3 months have come and gone since the kings, along with tesarra had left the capitol of Misthaven. Through this time, they had fought a Naga who tried to capture them, Hags and something else with them who tried to eat them, a corrupt Baron, and a mentally deranged barbarian lord who though he was the second coming as Armag.
The Kings, and their newly elevated queen, were ready to depart. The sun was reaching its zenith in the sky when all the troops were assembled and standing in formation. Anton sat on his magnificent stallion, ready to go since dawn. Pik and Tessara join him after breakfast. Kinkaid was nowhere to be found since freeing the town of Freeton, once Ft. Drelev, fell. Zion was the last to arrive.
Zion on his horse he conjured from the astral plane. A phantom steed of silver, and a black mane. Its legs reached down to insubstantiality, not quite reaching the ground.
When he pulled up the reigns to join his friends, their mounts shied away from Zions new mount snorting loudly.
“What in the name of the holy (enter Gods name here) is that?” Exclaimed Anton.
Tessara added “That creature is NOT of this world.” As she turned her nose up at the apperation.
Pik looked on in amazement, secretly wanting one, noting how silent it was, and the speed it all but flew up to the companions.
“It’s just a spell… Fellow rulers.” His gaze briefly crossed Tessara’s form. “With control of Drelev firmly in our grasp, and the destruction of the barbaric upstart, my power has grown. In fact, while you are guiding the army home, I’ll be waiting for you at the castle. I understand how to stretch the dimensional leap to get me home. I can take 3 more, however one needs to stay and lead the army home.”
Pik immediately piped up, “Me! I’ve done this ride enough, I’m tired of it. Besides, I have someone… Err, things that need to be done back at the capitol. I’ve been gone for far too long.”
Anton took some time to consider. His mind was awash of time with his children and wife. However it is rare he is able to lead the strength of the Mistmarches. His mind made up, “I’ll stay. The army needs its General.”
Tessara also was uneasy of the arcane transference. It isn’t the natural way to travel. “I’ll stay as well.” She still didn’t trust Zion because of his reasoning not to elevate her to the High Council and thus co-ruler of the Mistmarches. “In case the army needs assistance.”
“Very well.” Spoke Zion. “Are you ready my friend?”
Piks eyes lit up, nodding exuberantly.
Zion spoke a few simple words of power. Both Zion and Pik, along with their mounts, forms blurred, quickly becoming insubstantial. In a short time, they disappeared completely.
over 100 miles away in the front of the gates of the city of Mistmarches the pair materialized in the crisp winter air.
When they fully came into being, there were spears pointed in their faces. The guard wore grim faces as they readied their weapons to defend their beloved city.
Once they recognized who it was, their eyes widened in fear, and awe. The kings weren’t supposed arrive for weeks. In unison, they snapped to attention.
“My Lords!” They cried. Worry in the back of their minds that they all held weapons at 2 of their kings.
Pik smiled at them as if reading their minds. “Worry not friends. We aren’t angry you did your duty. In fact, we commend you. Attentive, and spry. We are lucky kings indeed we have you to protect us. Open the gates if you would please.”
Zion had no time for this. He was gone much longer than he hoped. He had to know the fate of the family he saved. Did they live? Were they attacked by a wandering monster on their way. He had to know.
Again, the song of a spell tumbled from his lips. And again, his form blurred into nothingness.
Pik looked at the empty horse Zion left behind and shook his head. Zion had always been the patient one. What was so important be couldn’t wait 15 minutes for the pleasant ride to the castle? He shook his head. Something happened in that town, and he worried for his friend.
Inside the gates of the castle Zion materialized. Servants scuttled out of the way. Guards came running up. Balford, the sergeant on duty had his sword out. Once Zion was recognized, he put it away. “My liege, we need to figure out a way to block these… Arrivals.”
“We have you sergeant.” Zion returned. “There was a detachment from the army to protect a family to come back here. Where is the family?”
“Uuh, my lord, the detachment went back to their lives. The family… I don’t know. Maybe the chancellor would know.”
Zion retorted, “I’ll ask my brother.” Zion stormed down the halls making his way to the throne room. There sat Reg in his customary throne. It was ordained with various symbols of nature, and a circlet made of holly to honor Erastil.
