child_m.gif (3208 bytes)ye of Dral

CHAPTER 3- THE GOLDEN BEAR

Amelia sat on the mare’s back, watching the trees nervously. Pazuza could be anywhere. The message she carried was very important, important enough for the Lord of Chaos to send his Children to stop her. Kyzan Tor was normally discrete, only playing his cards when he knew he had the upper hand. Sending the Unclean into the world was a major gambit on his part, something he’d never have considered normally. Tor liked to remain hidden. His actions were proof of the importance of Amelia’s message, proof that Tor was growing stronger. But Amelia’s message had to get through. The Order had been waiting for this news for centuries. Morandor himself had dedicated his whole life to the purpose.

 

Amelia looked sideways at Kern, walking alongside the Mare, his sword ready to protect her at a moment’s notice. She wondered how far she could trust him. He had sworn to protect her, but how far would that oath go when he found out her business. And she knew nothing about him. But she had to trust him, she had no choice. All her guards had been killed in the first attack, and her horse had fled. She was loathe to admit that she needed him, needed his strong arm, needed his protection. Besides, he was good company. They had stayed awake most of the night talking, recounting each other’s travels. Amelia had told him as much as she’d dared about her mission, which was very little. He knew she was a member of the Order, and was delivering a message to the High Priest. That was all. She glanced at him again. He was a handsome man, with his long black hair, and his large brown eyes. His armour was that of a knight of high-ranking, and his blade looked to have been forged from mithril. The man certainly was an enigma, obviously a knight of good-standing, yet sleeping rough like a homeless serf, with a horse which looked to have been raised by a farmer. Yet he was handsome. She had caught him looking at her occasionally, when he thought she couldn’t notice. If things had been different, if her quest wasn’t so important.... She brushed that thought away quickly.

 

She tried to make sense of the vision she had had about him. She had many visions, but this was one of the strongest she’d had in a long while. Somehow, Kern was tied in with the quest, an intricate part of the prophecy. His life was bound to that of the Avatar. How she wasn’t sure, but she knew he was important. That was why she had made him swear his oath; normally she wouldn’t wish her task on anyone- the road ahead was fraught with danger. And death. Lots of death. She had forseen it.

 

"We’re here, M’Lady." Kern said, looking up at her. Amelia smiled- he still called her ‘m’lady’ despite her protests. Amelia was no noble. She looked down the slope, at the town that lay ahead. Kelra. Kelra was nestled in between two large hills, the slopes of which joined to the south of the town, forming a natural barrier against any attack which may come from that direction. The town was besieged twice during the Morrim wars. The river Kel flowed through the valley, bisecting the town down the middle. Small fishing boats dotted the river, the golden bear emblem of Kelra flying from their masts.

"Whereabouts are we headed?" Kern asked, analysing the town, his hand protecting his eyes; the sun shining on the river was blinding.

"The Golden Bear." Amelia replied. "An inn on the southern edge of town." Kern smiled at that. She knew he wanted to visit the inns, to see their so-called splendour. Amelia had never been impressed by them, to be honest. Besides, she had more important business.

 

The two of them descended the slope, following the road around to the southern gate. The gates were large, six times as tall as a man, and built of thick stone. The stones of Kelra had never fallen, not even to the Morrim hoards. The guard on the gate, dressed in the black surcoat and blue cloak of the Ardadan Royal army, nodded to them. "Good morning to you sir, and your fair lady." Kern returned the guards nod, and Amelia smiled at the guard. "May Dral smile on you, sir." she said. She didn’t scold the guard for his mistake- it was an easy one to make. The streets of the town were packed with people, their faces full of mirth and merriment. Kelra was a jovial town, with the best entertainment south of Angost, or so the inhabitants would have you believe. Theatres, arenas, inns, taverns, even a juggler’s guild. Not to mention the market, the largest in the duchy, save for that of Thara-Pata. The market was the reason for the crowded streets. People came from all around the region to trade for all kinds of exotic items, some from as far away as Antillia, and the outlying states. Most people nodded politely at Kern and her, clearing the way for the horse.

