Maggie - Part 1
By: OldGoat | : 654
Terri was missing. She had gone with Bones and Electra back to the house in Divinity’s Reach to pick up the last of their belongings and do a final cleaning. Bones and Electra had gone for lunch, but when they returned, Terri was gone. Her staff was in the corner where she had stood it, and the house looked like it had seen a very big fight. They quickly searched the neighborhood and asked everyone they met if they had seen anything.
A few people recalled a group of five men leaving the house that they thought was part of the moving crew. The men had loaded the trunk on a wagon and rode off in the direction of Rurikton. Bones and Electra jumped in the wagon and drove it as fast as they could to the new house in Shaemoor. As they drove into the yard, they both yelled for Maggie.
Maggie came out of the house and down the stairs on the front porch and grabbed the horse by his bridal. “What’s going on? Where’s Terri?” she asked.
“Terri’s missing. When we came back from lunch the house was in shambles and Terri was gone. We think she was carried off in a chest by some men in a wagon.” Bones explained.
Maggie ran back inside and shouted, “Everyone, out in the yard, bring your gear, we’re leaving now. Terri’s been kidnapped. We’ll fill you in on the way.”
She came back out in a few minutes wearing her armor, carrying her axes and bow. Harry was right behind her with precious. Mellen was the last to appear. They all jumped into the wagon and Bones turned it around and headed back to Divinity’s Reach to search for more clues.
When they arrived at the old house, everyone spread out and searched for clues. It was Mellen who found the first. In one corner of the bedroom there was an Asuran doll laying on a toy gate. Mellen shouted, “Maggie, I’ve found something!”
Maggie came running up the stairs, “What? What did you find?”
Mellen pointed at the Asuran doll on the gate.
Harry walked in and said, “What’s it mean?”
“It means Terri knew where they were going to take her and wanted us to know as well.” Mellen answered.
“Which gate, there are several in the city?”
“They took her through the Asura Gate in Rurikton.”
Maggie thought for only a moment, “Ebonhawke”
Electra shouted from downstairs, “Maggie, Mellen, come quick. There’s someone here.”
They ran down the stairs and met Electra and Harry in the hallway. A man, bearded, dressed in rags, sporting a black eye and split lip had a letter in his hand. He offered it to Maggie.
“Who gave this to you, Jacques?” she asked.
He said simply, “I don’t know his name, but he gave me copper to deliver it to you. I’ve been watching from across the street. I was afraid. He told me he would make me suffer if I failed.”
“Can you tell us anything about him, or who he was with?” Mellen asked.
“He was tall and only had one eye. He hit me when I tried to talk to Miss Terri. She’s always been nice to me. Gave me work in the garden. They had her tied up and were putting her into a chest. I’m sorry Miss Maggie. There were five of them. He told me he’d hurt my family if I told anyone.”
Maggie opened the letter. It was simply written. If you wish to see your Terri again, you will convince the Queen to grant me an audience. You have until the end of the week. If you fail or tell anyone, we will deliver your friend to you, ready for burial. I will be in contact at your new house.
Maggie reached into her bag and pulled out some coins and handed them to Jacques. “Take this, use it to get your family to my new house in Shaemoor. There are jobs for you and your wife and a place for you all to live. Talk to Berry, tell her I sent you. She will get you settled. Speak of this to no one. Now go, quickly.”
A quick nod and he left. As he walked away, Maggie turned to her friends and said, “We need a plan. It’s a separatist plot to get to the Queen.”
Mellen replied, “That’s what it looks like. But something is bothering me about this. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something doesn’t make sense. Who knows that you know the Queen well enough to ask for an audience?”
“Are you saying someone close to us is behind this? But who?” asked Electra.
“I don’t know. I say we follow the clues and learn everything we can.”
Maggie voiced her concern, “Won’t they kill Terri if we follow them?”
“Perhaps if YOU follow them. For some reason, I don’t think they’ll be concerned about a raggedy old Charr and an extremely brilliant Asuran selling potions. Maggie, I think it best if you’re at the house when this scoundrel tries to contact you.”
Bones looked at Maggie, “How well do you know the Queen. Would she keep a secret if you asked her to?”
“I don’t know, she’s been very good to us.”
“How about Logan?”
“He has a tendency to overreact to danger when it involves the Queen.” Electra interjected.
“Then I suggest you speak to the Queen. Even if you’re watched, it will look like you’re trying to get an audience for this son of a harpy outcast . She should be warned.”
“Yes, you’re right. I’m just so worried about Terri.” Maggie said.
“Terri is a lot stronger and smarter than you give her credit for. She was able to leave us a clue, I’d be willing to bet there are more along the way.” Electra comforted Maggie.
“Yes, she is smart. Okay, then we have a plan. I will visit the Queen; Mellen and Harry will follow the clues. And we will all be ready at a moment’s notice to go wherever we need to.”
“Agreed,” said Mellen, “Bones and Electra, Harry and I need suitable transportation for and bottles of potion for a potion seller. And you all need fast transportation should I send for you. Can you help us with that?”
“Absolutely, we will contact Eir in Hoelbrak immediately. Fast horses, a box wagon full of potions. Anything else?”
“That should do it, thank you. Meet us at the Asura gate in Rurikton. Come on Harry, let’s get back to Shaemoor and see about our travelling clothes.”
With that, the party split up and each went to their assigned task.
Bones and Electra wasted no time in travelling to the Upper City’s Asura Gate. Through the gate to Lion’s Arch, then to Peeta’s Gate in Hoelbrak. From there, they went immediately to Stonewright’s Steading to talk to Eir Stegalkin. Simon and Garm were old friends and after the greeting ceremony they took off running in the field.
Bones got right to the point, “We need five swift horses. Three saddled, and two to pull a box wagon full of potions. They are for Maggie and Mellen.”
“I see. I take it this is a matter of some urgency?” asked Eir.
Electra’s looked at Eir, “I’ve known you for most of my life. I trust you to keep this secret.”
Her curiosity piqued, Eir replied, “I give you my word, this is between the three of us and no other.”
“Terri has been kidnapped. The kidnapper is demanding a private audience with Queen Jennah in return for her safety. Mellen and Harry are following the trail left by 5 men and a chest on a wagon. Maggie is going to warn the Queen. The rest of us will wait until we hear from Mellen, and at that time may need swift horses to assist with the rescue.”
“Consider it done. I will give you the necessary papers. Give them to my stabler. In the meantime, you two come with me, I know an artificer who will ask no questions if the gold is shiny.”
They left Eir’s home and headed towards the center of Hoelbrak. Hanging from above the door of a small shop was a sign that contained a single potion bottle and the words, Potions,Tonics, Sigils by Balder the Silent.
They stepped inside to find an old man hunched over a table putting stoppers in a handful of bottles. Eir spoke to him loudly, “Balder, I have need of your services.”
He looked up at Eir and smiled. Taking a pad of paper and pen, he began writing. When he finished, he showed the pad to Eir. “What can I help you with Noble Ranger?”
“I need enough potions to fill a wagon. Healing potions I believe. Name your price.”
He wrote again and held the pad up before Eir. “You take the fun out of bargaining.”
Eir smiled back at him, “You wound me more with your bargaining than ever I received in battle.”
Grinning back he wrote, “Flattery will get you exactly what you want, my dear. I suggest 200 gallons of strong healing potions in pint jars. I can have it ready within the hour for 10 gold.”
Bones opened his money bag and produced the required amount. “We will return in one hour. Thank you Balder.”
They left the shop and went back to Eir’s home. She spent the next few minutes writing the orders for the horses and wagon. Handing the papers to Bones, she turned to Electra and said, “I wish there was more I could do to help. How will you contact me should I be needed?”
Electra thought for a moment, then said, “Simon will notify Garm that he is needed. Garm will know where to find us.”
Eir nodded. “That will work.”
Maggie was in the Upper City on her way to the Royal Palace to warn the Queen. As she walked through the park she saw a group of men resting in the shade. One of them caught her eye. Her step faltered when she realized who he was. She hadn't seen him for nearly a year. At that same moment, he saw her. Gesturing with hand signals, he directed her away from the others. Fighting her tears, she walked towards him. Seeing the look on her face, he reached out and took her in his arms. Her tears would no longer be denied as her father held and tried to comfort her.
"Daddy," was all she could say. "They took her. They took Terri. They're going to kill her. I don't know what to do."
He held her, waiting for her to regain her composure. Holding his only daughter as if she was once again a scared little girl. His own tears threatened, as he said, "We will find her. We will find her and bring her back to you. I promise you that."
And she believed him. This man had kept many promises throughout her lifetime. This man who had raised her by himself after her mother left. This man who taught her she was as good as any boy could be, if not better. As he held her she began to calm. She knew it was going to be all right.
“I’m sorry dad, don’t know what got into me.”
He smiled, “It doesn’t matter, it needed to come out. Now, tell me what’s going on while we wait for the Queen.”
Suddenly it dawned on Maggie, her father’s uniform showed an officer’s rank. “Dad, you’re a colonel? You said you’d never be an officer. You swore you’d always be one of the soldiers.”
“Well, our Queen had her own ideas about what I was going to be. She ordered a field commission six months ago.”