“Hello brother.” Said Zion as he entered the room.
“Zion.” Replied Reg.
There has been a gap in their relationship ever since he devoted his beliefs to Erastil. His was a faith that Zion could not put his belief in, nor respect its teachings. Everyone else in the hunter’s eyes were lesser beings and it showed in the two people Zion tried to be closest to. Zion chose his faith where his god expected you to build power within yourself.
“Where is the family I sent here from Freeton?”
“The commoners? I set them up in the Kings’ Inn. That’s the last I heard from them. The treasury sends 10 gold per week for them.” explained Reg.
“Good.” Replied Zion. He spun on his heel to make his way out of the throne room.
He stopped in his tracks at the door. “What?” Came out of his mouth almost like venom, as he turned his head slightly. Reg had an angry look on his face. He stared at his half brother and his heart felt empty because of the divide that had grown so vast. He wanted to reach out, but he didn’t know how. Reg knew Zion hated his faith, and he held onto it with such fervor.
Also, ever since the brothers struck out for the Stolen Lands, he didn’t need Reg’s strength any more. When they were younger, Reg was always happy to protect his brother, and Zion looked up to him for it. Now, Zion hardly speaks to him. Even on the high council, both Reg, and Zion often disagree on how the kingdom should be run.
“Will, we should talk.”
Zion shot back, “What would be the point? You are you, and I am me. Two very different people come from the same family. I haven’t been able to rely on you ever since we built this castle. I don’t even know if I want to put forth the effort any more. All my practices are dismissed as soon as I conceive of them. So why, dear brother? To what end?”
Regs physical form deflated. He watched Zion go as the door closed behind him. Reg sat alone in the throne room once again. Moments later, the chancellor entered. “My liege…”
Zion made his way from the castle on his way to the Kings’ Inn. Every step he made closer to his goal, he felt the nerves in his body waken. He saved this family from Drelev… For what? It was the right thing to do. He thought to himself. “What am I doing? Why would she want this.” Zion stood at the castle doors which led to the court yard. Would she care if I am a king of these lands? Would she desire my throne, or me. What would they think?"
He stood there lost in thought for what seemed like hours. Fear rose up in him. He turned to go to his rooms.
Once he closed the door to his chambers, Zion methodically emptied his bag onto the central table where he spent countless hours pouring over the magical texts he acquired in his travels throughout the Mistmarches. The books from Imeckus Stroon, as well as the staff, his traveling gear, the last bits of food.
He removed his armor, and boots. He carefully laid all of his gear onto the table in reverence. The Alduri dueling sword, the last gift his father had given him, was last. He thought to himself, “I’ll never wear it again. I’m not, nor ever, will be a, swordsman. My power comes from within me, not by the tools I wield.”
Zion stripped until he stood naked in the room. His confidence still burned in his belly. He cut a striking figure. He was far from weak, but healthy, and smart. His muscles were toned and his strength was easily recognizable. Yet still, he would never be the physical warrior. He did not care. Brutes could not match him.
He went to a chest buried deep in his closet. There he found his original gear when he first entered the Stolen Lands. the breeches he wore, his leather armor which was carefully folded, the tunic to keep him warm. A simple traveling cloak, to keep the rain off him. Deer skin boots that kept his feet protected from the harsh woods.
He donned these items. Today, Zion the king of Mistmarches disappeared, replaced simply by William Marshall. Humble, and good. “I was once idealistic. That’s what I found in Jennifer. That piece of me that was missing. I willingly opened this door to a bigger world. She was thrust into it. I’ll not drag her along for my own selfish reasons.”
Once he was dressed in his old clothing, he looked at himself in the mirror. A simple spell caster stared back at him. He saw himself as a child many years ago. Clean, and alluring. His eyes were lit up with the unknowing but ready for the world look. He pulled his silver hair back into a ponytail to keep it out of his face. “Today I leave Zion behind, and I’m William again.” The only weapon he wore was one of the daggers he acquired from the evil cleric sisters Tessara drowned in mud.
He shouldn’t be seen by the palace servants like this, but he didn’t care. He walked out of his apartment with a simple ease, almost lightly. It would not have seen out of place if he whistled a ditty on his way.
