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Loyalty

Discussion in 'Creative' started by Shaeffer, Dec 30, 2003.

  1. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    OK, you lot win. Can stop pm'ing me to post it now :p

    Was gonna rewrite the opening few scenes, but couldnt be arsed heh. I know ive said it before, but new bit coming soon hopefully. Found some motivation at last. Shame I had to lose it to find it though. Anyway. Enjoy. Bastards.
     
  2. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Chapter 1

    ‘So tell me, what’s so special about him?’
    Ehlias rolled his eyes, and looked across into Jent’s face, noting for the umpteenth time the eager impetuousness of youth. By the Light, were we ever that young? Despite himself, a flicker of a smile crept onto his lips.
    ‘Jent, you’ll see soon enough. It’s not something you can see or describe or put your finger on it. Its just there. You either love him for it, or hate him.’
    Seeing his face crease up in confusion, Ehlias gave an exasperated snort, and set his horse to a canter. Pausing for a moment, Jent looked on aimlessly, before shaking his head. ‘Well that doesn’t explain anything!’ he called out, before stirring his horse on to catch up.

    Ehlias said nothing, and looked on at the surroundings, the route still familiar as ever. As he did every time he passed this way, he noted small changes in the scenery; evidence of time passing. The bluebells had flowered well this year, nestling as ever in amongst the trees and it seemed that the rabbits had also prospered. It was hard to see individual shapes amongst the trees and ferns that littered the road, but Ehlias knew from the occasional flickers of movement, and his own memory, that they were still there. It really has been too long, he thought.

    Closing his mind to the inane chatter of his young companion, Ehlias saw in his minds eye the cottage once more. The memory of spending a week of last summer here was as fresh as the air around him. Talaxia had looked wonderful as ever, and the twins had just started to walk. Happy memories. Treeloe and Shaeffer had looked on at the two, a mixture of joy and mock fear at their antics. Smiling, Ehlias had glanced at the bundle in Treeloe’s arms, before nodding to Shaeffer. ‘You’ve got all that to look forward to my friend.’ He remembered laughing at the look of indignation on the proud father. ‘Not my princess,’ he’d grinned. ‘Unless she gets corrupted by your two!’

    Reluctantly, his mind drifted back, and he realised that Jent had stopped small talking, and was waiting patiently for an answer. ‘I’m sorry?’ he confessed.
    ‘Why would a man with his history choose a life like this? He’s a warrior, one of the best. This isn’t his place.’
    Gently reining his horse into a stop, Ehlias paused and looked around at the stillness of the forest, searching for the words.
    ‘The man you describe is a myth…the Prince of the Shadowed Night. That’s the man of action, the one in all the stories. People in Albion love him, people in Midgard fear him. He’s been built up as one of the figureheads in the war. By the Light, there are even stories to scare small children with. Eat your greens, or the Shadowed Night will pay you a visit. Heh. Albion gave him the role, and for years he’s played up to it. People see him, and they see what he wants them to see. He understands what Albion needs. That’s the man you know. But what the Prince stands for, isn’t what Shaeffer is anymore’

    Ehlias paused for a moment, before continuing with a wry smile. ‘Don’t believe everything you hear about him. He’s no myth. He’s not invisible, or invincible, or have magic powers heh. The man bleeds just as well as you and I. Number of times I’ve had to rescue the damn fool are too numerous to mention. The stories are just that. Stories. When we were young, we dreamed of fame, glory, immortality. These are the gifts that Albion gave him. For years he threw himself into it. The others, Aethelstan, Jupitus to name but two…they were unconcerned with their reputations. It was just a side effect, they were concerned only with success on the battlefield. Their own exploits were never a factor. Shaeffer though recognised it. Lived it. Encouraged it. Soon though, the Prince became his life. He began to believe that he was this hero he’d let them make him out to be. Eventually, thankfully, Shaeffer the man changed in his ideals and beliefs. Albion was no longer the central part of his life, and he no longer wanted the gifts he once had. He settled down with Treeloe, and cast the past from his life. There’s an enemy that Shaeffer has fought for years, but never been able to defeat.’

    Ehlias sighed, and set the horse off once more. ‘Who is it?’ Jent called out after him.
    ‘The Prince of the Shadowed Night. Until Shaeffer cut’s his loyalties to the Prince and Albion, they’ll always be someone like me and you to prevent him living the life he wishes. And he’ll never be free. Come on, we’re almost here.’
     
  3. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Treeloe busied herself at the kitchen, taking advantage of the respite from the next room as the screams died. Finding her herbs, she paused for a moment, as the low humming of a familiar tune cut through her headache, and caused her to smile to herself. I don’t know how he does it, she thought. Shaeffer often teased her, saying that he had Annah wrapped around his little finger. Fool of a Saracen, one cry from her and he’s straight beside her. More like he was wrapped round Annah’s finger!

    Hearing the humming grow louder, Treeloe turned, to see Shaeffer cradling her, the tears already a glistening memory. ‘So, this is the scourge of Midgard is it?’ she asked with a smile. Feigning hurt, Shaeffer leant into Annah. ‘That’s not very nice, is it?’ He said gently. ‘My princess is a little angel, not the scourge of anyone, is she?’
    ‘Daft sod,’ Treeloe muttered, before rising and gently embracing the two. ‘You’re as soppy as her bloody mother over her. Should’ve called you the Nanny of the Shadowed Night. Dread to think what they’d all think of you if they could see you now. You’re about as fearsome as a baby mouse!’

    Before Shaeffer could retort, a barking started from somewhere outside. Sighing to himself, Shaeffer gently handed Annah over, before muttering under his breath. ‘That dog’ll be the death of me, I swear. Now princess, look after the wicked dragon whilst I go see what Jad’s up to.’ Turning to Treeloe, he kissed her forehead. ‘Back before you know it.’
    ‘I know’ she called out softly, before moving towards the window overlooking the garden. Jadow was still barking, but running happily towards the two horses approaching the clearing. Curious, not expecting any visitors, Treeloe peered, trying to identify the riders. One was unfamiliar, but there was no mistaking the short, stocky Briton who accompanied him. But what was Ehlias doing here? Surely too early to be on leave. Treeloe started to frown, as Shaeffer moved into view, and greeted his old friend.

    In her arms, Annah started to cry.

    ~
     
  4. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Jent leant back, and drained the ale that had been offered. Nerves had overcome him somewhat, and he was content to let the others catch up on old times. Roaming his eyes around the room had allowed his mind to wander, mulling over the sense of…disappointment he felt. The room was sparse, designed for practicality rather than comfort. With the exception of the wooden seats and table, the only feature of any prominence was a hand-carved cabinet. Engraved onto the drawers and cabinet lid, a floral tree leaf pattern had been created, giving the wood a sense of depth. Several shelves containing smaller wood carvings were perched around the room, varying shades of brown and green, giving the room a subtle impression of being part of the forest itself.

    Turning his attention to the others, Jent found himself once more studying the Prince of the Shadowed Night. The man was relaxed, listening intently as news of old comrades and friends reached him. Occasionally the conversation would drift towards the frontiers, and he would stop Ehlias in his track, preferring not to hear talk of war. Jent wasn’t sure what he had been expecting before he’d arrived, but the man in front of him was not the man the stories had spoken of. All throughout his training and duties at Sursbrooke, the men spoke of the leading figures in the war. Some favoured Lord Ironhand, the solid leader of the Templars. Skill and leadership were his strengths, and men fighting with him could trust they were in safe hands. Others preferred to think of the likes of Laird MacGregor, the amiable highlander containing both mirth and strategy in equal amounts.

    The romantics and the ladies, however, had always favoured Shaeffer. The man was renowned for getting himself into the sorts of situations most men would never survive. It was even said that he had travelled deep into Midgard to rescue his love, Treeloe. His exploits had inspired men, for even though the actual feats themselves may not have been as important to the war as the actions of the Lairds and the Ironhand’s of the world, the manner and style always pleased the minstrels and saga-poets. Theirs was the triumph of the army, whereas the Prince of the Shadowed Night was the triumph of the individual.

    And yet, the man before him was just that… a man. Were Jent to pass him in the streets of Camelot right now, he wouldn’t even pay him a second glance, dismissing him as just another woodsman. Shorter than he, the dark eyed Saracen looked too stocky to have the agility for the dual daggers he favoured. The simple comforts of a worn cloak and leather jerkin seemed to offend Jent’s nature; the man in front of him was believed to have been offered titles, lands, nobility…and yet here he was eschewing it all for a quiet paupers life in the middle of nowhere.