“Six months ago? And I’m only hearing about it now?”
“That’s because it’s your fault.”
“My fault?” Maggie was dumbfounded. “How is it MY fault?”
“The Queen told me she was ordering this commission so that I’d have an office job and you’d be spared the loss of your father.”
“But…” Maggie was speechless.
“Yes, I felt very much the same way. But the Queen has a gift. That gift is the ability to make us all see reason. She convinced me to take the job. Although I dare say she’s not happy that I changed the rules a bit. I still spend as much time in the field as I do in my office.”
Maggie just shook her head and smiled at her father. Her pride was obvious to anyone who could see her face. Maggie soon told him everything she knew of the kidnap and the note. He took it all in and finally said, “They just want a private audience with the Queen? Something’s not right about that. Of all the people with access to the Queen, why you?”
“I don’t know, but I have to warn her. She’s been good to us. But I’m afraid of her reaction. She may order an investigation. She could get Terri killed.”
At that moment a guard walked up to her father and said, “Colonel Lynn, the Queen will see you now.”
‘We’re on our way, come on Maggie, let’s go see the Queen.”
The guard stood for a moment as if digesting the Colonel’s last words, then turned and led them toward the Royal Palace.
Maggie almost didn’t hear her father, his whisper was so low. “Don’t worry, the Queen will do the right thing. Let me do the talking.”
They walked quickly to the palace and entered through the public door. From there, the guard guided them up a short flight of stairs, and into a small room with a barred window. Another door opened and the Queen’s secretary entered. “Colonel, Maggie, the Queen will see you in the drawing room.”
The drawing room was not a public room, nor was it large enough for more than a handful of people. This audience was meant to be private. Colonel Lynn removed his weapons and placed them on the table. Maggie did the same. The secretary then led them to the drawing room.
After Maggie and her father bowed, the Queen gestured to the chairs that had been set up, “Good, I have need of both of you.”
Harry and Mellen had changed clothes to better fit their roles. Mellen as the seller of potions, Harry as his servant and driver. Upon hearing from Bones, they both left for Hoelbrak to pick up the already loaded wagon and drive it to Rurikton. Once they reached the Asura Gate, Harry pulled the wagon off the road to the side and Mellen began to open the back and started his sales pitch. “Potions ladies and gentlemen. Potions for every condition, hope in a bottle. I have potions for every ailment, just one silver per bottle.”
The guards at the gate looked at each other, then went to the guardhouse and used the radio. By the time the Captain of the Guard arrived, there was already a small crowd forming. Mellen had sold six bottles of potions and Harry was delivering them as they were sold. The Captain walked right up to the back of the wagon and said, “You can’t do this here.”
“And why not?” asked Mellen, “I’ve got the proper license, I’ve sold here before, what’s the problem?”
“The problem is the crowd will get in the way of traffic.”
“I was just trying to make a little money while I waited.”
‘Well, I’m sorry, but you can’t sell here.”
“Is it alright if I wait? I won’t sell, but I’ve got to wait for my other wagon, with my trunk.”
“How long will you be here?” The captain sounded impatient.
“I’m not sure. I thought they would be here already, but they seem to be late.”
“There was a trunk here earlier today,” one of the guards spoke up. “It was in a wagon, there were five men.”
“That sounds like my trunk, did you happen to catch a name? Just to make sure it’s the correct one?”
“Yes, it’s in my record book.” He replied as he took something from the guardhouse. “Here, his name was Serentine.”
“Ahh, wonderful. That’s my chest. Where are they?”
“They’ve already gone through the gate, sir.”
“Well then, Come Harry, let us close shop and follow, erm, I mean fetch my trunk..”
Mellen and Harry wasted no time, they pulled in the stage, closed the wagon and started through the gate to Ebonhawke. Once on the other side, Mellen said, “We need to get a message to Maggie. That name might prove important.”
“If it’s a real name,” replied Harry. “How do we send her a message?”
“That’s simple, we use Precious to deliver it.”
“I don’t know if she’ll understand and go to the right place.”
“She understands much more than you give her credit for. Call her, I’ll show you.”
As if she already knew she was needed, precious poked her head out of the back of the wagon and simply said, “rrrr?”
Harry found a place to park the wagon. Mellen climbed into the back and motioned Harry do the same. Once they were inside the wagon’s box, Mellen pulled out a potion. Pouring a tiny bit into a saucer, he then took a drink and offered it to Harry. Harry took a small swallow and waited. After precious lapped up the few drops in the saucer, she jumped into Harry’s lap and he heard her say, “I don’t like that chicken flavor food you get, I like what Terri feeds me better. It tastes like fish.”
“What sorcery is this?” He cried.
“No sorcery, this potion just allows us all to understand each other’s language. Asuran’s have used it for centuries to settle differences with other races. How do you think we learned to speak Charr?”
“But, cat’s don’t talk.”
“Well, for the most part they choose not to. But Precious isn’t just a cat. Precious is a guide. She’s here because she’s chosen you.”
“Yes, I have chosen you.” The cat spoke clearly.
“Now, Harry, we must hurry, we can debate this another time, we need to write a message and ask Precious to take it to Maggie.”
“Terri is in danger so we must find and save her or I’ll be stuck with your chicken flavor.” Precious surprised Harry with how much she already knew.
“Yes, they can understand us all the time, it’s we who really need the potion.” Mellen said.
“Precious, can you carry a message to Maggie for us?” Mellen asked. “It is of the utmost importance that she gets this message.”
“Nothing will stop me, of course, silly Asuran. In fact, no one will even see me.”
With that Mellen hurriedly printed a note explaining what they had found and where they were going. He tied it around Precious’s neck with a piece of rawhide. “Be careful not to lose this note and I will make sure you are rewarded with some nice fresh fish.”
Suddenly Precious was gone. Invisible, she made her way through the Asura gate and back to Divinity’s Reach. Harry and Mellen jumped back into the front of the wagon and drove into Ebonhawke.
Terri had a headache. She didn’t remember being knocked unconscious, being put into a chest, or travelling to wherever she was now. But, she did remember the men who grabbed and tied her up. They talked amongst themselves while she pretended to be unconscious in the chair. She could tell by the conversation that they weren’t very smart.
“Boss says we’re gonna get paid big time for this one.”
“Don’t be stupid, he says that about every job. We’ll get our same five silver plus another as a bonus.”
“This one’s different, we’re taking her through Ebonhawke. We deserve more than six lousy silver. He’s gonna pay us at least ten. Remember, we have to keep her alive this time. Not like last time. You saw what he did to Felix.”
“Felix had it comin, he was always mouthin’ off, startin’ trouble, fighting with everybody. His short fuse is what got the guy killed.”
Earlier they had left her alone for a few minutes while they brought in the trunk. She spied the Asuran doll Maggie had been working on to give Mellen’s niece. There was also the dollhouse with the pretty picket fence. She scooted the chair she was tied to over to the table. She took the gate with her teeth and moved it to the corner of the table. Then she did the same with the Asuran doll, placing it directly on top of the gate. Suddenly she heard a sound. She quickly scooted her chair back to where they had tied her.
Just then the leader had come into the room. She watched as he walked behind her. That was the last thing she remembered, and now her head hurt even more. She vowed she would extract vengeance for the headache at the earliest opportunity.
Sitting up, she realized she was no longer tied. However it was very dark. Reaching around blindly, she knocked something over. If only she had a light. She thought for a moment then muttered the cantrip for Cleansing Fire. Suddenly her headache disappeared, her shoulders felt stronger, and her mind cleared. Along with feeling better came a small finger of flame. She lifted her hand and using this as a light source, she was able to see that she was in a cave and the lamp was beside her. Directing the finger of flame to the lamp, she turned the handle to expose the wick and it caught. Soon the room filled with the golden glow of an oil lamp.
The furnishings were sparse but comfortable enough. She may be a prisoner, but someone wanted her to be comfortable. That means someone wants her cooperation. That someone was going to be disappointed. Terri was going to escape instead. Getting up she went immediately to try the door and found it locked. Pounding on it, she shouted, “I want to talk to whoever’s in charge and I want him here NOW. If you don’t produce him, I will burn this room and anyone guarding it down with flames!”
The door burst open and the two men guarding her looked around. “How’d you light that lamp?” the short one asked.
“That’s not all I can do,” she answered.
And with that, she once again spoke the cantrip and flame came out of her hand. Pointing it at the taller guard, she set his beard on fire. As he screamed in pain and fear, she darted toward the door, only to run into a much larger, much stronger man. He immediately put his arms around her and shouted to the guards. “Give her another shot, damn you. This one’s dangerous, she must be kept asleep!”
The guard hurried to comply and Terri felt a sudden sting in her arm and immediately began to fall unconscious. As she drifted she heard the bandit say, “I’m telling you Serentine, this one’s gonna be impossible to keep!”
Precious maintained her invisibility until she was inside the Royal Palace. She waited until she was well inside and under a table to reappear. She used her nose to find a trace of Maggie. Following the scent, she was soon outside the drawing room. Yowling her loudest meow, she soon got the attention of one of the guards at the door. “Shoo, get away. Suddenly the door opened and Maggie stuck her head out the door asking, “What was that noise?”
