Brutus and Avianna - Chapter Six

Part Two, Chapter Six

From what Avianna gathered the caravan of knights was on a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Kost, and were escorting their wives and children on the journey. Raelean, the lithe elf-boy who looked to be only about ten or twelve in human years, already lived in Kost. He was a student at the Academy of the Arcane, a famous school for wizards. He had went to Oraknev on an errand for the school. Such errands were also a way of teaching young wizards self-reliance and survival skills, for the trek to Oraknev was a week on horseback. On the way back, Raelean had encountered the paladins heading south and decided to join them, trading in his horse temporarily for a seat in a carriage.

It likely wasn’t against the rules, because knowing who to trust was also part of his training. Paladins travelling with their lady-folk could certainly be trusted.

Raelean had made the trip northward by himself the first time anyway, being cautious, hunting rabbits with Magic Missile spells and eating quite well along the way. He had already proved his skills for living in the woods, something that came naturally for an elf. He had encountered a pack of huge dire wolves on the way and scared them off with an illusion. On the way back south he decided he would enjoy some company and so on the third day of riding south (yesterday) he had encountered the knights and negotiated to loan one of them his horse in exchange for a carriage seat where he could read his spellbook

The Academy of the Arcane prided itself on not only teaching young wizards how to cast spells, but also teaching them when and how to cast them, and also teaching skills that are useful in the event that magic becomes useless in a bad situation.

Or so Raelean said. Avianna could not be sure, the boy tended to blather incessantly about everything and anything, and she couldn’t be certain if he was exaggerating things. According to Raelean, he was the youngest student to ever be chosen to go on such an errand, but also admitted that he was also the only elvish student currently at the school. He had already lived at the school for ten years and was turning sixty this coming winter. His age therefore was actually much greater than that of most of the teachers at the school anyway, and he had ten years of training under his belt.

To top it off, he was also a natural sorcerer. He had magic in his blood and has been able to cast small spells ever since he was much younger. Avianna had never heard of sorcery at such a young age. It usually develops later in life.

The story the paladins told was much shorter and simpler. The knights had been adventurers once, but had since settled down and raised families in Oraknev. More recently they had decided to move to the Holy City and have their children trained as knights.

Two of the dead squires were their sons. The only remaining squire, the one with the spear, was a half-elf who had apprenticed himself to one of the knights years ago: Berthon was his name. The knights had met him years ago in Weyvin. He would soon be ready to become a knight himself. Berthon’s lordship however was one of the dead knights. He would have to re-apprentice himself, which is a lengthy process that lasts five years.

Angus however thought the whole idea of apprenticing was nonsense in the first place. It was an unnecessary step towards becoming a knight, and he explained that dwarven knights never apprenticed, but instead earned their spurs in combat. From his perspective, the lad had already done that.

Human customs however dictated that he must apprentice, and should something happen to his lordship he would have to re-apprentice himself for another five years. Such was the argument the humans came up with.

To which Angus had snorted in response. “He’s half human! Does that mean he only has to apprentice for half the time? Or does it mean he should only pay attention to half of the rules?”

One of the paladins turned red in the face. “That’s blasphemy!”

“Sez who?” demanded Angus, puffing out his chest and glaring the knight straight in the eye. “Elf!” he shouted in Avianna’s direction, despite the fact that she was standing less than five feet away. “How do elves become paladins in your country?” he demanded.

Avianna sighed and rolled her eyes at his theatrics. She had already explained the elvish custom yesterday, so asking her again was purely for the benefit of the knights. “The youth undergoes training with the sword, the bow and the rituals of knighthood, and when that is completed he spends the night sleeping in a tree praying to the gods to receive him as their loyal servant.”

“And what happens if they accept?” barked the dwarf.

“Then the youth awakes in the morning with a silver leaf upon his brow, a sign of the gods’ favour. If they do not, he is marked with a brand across his chin. The brand fades after time, and the youth may try again.”

The humans were incredulous. They looked at each other in shock. They had never heard of such a ritual.

“Well then,” said Angus, a smile tugging on his beard. “It looks like we have some bodies to wrap for a funeral, the boy can sleep in a tree tonight, and by the time we reach Kost to bury the poor souls who died today he will likely be a knight.”

Berthon, quiet up until now, merely nodded. “Thank you milord Angus. You do me much favour.”

Roradz and Brutus walked over from where they had been fixing one of the carriages. The two seemed an unlikely team, both masters of brawn and brains when it came to fighting tactics, but with drastically different styles of fighting and philosophies. The minotaur seemed to grin when he spoke: “Don’t bother to even ask me what the Ironskin ritual is! The boy is never going to grow rust-coloured fur!”

Three days and one silver leaf later five paladins, one barbarian, one ranger and one wizard led the way into the Holy City of Kost, leading a small band of carriages that were badly in need of repair. The city itself was immense, with tall spires and church towers on almost every corner. It was truly a city of churches, with massive cathedrals dotting the horizon and sculptures of famous priests and paladins lining the cobbled streets. Even the doors of the most common of buildings were carved and inlaid with scenes of pious priests and fearless knights.

Bidding farewell to the knights and their families, the band headed uphill on a broad alley, accompanied by Raelean with his horse restored to him, and by the newly made knight Sir Berthon. The young man would officially receive his spurs later today in the cathedral they were heading towards. He had nothing but his sword, his spear and the silver leaf in his hands, but he was a knight nevertheless.