    A change in tone focused Jent on the conversation. Pleasure was now over, and it seemed Shaeffer’s curiosity could hold no longer. ‘Why are you here. It’s a long way to come for a gossip, old friend.’
     
  5. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Although the tone was still friendly, there was a barely perceptible change in the atmosphere, as if the walls themselves had sensed a change, and had leaned in a little closer. Ehlias stared for a moment, before shrugging. ‘I need an opinion Shaeffer. You’ve heard of the Falls, yes?’
    ‘Aye, beneath Horgaths Tower. Last I heard the Pichiliu had helped with the containment of the Nightmares. Until we’re freed up a little more in the North, I don’t see what more can be done for it. Durgi’s more of an immediate threat at the moment. What’s your point?’
    Jent watched, as Shaeffers expression hardened with the words, focusing intently on Ehlias. Every moment that passed, the relaxed man from before was being lost, replaced with an intensity that Jent found more than a little unnerving.

    Ehlias though, was unconcerned, or unknowing, and carried on unabashed. ‘I don’t know the full details yet, but we might have cause for concern down there. Expedition recently found something of interest on a corpse deep past the containment. Not sure what killed the poor bastard, but we thought you might be able to help us with it.’
    Reaching down, he pulled a bundle from his pack, before sliding it towards Shaeffer. Eyeing it suspiciously, he unravelled, before staring at it. Moments passed, whilst he looked at the scrap of cloth in front of him, before sighing, and folding it back up away from sight. ‘Savage Conclave. No doubts. Snake chasing its tail in a permanent circle. No other has it. How the hell did they get down there?’

    Leaning forward, Ehlias’ voice lowered. ‘Your question’s missing something. How is one thing, ‘what’ is something else that needs answering. You know as well as I do we can’t afford a war on any more fronts; we’re hard pushed as it is. Durgi’s armies are making headway on us all the time; the Falls has a small garrison at best. If we have to spread ourselves much thinner…’ Ehlias let the words hang in the air, not breaking eye contact with the man opposite him, letting the tension wrap around the air like a blanket.

    Jent was the first one to look away, glancing across and seeing Treeloe framed in the doorway. She was staring at Shaeffer, a look of resignation on her face. The moment hung, as if time herself were mulling over the words. Unable to take the silence any more, Jent took a breath and rose, breaking the spell. ‘Treeloe, Ehlias speaks often of your cooking, I can hardly say I’ve been to see the two of you without seeing for myself.’ Moving swiftly, he took hold of Treeloes arm, and gently led her away into the kitchen. As he moved, he risked a glance back, and caught both a grateful look from the Prince, and a look of irritation from Ehlias.
    Leading her through, Jent smiled, and began saying anything and everything he could think of, trying to provoke her into conversation; talking about her cooking, about Annah, about the house. She barely acknowledged him however, giving him short, one word answers, never volunteering anything herself. Running out of inspiration, Jent gradually ran out of steam, and soon only the now raised voices from the other room remained.

    Suddenly Shaeffer shouted something in anger, and Treeloe recoiled as if struck. Looking at Jent as if for the first time, her eyes betrayed her, and a tear began streaking down her cheek. ‘You’ve come here to take a father from his daughter and a husband from his wife once more. When will Albion finally release him to his home? This is where he belongs, not out there’
    Jent was about to reply, when Ehlias’ voice this time rang out, calling his name. Moving back through, Jent saw Ehlias standing, anger written over his features, whilst Shaeffer sat in his chair, impassively drinking his ale. Seeing Treeloe follow him from behind, Ehlias’ mask of anger slipped, and was replaced by a look of genuine regret. ‘I’m sorry, Treeloe,’ he said simply, before turning and making his way to his horse.
    Giving a small smile of concern, Jent moved to follow him, before being called back by Shaeffer. ‘Jent – thank you. I’m sorry it was a wasted journey for you.’ Feeling his face flush, Jent smiled nervously. ‘Not a wasted journey sir. Not every day you get to meet the Prince of the Shadowed Night and his good lady wife.’
    Shaeffer laughed, and the atmosphere that had been building was dispelled by the sound. ‘Pfft. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you never met him. He died a long time ago. Some of us just have trouble letting go.’

    Moving outside, Jent paused, wary of his superior’s mood, before stepping forward and saddling up his horse. Glancing across apprehensively, Jent was surprised to see that the angriness from before had now completely gone, replaced by a sadness that seemed in total contrast to the events of but a few moments ago. ‘Sir? Are you ok?’
    Ehlias refused to meet Jent’s eyes, concentrating instead on his horse. ‘Wish I hadn’t had to do that. We’ve known each other almost all our adult lives.’
    ‘It’s not your fault we failed sir. His minds made up. I think you were right. There are two men. But only one lives now.’
    Ehlias looked up sharply, before getting up on his horse. ‘No Jent. We did the opposite. We succeeded. And by the Light I wish I didn’t have to. Until Shaeffer cuts his loyalties to the Prince, they’ll always be people like us to prevent him the life he wishes. Albion has always been his mistress. Treeloe knows that as well as I do. Just wish she wasn’t mine as well.’
     
  6. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Treeloe sighed, and glanced through the window. Night had settled now, bringing a closure to the day. Annah had been put to bed, and she had sat there for a little while, watching as she slipped off into the dreamworld. Do we deserve you? Treeloe had thought, as sleep laid its hand on her daughter. What road lies ahead for you; the daughter of a woodsman, or the daughter of a man who will never know peace?

    The remainder of the day had passed in tension since Ehlias and Jent had left. Shaeffer was quiet, and the easy humour that had accompanied him that morning had fled. Treeloe had left him to his thoughts, knowing the inner battle he fought against his conscience. He knew that his life was here. This is where he belonged, the life he had fought so long to enjoy. Yet he had never freed himself from the past. To Albion he would always be the Prince of the Shadowed Night. His duty to his family and himself would always be in conflict with his duty to his land.

    She saw him then, sitting outside, watching the stars. The faint light from the home flowed and flickered over his face, but brought no comfort. Stepping out into the night, she moved softly towards him, before crouching down with her back to the tree also. Taking his hand in hers, she smiled, and let the night wash over her. ‘It always looks beautiful at night, doesn’t it.’
    ‘It looks beautiful every time I see it. It’s a home to be proud of. It’s a life to be proud of.’ Turning to face her, the familiar stubbornness of old was painted there. ‘And it’s my life to be proud of. No more Treeloe. They’ll have to let go. I’m not the man they know anymore. My life is with you.’

    Treeloe looked across at the house…a warm glow from candles within gently inviting them home. Three years it had been since they’d moved here. Almost seemed like yesterday. To most people, she imagined they’d think that it wasn’t much. Rare visits, cold in winter, damp when it rained. But to her it was home, and a happier life here she couldn’t possibly imagine. Every morning, whilst she crossed from the world of dreams to the waking world, she’d lay content beside Shaeffer, believing that nothing could come between them. And for three years, nothing had.
    ‘I know you better than anyone, love. I know the battle you’ve fought today, and are fighting still. But you’ve not won. I don’t believe you ever will. Your body, mind and heart lie with me, I’ve never doubted that. But I know the war in your soul. Where does your duty to Albion end, and your duty to your family begin? You know as well as I do, that both have no end and no beginning. Your loyalty is to both.’

    Unsheathing one of his daggers, Shaeffer twirled it around his hand, focusing on the blade. ‘The reason he came is because they know I’ve got more experience with Midgard culture than most. They want me to find them in Darkness Falls, find out what’s happening, and come back.’ The blade stopped mid-twirl, and Shaeffer glanced up. ‘I told him no. And I meant it.’ Plunging the blade into the earth, he turned away, and continued to stare moodily at the house.
    ‘Then why do you feel guilty? If you’ve made the right choice, then you should be happy. I know you, heart. This is a choice you and you alone have to make. Whatever you decide to do, you will have my full support on. I could tell you that I want you to stay, and I know you would, but it would gnaw away at you, and you’d feel guilt over whether you could’ve made a difference.’
    Almost imperceptibly, Shaeffer’s shoulders slumped a little, and the stubborn determination from before wilted.
    ‘If I don’t go, someone else will. Maybe they’ll go through, succeed, and Albion will be safe. But what if they don’t. What if they send someone, and they die, because I refused. What if because of my refusal, we don’t learn of something that might change our world? That thought hangs on me. That’s a shadow my conscience has to bear. But I will bear it, else I will never be able to give you my life. And you are my life. No-one and nothing else.’