Everyone he passed almost discounted him in his simple wear, then as recognition dawned upon them, they stopped and stated. Here was Zion, King of five of the Mistmarches, who had always presented himself in garb that was proper as to his station. The ruler of cool confidence. He never was rude or dismissive of the help, but there was always a gap between he and they.
He pushed his way through the doors that led to the courtyard. He opened the door himself, as the guards stared agape. It was a couple hours since he stood in this very spot pondering.
Once outside, he noted the sun was going down. The chill in the air was potent, but his draconic heritage enabled him to not even feel the discomfort.
In the middle of the courtyard he took in the evening. The smells of wood burning stoves, various spices from evening meal permeated the air as was the norm of this land. The stars began to shine as night descended. His senses were alive for all the wonder this world had to offer.
With a determined, yet light step, he walked the city making his way to the inn. Those he passed in the street hardly took note of him, even though his hair shone in the moonlight. The most recognition he received was a second glance, but how could one of their beloved kings, let alone Lord Zion be in such humble garb.
He walked up to the entrance. He was about to enter when musical notes caught his ear. He stayed there the few minutes while the song played. He was moved by the sweet voice. The song was from one of the southern lands. Once the song was done, he opened the door. The audience in the common room wore pleased faces. The room was crowded. It would be difficult to find a table.
Aeris Stefson and his wife Trina were behind the bar busily pouring drinks. Their children Georg and Loren were nowhere to be seen. Stepping away from the middle of the room she walked. He stopped on the inside of the door, his breath was taken away. Her radiance was undeniable. He stared as she made her way up to the bar she walked where she grabbed a tray to start serving the patrons. William was dumbfounded as be watched. She was working. She had her roots in a shop, and later a brothel, but here it was wholesome. She smiled as she wended her way through the crowd.
Some of the customers sitting by the door grumbled from the cold pouring in from outside. “Apologies friend.” said William as he closed the door. “Who is the girl. I’ve never seen her here before?” The balding man said, “That’s the new barmaid Jenny. She arrived here a couple months ago. That’s a might fine lass there, that one is.”
“Aye, she truly is.” replied William.
“Don’t you be getting any thoughts in your head mister. You’ll have the whole place up in arms if you do.” warned the man at the table. William smiled. “I assure you friend, she has no worry of harm or hurt from me.”
“Now listen here…” The balding man started as he turned his head to finally see who he was talking to. There was a recognition in his eyes, but disbelief in his chest.
“It can’t be.” He thought. “Is that… Naah. Couldn’t be, the Kings arn’t here, and lord Zion wouldn’t be dressed so… Besides, he’s so much…more.” The patrons mind wandered.
William eased his way through the crowd to the bar. No one noticed him as moved. William marveled at his anonymity. Before he needed to use magic to disguise himself. Tonight, he left his ego in the castle, and now no one fully recognized him.
Up at the end of the bar, Trina asked. “What’ll you have mister?” She looked at him in the eye. A thought entered her mind, “No, it couldn’t be.”
“Ale, good woman.” requested william.
She quickly poured him his drink. Took another disbelieving look at him then busied herself with her work. William stood quietly watching Jennifer work her way through the crowd, taking orders, delivering food or drinks. Not one patron tried to grab her, nor was there a disapproving remark made. William was awed to see her smile. His heart swelled with pride. He had done well in removing her and her family from that atrocious town.
An hour later a rowdy group in the corner started banging on their table. For a moment Zion returned at the annoyance of the disruption. Then he noticed the tables around the first joined in. In short order the whole common room were banging their tables. Jennifer blushed at the request. They were asking her for another song.
She looked to Aeris who nodded happily. Ever since this mysterious family arrived his business had doubled. King Reg sent money enough for room and board for double the people they housed. Through boredom, or the need to contribute, Jenny started helping in the taphouse. Her mother, Veronica, too pitched in, in the kitchen. They couldn’t pay the family much, but since the help came, they were able to send their children to school. They also sent Willow, and Jessica to school with them.
No one knew how it happened, but every night Jenny worked, she sang for the room. It became custom for customers to bang the tables demanding a new song. The center of the room cleared, making room for her. She stood for a minute as she gathered her wits then began. The melody that came from her lips was a melancholy song of longing of a long lost love away at war. The concern the writer had would never see him again. As her song came out, everyone could plainly see she took this song to heart. A tear fell from her eye as she finished up.