 

They found The Golden Bear at the southern end of the main street, a large building, made from grey stone, with a red tiled roof. Tiled roofs were rare in Nuledor, and were usually a sign of prosperity, and wealth. The door lay open, welcoming patrons, though most inns were empty at this time of day. The daytime was the time for the myriad shops and market stalls, and the arenas. As the sun went down, the people took to the inns and taverns, usually drinking well into the night. Kern gestured to a stable boy who had emerged from behind the inn at the sight of the horse.

"Boy, can you find some where for my horse. And make sure she’s watered and fed."

"Yes, sir!" The boy nodded enthusiastically, as Kern tossed him a copper piece.

Holding out his hand, Kern helped Amelia off the horse, and lead her inside the inn, as the stableboy took the horse around the back of the inn. The common room of the inn was large, with a warm hearth occupying the centre. Tables surrounded the fire, all carved from quality mahogony, and the chairs were high-backed and padded. The room was quite empty, save for a half-dozen guests sat at some of the tables nearest to the hearth. Amelia walked over to the bar, which stood on the north end of the room. A fat innkeeper, with greying hair covered by a blue wide-brimmed hat, stood behind.

"What can I do for you, fair lady?" the innkeeper asked, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

"An ale for my friend here," she said, indicating Kern, "And a room, if you have any."

"You’re in luck, miss. We have one room left, a fine room. Normally the inn is full at this time of year. A popular place, miss. Finest inn in Kelra, you just ask anyone. But I’ve one room left." the innkeeper said, bowing.

Amelia just nodded. The standard of the room was not important- she didn’t intend to stay more than one night. She handed over a silver piece. "Is this enough?"

"Yes, miss." The innkeeper nodded happily. He took the coin, and replaced it with a tankard of ale, which Kern took, grinning at her. Men! Give them a tankard of ale, and they were as happy as a Malidoran. If only her own woes could be erased so easily.

"One other thing, goodman. I’m looking for someone, an Elf. He said he’d meet me here today."

"I’ve seen him, yes miss." The innkeeper said, smiling at her. "The first Elf I’ve seen in here in years. He’s upstairs, miss. Would you like me to show you his room?"

Amelia nodded. "Very good of you, sir!" she said.

"Follow me then, if it pleases you!" he said smiling, and bowing. He headed towards the stairs, gesturing for her to follow.

Amelia turned to Kern. "Make yourself comfortable here. I won’t be long!" Kern nodded politely, and took a seat near the bar. His sword was in his scabbard, but Amelia didn’t doubt it would be ready in an instant, if anyone should cause trouble. He sat, and watched the other customers like a wolf watches a stag. She frowned at the other merry-makers, a few of them obviously a little drunk, and hoped there wouldn’t be any trouble. She was trying to avoid attention, and a bar-brawl certainly wouldn’t help. Gesturing to the innkeeper to lead the way, Amelia followed him up the stairs.

 

The innkeeper lead her down a long corridor, lined with varnished wooden doors, and stopped at the end, near a large window overlooking the stable. Amelia could make out Lightfoot, grazing happily from a trough, and being brushed down by the stableboy. "This is the room, miss." he said, pointing to the door they had stopped at. "If you need anything else, don’t be afraid to ask. Ol’ Dernik Trinn always looks after his patrons." he smiled.

"Thank you goodman Trinn." Amelia said. The innkeeper bowed, and hobbled back along the corridor.

Amelia waited for him to leave, and then knocked on the door. She entered without waiting for a reply. The room was quite small, with a rickety bed, and one table and stool. Another window looked out onto the stables, adorned with red curtains, tastelessly embroidered with yellow roses. On the bed sat a young male Elf, with long sandy hair. His green-hosed legs were folded beneath him, and his brown cloak covered his shirtless chest. He looked up as Amelia entered. In the centre of his forehead was a large purple eye.

"Amelia. You’re late. I was afraid ol’ Green Eye had got you. Obviously you stopped to buy yourself lots of fancy trinkets again." he said, a grin on his face.

Amelia laughed. "Of course, Willow." she said. "I’ve nothing better to do."

Willow returned the laugh, and grinned. "Is our Seeress under-worked? I’d have thought the Order could have found some use for you!"

Pleasantries aside, Amelia turned serious. "How went your quest? Did you find out what Tor was planning?"

Willow’s face turned sombre. "Not exactly, Amelia. He’s definately planning something. His tower is full of Unclean, from Pazuza to Plaguers. Five hundred, no less. Whatever it is, he plans to strike soon."