    Treeloe sighed to herself, and watched as Jadow padded his way to join them, before laying at Shaeffer’s feet. Smiling to herself, she reached out and scratched just behind his ear, watching Jadow’s eyes close in pleasure. ‘You’re a lot like Jadow, you know. A few minutes ago, he was inside. Probably beside Annah’s cot as usual. Somehow though, he knew, and he came to be beside his master. Even right now he’s probably thinking, worrying whether Annah is safe. Yet she is, and deep down he knows that I expect. Regardless of his fears or worries though, he came here. There was no choice. Sometimes his place is beside her, others his place is by your side. Whilst he’s with us, he’s thinking about Annah. Whilst he’s with Annah, he’s thinking about us. It’s the same with you.’

    Smiling with his eyes for the first time that evening, Shaeffer grinned. ‘No-one is my master. Though I admit I don’t mind a scratch behind the ears now and then.’
    ‘Fool of a Saracen,’ she muttered, drawing him into an embrace. ‘You’ve given me all that you can give, love. But Albion still and will hold a place in your heart. You can’t ignore her call, otherwise you lose a part of what makes you, you. And no-one can ever be allowed to take that from you. Not even me.’ Taking a deep breath to give her strength, she continued, trying to fight the sadness from bubbling out of her.
    ‘I want you to go. Go scratch the itch that burns you. We will be here when you return. And when you do, they’ll be more than a scratch behind the ears for you.’

    Kissing her gently, Shaeffer smiled, and wiped the tear from her eye. ‘Albion may call, and she may take my body for a small time, but everything that makes me who I am will stay with you. She wants the Shadowed Night. And that’s all she’s going to have.’
     
  7. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Chapter 2

    ‘And the General hollered ‘Beware of the right axe, they’re shite with the left!’
    The silence broke then, as the group burst into laughter. ‘Whose turn is it for the next round?’ Bazzaye shouted out. Elbowing Case in the ribs, Naetha smiled sweetly at Bazz. ‘What you on about? It’s yours you fool!’
    ‘I thought I bought the last one?’ He said, a look of confusion written onto his face. ‘No, you bought the last round of pies y’gimp….its your turn for the drinks now.’
    ‘Oh. Erm, ok then, Dwerrav! 3 drinks, if you don’t mind!’

    Trying hard to keep a straight face, Naetha concentrated on her pie, trying to bury the smile that threatened to betray her beneath a few mouthfuls of Steak and Ale. Dwerrav strolled over, and placed the drinks beside them. ‘You’re going to have to watch that tab, Master Bazzaye. There are more drinks on yours than on anyone else here. Might have to ask you to settle up at some point.’
    Confusion fading to astonishment, Bazzaye stood for a moment dumbfounded. ‘But…but…I’m no drunkard! I don’t drink more than any of the others….do I?’
    Raising his mug, Case flashed a grin, and tried to avoid Naetha’s eyes. ‘That might be so, Bazz, that might be so. But you certainly pay for more!’
    That was too much, and Naetha’s mouth rebelled, unable to keep the laugh from escaping. The mouthful of pie burst out, and splattered onto Bazzaye’s cloak. Naetha’s breath came in ragged gasps, unable to decide whether to laugh or choke, and settled on doing both. Trying desperately to ignore Bazz’s indignant cries, Naetha continued to struggle for air, tears streaming down her face, blurring her vision.

    Suddenly a fist pounded onto her back, taking away her breath. Grateful for the fresh start, she focused on breathing for a moment, still fighting the urge to laugh as Bazzaye and Case tried to wipe bits of pie away. Swivelling on her stool, she tried to focus on her helper, but her eyes were still waterlogged, and it took a moment for the grinning face to come into clarity. As soon as recognition dawned, she leapt and barrelled into him, unable to quite believe her eyes.

    ‘Shaeffer you tart, about bloody time!’

    ~

    ‘So how's life in your neck of the woods then Shaeff?’ Case asked, in between gulps. Shaeffer smiled, unable to keep the pride from his face. ‘Aye, not bad at all my friend. Got two wonderful women in my life. Annah’s getting bigger by the day. Not sure how, but Treeloe still sees enough in me to put up with, and life is quiet. What more could a guy ask for?’
    Naetha and Bazzaye exchanged a look, before Bazz tentatively suggested ‘Er….beer? Speaking of which, must be your round Shaeff. I’m SURE I bought the last one’

    Seeing that Dwerrav was out back, Shaeffer gestured for the barmaid to come over. Smiling, she made her way over. ‘Haven’t seen you before, what can I get you?’
    ‘Aye, I don’t come round here much. 3 honeyed mead’s for me…Miss?’
    ‘Troryn MacGregor’ She replied, before swivelling and heading behind the bar.
    Shaeffer’s eyes followed her as she moved, before he turned, releasing a deep breath. ‘By the Light lads, now I know why you’re in here as much as you are! Er…Naeth aside of course.’
    Bazz laughed ‘Good luck with her Shaeff, we’ve all tried, and she has no time for the likes of us. Is more interested in pints and seamstr-‘
    ‘Tailoring’ piped up Naetha
    ‘-er…yeah, tailoring than us men.’
    ‘Heh, I’ve already built my tree anyway. Haven’t got the inclination or the energy to go chasing after the fruit these days.’
    Troryn sauntered back then carrying the three mugs, before smiling once more at Shaeffer. ‘So who’s tab is it going this time? The daft one?’

    Glancing at Bazz’s reddening face, Shaeffer laughed. ‘No, not this time. I’m sure my own is still good. Pop it under Shaeffer Cernunnos. I’ll settle with Dwerrav when I leave.’
    Raising an eyebrow in surprise at the name, Troryn made as if to turn, before Bazz’s voice rang out. ‘Ere, hang about Shaeff…where’s my drink?’
    Winking at the barmaid, he looked at Bazz’s hurt face, before saying with all seriousness. ‘But Bazz, you never buy the drinks in!’ Before Bazz could protest, he continued with a mock sigh. ‘Alright, alright. Just this once. Troryn, another mead please. But the next round is on you Bazz.’
    This time even Troryn couldn’t hide a smile, and she returned swiftly with the drink, ignoring the embarrassed muttering from the scout.

    A few minutes passed amid more jests, before Shaeffer swirled the contents of his mug. ‘So tell me, what about here. How are things? I try not to keep up with much if I can help it.’
    Case downed the rest of his ale, and pushed his mug away from him. ‘Aye, well. If you want the short picture, most of the Rigante are still alive and kicking, which as you can imagine is a good thing. Still working on getting Bazz to stop fumbling around, but it’s a constant battle heh. Bigger picture though, not so good.’
    Naetha nodded. ‘Aye, it’s a bit of a stalemate at the moment. We’re gradually being forced back, although they’re not really making enough progress to say they’ve an advantage. The mile-gates in Hadrian’s still hold, but several times we’ve almost been overrun. The line’s too thin though, for both sides. They might be able to break through and sack one of the Caer’s, but they can’t spare the men to hold it long enough. It’s the same with us. Every time we attack them, we leave a hole behind and vice versa. Damned if I know what it’s gonna take to win this thing. At the moment we’re just sharing graveyards.’
    Downing the rest of his drink, Shaeffer gestured to Troryn for another round. ‘Sounds about right. We can see that this damn war isn’t going to finish anytime soon, and I’m sure their men feel the same. Wonder how much of this is now pride amongst the big boys heh. We fight them because they fight us.’
    ‘Aye, well,’ said Naetha, smiling her thanks as a new mug was placed in front of her. ‘Let’s not darken the day with it. It’s been a good day today, and I’m buggered if I’m going to let anything spoil it.’

    Nodding, Shaeffer raised his mug, motioning for the others to do the same. ‘Time for a toast my friends.’ Creasing up his face in thought, Shaeffer suddenly broke into a grin. ‘Actually, on second thoughts. Had a better idea.’ Taking a breath to steady himself, he continued:

    ‘The Rigante, a guild of class
    Were never known to let a drink pass
    I’ve travelled from home
    And come to the Stone –‘

    ‘-To refill an old friends glass?’ A familiar, gruff voice rang out from further on down the bar. Grinning wider than before, Shaeffer moved down towards the cloaked figure. ‘Jupitus you ol’dog, that you?’ Reaching him, Shaeffer clapped him on the back, whilst the man turned and slowly lowered his hood. The grin faded from Shaeffer’s face, and he swiftly downed the mug he still carried.
    ‘Aye Shaeff. It’s me.’
     