Precious ran quickly through the door and waited at Maggie’s feet. Bending down, Maggie took the note from around her neck and spoke to the guard as she closed the door, “It’s all right Sergeant. This one’s with us.”
Reading the note quickly, she handed it to her father who had been discussing options with the Queen. He read it out loud, “Maggie, it is as we expected. They’ve gone through Ebonhawke, where we are now.. The leader used the name Serentine. ”
“Serentine.” Said the Colonel.
“Yes,” agreed the Queen.
“So, is he after you, or is he after me?” Maggie’s father spoke bluntly.
“He has reason to want to harm us both.”
Maggie asked, “Serentine? Should I know that name?”
“I wish you didn’t.” her father explained, “He’s the man who kidnapped your mother, twenty one years ago.”
“Kidnapped? But, but you said, she left. You told me she couldn’t stay married any longer. You said she left us!”
“Yes, that’s what your father was told to tell you, my dear. Sit down, you have a lot to learn and a very short time to learn it. I will explain it all. Just promise you’ll wait until we’re finished before you start asking questions.”
Maggie knew better than to challenge the Queen when she used that tone of voice. She simply nodded her head, sat down and began to listen.
“Twenty one years ago, when you were just a baby. You lived here at the palace with your father and mother and me. Your parents were known as Lord and Lady Lynn. I was next in line for the throne, but your mother was in line after me.”
The stunned look on Maggie’s face urged the Queen on.
“Your mother is my half-sister. But, she never wanted anything to do with the throne. She only had eyes for your father. A gallant young soldier with more than just a pretty face. The king trusted him. Trusted him with the life of his favorite daughter. My father gave his blessing for the marriage, bestowing the title of Lord on your father, and gave him the Township of Claypool.”
The Queen paused to let her words sink in, rang her bell, and told the servant who answered to bring tea. Once the tea was served, the Queen sent the servant to tell her secretary she would be seeing no one else today. And then she continued.
“They were married and shortly after your mother announced she was with child. We were all so very happy, and she was overjoyed about becoming a mother. When you were born, and you cried so much and so loudly, except when your parents were near. So, you went everywhere they went. Servants changed you and bathed you, but only your mother could feed you. And only your father could rock you to sleep. We loved it all. Your grandfather adored you. As did I.”
The queen noted the stunned look on Maggie’s face, took her hand and said, “I know you have questions, but you must hear the rest. As I told you, I was next in line for the throne. But then, as now, there were people who were opposed to my rule. My father heard from them time and again. But he never listened, and he never changed his choice for the heir to the throne. It was always me.”
“Then, one day our entourage was attacked on our way to Lion’s Arch for a ceremony commemorating the building of the new bridge to Fort Marriner. If your father had not turned his attention away from your mother, the king would have been killed, however, it gave the attackers just enough time to grab you and your mother. I was able to snatch you away and tried to reach my sister. The attacker struck me hard enough to stun me, but I would not let you go. I heard your mother shouting to your father as she was drug away. She cried out to your father, ‘save her, don’t let them hurt my baby.’ Your father loosed a single arrow that struck one of the men in the eye. We found out later that the man was Serentine, a leader of the separatists who had been hounding my fathers troops day and night trying to gain control of the kingdom. “
There were tears in the Queens eyes. Taking her kerchief she dabbed at them before she spoke again. “Your father hesitated to make sure you were unharmed, and in that moment they disappeared with your mother and there has not been a single sign of her until today. This morning your father contacted me telling me he had found her. Now, I know you have questions.”
“Why was I never told the truth?” Maggie asked.
“When you were young it was just easier than trying to explain. And we didn’t want you to be afraid.” Her father answered gently.
“And when you were older? You were so headstrong we were afraid you’d try to find her.” The Queen added, then turning to Colonel Lynn, “You said you know where she is now?”
“She’s in Highden Cave, not far from Ebonhawke.” He answered. “I received word from the Iron Legion last week. ”
“And one day we will discuss why I am just hearing about this now.” The Queen was obviously miffed, “In the meantime, do you have a plan?”
“We need more information. My company can be there in two days if we leave tonight. But there may be complications. Serentine is back, and this time he’s kidnapped Terri.
“My friends Mellen and Harry are following the trail. Terri left a clue for us. The Asura Gate in Rurikton. It goes directly to Ebonhawke.” Maggie volunteered.
At that, she called Precious. The cat came immediately to her.
“I need to send a message to Mellen, to watch Highden Cave. They also need to know about my mother.”
“If it’s the same group, it’s possible they are holding Terri in the same place. They likely are going to try to assassinate you and replace you with Frieda. They must have some backing among the nobles.” Terri’s father sounded angry. “They’ve held her long enough. They’ve likely convinced her to do their bidding.”
“Don’t count her out yet, Willem.”
Maggie marveled that the Queen used her father’s given name so easily. There was much she wanted to know, but first, there had to be a plan to save her Terri. “I must go, I can’t be away from my house. They are supposed to contact me in the morning.”
“Go with her, Willem. I will do my part from here. All will seem normal.”
“About the audience they’re demanding?’
“Tell him four days. I will grant them a secret audience in my garden at lunch. But it won’t be me they find, it will be Logan wearing my robes. Try to find your friend Terri before then.”
Taking a pen and pad, Maggie scribbled a quick note to Mellen and Harry. Using the same piece of rawhide, she fastened the note to the cat. Saying their goodbyes, Maggie left with her father and Precious.
Queen Jennah again rang her servant’s bell. “Bring Logan Thackeray here immediately.”
“Yes your majesty.” He bowed and left the room.
Finally alone, the Queen allowed herself to breathe. Her sister, alive…
It was starting to get dark. Mellen had made his sales pitch to a large group of onlookers and sold almost all of the potions for fifteen gold. A tidy profit of five gold for Bones. Minus the ten percent each for Mellen and Harry. And as the Norn potions loosened some tongues, they found out that Serentine was the leader of a group of bandits who had opposed the Queen since before she was a Queen. He had been terrorizing the town for twenty one years.
Harry had found out where Serentine’s hideout was rumored to be, Highden Cave. Mellen had taken that information and using his electronic map tool, found the exact location of the entrances to the cave. There was no information showing how large the cave was. However, Mellen questioned a young man who had visited the cave with an uncle, two years before. He was very afraid to talk, but a hefty dose of a free “healing” potion gained them the layout of the cave.
A single “rowwrr” announced the arrival of Precious. Taking the note from around his neck, Mellen quickly read it.
Harry grew impatient, “What does it say?” he asked.
“It says we have the right location and the right culprit. They’ve come up with the same information from a different source.”
“What now?” Harry asked after reading the note himself.
“You saw the note, she wants us to watch the cave. We need to get a message to Bones and Electra to meet us there. Precious, are you up to an overnight trip?”
This time Mellen wrote to Bones and Electra. “I have your payment for the potions. Please meet us in Ebonhawke in the morning. Bring precious back with you.”
“Now, go play with your friend Simon. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Harry touched noses with the cat.
Once again, Precious disappeared. Harry turned to Mellen. “I am curious, how did you know she could speak?”
“When you were hurt at the Royal Palace. She spoke to me then. She told me what it would take to save you. She was the one who saved your life.”
“It wasn’t the first time, I’m sure it won’t be the last. She’s been saving my life since I was a cub.”
“We need a reason to travel the countryside so we can watch the cave.” Mellen thought out loud.
Harry thought for a moment then said, “We can be buyers looking for goods to make more of our potions with.”
“That sounds like a very good idea. It will give us a reason to talk to the locals. Perhaps we can find out more about this Serentine.”
Maggie and her father were escorted to the house in Divinity’s Reach. Willem dismissed the escort and sent them back to the barracks near the palace. It was growing dark and they sat inside on the floor.
“I don’t know if I should stay here or go home to Shaemoor.” Maggie spoke quietly.
“I’m sure if it mattered the note would have been more specific”
“Dad, you never remarried, why?”
He smiled at her then, “At first I couldn’t believe your mother was really gone. Then I was used to it being just the two of us. I was happy. You were happy. I wasn’t willing to risk that.”
“I remember when you were stationed in Ascalon. At night I would sneak out of the camp and look for her among the ghosts.”
“I know. We followed you.”
Maggie’s surprise showed in her eyes. “I never saw or heard you.”
“You were twelve years old and very headstrong. You reminded me of your mother. Everyone in the camp watched over you. Brightmane woke me when you left the camp. He tracked you. We hid behind the wall. You spoke to the ghosts and asked them if they had seen your mother. You came back to camp dejected and cried yourself to sleep.”
“And the next day you sent me away to school.”
“I should have known they could never tame you.” He laughed then. The headmistress begged me to take you home. She said you would cause a rebellion among the young ladies.”
“That’s when you hired the governess.”
“Yes, she was supposed to teach you how to be a lady. An impossible task. But she never gave up.”
“She found Professor Klaas, and between the two of them they taught me a lot.”
“Yes, but you were more interested in learning from Brightmane. He still brags about the fifteen year old girl that gave him that scar on his snout.”
“I was so afraid he’d tell you what I did. I knew if you found out, you’d forbid me to learn the sword and axe.”