Amelia sighed, and sat on the edge of his bed. Willow had been her friend since childhood, ever since she had learnt of her gift. He wasn’t the type of person to exaggerate. And he was always blunt. "I know."

Willow looked at her, his eyebrows raised. "Another dream?"

Amelia simply nodded. The vision wasn’t a pleasant one, and she had no wish to go into detail. Not yet, anyway. "And what about The Magus? Are the rumours true?"

"Apparently so, Your Grace." he said resignedly. Willow only ever called her by her priestly-title when he was angry. Or worried. "There is another at the tower, one of great power. The unclean cower at his presence, and kneel at his command. His power rivals that of the Lord himself."

Amilia cursed. The prophecies had said that when the Underling appeared, the Final Battle would be near. Her dreams had revealed as much. But His Eminence, Aradin, had demanded proof. "Is he ready?" she asked, fearing the answer.

Willow nodded. "He is abroad, Your Grace. The prophecy has begun."

Amelia stood up, and straightened her dress distractedly. The prophecy said that the Final Battle between the Avatar and the Magus would determine the fate of the world. If the Magus won, Chaos would overrun the whole of Gaiana. The age of Mortals would be at an end. "His destination?"

"I am unsure. My presence was discovered by an inquisitive Firelord. I had to flee!" Willow said guiltily. "My mission was cut a little short."

"You must know something." Amilia said heatedly. "Anything. Any detail could help!"

"I have told you all I know, Your Grace!" Willow said. "I swear to you. I barely escaped with my life." He moved his cloak, revealing a large barely-healed scar, down the length of his chest. "I know neither his destination, nor his plan!"

Willow sat down again. "I’m sorry, Willow!" she said affectionately. "I know you did all you could!" Amelia struggled to control her temper. No one could do more than Willow had. And she certainly didn’t expect him to fight the entire Horde by herself. He would, if she asked. But the arrival of the Magus was worrying indeed. Events were moving fast. Too fast. She unconciously rubbed the scar on her shoulder. She’d Healed it yesterday, along with Kern’s. The process always exhausted her. "Maybe there is hope!" she said eventually.

Willow raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

Amelia smiled, though the smile never reached her eyes. "Have you forgotten my mission, child?" she said. She seldom used the term; her and Willow had been raised together, and the title seemed both unsuitable, and patronizing.

Willow smiled too, despite himself. "Of course. Morandor’s message! Is the news good?"

Amelia nodded, reluctant to go into the details. Morandor’s message was for Aradin’s ears only. But Willow was her best friend, and the person she trusted most in the world. Willow would take the secret to his grave. "The Avatar has been found. He is currently in Morandor’s care. Apparently he takes to the Art well." Amelia smiled at that. "There is little doubt in Morandor’s mind!"

Willow grinned. "Then there is hope!" he said. "Is he near?"

"Yes. Morandor is living in a tower, in a village to the south of here. Doromir, I think it was called!"

"I have heard of it!" Willow said, nearly laughing. With the Avatar came hope.

"I don’t need to tell you to keep it a secret, Willow. Everything rests on him having time to reach His full power. If He is discovered prematurely......" Amilia left the statement hanging.

"Of course!" Willow said, a tad insulted. Willow could be trusted. Definately. Well, as much as anyone could be trusted in these dark times. "So what next?"

"I am off to Maron, to deliver the message to His Eminence. And then? That depends on his wishes. No doubt a delegation will be sent to Doromir."

"May I accompany you?" Willow asked. Aradin would need to be told Willow’s news as well, though Amilia didn’t envy Willow’s task. Aradin had a foul temper at times.

"Of course. We leave early tomorrow!"

Willow simply smiled. "Just like old times, eh?"

"Indeed!" Amilia replied, smiling fondly. "But enough of this serious talk! I haven’t seen you in months. We’ve got some catching up to do!"

"Most certainly. But how about we go downstairs to talk. There’s a game of Rea’angi going on, and I’d hate to miss the chance to earn a few coppers!"

Amilia laughed. It really was like old times. "First things first, my friend. Let me Heal that nasty wound before you go anywhere!" Amilia held her glowing hands to the Elf’s chest..........