  8. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Leaving the Rigante in the pub, the two strolled out onto the bustling streets of Camelot, just another two unknown faces amongst the people. It was market day again, hard enough to gather ones thoughts, let alone voice them. Shouted bargains ricochet amongst the walls, seeking ears to fill and purses to empty. Weapons, clothing, food; all could be bought for the right price. Amongst the crowds, children darted through. Some young apprentices performing errands for their masters, others engaged in a more shady trade, eager to pilfer what they could from the unsuspecting. Occasionally the low droning of an old beggar cut through, pleading for a few coins to ease his hunger.

    ‘The city never changes, I see,’ remarked Shaeffer dryly, struggling to make his voice heard. ‘Aye that it doesn’t. How longs it been since you last came?’ Jupitus queried as the pair tried to force their way through the mass of bodies. Diving into an alleyway, Shaeffer paused, glad of the chance to take a deep breath. ‘That’s better, like wading up river back there’ he said, glad of the space. ‘Must be at least 2 years now I think. We stayed with Cersei and Cawen for a few days in the winter. Was lovely to see them, but neither of us are keen on city life. Try and avoid it where I can.’
    Jupitus laughed, his eyes glittering. ‘I don’t believe it. Surely the great Shaeffer Cernunnos isn’t scared of a little crowd?!’ Throwing a dirty look at him, the pair carried on walking down the alleyway. ‘I wouldn’t say scared; certainly not in public anyway heh. Perhaps just….uncomfortable.’ Shaeffer grinned, before stopping as four newcomers filled the alleyway, blocking their progress.

    ‘Fine day to be out for a walk, ain’t it,’ the first boomed. Tall, powerfully built and bearing the scars of a life on the streets, the man leered at them, tossing a knife from hand to hand. ‘Trouble is, it can be a bit dangerous if you’re not careful.’
    Looking unimpressed, Shaeffer sighed, a trace of boredom in his voice. ‘Yes yes yes, all very interesting. Now, unless you want to find out exactly how dangerous it can be, I’d recommend you leave it and step aside. It’s too early in the day to break a sweat already.’
    Face flushing in anger, the thug approached him, looming over the shorter man. ‘Maybe a sweat won’t be the only thing you’ll break today little man. That big mouth of yours will get you into trouble.’

    Turning to face Jupitus, Shaeffer rolled his eyes at his amused companion, before spinning on his heel and planting his knee in the thugs groin. Doubling up in agony, his face met an onrushing elbow, before Shaeffer swept his legs from under him, sending the big man crashing to the floor.
    ‘So they keep telling me,’ he muttered, before turning to Jupitus with a loud voice. ‘Well, I think I proved a point. You reckon the others’ll move away, or do you want to show them Lord DarkShadow in action as well?’
    Eyes widening in shock at both the speed in which their companion had fallen, and at the name, the other three backed away, before leaving the alley hastily.

    Shaking his head, Jupitus grinned. ‘Not bad Shaeff, though I didn’t think you believed in the whole dirty fighting thing?’ Glancing down at the unconscious thug, Shaeffer shrugged, before rubbing his knee gingerly. ‘Well, he had balls, I’ll give him that.’
     
  9. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Leaving the alleyway, they moved back into the streets, away from the crowds. Shaking his head, Shaeffer laughed without humour. ‘Almost makes you wonder if it’s worthwhile, doesn’t it. If we’re not fighting Midgard we’re fighting ourselves. So that scum like them remain free to do as they please.’
    ‘Such is life my friend. Would be worse without people like us though. Come, take heart, at least they guessed who you were’
    Smiling sadly, Shaeffer glanced at Jupitus’ scars. ‘The years haven’t been kind to you have they? Could hardly believe it was you myself. Reckon we’re both getting too old for this.’
    ‘Aye, you’re probably right. There’s probably only at least one decent fighter between us now.’ Jupitus smiled. You’ve lost the heart for it, and I’m losing the body. Such is life.’

    Nodding, Shaeffer fell silent, and the two walked on, lost in their thoughts. Shaeffer’s concentration was broken after a few minutes, as a hoarse voice croaked out at him. Glancing around, Shaeffer saw that the voice belonged to a beggar on the street. Despite being blinded and with only a stump where his right arm should be, the man before them could barely be out of his thirties. He cut a pitiful figure, dressed in rags, with a dried bloodied bandage wrapped around what used to be his arm. Flies danced around him, hopping happily between him and the several other misfortunates who lined the streets, calling for attention and pity. Although his body was lean, there was no mistaking that he had once been a warrior of some sort, muscles and the occasional scar fitting loosely around his frame.

    Shaeffer shuddered, and tossed him some loose change before trying to put the haunting image of what the young soldier had been reduced to. ‘That’s how Albion repays some of her servants. Takes away all you hold dear, before spitting out what’s left. I hope the Light saves me from such a day.’
    ‘Aye, I hope it saves you as well. I guess when I look at some others, I should count my stars heh. I could never lose an arm.’ Clenching his fist absentmindedly, Jupitus forced a smile.
    ‘If you don’t mind me asking Jup, how did it happen? You don’t get to your old age without a fair amount of luck and skill, especially in our trade.’

    Reluctantly, he began to explain. ‘It was silly really, I got it in Yggdra. Laird was mobilising for an attack on Glenlock Faste, and I set out ahead of the force to scout the way ahead. I might not be as fast as I once was, but I can still do a better job than most of you young upstarts’ he smiled wryly. ‘Anyway, things seemed fairly quiet at the target until I heard a child’s scream.’ Jupitus paused, and Shaeffer glanced across at him, and saw him touching his cheek, the one remaining eye staring straight ahead, although seemingly not seeing. Three jagged scars ran across the right of his face, from temple to chin. The harsh angriness of the wounds were offset only by the cool icy blue of the glass eye. Deciding against commenting, Shaeffer returned his attention to the walk.

    ‘A wagon had been overrun and set ablaze, I guess by snowshoe bandits or something, and a dwarven young’un was still there, somehow missed by the marauders. Maybe I’m getting soft, but I wasn’t about to leave a defenceless child to die, so I went to try to get the poor thing out.’ Jupitus let out a low chuckle. ‘Seems the scent of the bodies around the wagon held promise for some of the local wildlife too, but once I had the babe in my arms I wasn’t in a strong position to defend us from the hound that had skulked upon the scene. I managed to protect the youngster, and delivered her in a warm pelt to the gates at Nottmoor, but at a price.’

    Turning to look at Shaeffer, Jupitus’ face hardened. ‘You know how we live Shaeff. You know the line we walk with our blades. Without my full sight, the risk of some unskilled oaf getting the better of me is higher every day. None of us can fight time.’

    ‘Aye, none of us can,’ said Shaeffer quietly. ‘All we can do is fight it as long as we’re able. You and I are still around. Both getting slower. One day it’ll catch us. But where will we be when it does? I hope to be at home, with Tree and Annah by my side. I don’t want to be alone in the middle of nowhere when my time comes. I want it to mean something.’
    Jupitus smiled then, before nodding his agreement. ‘I envy you for that. I spend a lot of time at home with my Lady now, but it’s never long before I get the urge to wander alone. I love her, of course I do, more than life itself, but home life is not my way. It’s in the blood. You have it as well, I believe, but you seem to be able to fight it better than I. When my time comes, it will be serving Albion, as I always have. She just seems to want me one piece at a time’

    Turning around a corner, Shaeffer paused, looking up at a tall stone building that seemed to dwarf the others nearby. ‘As ever, the place does little to cheer the mood,’ he said, swallowing. ‘It’s been at least 3 years since I was here. I haven’t missed it.’
    Butt-joining onto the walls surrounding the city, the Defenders of Albion building loomed intimidatingly, casting shadows onto the streets surrounding it. Whilst the city walls gave a reassuring air of security from the outside world, the building was much more oppressive, intruding rather than being a backdrop to the life in the city. Smiling wryly to himself, Shaeffer muttered, the words lost and carried away by the throng of people living their lives around him. ‘Home away from home though.’

    Jupitus clapped him on the back, and the Prince of the Shadowed Night grinned suddenly. ‘Just like old times really, eh?’
    ‘You take care of yourself out there. Don’t let Albion give you anything to remember her by. I’ll make sure Treeloe gets anything she needs, I promise.’
    Clasping the older mans shoulder, Shaeffer nodded his thanks. ‘Keep safe, my friend. Before you go though….tell me one thing? What happened to the babe?’