“He would never have allowed it. He once told me that you were a warrior, and that I was a fool if I thought you’d ever be anything else. He was so proud of you that day.”
“He gave me my first axes. I still have them. I sharpened them every single night for a year.”
Stifling a yawn, he said, “Come on kiddo let’s get you home, it’s late and this old man needs to sleep.”
Snow was falling in Hoelbrak as Bones and Electra prepared for bed. Simon whined softly and padded to the door. Sniffing at the bottom, he gave a short bark. Bones looked at Electra as he grabbed his hammer and stood at the doorway. Electra grabbed her bow and readied an arrow. Nodding her head, she drew back the string. Bones took the handle and quickly opened the door. At first, neither saw anything. But suddenly Precious was rubbing against Simon’s legs. Bones put down his hammer and took the note from around the cat’s neck and read it.
“Mellen and Harry are in Ebonhawke. They want us to meet them there in the morning.” He spoke quietly.
“Something tells me you’d rather go now.” Electra answered.
“Yes, you’re right.”
“What do you think Simon?”
The Krytan Hound and the little cat both sat looking at her expectantly.
Bones smiled and said, “I guess that settles it. I’ll gather our gear.”
Electra walked over to him and put her arms around him. “Sometimes it bothers me that you can read me so well. But not tonight my love.”
They quickly gathered everything they would need and left on foot for Ebonhawke. To get there, they had to use the Asura Gate to Lion’s Arch, then to Divinity’s Reach, and finally the Asura Gate to Ebonhawke. The trip took them a few hours and it was midnight before they spied the wagon.
Harry watched them as they walked toward the wagon. Upon seeing him, Precious began running. Simon, not to be outdone, chased the cat and nearly knocked Harry off his seat on the wagon.
The commotion woke Mellen who asked gruffly, “What’s going on?”
Harry answered him, “Bones and Electra are here.”
The Asuran climbed out of the wagon and greeted the two Norns. “You’re early. Good.”
Electra asked, “What do we know?”
“We believe Terri is being held in Highden Cave to the East by a group led by a man they call Serentine.”
Bones interjected, “That’s ogre territory.”
“Ogres and harpies.” Harry added. “I hate harpies, they throw filth at you.”
“Do you think they’re in league with this Serentine?” Electra asked pointedly.
Mellen thought for a moment, then replied, “I have my doubts. Ogres generally are too hard to control. Harpies, I’m not sure, but Serentine would have to have something they wanted very badly to stay in their good graces. Perhaps we can use this to our advantage, should we need a diversion.”
“Let’s not wait till morning. I think we should use the darkness to cover our route.” Harry thought out loud.
“Excellent idea, are you sure you’re not part Asuran, friend Harry?” Mellen teased.
With that, Bones, Electra and the pets all climbed into the wagon. Harry drove south to Blackwing excavation while Mellen watched to see if anyone was following. As they reached the turnoff, Mellen gave the go ahead sign and Harry turned east. Once they made it through the excavation, the wagon continued east and followed the Ogre Road to Mithric Cliffs. Once there, they agreed that it would be better not to encounter ogres or harpies at night. With Simon and Precious to keep watch under the wagon, the group settled in to get some sleep
The night was clear and the full moon had made half of the journey across the dark, star filled sky and illuminated the road to Shaemoor. Maggie and Willem fell into a rhythm of walking and watching. It felt familiar to the father and daughter. It reminded them of hunting trips when Maggie was much younger.
As they passed through the gate, Maggie spied a dark figure leaning against the well outside her new house. Stopping short, she tapped her father’s shoulder and pointed. Using their shorthand sign language, he motioned her to go around to the left and approach the figure from behind. He waited for her to disappear around the nearest house, then began walking toward the well.
Maggie worked her way around the houses and quietly slid down the hill. Using trees and bushes for cover, she moved closer and lay behind a tree waiting for her father. Willem made his way along the road and walked past the charr, who stood and stepped out.
“Colonel? When did you start wearing the fancy duds of an officer?” It was the charr speaking now.
Maggie recognized the voice immediately. Smiling, she quietly moved behind the charr and growled, “At ease soldier. That’s my old man you’re messin with. Nobody messes with the colonel and lives.”
The charr turned around and grinned, “Maggie! I heard you coming a mile away. You’ve forgotten half what I taught you girl.”
“No way Brightmane, if you heard me coming you wouldn’t have jumped out of your skin when I snuck up behind you.”
The soldier stuttered, “Colonel, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you.”
“You did nothing wrong son. It’s your job to guard the house, and you’re doing it well. Now, back to your post and I’ll see that you have a little extra rum when you get off duty in the morning.”
“Yes, sir!” The soldier turned and melted back into the bushes at the side of the house.
Maggie looked at her old friend. She remembered him as having some grey on his snout, but now the gray had taken over his whole head. His left ear still had the half round bite mark she remembered so well. But his face bore scars she hadn’t seen before. Some new, some old, they told of battles he had fought in the years since he had been her teacher and friend. Instinctively she hugged him.
Embarrassed he growled, “Watch it, little one. I can still show you a thing or two.”
“I’ll bet you can.” She hugged him again.
Her father said, “Come on, let’s get inside. There’s a lot we have to talk about.”
The three walked up the steps to the porch. As they reached the front door, it was opened by a thin sylvari wearing a beautiful flower like gown. Her pinkish complexion was accentuated by the gowns red and violet highlights. Maggie led the way into the hallway. The sylvari whispered quietly, “I’ve kept supper warm.”
“Thank you, Berry. You don’t need to wait on us, you can go to bed.”
“Nonsense Maggie. I don’t mind at all.” Her smile made it plain she was not going to let them get away without eating.
Maggie led the way into the dining room. As Berry brought food and drink, introductions were made. “Dad, Brightmane this is Berry. She has been a blessing, without her I’d be lost. Berry, this is Lord Lynn, my father and my mentor Brightmane.”
Willem corrected her, “Please, just call me Willem. I haven’t been a lord for many years. And this is the best I’ve eaten in a long time. I daresay this fare is better than what the Queen’s own chef could prepare.”
“Thank you,” Berry answered, “and whenever you’re ready, I’ll prepare rooms for you both. Top of the stairs, first doors on both the left and right.”
“Berry, where are Jacques and his family?” Maggie asked.
“I haven’t seen him since the city.”
“Well, I told him to bring his family here. He’s an excellent stableman and with his help, we can fix up the stable. I think it would be a good idea to have horses available.”
“They can have the third floor until he gets the stable ready. There’s a nice apartment above that they can live in.” Berry replied.
“That will be perfect. Thank you. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Berry put her hand on Maggie’s shoulder, “Miss Terri will be okay. You’ll find her. I just know you will.”
Maggie patted Berry’s hand and smiled at her. Berry left them to prepare the rooms.
Brightmane spoke first. “Sir, we think they’re planning something. There’s been a lot of commotion around the caves.”
Maggie looked at him quizzically, “You’ve been watching them?”
“I’ve got some of my best at Fangfury Watch. They’re keeping me posted.”
Maggie just shook her head and said, “Dad, tell me everything.”
Her father smiled and explained, “We’ve been watching Serentine for a week. He’s been hiding out in Ebonhawke. It’s gotten too dangerous for him there, so he’s moved to the caves. Your mother was with them when they moved. She didn’t seem to be a prisoner.”
The charr added, “I’m still not counting her out as an ally. I don’t believe she would turn on her own family.”
“I wish I had your confidence in her. I can’t help wondering why she doesn’t try to escape.”
“Perhaps I will have a chance to ask her. They also have my partner. They kidnapped her and have demanded an audience with Queen Jennah. I’m supposed to hear from them in the morning.”
“Now that is starting to make sense. They took Terri to use Maggie to get an audience in order to kill the Queen. And then your mother becomes the new ruler in Kryta.” Brightmane stroked his chin.
“It all points to Frieda being part of the plot. Maybe she even planned it herself. She’s very intelligent.”
“No, something’s not right here. I don’t believe she would ever knowingly put her child in danger.” Brightmane was adamant. “There has to be another explanation.”
“I can only hope you’re right, old friend.” Willem sighed.
“It’s late, you should rest.” Berry’s voice was somehow soothing. “Should I prepare breakfast for the soldiers outside?”
“No, they’ll be taking care of themselves. Brightmane and I will breakfast with them.”
“What if my contact sees them?” Maggie was worried.
“I’ll send them back to the river. Your father and I will join them in the morning.” Brightmane said.
“Work out a signal should we need them.” Willem spoke quietly.
“Can we at least keep a few guards in the house?”
Maggie frowned, “I don’t need to be guarded. You should both know by now that I can take care of myself.”
The old charr grinned at her then, “Don’t bite my head off, I was thinking about the old man. He’s not as quick as he used to be.”
“Watch it friend.” Willem smiled at both of them.
The sun hadn’t come up yet, but it was getting lighter when someone knocked on the door. Maggie, who hadn’t slept at all rushed downstairs to answer. When she opened it, Jacques and his family were standing outside. She stepped aside and motioned for them to come in.
“We can‘t Maggie, we’re being watched. My instructions were to speak to you out here, but if I enter, I would regret it.”
“Okay, tell him he has what he wants in three days. At lunch, in the Queen’s garden.”