Around the room more tears flowed. Even the balding man by the front door couldn’t help but blubber in his soup.
The song finished, and she stood there a moment longer. She wiped the tear away and walked from the middle of the room. She made her way between the tables and well wishers. “Thank you everyone. Thank you. If you’ll excuse me.” She made her way to the kitchen into her mothers arms. She stood there weeping. She knew him one day. One conversation. She saw something in him which drew out her trust. Trust enough to leave the city she hated but was the only one she knew as home.
In turn, he gave them a fortune in magic and weapons. Enough to live on comfortably for the rest of her and her families lives. The bag was upstairs hanging in their closet, and the weapons hung on the wall in easy reach but unneeded in this peaceful city.
Her mom replied “I know.”
William was dumbfounded again. Never before had he been so touched by a song. This came from her heart. He felt the tears running down his cheeks as he listened. For William, it was the most beautiful song ever performed. Trina came back while he composed himself. “She has that effect on people. There is no shame in it… M’lord?”
“William madam. Tonight, I am merely William. I beg, don’t draw any undue attention.”
“Yes, m’… Sure thing William. Can I get you anything else?”
“Another drink would be wonderful. I thank you.” In short order, another ale was poured and appeared in front of him. A short time later, Jenny came from the kitchen, once more composed, and ready to take care of the room. she deftly ducked and spun through the tables as she worked the crowd. William stood quietly drinking her in. She was absolutely beautiful.
Through the evening she worked, while William nursed his ale. It would not do for their second meeting for him to be drunk. The crowd slowly disbursed. She not once paid attention to the patrons at the bar. The married couple took care of those customers.
Toward the end of the night, she could finally take a break. Enough of the demands from the customers had subsided she could breath for a moment. Jennifer leaned on the counter at the other end of the bar. Slowly her gaze raised to the last person standing the bar. Her heart leapt into her throat, and she raised her hands flew to her mouth. Was it? William sheepishly smiled. He didn’t feel worthy to deserve such a response. He looked different. A blend of the sellsword, and the majestic strength of Zion. She dreamt of his eyes looking out for her, and those eyes were soft, gentle, yet protective. William stepped out from the bar as Jennifer all but flew around the bar and leapt into his waiting arms.
“I told you I’d find you.”
Jennifer held him tightly not wanting to let go. Tears of relief and joy fell from her eyes. The worry of never seeing her rescuer again was gone from her mind. He was here in her arms and she never wanted to let go. Across the bar, the married couple held each other close, remembering their time as a young couple. They watched the two embrace, and their hearts warmed. Moments later Trina whispered something into her husbands ear. His eyes widened, then barked, “EVERYONE OUT! WE ARE NOW CLOSED! ONLY STAFF AND FAMILY MAY STAY!!! OUT I SAID!”
Grumbles came from all around. “We wanted our last song!” one customer complained.
“SHE’S A Little Busy if You’re Blind. Anymore belly aching and you’ll never hear her sing again! OUT!!!”
Aeris’s words were distant echos in the ears of the two who still held their embrace. The world had ceased to be in those precious moments. All there was was each other. The door to the kitchen was ajar with Jennifer’s mother standing there. She too had tears flowing freely but of relief for her daughter. She was of course thankful William was alright, but now she didn’t need to hear her daughter sob anymore while going to sleep. Nor would she need to try to pry any information coming from Ft. Drelev. She had heard the Fort was secure, and the town was now called Freeton. But there was never any news of the advanced troops sent there. Her other two daughters would be happy too. They liked the magic guy.
The two finally broke their connection after the last patron left the tavern. Jennifer led William by the hand to a nearby table.
“How?” she began.
He smiled, “I do magic, remember?”
She grinned, “Really!”
“Jennifer, I have so much to tell you. I don’t want secrets, and believe me, I have plenty.” said William. She sat there with her eyes wide. “I don’t even know where to begin.” William looked down in shame. Jennifer asked, “Where are you from?”
“I’m from up north from where the sword lords come….” The two sat there in conversation next to each other, their hands grasped as one, until the morning light shone through the windows.