    Unable to meet his eyes, Jupitus looked away, back down the street. ‘I never did find out. I tried to stay near to make sure she was taken in, but my wounds needed more attention than I could manage alone. I hope she was taken in, I don’t want it to have been for nothing….’ Jupitus’ voice tailed off.

    ‘It was not for nothing, Jup, you gave her a fighting chance. But if you could go back and face it again, would you do the same? Or walk away? What would your choice be?’
    Jupitus stared for a few moments, before letting out another low chuckle. ‘You know the answer to that as well as I do, Shaeff. There is no choice.’

    Turning on his heel, the older infiltrator moved off away from Shaeffer, whose eyes followed his retreating back. A child ran across the street momentarily distracting him, and when he looked again, Lord DarkShadow was gone, becoming just another figure in the crowd once more. Smiling to himself at the older mans disappearance, Shaeffer shook his head wryly. ‘You’re a good man Jup, and it’s because of people like you that it’s worth fighting,’ he muttered, before strolling into the looming mouth of the Defenders of Albion building.
     
  10. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Chapter 3

    Laird MacGregor stared thoughtfully at the map sprawled out before him, and swore. Various coloured markers adorned it, spreading from the forests of Sauvage, to the plains where the remains of Hadrians Wall lay. Glaring with hatred, the tall bearded Scotsman thrust out a chainmailed arm and grasped a black marker, before removing both it and two smaller red markers from its location at Caer Renaris.

    ‘How many did we lose this time?’ he barked at Aethelstan. Still clad in his platemail, Lord Ironhand of the Order of the Knights Templar grimaced.
    ‘They were dug in well. Svea Ulvar again. No surrender from them, no running. For every one of theirs, we lost about three of ours. They’re losses we can ill afford to lose again and again Laird.’
    ‘Aye, I know,’ muttered the highlander, hand drifting automatically to his hipflask. Taking a long deep drain, he sighed and replaced it. ‘You lose many of yours?’
    ‘A few. Mostly new blood. We’ll be holding a service for them on Sunday. I’m growing tired of having to send out the youngsters before their time. It’s the third time in a month the line has been broken through and one of our inner keeps held. The line is weakening.’

    Nodding, Laird shifted his attention to another map, this time showing the snowy whites of Midgard. ‘Fortunately, the line is also weakening in their own lands. I sense this war is close to a conclusion. One of us is going to be breached in a big way. We’re slowly making headway into their lands and holding ground. Their response is to send these warbands out; to die and take as many of us with them.’

    Taking one of the discarded red markers, Aethelstan fingered it gently, trying to imagine the faces it once represented. ‘Which of us is it going to be though? We’re on a knife-edge at the moment. We could build up enough of a push to Midgard, but we don’t have enough to maintain the defence at the same time. If Durgi attacks at the same time we do, or we’re repulsed, then we don’t have enough to hold. I do not like the risk, Laird. Not with Albion and my men at stake.’

    Smiling wryly, Laird leaned back. ‘Theres an old proverb in Scotland, kin. Allow this ol’ warlord of ours to tell it you. If you wish to remove a thistle, do not grasp it by the stem, for therein lies its strength, and there are many thorns to prick and sting. Instead, dig around underneath the thistle, and grasp it by the roots. Once there, you can do what you like with it.’
    Frowning, Aethelstan stared at the grinning Scotsman. ‘I was never good at word games MacGregor. Give me a sword to fight with and men to lead, and I’m in my element. Riddles I leave for the minstrels. Are you talking about Durgi? We’ve tried sending our infiltrators before. Durgi is no fool We’ve not even come close.’
    Chuckling in amusement at the Templar General, Laird’s eyes twinkled. ‘Actually, with a bit of luck, we’ll be sending you to ‘dispose’ of him.’

    A few moments passed, as Aethelstan searched the grinning highlanders face, unsure whether he had heard correctly. ‘I think you might have had enough to drink,’ he said slowly, glancing at the flask. ‘No, not yet. I was being serious. You know we found signs of a Midgardian presence in the Falls? If its confirmed that somehow theres a portal to Midgard like there is with us, it opens a whole new front. One that if we surprised them with, we can push through straight to their homelands. With a big enough force…’
    ‘…There wont be anyone to stop us.’ Aethelstan stared at Laird. ‘We’ve been at stalemate for much of the last year. There’s talk of the King arranging a truce. With this though, we won’t need a truce. We could end it once and for all.’
    ‘That’s the plan. All we need to know is where the gateway is, and how well its defended. As far as we’re aware, they don’t yet know of our existence down there.’

    Nodding, Aethelstan smiled, removing battle weary features. ‘We’ve waited a long time for this. If we can burst through and get to Midgard’s heart in force, I might yet be able to spend some time on the estates.’ Standing, he saluted Laird and made to leave. ‘You know that you have everything the Templars can offer.’
    Returning the salute, Laird smiled. ‘I know that kin. Hopefully it will be soon.’
     
  11. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    It’s a beautiful night, thought Shaeffer as his eyes roamed over the scene surrounding him. Leaning against the wall of his quarters with his arms folded, the peace of the night sky enveloped him on the balcony, and he was content. All around, as far as the eye could see, houses and people, homes and lives stretched out before him. Plumes of smoke rose gently from countless chimneys, before drifting away, caressing the city with its touch. The air around the Academy off to the left seemed as clear and crisp as it would be out in the country. Idly, Shaeffer wondered if they were able to extend that effect to the city as a whole, and whether they would even if they could.

    Lights from torches illuminated the streets, mirroring the twinkling beauty of the stars above them. Despite the late hour, Shaeffer could still see people going about their business. Closing his eyes, he stilled, allowing his ears to view the city in their own way. The general murmur of the city, whilst to many wouldn’t even register, intruded on Shaeffers thoughts, and berated him lightly, constantly, all trying to be heard at once.

    Some called it the greatest city in the realm. Some called it the jewel of Albion, and some called it the brightest star in the night sky. A thorn by any other name though, is still a thorn, and to Shaeffer the city was just that. A city. A place where people lived their lives. It had always seemed oppressive to him, governing his road, making choices for him. Back home, if he wanted to move to a place, he could do it any way he wanted. Here, the choices were made. If you want to go here, you take my route. Neither he nor Treeloe had ever really liked the city. For too long their choices had been made for them. He’d almost lost her to Albion, and so Shaeffer had made his first real choice in a long time, and they’d left it all behind.

    Glancing up at the night, he sighed softly to himself, before moving to lean against the balcony rail. A few blankets of cloud hung in the sky, snugly protecting some stars from the ground, but the majority of them shone brightly, sending their light to anyone who cared to watch them. His mind drifted then, back to thoughts of home. Was she watching the same stars he was watching now? He’d always loved sharing the skies with her, both day and night. Many dreams and wishes were forged on nights like tonight. Promises are often whispered or fulfilled, given magic by the etherealness of the world bathed in moonlight.

    His last night with her had been on a similar night to this. Letting his memories guide him, his eyes closed. A cool breeze that passed across his face became her hand, tenderly tracing his features, and his mind relaxed into the past. Smiling, he’d gently clasped it in his own, before embracing her in the moonlight.
    ‘Come back to me,’ she’d whispered, a lock of hair slipping down to dangle around her eyes. ‘I’ll never leave,’ he’d said, tenderly stroking the hair back into place.

    Leaning her head into his shoulder, they both watched the stars for a time, before Shaeffer pointed out one star in particular. ‘Every night,’ he murmured softly. ‘Turn yourself to face this star. Where you find it is where you’ll find me. Watch how it burns brightly in the sky, and think of us. It’ll guide me back to you.’

    She was silent for a moment at that, etching the star onto her memory. Content as he was to hold her, Shaeffer barely heard her whisper the question, and leaned in closer to hear. ‘Do you love me?’ she whispered again, not taking her eyes off their symbol. Gently, he turned her around to face him, wiping away the stain tears had left behind in passing. ‘More than life,’ he reassured her. ‘But love is too familiar a word. For in this place ten thousand times a phrase already heard, but aye, I love you.’ Holding her close, he tried to teach himself how she felt next to him, remembering her touch, her sight. ‘But y’know, I fail myself, and you, every time I say the words,’ his voice dropping to a soft murmur. ‘For not matching how I feel with words of higher wealth. One day I’ll find them, and bring them to you.’