Jacques and his family started to go back down the stairs when Maggie spoke, “Jacques, your family isn’t part of this. They will be safer here and no harm will come to them.. Return when you’re finished delivering the message.”
“Thank you, I will.” His relief was obvious.
Maggie took Jacques wife and three children inside and introduced them to Berry, who immediately took them all to the kitchen for something to eat. Maggie half listened to the chattering as she waited. Soon, Jacques returned with a final message.
“Miss Terri will be released upon completion of the audience in three days. You will be notified where.” He said.
“Thank you.” Maggie pointed toward the kitchen, “through that door you’ll find Berry. She will explain your new duties and get you all settled for the day.”
Willem came down the stairs followed by Brightmane. They looked pointedly at Maggie who gestured they follow her and she led them into the study. When they were all seated, she told them of the message.
“The message has been delivered. They say they’ll release Terri after the audience. We have to find her before anyone gets suspicious. Worse yet, I think they’re watching the house. If I leave, at the very least I’ll be followed.”
“Well, maybe you should give them a tour of Shaemoor.” Brightmane smiled, “Starting with the Inn.”
“You’re being cryptic, you know I hate having to guess what you’re talking about.” Willem said.
“That barmaid at the Inn, she’s about Maggie’s size. All we need is a redhead wig and a quick change of clothes. Before they realize they’ve been duped, we’ll be long gone.”
Maggie added, “I know Gretchen. I’m sure she will help.”
No one had noticed Berry had entered the room. “Can I help?” She asked.
“I don’t know, do you have a red wig?” The charr almost couldn’t contain himself.
“Not at the moment, but I know exactly where to get one. Once the decoy is here, I can create a portal that will take her back to the Inn where she can resume her duties. It will appear to everyone that Maggie came home. And if questioned, she is resting.”
“How long will it take to get the wig?”
Suddenly Berry vanished and then just as suddenly she reappeared at the foot of the stairs with the wig. It was a perfect match for Maggie’s red hair. Maggie quickly placed it into her pack.
“You three, can you meet me at the Inn?”
“We’ll be waiting there for you.” Willem looked expectantly at Berry.
Berry muttered a few words and there was a portal, the three jumped in and were gone. Maggie left by the front door, pack on her back, and walked to the Inn.
Inside the Inn, she spied her father, Berry and the charr talking to Gretchen, the barmaid. Her father reached into his pocket and handed a few coins to the girl. Just as Maggie reached the group, her father said, “You girls go trade clothes now.”
Quickly the women went upstairs and exchanged clothes. Once they were dressed and Gretchen was wearing the wig, she could fool anyone at a distance. Maggie tucked her own hair up and covered it with a simple hat.
“You know the plan, you will go to my house, walk in as if it’s yours, and then Berry will give you a portal back here. Don’t speak to anyone, please.”
“You can count on me Maggie, you’ve always been good to my brother and me. I won’t let you down.”
Maggie smiled. Gretchen went down the stairs and out the front door. Maggie, wearing her street clothes waited. After a few moments, Berry arrived in the room with her armor and weapons.
“Come on, I’ll get you a portal as far as under the bridge. That should allow the three of you to get away without being seen.”
Maggie stepped out of the room onto the stairs and whistled. Her father and Brightmane quickly joined her and Berry. The Mesmer muttered the words again and a portal appeared. The three stepped in and found themselves under the bridge. Maggie could see Brightmane’s soldiers on the opposite bank of the river. Wading across, the three quickly joined them.
Willem spoke quickly to his friend, “Bright, take Maggie and the third squad through the Eastern Ward of Lion’s Arch, then use the Asura gate to Divinity’s Reach. I’ll meet you all at the gate to Ebonhawke.”
Brightmane left barking orders to the troops and suddenly everyone was busy picking up the camp. Maggie hugged her father and said, “Be careful.”
“You too, don’t let your temper get you in trouble.” His confident smile bolstered her spirits. She watched as he mounted his horse and rode off.
A young soldier came to her and spoke very respectably. “Ma'am, we have a mount for you. Whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you. What’s your name?”
“Private Swift, ma'am.”
“Well, Private, I prefer to be called Maggie.”
She could barely keep from laughing at the look on the young man’s face.
“Yes ma'am. I’ll remember that.”
“Lead the way Private Swift.” Her mock salute did little to calm him.
He turned and she followed him to where the horses were all tied to a rope. Taking one’s reins, the Private put out his hand to help Maggie mount the horse.
Smiling broadly, she told him, “It’s okay, I know how to ride.”
“I was told to look out for you ma'am.”
“What they meant was for you to look out. I bite.” She said over her shoulder as she rode off.
This time when Terri woke, the lamp was still on and she was not alone. She looked over at the woman sitting across the room and was surprised that she looked incredibly familiar. The woman noticed she was awake and said, “If you try anything Terri, I’ll call the guards and you’ll go right back to sleep.”
Terri nodded, “I understand.”
“My name is Frieda.” The woman spoke calmly, “I want to assure you that you will be returned to your home in a few days.”
“I would prefer to be turned loose today,” Terri watched the other woman carefully.
Smiling, Frieda simply smiled and said, “I’m sure you would.”
“Why am I here?”
“You were brought here to help us reclaim the Krytan throne for my family.
Terri couldn’t help herself, “You look very familiar to me. Almost as if I know you.”
“I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of my sister, Queen Jennah. Had she lived, this wouldn’t be necessary.”
“What do you mean, had she lived?” Terri was shocked.
“You’re too young to remember the day my family was massacred by the Charr.”
“Queen Jennah was not killed by Charr. I’ve spoken with her myself. She presided over my wedding.”
“That’s impossible my dear.”
As she spoke the door opened and a tall, dark haired with a scar on his face where his left eye had been entered the room. “Frieda, I told you this woman is too dangerous. You can’t be alone with her.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Go back to your room. I don’t want you wandering around without a guard. We can’t lose you now. Not now of all times when we are so close to putting your family back on the throne. Now go, I’ll take care of this young lady.”
Terri sat quietly thinking, looking for any way to escape. Someone had to warn the queen. As these thoughts ran through her head, the man had stepped closer to her. She felt the familiar poke in her neck, and as the light began to dim, saw Frieda being ushered from the room.
As the sky began to lighten in the east, Electra left the wagon with Simon, and they scouted the trail ahead. The best place to observe Highden Caves is from Fangfury Watch, So that is where they headed. As the two worked their way up the trail, Simon came to a sudden halt in front of her. Crouching was his signal to her that there was danger ahead. Electra left the trail and slowly moved forward at a crouch. Simon stayed with her until she saw his reason for stopping her.
The trail was covered with traps. She inspected the first and immediately recognized it as an Ogre creation. It would take hours to move a short distance along this trail. Each trap would have to be disarmed manually. The pair moved quietly back to the wagon.
The others were awake and making the days plans. Electra spoke to them all, “We can’t take the trail north.”
“Why not?” Mellen asked.
“It’s full of Ogre traps. It will take us more than a day if the traps extend the whole length to Fangfury.”
Harry spoke up, “What about Warrior’s Crown?”
“We only went a short distance, but it seems clear. The Ogres are more interested in stealing from travelers.” She answered.
“Well, it’s not an easy ride through the hills. We’ll probably have to fight our way through some separatist trash.” Mellen thought out loud.
Bones asked, “What if we leave the wagon?”
“Eir would never forgive us for losing her wagon and horses.” Electra insisted.
“Besides, it’s part of our cover story should we run into any of Serentine’s gang.” Added Harry.
Mellen thought for a moment and then came to a decision, “Well, we’d best be going. I want to get there as soon as we can. Something tells me we need to take a good look at these caves.”
With that the group jumped into the wagon and with Harry driving headed toward Warrior’s Crown. The ride was uneventful for a few hours, suddenly they heard gunfire from the north. Grabbing their weapons, Electra, Bones, and Harry jumped off the wagon. With Simon and Precious leading the way, they melted into the underbrush.
It wasn’t long before a ragged group approached the wagon. The leader lifted his hand and said simply, “Stop the wagon.”
Mellon pulled the reins and the horses obeyed. As the wagon came to a full stop, three men approached. Mellon spoke loudly, “Good day, are you in need of one of my tonics?”
“We don’t need your help, we’re good at helping ourselves.” The leader joked.
As the men drew closer, a single arrow landed between the three and the wagon. Looking back at their leader, the three came to a sudden stop. At that moment, Bones came running out of the brush carrying his hammer shouting a blood curdling war cry. Arrows fell and Precious raced with Simon into the fray. Mellen began muttering under his breath and a shadow fiend appeared next to the leader.
The fight was over in moments. The leader, screaming in fear ran away. Seeing that they had been left behind, the other three separatists followed. Mellen muttered a few more words and the shadow fiend followed them. Bones waved to Electra and Harry to let them know the fight was over. The three made their way back to the wagon, laughing at the four men they could still see running for their lives away from the fiend.
The rest of the journey proved uneventful and shortly before lunch, they drove up the ramp into Warrior’s Crown. Once they found a place to park, Harry unhooked the horses and led them to a pasture close to Gillscale Pond. Making sure the pasture was guarded before leaving the horses, Harry brushed them both while they were drinking their fill of water. He then turned them loose and joined the others in the outpost.