Angus and Roradz had already explained days earlier that they intended to visit the great cathedral, saying simply that they hoped to “discuss something” with the high priest. From what Avianna and Brutus had gathered however, the high priest of Kost was essentially the high priest of all of Korovia. It was he who had placed the crown of Queen Kasiya’s head years ago, an event that had cemented her as Queen of Oraknev and Kost, which at the time had been only city-states ruled by their local lord or lords.

By placing the crown on Kasiya’s head, the high priest of Kost had basically sworn fealty to her, and thus begun the process of restoring Korovia to a proper kingdom. The elvish and dwarven cities also swore fealty and eventually the remaining human, gnomish and halfling cities swore fealty as well. Prior to that, most of the landscape had been lawless, with only the city-states and their individual leaders able to control the populace within their own city walls.

Indeed, the only place within Korovia’s borders that had not sworn fealty was the Troll Lands. On a map, the Troll lands was a mountainous region that occupied a square of land between the cities Oraknev, Kost, Sylvania and Weyvin. The trolls ruled there, but they were not the only problem: Ogres, giants and dragons also lurked within its borders.

Outwards, Korovia had natural borders. To the north, a frozen wasteland. To the south, a great cliff, which was a sandy wasteland beyond. To the west, vast mountains and to the east, the Leviathan Sea. Brutus’s homeland lay to the north-west, through a gap in the mountains that led to a different kingdom. Avianna’s home lay across the Leviathan Sea, in a far distant land.

Avianna’s mind wandered to thoughts of her homeland, so distant now compared to this bustling city of knights, squires, priests, nuns, monks and the occasional Ironskin minotaur. To the people of Kost, their gods were very close to what they did every day, and they had history to prove it.

They passed a sculpture depicting a huge twelve foot tall demon with massive wings fighting a lowly female knight carrying a sword. The sculpture stood in the middle of a water fountain where children played and splashed, oblivious to the hulking and fearsome visage of the demon. According to the plaque on fountain, this is the spot where ten years ago the leader of an army of demons had fallen under the sword. The demons had come through a rift from the Abyss and attacked the city. The fountain commemorated the deaths of all the knights who had died that day defending the city.

The Abyss, thought Avianna with a shiver. She knew very little of the alternate plane of existence, the home-plane of demons. Up to now she was used to fighting mortal creatures, such as ogres and trolls. The thought of battling a demon, even a small one, was a frightening one.

She felt Brutus wrap an arm around her waist and she wrapped an arm around his in return. She leaned her head against his shoulder as they walked together.

“I was here during that ten years ago,” Raelean spoke up, pointing at the fountain as they continued walking. “I even saw the demon fall. It was a balor, a demon-prince covered in fire.”

“Just as long as they killed it,” Avianna replied.

Raelean stopped and grabbed her by the arm, halting both her and Brutus. “You can’t kill a demon. When you defeat it, it disappears and goes back to the Abyss, where it is banished for one hundred years.”

Avianna stared at him, realizing he was serious. “What happens after one hundred years?”

“Then it can come back.”

That night Avianna kept tossing and turning, finding it difficult to sleep. The demon sculpture at the fountain had been so terrifying to her and now the idea that it was still out there somewhere, despite being banished to another plane of existence, it was still a frightening concept. It truly was immortal, something which even a long-lived elf had difficulty accepting.

Beside her in their bed, Brutus was still awake too, but for different reasons.

The priests at the great cathedral had graciously provided rooms for them all, even Raelean and Sir Berthon, which was strange because Raelean supposed had a room at the Academy. The elf-boy had muttered something about a library and dragged Berthon off with him. The priests had explained that the high priest “wasn’t ready right now”, but if they waited until tomorrow he would be ready to receive them. Thus they had been given all rooms, hot water for washing, and food enough for a small feast. Brutus had ate too much food and now his stomach was a bit sore. He would have to wait for it to digest a bit more before he would be able to sleep.

Then they heard a sound that made them both sit up in bed. It had sounded like the screech of an owl, but coming from upstairs rather than outside. They both sat there for a moment, breathing heavily, their bodies resting against each other. “These old buildings make funny sounds sometimes,” Avianna said at last.

Brutus nodded, his face a silhouette in the darkness. The only light was moonlight coming through a single window. “I’m not used to sleeping in such large buildings. Or old ones for that matter.” He put one arm around her waist. “For a building, it seems rather cold.”

Avianna lay back down, cradled in his arms, his chest warming her back. “Its all the stone. It is a bit like living in a drafty cave.”

“Why is that sculpture bothering you so much?” Brutus asked at last. She had been obviously upset ever since seeing it.

“I guess its just the stories from when I was younger. The stories about the last demon war, thousands of years ago. They’ve always bothered me, but I’ve never actually seen what a demon looked like until today. And I certainly didn’t know that they could come back so easily.”

Brutus squeezed her gently and she felt a familiar movement between her legs, something which made her forget all about demons and the stories she had learned as a child. She lifted one leg slightly and gripped his hand in hers.

The barbarian repositioned himself and kissed her ear as he stroked her gently, his hands rough but warm and welcomed on her skin. She parted her lips to let out a small moan.

“Ssshh,” he whispered in her ear. “We don’t want to wake people up.”

Avianna tilted her head so she could kiss him feverishly. She reached between her legs and found what she was looking for. Raising her leg a bit more, she slid him inside her.

Their kisses seemed almost frantic in their passion, but their movements were soft and controlled as they made love on the old squeaky bed. When at last they collapsed together in each other’s arms, Avianna was more afraid that they had woken up every priest and priestess in the building than she was of any stories of demons.

Then again, perhaps that screech she had heard had been a bed moving across a floor. Perhaps she and Brutus were not the only ones making noise tonight.

Chapter Seven