    Smiling, she’d stared up at him briefly, before kissing him tenderly, their lips and hearts speaking in a language few could understand. As she did so, she faded from his memory, the touch lingering, before becoming breeze once more, as Shaeffer opened his eyes to the here and now. Sighing softly to himself, he looked over the city anew, his heart heavy with desires to return to the past, to her. In the houses, streets and neighbourhoods around, Shaeffer was surrounded by more people than he had been for several years. And yet, away from the two people who mattered, he might have been the only person in the world.

    Glancing upwards, he searched for solace in their star, trying to find something to lighten his mood. There was no such respite tonight though, and he stared at the cloud preventing him from being with his hope. Stretching out with his hand, trying to chase it away, he whispered. ‘Love's too familiar a word. I miss you.’ The breeze returned with his words, and carried them away with it, dancing its way through the streets of the city, and beyond. Turning, Shaeffer moved back into his room, closing the balcony door behind him.
     
  12. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Padding his way past the bed, his thoughts turned to the events of the day, leaving the night skies and their promises unspoken at his back. Seeing Laird again had brought back memories he’d thought long ago forgotten. The highlander hadn’t changed much though, he mused. Laird was the symbol of the Phoenix Legion, its commander in battle and had been the main strategist for the war for nigh on five years now. Flecks of grey now matted that proud beard, and understanding the heavy accent was still as laborious a task as ever. They’d talked for most of the afternoon, into the early hours of the evening, briefing the infiltrator on recent events, both within the Falls and out in the realm in general.

    Stopping in front of a full length mirror, Shaeffer studied the man before him. ‘Is this who you are, Prince of the Shadowed Night?’ he muttered to himself, as he did every night. Only this time, silence answered him, rather than the softly spoken reply of Treeloe. ‘No, I see Shaeffer Cernunnos. Not the Prince,’ she’d say. Now the reflection glared at him, defiant. It had made him smile wryly to himself when he had seen Jents reaction to him. People didn’t see Shaeffer anymore. When he was here, he didn’t even see it himself. Was it something he now regretted? If he could go back in time and start it all again, would he have chosen a different road?

    Slipping off his woollen shirt, he traced lightly over a few old scars, remembering faces from the past that had caused them. No, he thought. This was his road. Shaeffer had made the Prince, aye, but the Prince had also made him. He’d grown with it. Had borne its fruits and its scars. This was his life.

    Ignoring the cool night air that had trespassed its way into the room, Shaeffer remained topless, and started to move through his old stretching routines, loosely warming tired muscles. The moves came easy, well practiced, like a dancer. Soon Shaeffer’s mind relaxed, releasing his body’s control to his instincts, mulling over what the highlander was asking of him. Darkness Falls! The name itself conjured images of dark mystery and foreboding. He’d never been himself, but the stories that told of that place spoke of fears and shadows that played on the mind.

    Since the discovery of the entranceway 4 years ago, the Defenders of Albion had been hard pressed to contain the nightmares that dwelled within. Men spoke of demons black as night, and sights enough to break the strongest spirit. Many were those who they dragged back from the portal, arms, legs severed. They were the lucky ones. Screams were often heard at night as those unfortunates not killed were dragged down into the dark depths. None ever returned, and none ever dared venture out far enough to learn what became of their comrades.

    In time, amidst many battles and many losses, Albion got the break she needed. A smaller slave race, the Pichiliu imps, had arrived in the shadows and indicated that they wished to speak. Despite initial, and continued, mistrust, the imps aided Albions forces and the dark terrors of the Falls were pushed back enough for a containment area to be wrought around the portal. Watched at all times in all places, the walled stockades blocked all access points to the entrance, supplemented by the most powerful spells the wizards and theurgists could maintain.

    Attacks were now less and less frequent, though the black minds that dwelt in the deep still probed away from time to time, and skirmishes were not uncommon. Unlucky were those who found themselves serving in Darkness Falls. The permanent night, imagined shapes lurking in the shadows, and disquieting noises were enough to turn those of a lesser mind into madness. Slowing his movements, Shaeffer smiled mirthlessly at his reflection, before coming to a stop. Perhaps he was in madness already, for he was going to go deep past the containment. Into whatever lay in the deep dark places beyond it.

    Picking up a towel, he wiped away the glistening second skin of sweat from his body, before turning to his blades laying on the dresser. Glancing down, he grimaced. ‘Always you two keeping me from home, isn’t it,’ he muttered accusingly at the two twins that always seemed to follow in his footsteps. Crafted from finest Arcanium, the two long dirks were of Maxgirths finest. Hefting them in his hands, he tossed them from one hand to the other, watching the blades as he did so. Closing his eyes, he let his hands get used to their feel and weight. His body needed to get familiar with them once more, and accept them as part of himself. It had been too long since he’d used them. Angrily, he chided himself. No, not long enough.

    His mood soured, he placed the blades back on the dresser before slipping into the bed. Tomorrow he’d set off for the portal with an escort of Utopians, before seeing what the Savage Conclave had been skulking around in the shadows of hell for. Then he’d at last be able to return, and cast aside the Shadowed Night. Pleased by the thought, his mind swam across the border from the waking world to the next and he began to dream. Of Treeloe, home, and dark monsters whispering promises from the deep.
     
  13. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    The sudden thump punctured through Shaeffers thoughts like a hammer, pushing him involuntarily back to the world of the waking. Like a window broken, shards of memory and dreams shattered out its frame, and slipped away into forgetfulness.

    Again the thump resonated in his head, as if he were hearing it underwater, fuzzy and lethargic. As the sound died away it sucked away the sluggishness of his thoughts, before the thump returned once more, this time in greater clarity.
    Opening his eyes, Shaeffer stared around for a moment, before his memory and recognition returned. Impatient now, the knocking carried on for longer, and a raised voice carried through. ‘C’mon Shaeff, I know you’re in there. We’re late already, get your arse out of bed!’

    Cursing, he swung his legs out and tried to stand, before an explosion of stars forced him back down. Groaning, he rose once more and gingerly made his way to the door, before opening. Still sluggish, it took him a moment to recognise the bearded man in front of him.
    ‘Oh by the Light Liste, what on earth are you wearing.’
    ‘More than you, at any rate,’ Liste retorted, glancing at him up and down before stepping into the room.

    Puffing his chest out, he span slowly in the centre, swishing his cloak about him. ‘This my friend, is the latest fashion in and around Camelot for those ‘in the know,’ he said haughtily. ‘And I can assure you, it’s definitely more pleasing to the eye than walking in on a Saracen wearing only a set of cloth leggings!’

    ‘But….its pink,’ Shaeffer muttered dryly, shaking his head in amusement.
    ‘Aye, but therein lies its charm. You see, the women…they love this. Apparently they like a man to show his more sensitive side.’ Liste nodded seriously, and Shaeffer found it impossible not to laugh. ‘But….its pink!’ was all he could manage to say.

    With his carefully cropped beard and outrageous fashion sense, Liste cut a comical figure. Idly Shaeffer wondered how much it had cost him to have his leather jerkin and leggings dyed so. Listes quest to impress the ladies had always brought amusement to his companions, though it always disturbed them a little just how successful he was. Rare indeed was it to see no giggling girl on his arm like a limped in one of the various drinking holes around the city. Shaeffer had learned long ago however, that despite his foppish appearance, Liste was a man to rely on when you needed a blade beside you.

    ‘Anyway, enough of your jealousy,’ he carried on. ‘As I said before, the others are already mounted up in the stables outside of Camelot. I suggest you get yourself dressed and packed. We’ve several days ride ahead of us and the sooner we start, the sooner we can finish.’
    Nodding, Shaeffer started to don his own black jerkin and various other pieces, whilst Liste surveyed the room critically. Noticing the plain long dirks on the dresser, he moved over to them before turning them over in his hands with a snort.
    ‘How boring, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. This I’m sure you’ll agree, is far more impressive.’

    Moving over to the balcony, he swiftly pulled across the curtains, dulling the light in the room. The shadows melted away however, as Liste drew his own swords. Light danced from the blades, and a blue hue flicked over both Liste and the room. Glancing across at Shaeffer with a smug look, Liste waved them around the room for a moment before sheathing them. The shadows crept gingerly back into the room, before fleeing once more as Liste drew open the curtains.
    ‘A pretty toy,’ commented Shaeffer. ‘Though as well as attracting your pretty serving girls, you’ll also attract every Midgardian, beast, demon and whatever else in the area. I think I’ll stick with mine, if you don’t mind.’