As he approached the wagon he couldn’t see his friends, but hearing laughter ahead, he continued up the ramp until he saw them and a group of soldiers watching something in the field. Joining them he began to smile. They were watching Simon, Precious, and Garm playing chase me. Precious was outdistancing her friends handily and even climbing up a tree and jumping on them from one of the lower branches. Seeing him, the kitten dodged between Garm’s legs and made a beeline for her Ranger. As soon as she was close enough, she jumped and almost knocked him down.
Garm and Simon followed and were immediately adopted by the band of Iron Legion soldiers accepting pats and ear scratches along with the occasional treat. Eir came up right then with a smile and said, “Well Harry, I guess we know which of our pets is the fastest.”
Smiling back, Harry spoke to his fellow ranger, “Hello Eir, it’s good to see you. I never expected to run into you way out here.”
“You’ve got Garm to thank for that. After Bones and Electa left, he just wouldn’t settle down . Kept asking to go out, kept tugging my sleeve. Finally I just followed him. So, here we are.”
“We think Simon called him.” Electra was holding her husband’s hand, “He senses we’re going to need help.”
Mellen added, “He’s right. I was talking to some of the soldiers and they say it’s impossible to watch the caves from any one place. They said they’ve noticed people at all hours coming and going.”
“The Lieutenant here saw Serentine enter the cave last night. No one has seen him since, but there are two other entrances that aren’t within view.” Bones added.
“We are going to have to split up and watch. There needs to be two of us at each entrance so we can keep each other informed.” Mellen thought out loud.
“We can use the pets,” said Eir. “They can travel nearly unseen and we can pass notes.”
“How do we let Maggie know where we are?” Asked Harry.
“The Lieutenant says he received a dispatch this morning telling him she’s being escorted by a company of soldiers out of Queensdale. He can send a runner on horseback to let them know.”
“That sounds like a very good idea. So, who watches where?” Harry was ready to get to work.
Maggie ran the horse for a while and then realized she was getting too far ahead of everyone. Slowing him down she turned and was surprised to find Private Swift very close behind. As he pulled up he said, “Ma'am, your father has asked me to relay a message to you.”
Maggie was starting to think she may have underestimated this soldier, “And that message is?”
”There will be an airship waiting for us just outside Beetletun. We’re to leave the horses with Captain Lange at the western gate of Minister Caudecus’s estate. The Colonel will meet us there before morning. We are to sleep in the airship.”
“Well then, don’t dawdle.” She shouted as she galloped away.
The rest of the ride was uneventful and they soon found themselves in Beetletun. They climbed off the horses and walked them to the western gate. Captain Lange was expecting them and called a stable hand to care for the animals.
“Take care of them, they’ve had a long day,” Maggie told the young woman from the stable.
“Absolutely ma'am,” she replied and then smiled. “I was there the day you saved the Queen ma'am, you were wonderful. My father still tells the story about how you saved all the guests at the party.”
“Was your father there?” Private Swift asked.
“Yes sir, he works for Minister Caudecus. He’s the head chef at the Manor.”
Maggie smiled mischieviously, “Was he the one who made those wonderful little sweetcakes?”
“You tell him I have searched the kingdom high and low, no one makes them as good as he does.”
The girl smiled proudly, “He’ll be so glad to hear you remember him, ma'am.”
“If he is ever looking for work, you send him to my house in Shaemoor.”
Blushing the girl smiled again and said, “Thank you ma’am. It will mean a lot to him. Things haven’t been the same since Minister Caudecus came under suspicion.”
Maggie patted her horse one more time and turned to the Captain. “Where can a girl get a bloody steak around here?”
“I’ll have one of my soldiers bring you something to the airship ma'am.” The Captain replied.
“Thank you Captain, and please make sure they bring enough for the private here. He’s had a long day keeping up with me.”
With that the pair started toward Beetletun Farms and the airship. As they walked, Private Swift asked, “That girl was quite taken with your rescue of the Queen ma'am.”
“I wasn’t alone Private. What is your first name? I am tired of all this formality. My name is Maggie and you are to call me Maggie from now on.”
“I don’t know ma'am, you’re the Colonel’s daughter and Commander Brightmane would have my hide if he thought I was being disrespectful.”
“You leave Brightmane to me.”
“It’s Sanford, ma'am.”
“Sanford Swift?” She asked?
“Okay, I want to hear you say my name.”
“I can’t ma'am. It would be improper.”
“If you don’t, I’ll tell my father you were overly friendly during our journey.”
“Now that wasn’t so hard was it?”
Looking at his red face caused her to have to fight back the laughter that threatened to explode. Luckily, at that moment they arrived at the airship. The crew was busy preparing it for their next flight, so the pair walked up to a very tall Norn woman wearing Captains insignias. Maggie noticed she also had gold wings on her lapel. Her name tag read, Hartmann.
“Captain Hartmann?” Private Swift spoke respectfully.
“Yes, you must be our first passengers. Maggatha Lynn herself, I’m honored to be chauffeuring such a famous young lady.” Her smile was genuine.
“Sometimes fame gets in the way of accomplishing things Captain.”
“I can only imagine. Erica Hartmann at your service,” she extended her hand warmly.
Taking it firmly, Maggie smiled back. “I don’t suppose your ship has a bathtub?”
“No, but I think we can find one at the rooming house in the village. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to put up a sign that said Maggie bathed here. Unless you’d rather visit the manor?” The twinkle in her eye was real.
Grinning, Maggie said, “I think I’ve had my fill of that place.”
“Come on, I know the owner. She owes me a favor.”
Maggie turned toward the private and said, “Well Sanford, I think you should be able to find a change of clothes at the barracks.”
Maggie and the captain walked northward to the Shire and up a walkway to the boarding house. Erica spoke to the owner and with a big smile the women were led upstairs to a private room with a large tub and a hot stove with a large pot of water nearly boiling. Servants came and helped Maggie take off her armor, promising to have it clean before she finished with her bath. A young girl started to take her Axes, but the Captain stopped her with a single look.
While she was getting undressed, the servants filled the tub. Maggie tested the temperature and found it perfect. She eased into the hot water and sat down to let the day wash off of her. Leaning her head back she closed her eyes.
“I hope you don’t mind if I stay,” Erica asked.
“Not at all,” was Maggie’s reply.
“I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but you looked worried about something.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“No, but I am a Guardian and I can read people very well.”
“Oh I am. I just can’t let it show. If I let anything out at all, I’ll become a quivering mess.”
“Somehow, I don’t think so. You’re too much like your father.”
“You know him?” Maggie was surprised.
“He and I served together in a number of campaigns. There’s no one I trust more. He and that damned Brightmane. They pulled me out of the wreckage of my airship when we were fighting the Flame Legion a few years ago. They saved my whole regiment. You’re like them both. You have heart, but you’re strong willed.”
Smiling sadly Maggie said, “My father always said he saw the most beautiful part of my mother in me.”
Tears started to form and she coughed to hide the emotion. Erica never let on if she saw. The girls spent the next half hour using small talk to get to know each other. They found they had much in common. Each had lost a parent at an early age. Each had fought other’s preconceived notions of what they were supposed to do. By the time the servants returned with Maggie’s armor all fully cleaned and smelling nice, they were good friends.
Once she was dressed, they returned to the airship to find Sanford arguing with an older man with a wagon. “No sir, you can’t use this area to park your wagon.”
“I must, I’ve been sent here to feed Ms Lynn and I will feed her.” The old man shouted.
Maggie recognized the man as the chef from Minister Caudecus’s estate. “Hello Mr. Ramsey. Please tell me you brought some of your wonderful sweetcakes?”
“I have brought you much more than that Ms Maggie. I am here to serve you. It’s the least I can do to repay you for saving my life.”
“You don’t have to repay me.”
“Nonsense, you risked your life and saved all of us. Now, please tell this young man to get out of my way so I can get started.”
“You heard the man, private,” Captain Hartmann ordered. “Get out of his way. We’ll not be leaving this evening. He can park his wagon wherever he needs to.”
With that, the private bowed and let go of the horse and moved out of the way. Chef Ramsey parked the wagon and two servants climbed out the back and unloaded a table and some chairs. Then they climbed back into the wagon and soon there was a feast at the back of the wagon.
“Please ladies, sit down and let us serve you.” The chef motioned to the chairs.
Maggie and the Captain sat down and the feast began. The first course was a wonderful salmon salad. Then came the most tender roast beef that they had ever eaten. It was served with tiny red potatoes cooked in their skins, buttered with the lightest hint of dill and a fresh mix of steamed garden vegetables, carrots, peas, and green beans. Finally, it was time for dessert. The chef himself carried the dish. The smell of warm chocolate filled the air as he lifted the cover to present a beautiful soufflé.
Just when Maggie and the Captain thought they could not eat another bite, the chef brought one more item in a soft cloth sack. He opened it and showed Maggie the sweetcakes she loved. Taking one, she took the smallest nibble and was instantly transformed into a little girl. The Captain watched and took her own. A single bite and she understood completely why Maggie was so taken with these sweetcakes. Just the right softness and sweet, with the taste of anise, the cookies were the perfect end to a perfect supper.
