Karl Strange had forsaken his own men, leading them into a death trap that has endangered Talos Valley, sacrificing his men to further his own reputation and ambition.
A cloud of suspicion hung over the court of inquiry, as Joan Talisman took the stand of truth to testify as to the unquestioned bravery of Captain Karl Strange.
"The last one who appeared was a beast; his howls filled the valley with dread. His eyes coal black, yet they burned with fire; his body pure white, like that of a ghost. A diamond blue gemstone gleamed from his chest . his horrible howls penetrated the night when he appeared," answered Joan Talisman, obviously frightened at having to describe the battle once again to the grand inquisition.
The magistrate tapped his gravel three times, demanding silence, as murmurs sounded from the House of Inquiry.
"Silence," demanded the magistrate. "I'll have silence or I'll have this room cleared.
"So, Joan Talisman, you saw a giant troll, two men dressed in black, one wearing a crystallized skeletal mask, another armed with a magical bolo, a howling white beast appear from nowhere, to rescue you and Captain Strange from the clutches of certain death? Is that what you are telling this honorable court of inquiry?"
"Yes. Captain Strange saved me from a certain death. His men died with honor. Nightstalkers were overwhelming us; dozens of orcs were closing in. Death was certain. Why do you keep questioning me so often? Why won't you believe me?"
"Joan Talisman, you are declared a hostile witness, one who has spread heresy upon this honorable court. You are, obviously, bewitched. Your testimony does not have the ring of truth to it.
"Bailiff, take her away." The Reverent Lord Darlington banged his gavel and closed the court of inquiry.
"We appeal, your lord," declared Captain Hennessey, assigned counsel to Joan Talisman. "As assigned counsel and representative of Captain Karl Strange, himself, we appeal."
"Your appeal is noted. The court's champion shall meet your champion on the field of honor.
"Who shall represent the accused," inquired Lord Darlington, as a sneering scowl crossed his pursed lips, silence enveloped the court.
Aspergilla, the court's champion stepped forward, dressed in emerald green, bearing the insignia of the dragon on his cloak, a double-edged ax held in both hands.
Tayson the assassin, seated in the rear of the court, awaited an answer from the crowd. The scribe he was seeking would surely come forward now to rescue the maiden. He slid his hand down to his boot, making sure his throwing dagger was within his grasp.
However, no champion answered the challenge, as Joan Talisman was lead away to the Citadel of Repentance.
Captain Hennessey stood silently before Lord Darlington, and then addressed the court: "I am empowered by Captain Karl Strange, to accept a challenge on his behalf to defend the honesty of the maiden. Captain Karl Strange accepts."
"Then it shall be decided on the field of honor in ten days time, at the Inn of the Black Dragon. This court is adjourned," declared Lord Darlington.
Dora was horrified. "He's in no condition to battle anyone on any field of honor," cried Dora aloud.
"There, there," consoled Whisper, a weaver of silk, "surely the court of inquiry will realize that Captain Strange is too ill to defend anyone. Perhaps, Captain Strange can have his own champion come forth."
"Mistress Dora, a fellowship of scribes has entered the inn, asking for room and board," interrupted one of the tavern girls. "The inn is filled, as are the bachelor quarters. What shall I tell them?"
"Find room for them. Captain Strange never turns away anyone, nor will I," said Dora.
"The young scribe, who speaks common for them, said to give these to you," the tavern girl held three green-black stones in her hand, "as payment - he said - he said he can help in the kitchen, serving and cleaning, as payment for their room and board."
Dora grasped the stones, almost absentmindedly, put them in her apron, and dismissed the girl with a wave of her hand.
"The young scribe said he wished to thank you personally for your kindness. What shall I tell him?"
The stones silently vibrated in her apron, singing a silent song that resonated in her mind. "A young scribe with no name has a gift of vision, which makes him unique, for he has walked an isthmus between time and eternity"
"Oh, show him in," said Dora, exasperation in her voice, tears in her eyes. "Whisper, what am I to do? He's dying as we speak"
The scribe with no name entered the kitchen, he felt purity and goodness surrounded him, as he bid welcome to the stout woman who appeared to be in command. Her eyes filled with tears.
"I bid you welcome, Mistress. My companions and I are on a quest from the Scribal Priesthood. We thank you for your act of hospitality, and remain in your service."
"There is little you can do but wait on the tables and clear up the dishes."
"Ask the scribe for a cure, sung the stones"
"And you can pray for a cure for Captain Karl Strange."
"I am not permitted to pray for cures, however, I have studied scrolls of apothecary. Perhaps, I might suggest -"
"-- Suggest anything. I'll try anything," cried Dora, feeling as if she had known the lad that stood before her for a lifetime.
"I do not remember all the incantations, but if one were to place those gemstones upon the forehead of one who needs to be cured, one upon his chest and one beneath his tongue, if one were to have fresh spun bandages, filled with the poisons of a web-walker, boiled in its own secretions, perhaps, that can effectuate a cure."
The young scribe bowed and backed his way out of the kitchen.
Dora turned to Whisper who had begun to change into her true self, that of a web-walker. They acted as if they were in a trance, performing a ritual that neither would remember.
"Such a nice boy wasn't he, Whisper."
"Yes, so well-mannered," said the fifth daughter of Vespoisona, direct descendant of Arachnie, Queen of the Web-Weavers. "Of course, my mother, the queen, would be very angry if she learned I performed the change in front of a mortal."
"Oh, it will be our little secret," said Dora.
The next morning, Karl Strange woke, weakened but without his fever. His wounds healing, his vigor restored.
Dora knocked on his door. "Captain Strange," she said, as she brought in a breakfast tray. "I'm sure you must be hungry by now. You've been asleep for three days."
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