    ‘You’re hopeless,’ Liste muttered, before tossing the blades across to Shaeffer. ‘I don’t know what Treeloe sees in you, I’m sure.’
    Lacing up his boots, Shaeffer glanced up and smiled. ‘Easy. She sees me. Not a coloured suit, or a fancy weapon, or quick words. Just me.’
    With a final tug, Shaeffer rose and hoisted up his pack onto his shoulder, before clapping Liste on the back. ‘Right. I’m all set. Lets go.’
     
  14. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    The morning sun greeted them half-heartedly from behind a cloud strewn sky as they stepped out into the streets. The pair moved briskly, eager to escape the confines of the city. Several times Liste paused thoughtfully, staring at some pretty girl as she walked past, before recognition and memory dawned on where he had seen them before. Depressingly, to Shaeffers mind, almost all of them appeared in Listes recollections at the same place, though names appeared to give him more difficulty.

    Coming at last to the city gates, they passed through the two sets of portcullis’. As he did everytime he entered and left Camelot, Shaeffer spared a glance for the two statues engraved into the walls beside them. As tall as the walls, perhaps the height of four men, the two statues represented both Arthur and Constantine and showed them gazing down on those who passed them by. The eternal watchers, they never failed to impress him, and he could almost feel their eyes on his back as they moved through.

    It was only a short walk from the gates to Cotswald Village and Shaeffer enjoyed the open space more, feeling his spirits lift. No more than about a hundred called Cotswald home, but laying so near to the city it had prospered, and many had grown rich from suppling Camelot with its fruit and vegetables. Many travellers also passed through it, bringing news from the realm and the frontiers, keeping the local Inn rich with custom and gossip.

    News had spread of the Prince of the Shadowed Nights return to the city, and several of the villages inhabitants gave more than a cursory glance at the man walking through beside Liste. Ignoring their curious looks, the pair entered the Inn, and at once a voice called called out from a corner, shattering all doubt as to the identity of Listes companion.
    ‘Rar! There he is, over here Shaeff. Thought you’d never show!’

    Grinning, Shaeffer shook his head wryly , and clapped Vinci on the back. 'Its good to see you again, all of you' he said, feeling the weight of the last few days lift as he saw familiar faces. 'Vincible' Murculamis, Maxgirth, Cirwan...memories of good times and years gone by flooded through him as he surveyed the Utopians. Almost all the faces of the 15 to 20 men and women before him he recognized, though a brief sadness tinged him as realization dawned that a few faces he hoped to see were not present. Putting the thought of friends lost to one side, he focused his attention on those who were here.

    ‘By the Light, you’re all looking well. Fate it seems rolled well with you. Even my favourite minstrel managed to find his way here without getting lost!’ Chuckling at the look on Cirwans face, Shaeffer was surprised as a harsher voice cut through. ‘Cirwan might be a little…confused, at times. But he is MY minstrel, and I’ll hear no words against him.’

    Eyeing up the lithe Saracen woman in front of him, Shaeffer maintained his smile. Despite being clad in chainmail, with the Utopia flag on her back, she managed to cut a graceful figure. Her dark eyes flashed angrily at him, but before either of them could say another word, Cirwan swiftly stepped in between the two and shook their hands hurriedly. ‘Hmm. Perhaps this wasn’t the ideal introduction, but Shasha, this is Shaeffer. Shaeffer, this is Shasha. As you probably guessed Shaeff, this is my Lady,’ he added, his face turning to a deep crimson.

    Delight diffused the tension that had been building and Shaeffer clapped the minstrel on the back. ‘You kept this quiet you ol’dog!’ he grinned, before turning once more to Shasha. ‘My apologies, Lady, but myself and Cirwan go back a very long way. Back to the days when we were fools who thought we could conquer the world,’ he said, eyes twinkling. Before he could stop himself, the thought flashed across his mind. Before the Prince.
    Somewhat reluctantly, Shasha curtsied. ‘My apologies to you also, Prince. I..was perhaps a little hasty,’ she said, stiffly. To the relief of both of them, the barmaid arrived bearing more drink, allowing them the chance to move and speak with others without further discomfort.

    Shaeffer felt himself relax, and enjoyed the company. Not normally one for crowds, it had been a long time since he had been with such a large number of friends. He’d tried explaining why to Ehlias once, but he had not really understood. He could never grasp the loneliness he felt amongst people who thought they knew him, rather than people who did.

    His thoughts were interrupted after a few minutes when a petite magess, Kaitlyn, chose that moment then to rise, her glass in hand. Standing proud, she seemed somehow out of place amongst the others. Dignified and ladylike as were most of her Avalonian kind, she bore the same laughter lines that typified the Guild of Utopia. Raising the glass smoothly, she waited patiently whilst the eager chatter amongst them died.
    ‘We all know where we’re going. Whilst our destination is the same, our paths are always different. Some of them may lead back home, some of them may remain in the Falls. But wherever it is that our paths take us, we go together as friends. Some friends have come back to us..’ she tilted her glass at Shaeffer and winked, ‘..whilst some may leave us. Some of you are religious men and believe that the Light will guide and protect us. That is all very well for the believers, but I would like to offer a toast to something else that will guide and protect us. Raise your glasses…..to each other.’

    Nodding in approval, they completed the toast, before Liste gestured that they should begin moving. ‘The journey to Horgath’s Tower will take several days. The sooner we get there the sooner we can leave. There’ll be plenty of time for drink and talk on the road,’ he shouted out. ‘Be thankful, the drink and the talk and things like that you care about we can take with us. Regretfully, I cannot take my sources of pleasure with me,’ he added with a wink.

    Moving out back to the stables, Shaeffer found that his own black gelding, Acietha, had already been prepared. Satisfied, he saddled up and gently guided her with the others to the road. Glancing around, he saw that several villagers had drifted around, curious to find something to gossip about around an ale later on in the evening. Trotting Acietha round, he moved towards the front of the column and settled next to Liste.

    A few moments passed with the column holding still, before Shaeffer caught a nod from Liste. Feeling the villagers eyes on him, the Prince of the Shadowed Night reared Acietha up and drew one of his longdirks, holding it up high before bringing both it and the horse down. As one, the column began to rumble out of Cotswald, and on the long road to Horgaths Tower.
     
  15. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Chapter 4
    The journey began pleasantly, and the column made good progress as they followed the main road heading south from Camelot. It was not uncommon for companies such as this to take to the road and travel through the lands, although most tended to head the other way, towards the northern Fortress of Sauvage, which tended to be the main staging point for Albions forces in defence of the homeland. As with the villagers in Cotswald, their initial presence through the villages and hamlets near the road caused a stir, though as such things do, the memory faded into forgetfulness but a few days later.

    They were not due to replace the garrison in Darkness Falls for almost a week yet, and so Liste did not push the Utopians or their mares particularly hard, content to enjoy the time above ground whilst they could. Their orders were to garrison the Falls for a month, before they themselves would be replaced. A few amongst them had served there before, but for many it was to be a first experience, and not one that any of them were particularly looking forward to. Now and then Shaeffer overheard low voices, enquiring after what the Falls were like, but these were not many, most instead trying to put it far from their minds. Shaeffer enjoyed the time, and regularly hung back to talk and catch up on events he had missed in the last few years.

    They paused in the afternoon for lunch, and to allow their horses to water at a nearby stream. Engrossed in grooming Acietha down, he didn’t notice Shasha appear behind him. She watched him for a few moments, and noted with surprise the care he took over her. Minutes passed, before Shaeffer glanced over and saw her looking at him with a frown on her face.

    ‘Have I done something else to offend, Lady?’ He enquired, before returning to his work. The frown melting, she smiled, and Shaeffer was struck by the change in her appearance. The harsh tomboyish woman he’d seen before was replaced by a look of dark beauty. ‘Not at all, Prince,’ she replied. ‘It is rare to see such care for a horse. To most they’re tools. From you I was..’

    ‘Expecting something different?’ he interrupted. ‘Most people do with me. I grow used to it, though I admit it does get a little lonesome at times.’
    ‘Then it is me who has done something to offend. Cirwan speaks often of you, though his stories are different to the ones that one generally hears. I wonder which of them have more truth.’

    Smiling as he worked, Shaeffer patted Acietha on the neck, and turned to face her. ‘Most of the stories of me are true, in the events they describe. However, it does not do for a heroic story to have a hero filled with doubt, or misplaced beliefs, does it. I am the man who did the things that are spoken of, if that is what you mean. But I am not the man they make me out to be.’
    ‘Then you have done many things. Is it true about you going to Midgard that time to rescue your own Lady?’