“Take the bag with you when you leave. And you have only to send me a message and I will make a fresh batch whenever you want. My daughter can deliver them to your home.” Chef Ramsey offered.
“You’re being too good to me. I’ll become fat and lazy as an old cow if I keep letting you feed me.”
The old man smiled at the compliment. Clapping his hands, he and the servants began putting the dishes back into the wagon. Then came the table and chairs. With a smile and a wave, the chef drove the wagon back toward Beetletun. Maggie thought she could hear him whistle a little tune as they left. She smiled a sad smile.
“You have quite an effect on people.” Captain Hartmann said as they climbed up the ramp into the airship.
“He’s a very nice man. I remember when we were fighting that awful golem, he stood in front of the other servants with his butcher knife. It took a lot of courage for him to do that. I respect him.” Maggie explained.
The Captain turned to Private Swift, “Come on, I’ll show you to your bunk. You might as well get some sleep. We’re scheduled to leave before daylight.”
Private Swift quickly finished the food Chef Ramsey had left for him. He jumped to his feet and joined the ladies on the ramp. Soon he was asleep in a bunk in the engine room. Erica showed Maggie to her quarters on the guest deck. She was out the instant her head hit the pillow. Sometime later, she woke to the feeling of motion. She could hear the quiet rumble of the engine and was soon back to sleep.
When she woke again it was daylight. She left her room carrying her bag of sweetcakes and made her way to the upper deck. She found her father and Brightmane in a deep discussion with the Captain.
“Hey there Cub, I thought you were gonna sleep away the whole day.” Brightmane teased.
“Just for that, you don’t get any of these,” She threatened.
Captain Hartmann said, “Your loss, you old grump.” And took the cookie Maggie offered her.
Shaking his head and smiling, he turned back to his old friend and said, “I think we should land at Hautclare Vale. It’s far enough outside of Ebonhawke so we shouldn’t be noticed.”
“Perhaps, but it’s still quite a ride from the caves.” The colonel said, stroking his beard.
At that moment an Asuran came running out of the control room. “Captain, we’re getting a radio signal from the camp. A runner has arrived from Fangfury Watch, he has some important information for Colonel Lynne’ s daughter.”
“Show her how to use the radio.” The Captain ordered.
Maggie’s father followed the Asuran to use the radio. While they waited, Maggie relented and gave Brightmane one of her sweetcakes. She and the Captain dipped into the bag and each ate one more. Private Swift came out on deck holding his stomach.
“I think I may have been poisoned,” he moaned.
Captain Hartmann smiled and said, “I’d sooner think you’re getting airsick.”
Reaching into her pocket, she handed him a vial full of pills. “Take one of these now, and another in an hour. Then take one every hour until we land.”
“Thank you, maam.” He replied, and left to find a drink of water.
Shortly after he left, Maggie’s father came out of the control room. He had a very serious look on his face.
“A runner from Fangfury Watch brought word that Maggie’s friends are there watching all three entrances to Highden Cave. Where can we land this thing so it won’t be seen but close enough to get us to the watch quickly?”
“Warrior’s Crown.” The captain said suddenly. “We should be able to find horses.”
Maggie asked, “How long before we touch down?”
“Less than an hour.” The Captain replied.
“Let’s get our gear ready. Where’s Private Swift?” Brightmane was all business.
“He is airsick.” Maggie replied.
Captain Hartmann grinned, “He’ll be fine, I gave him the same medicine I gave you the first time you flew with me."
“Don’t remind me. That was horrible.” The Charr complained.
Terri woke again. Though groggy, she felt a desperate need to get away. She looked around the room for a something that could be used as a weapon. She wished that there were some way to let Maggie know about her mother. The door opened and Frieda walked in. Putting her finger to her lips, she looked back and made sure no one was watching as she closed the door.
“You’ll be released tomorrow and if you don’t start any trouble, I willl see that they don’t put you back to sleep.” Frieda whispered.
Terri whispered back, “There’s something you need to know.”
“If he finds out I’m here, he’ll order his men to stay in the room with you. They aren’t very nice to prisoners.” Frieda answered.
“Your daughter and husband are alive.”
Silence immediately filled the room. Frieda looked at her hard in disbelief.
“I don’t know what you think you’ll get from me, but stop lying.” Frieda still wasn’t ready to believe.
“I can prove it.” Terri challenged.
“Maggie has a birthmark on her left hip. It’s shaped like a quarter moon. It’s deep red.”
“You could have found that out from the servants that took care of her when she was a baby.” Frieda wasn’t ready to believe.
“She has a tiny Asuran doll that you gave her. She never goes anywhere without it.”
“Again, you could have heard that from anyone.”
“Her father called you Maria. It’s your middle name.” Terri tried to remember everything she could. “He never remarried after you were kidnapped. Maggie looks just like you. She has your hair, most of your features. But her eyes are her fathers. Piercing blue eyes.”
“Stop, you don’t know what you’re talking about, I.won’t help.”
“No, I’m not lying. Maggie has a baby blanket. It has her father’s and your initials on it. WFL and FML. Willem Franklyn Lynn, Frieda Maria Lynn. The initials are inside a heart embroidered out of gold thread. She made a pillow case out of that blanket. I have heard her cry herself to sleep more than once. She grew up thinking you didn’t want her, that you had left her.”
Shock drained Frieda’s face, “She’s alive? My daughter is alive? My husband, my sister? What about my father?”
“Your father died shortly after you left. Your sister Jennah is now the queen. Take me out of here, I can take you to them.”
Suddenly they heard voices arguing in the hallway. At least three men were shouting, and the commotion was growing louder.
“Quick, lay down, pretend you’re asleep. He’s coming.” Frieda pushed Terri back down on the bed.
Just as Terri closed her eyes, she could hear the door burst open. The noise in the hallway was much louder. The sound of men getting ready for battle struck her ears. The man walked into the room and poked at Terri. She feigned unconsciousness.
“We’re under attack. I was told to bring you both deeper into the cave.”
“Get the cart from the hallway. She’s too heavy to carry.” Frieda told the man.
As he left the room, Frieda whispered to Terri, “I will help you, so stay alert. What type of weapon can you use?”
“A staff if you have one, or two daggers.” She answered.
“When he comes back he’ll put you on the cart and move you somewhere safe. I’ll meet you there.”
Frieda left the room. Soon the man came back with a cart and two other men. The hall had grown quiet as the men rushed to the join the fight. They picked Terri up and put her in the cart. Then they pulled the cart out of the room and turned down the hallway. Soon they were at another door. The man knocked three time, then twice and the door opened.
He told the men inside, “We’re under attack. Put her inside and join us out front.”
“The men did as they were told and Terri was left alone. The door opened and Frieda entered. Reaching inside her gown, she produced two daggers and handed them to Terri. Terri noticed the daggers did not weigh the same. She took the heaviest one in her left hand, the other in her right. As she got accustomed to the weight of the weapons, she noticed Frieda pull an axe and a dagger from a belt underneath her gown.
“You’re a necromancer?” She asked.
“Yes, I’m still not very powerful, but I will do what I can. I will help you escape. Give me your word you’ll take me to my daughter.”
“I swear that I will.”
With Frieda leading the way, they made their way through the hallways. Eventually they came to a door that opened into a very large cave. The sounds of a terrible fight could be heard ahead.. The sounds of weapons, explosions, cries of pain filled the air. Frieda motioned for Terri to be quiet and follow closely. The two women followed the cave wall to a blind corner.
Frieda peeked around it and said, “We’re going to have to run through the middle of the fight. Do you have any protective spells?”
“Yes, but you have to stay close to me.” Terri answered.
The two stepped around the corner and began to run toward the fight. The fighters were too busy to notice at first. By the time they did, it was too late. Maggie and Frieda were in the middle of the battlefield, running toward the other side when the explosion knocked them both off their feet. Terri grabbed Frieda’s hand just before they both lost consciousness.
As soon as the airship touched down, Colonel Lynne sent Private Swift left to bring the horses. It was shortly before noon when he returned. The party of four left immediately for Fangfury Watch. As they travelled through Gillfarn Plains, Brightmane held up his hand to signal a halt.
“We should split up.” He stated, “Each of us showing up alone will be much less suspicious than all of us together.”
“You sure you’re not just being paranoid?” Asked the Colonel.
“Paranoid has kept us alive more than once.” Was the grunted reply.
“Sir, if I may?” Private Swift asked.
“Go ahead son.”
“Ms Maggie and I could arrive together. It would look like we’re a couple. She’d stand out much more alone.”
“And why is that Private?” Maggie glared at the young man.
“Ma'am, no disrespect, but you’re not just famous in Kryta. Commander Brightmane has been in more than one fight because some drunken Iron Legion fool insulted you.”
Maggie raised her eyebrows at Brightmane.
“You could color your hair with that mud over there. They’d never recognize you then.” Brightmane grinned.
“That’s not going to happen. I’ll just wear my helm and tuck my hair in.” She answered.
“Swift’s right,” the Colonel decided, “You two go on ahead, Bright and I will scout around here and see if we can turn up anything.”