    Pausing, Shaeffer studied Acietha for a few moments, before starting to mutter in a low voice.

    ‘Ja, jeg drog til Midgård. Men da var hun ikke min kvinde, og historien er ikke den romance hun fortjente. Jeg foragtede at skulle rejse. Om end jeg skammer mig er hele historien en løgn’

    Avoiding her eyes, he started to move away. ‘I misjudged you, Prince,' She called to his retreating figure. 'I’d dismissed them for rumours and fancy words. Cirwan has always spoken highly of you, though I shall take you as I find you I think. If I might ask though, what did that mean?’

    ‘It meant that the story is wrong,’ he said, smiling ruefully. ‘But thank you for ignoring them regardless.’ With that, he trudged away towards his pack, looking for some food.
     
  16. Shaeffer

    Shaeffer Dear Little Mite

    Grunting, still stiff with sleep, Adelle sat up onto her knees and surveyed the camp suspiciously from the opening in her tent. The dawn had brought with it thick cloud, a smothering duvet of dirty cotton that kept the morning sun wrapped in its embrace. Tendrils of wet breeze trespassed cheekily through the opening, before dancing on her skin, seemingly uncaring for the woolen jerkin she’d slept in. Around her soldiers milled about, gradually stirring from slumber. Small campfires started up, huddled amongst the tents, before a sizzling sound and smell of fresh bacon drifted seductively through the air to remind her of her hunger. Another fine day on the road.

    Closing out the outside world, she swiftly slipped on her chainmail and examined her jambiyas. Satisfied once again that the two blades were in pristine condition, she slid them into their sheathes at her side and stood. More comfortable now with the additional weight and balance, she strode out of the tent before trudging to the nearest campfire. Nodding curtly to the soldiers sitting around it, she sat down and helped herself to some breakfast. Whilst she ate she watched impassively as the camp busied itself around her, aware of the idle conversation around the campfire but neither paying attention or caring for it. Soldiers gripes were the same almost every morning anyways. Focusing on each individual movement around her she studied it suspiciously, before discarding each as a non threat.

    Laughter dragged her attention back to the campfire. Looking down at the pan, she gestured to the soldier sitting nearest. ‘Pass me that sausage?’ she asked, her voice low and curt. Glancing at his comrades, the man leered at her, no doubt mentally undressing her. Surprised he had the imagination, she thought dryly. Another fine day on the road.

    ‘Can have a bite of my sausage anytime love,’ he grinned, to more laughter. Tossing it onto her plate, he winked at the others. Eying it coldly, she skewered it with her fork, before staring at the unshaven soldier. ‘I like using forks with my meat, not toothpicks,’ she remarked, not breaking eye contact.

    His face flushing red with anger as laughter shifted from with him to against him, he opened his mouth to retort before a hand flashed quickly across him. Glaring at the man next to him, he met only impassioned calmness. ‘Let it go Max. You deserved that, and no mistake. Your mini-max stands up and she’ll cut you back down every time.’
    Still glowering, he settled back into his place before angrily continuing his meal, occasionally glancing up at Adelle. Paying him no heed, she dismissed him and once more turned her attentions back to the rest of the camp.

    Moments passed, before she spied a lone figure out by himself slightly away from the main camp. Curious, she watched him for a few minutes as he loosened muscles with a series of exercises and stretches. Staring thoughtfully, she noted with a trace of surprise how he moved, more graceful and dexterous than she’d expected. She’d seen Shaeffer before, on the day prior when he was riding with the foolish lovestruck minstrels, and dismissed him then as a pretentious fool. Although she’d never seen him fight in person, from his appearance he seemed too stocky to be able to move like she was seeing now. Shorter than she, the dark haired Saracen withdrew his dirks and carried on with the exercises, twisting against invisible foes, lost in his own private world.

    Anger flushed through her as it had yesterday when she’d watched him. Probably thinks he’s impressing people, she thought. She’d seen her fair share of battlefields, had seen her fair share of the crows. To her it meant nothing anymore. No pleasure in it, but no revulsion either. Some things just are. Noone profits from this kind of life, she’d seen too many of the ‘rewards’ of war. And yet the relaxed figure had. Probably based more off his own lies than anything else, she expected.

    Narrowing her eyes, she focused on his movements, recognizing individual moves from the Defenders of Albion training routines. Irritation flared up further as she noted steps out of place, openings in an invisible battle to be exploited. Snorting to herself in disgust, she returned her attention to her meal, picking at it moodily.

    Fools like him and Max were two-a-penny. Probably good enough men in their own way, but certainly not to be trusted further than you could throw them. She’d learnt the hard way that the only way to gain respect was to earn it. Glancing down at her jambiyas, she smiled inwardly to herself, reassured by their weight beside her. They’re the only things worth trusting. They’re the only things that earn respect.

    Finishing the last piece of bacon, she risked another look at Shaeffer, before shaking her head in disbelief. This was the one she’d heard about? She could take him apart with hardly any effort if she so desired. And yet none of the others seemed to see it. Max and the other soldiers around the fire had also noticed him warming up, and were looking on in interest. Fools the lot of them, she thought as her patience finally snapped.

    Tossing her plate to one side, she rose and strode angrily out to where Shaeffer was moving, his back to her. Studying his movements for a moment, she unsheathed her blades and darted in close to him, trying to anticipate what his invisible foe was expected to do. Turning, Shaeffer’s blades swung out, seemingly unfazed by Adelle’s sudden appearance. Ducking under them expertly, she span on her heel and countered. Again and again, the two exchanged moves, neither fighting with the other, more like partners sharing a dance. Faster and faster they glided in and out, the two duel wielders whirling and spinning, always moving yet never having to resort to parrying each others blades.

    Out of the corner of her eye, Adelle gradually became aware that they had attracted a crowd, although was unable to concentrate long enough to pay it much heed. Shaeffer’s technique was unrefined, almost clumsy, yet his balance and speed countered it by never giving her a chance to think or plan an exploit. Gradually both fighters lost all awareness of what was going on around them, unable to focus as instinct took over. Again and again both sets of blades danced; Shaeffers snaking out, piercing nothing but air whilst Adelles more powerful jambiyas slashed with greater force for the same result.

    The dance continued unabated, with nothing but the soft whistling of wind to mark each movement. More and more spectators hurried to the area, as word spread like wildfire; almost as quickly as the blades. Liste poked his head out of his tent, his beard only half trimmed, before peering across at the commotion. ‘Oh for the sake of the Light,’ he muttered to noone in particular. ‘Has he learnt nothing from me about women? That is most definitely not the way I showed him to attract the opposite sex.’
    Catching sight of a few more soldiers hurrying past him, Liste’s brow furrowed in vexation even more. ‘And you lot are just encouraging him!’ He called out to their backs, before returning to his shave.

    Still the two danced around each other, attacking move followed by counter after counter, neither finding time to exploit any weakness in the others stance, finding only air as each darted in and away. Finally, inevitably, the tranquility of it shattered harshly as Shaeffer span suddenly, no longer using the standard taught moves from the Defenders and flicked out a dirk in the same movement. Caught by surprise, Adelle dropped to a knee and brought up a jambiya hurriedly, parrying the stab, before holding the blade in place. Both breathing deeply, they held the pose, neither willing to break their blade away.

    ‘You know the training like the back of your hand,’ Shaeffer observed with a smile. Still not breaking the lock, Adelle forced herself to her feet, before nodding. Glancing at the people around them, Adelles irritation flared up once more, having been lost in the moment. Oblivious, Shaeffer leaned in closer to his outstretched arm, studying her jambiya.
    ‘The workmanship on this is excellent,’ he commented. ‘May I hold it for a moment?’

    Smiling coolly, Adelle gently released a little of the pressure on the blade, inviting Shaeffer to lean in further. Suddenly the pressure dropped altogether, and as he stumbled forward she span and planted a boot into his chest, knocking him backwards in surprise. ‘Earn it,’ she muttered, twirling her blades with renewed vigour.
    Rolling to his feet, Shaeffer grinned and renewed the battle, the harsher thunderclaps of metal on metal replacing the soft rushing of wind.
     
  17. Roo Stercogburn

    Roo Stercogburn Resident Freddy

    Yay. About bloody time too :p
     
  18. fang

    fang Fledgling Freddie

    I Need More!!!
     
  19. Gelid

    Gelid Fledgling Freddie

    ^^

    OlD!!1
     
  20. Kelio

    Kelio Fledgling Freddie

    omg you cant stop now.... more more more
    i want to know more
     

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