With that, Maggie dug her helm out of her backpack and put it on. Tucking her hair up underneath she looked as much like a common mercenary as a beautiful girl could. With Swift leading the way, the two headed towards the outpost. Brightmane headed west around the pond, the Colonel east toward the hills.
As they entered the watch, Maggie looked for her friends. Not seeing them, they made their way around the camp until she spied the wagon. Looking inside, she discovered Bones finishing the dishes.
“Drew the short straw, did we?” She asked.
“No, it was my turn.” The Norn smiled, “Glad you made it. Everyone’s watching the entrances to the caves. Harry saw Serentine leave this morning. We think he’s headed to Divinity’s Reach for his audience tomorrow.”
“Too bad, I’d like to have him in front of me,” Maggie fumed.
“Maybe Logan will let him live long enough to give you that chance,” Bones said understandingly.
“This is Private Swift, he’s my babysitter.” Maggie quipped.
Bones, behind Swift bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud at the thought of Maggie needing a babysitter. Maggie looked in his direction and could see a short figure, dressed in black headed their way. It was Mellen. He was in a terrible hurry. Maggie ran out to meet him.
All out of breath, Mellen tried to talk, “I’m a genious,” he blurted.
“You’ve said that before.” Bones was still smiling.
“But this time,” the Asuran said between breaths, “this time I’ve outdone myself.”
“Okay, so tell us what makes you such a genius this time.” Maggie asked pointedly.
“Okay, here’s my idea. The Harpies are restless. If someone dressed up like one of Serentine’s men and stole some eggs, then took them to the cave entrance, dropping a few on the way, the Harpies would follow and create a diversion to allow us to take a look inside.”
“But who could look like one of...” Private Swift suddenly realized that the three were looking directly at him. “Wait a minute, I can’t be out of uniform. They’ll shoot me as a spy if they catch me.”
“Then you best not get caught Private,” Brightmane had quietly come up behind them
“There’s a whole wagon train of supplies headed toward the cave.” Maggie’s father had joined them, “It looks like weapons. I’ve alerted the Lieutenant, he’s sending a patrol to intercept. We’ve only got a short time to get this show started. What’s the plan?”
“The grey haired Charr answered, “Well sir, Private Swift here is going to dress up like a bandit and see if he can ‘scramble’ a bunch of harpies. If we can get them to attack, we can use the confusion to get inside and see about rescuing Terri”
Mellen sent Bones to call in the rest of their party. Soon, Harry, Eir, and Electra joined them, along with the three pets. The group scrounged clothes for Private Swift to wear and briefed him on what to expect.
“The north entrance is in Tanglerot Hills.” Mellen instructed the private, “Harpies normally don’t go near the caves. It’s brooding season so there are plenty of nests. This time of day, you should be able to find some that are unguarded. Make sure the Harpies can see you with the eggs. Run south to the cave entrance.”
Harry added, “Remember, they’ll be above you screaming. Be ready to duck and roll. Once the shooting starts, hide. We’ll be in as soon as we get a chance.”
Private Swift nervously headed northeast as the others followed at a safe distance. Turning toward the entrance, the group remained unseen. Staying in the underbrush, the group slowly made their way as close to the entrance as they could without arousing suspicion.
Swift did exactly as he was told. He carefully checked each nest until he found one that was empty except for two eggs. He picked them up and immediately noticed they were warm to the touch. As he stepped out of the nest, he looked skyward and shouted, “Hey look Will, I found some eggs. They’re big enough to feed all of us tomorrow.”
Suddenly he heard a shriek and felt something hit his shoulder. Not stopping to see what he’d been hit with, he began to run. South, around the outcropping, straight toward the cave entrance. Two guards sat talking to each other, only looking up when they heard a chorus of high pitched shouts as the harpies came to the aid of the angry mother. Swift ran up to the guards and cried for help.
“They’re coming after me, help. Stop them, quick. Don’t let them follow.” He yelled.
The two guards immediately began firing. The gunshots drew more guards and more harpies. Soon it was a full fledged battle. The bandits pushed the harpies back further and further until the cave was empty except for Swift. The hidden group jumped out and ran into the caves.
“Get rid of that thing, here’s your rifle.” Brightmane told Swift..
The group immediately fanned out and began to search the cave. They were able to get all the way to the South entrance before they were seen. The fight began immediately. The separatists wasted no time in firing and throwing grenades. Maggie and her friends were driven backwards, out of the main entrance and forced to take refuge in the rocks. The sounds of the fight drew more bandits from inside the cave.
Suddenly, Maggie looked behind her to see a squad of iron legion soldiers coming to their aid. More bombs were thrown and she became very busy, very fast. More and more bandits poured out of the passageways inside the cave until they outnumbered both Maggie’s party and the Iron Legion soldiers. The lieutenant in charge sent a runner to Fangfury Watch to get reinforcements.
The fight went back and forth for a while until the reinforcements came. Then the bandits started to back up. More bombs were thrown. Suddenly, two women were seen running across the space between the combatants. There was an incredibly loud explosion, and Maggie saw her Terri knocked to the ground with the other woman. When the smoke cleared, it was suddenly quiet. A single man stood in the middle of the fight. He had a scar where his right eye should have been.
“Serentine!” The Colonel shouted. “Your life is mine!”
The colonel without thinking jumped out and ran toward the bandit’s leader, who began waving his hands in the air. The air began to glow with a golden light. Faster and faster the hands weaved. Maggie jumped out and followed her father. Behind her Private Swift chased her. Simon and Garm began to howl. As the colonel reached Serentine, he was suddenly frozen, unable to move.
“So, you thought you could fool me by your little masquerade in the courtyard? I have eyes and ears everywhere.” Serentine sneered, as he reached out and grabbed the Colonel and Terri’s arm. As Frieda woke and stood, Maggie saw an older version of herself. The two stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity/
Suddenly, Frieda shouted, “Let her go!,”and hit Serentine in the face. Stunned, he released Terri who fell once again to the ground. Grabbing Frieda’s hand instead, he laughed. The three suddenly disappeared.
Maggie screamed, “NO!” as she ran to Terri.
Running forward, she tried to leap through the portal, only to be stopped by the straps of her backpack. Private Swift held on. Seeing the struggle, Bones and Eir jumped in and stood between Maggie and the portal. She fought them with all her might, but they would not let her go. The portal dimmed until nothing remained but the mark left in the sand.
Enraged, she screamed into the portal.. “NO! Damn you. I will hunt you down you bastard! You will pay for this. Mark my words, I will cut out your other eye myself and feed it to you!” She shrieked.
Then Brightmane was holding her tight. He walked her to where Terri lay, picked the still unconscious girl up and brought them both out of the cave. The iron legion erupted once again, driving the bandits back deep inside until only a few remained alive. The survivors surrendered. The party angrily began the walkback to Fangfury Watch. A single tear trickled down Maggie’s cheek.
Eir remained in the cave with Garm, who spent a lot of time sniffing around the remnants of the portal. Finding a single shoe, he picked it up and brought it to her. Taking it from him, she looked at it carefully and put it into her pack. Then she turned and followed the rest of the party out of the cave.
Some time later, back at the wagon, Terri awoke to find Maggie at her side. Terri knew something was wrong. She held Maggie quietly and waited. Finally, Maggie let go.
“He’s taken my father and my mother.” She told Terri with a dull, exhausted voice. “When we’re alone, I want to hear everything you can tell me about her.”
“You will. Now we both need to rest. Let’s get some sleep, figure out our next step.” Terri spoke gently.
“There’s no time to rest, I have to find them.”
“There will be time for that, cub.” Brightmane said quietly.
He was holding his side, his breathing was obviously becoming difficult. Maggie quickly hurried to his side. Pulling his paw away, she saw the blood. Taking his tunic in her hands, she tore it away, then his undershirt to find a gaping wound in his belly.
“Get a medic. Now!” she shouted to Bones.
“There’s no need. This won’t be fixed. I’ve seen this kind of wound before.” Brightmane sounded unconcerned. “I’m a soldier, I’ve faced this my entire life. It’s time.”
Turning to Private Swift he said, “Your last order from the Colonel still stands. Understand me Private?”
“Yes sir. I’ll watch over her.” The young soldier said emphatically.
Maggie gently helped Brightmane down on the cot and held his head in her arms. Precious jumped up on his chest and began to purr. Simon and Garm stood guard at the foot of the bed. All was quiet.
Brightmane whispered to Maggie, “I know you’ll find them. But be smart about it. Rest up while your friends find them. You’ll need your strength to get through this.”
With that, the brave soldier closed his eyes, his breathing slowed, then stopped with a final shudder. Precious, Garm, and Simon all howled at the same time. All through the watch, animals could be heard joining in, warning the afterlife that a warrior was entering. Telling the spirits to stand aside, and honor the soul that was about to join them.
Maggie laid his head on the pillow and gently closed his eyes. Turning her eyes to Private Swift, she said simply, “Can you take care of him?”
“Of course, maam.”
With that, Maggie stood and left the wagon. As she walked alone into the darkness, her friends started to follow. Eir spoke then, “Wait. Let her go. She needs time alone. We can better help her by finding her parents.”
“But where do we start?” Harry asked.
“We start here.” Eir took the shoe out of her pack. “We start by finding out where this shoe was made.”
To be Continued...
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