The wagon loaded down with coins and religious artifacts approached the beginning construction of a wall around the village. It was escorted by a small handful riders covered in dark cloaks. I watched from the hidden shadows of the treeline as the two armored knights that stood guard over the road halted the wagon and pulled out their swords. One of the wolves that accompanied me growled lowly in way that reflected my mood. There was an exchange of words between the knights and riders that I couldn't hear clearly over the distance.
I crouched low as I moved quickly and quietly from the treeline to the edge of the village. With a nimble leap I landed atop a nearby rooftop that overlooked the road.
"Her Ladyship wishes to contribute to the rebuilding of the church within the village."
"With what? The blood money she stole from the people? And fowl trinkets of darkness?"
"Brother Steen perhaps we should bring this to Brother Allen's attention and to the priest."
"And I rather believe we should torch the whole lot and be done with it! Nothing good ever comes with dealing with darkness."
The angered out spoken knight turned away muttering quietly and angerily while the other knight waved the wagon and the escort though. A messenger was sent ahead of the wagon towards the village tavern. I slipped quietly off the roof, and dropped to the road. I looked over my shoulder to ensure I wasn't heard or noticed before following after the messenger.
It was easy to move through the town unnoticed as I followed at the messenger, easily keeping pace. I expected him to enter the tavern, but instead he continued on past keeping to the road. Lurking quietly I followed him as he made his way to the site of the abandoned church.
I was greeted by the surprising sight of a ruined, burned down building. Surrounding the structure was the encampment of knights belonging to Allen's holy order. The messenger made his way directly to one of the central tent. There was no way I could enter the encampment. No doubt the perimeter was warded against darkness and undead alike. Not to mention how outnumbered I would be if I were caught.
Instead I squatted low and waited under the shadow of an old tree.
Allen emerged from the tent with the messenger at his side. He bade a few knights to follow him as he mounted his horse. The small group returned down the road almost passing close by where I hid and for a moment Allen had seemed to look directly at me. As they moved on I retreated back down a dark alleyway and went to circle around to follow them.
The Knight met up with the wagon load near the tavern. By now a small crowd had gathered, including Priest Henderson and Burgermeister Collins. Allen dismounted and opened his arms to greet someone from the crowd. A woman dressed in the whitesilver robes of a Healer of the Goddess embraced him warmly. When her hood fell back I stilled in surprise when it revealed Clarice.
I started to scan the crowd hoping to see the others, Garith or Wildaburn. Had all my friends returned?
After I pulled up my hood slipped in cautiously amongst the villagers in the crowd. Carefully I made my way toward the middle of the gathering while keeping my head down.
“On behalf of Lady Gwenyth of the Valley, she offers a donation of her own wealth to the establishment of the Church here in the valley. She has proclaimed that no persecution of the faithful shall befall them so long as none shall disrupt the peace of the realm.”
“And what if we don’t want her charity! We already suffered living under the shadow of darkness!”
“Silence everyone,” the Burgermeister stepped forward and addressed the wagon driver and his escort, “On behalf of the people I accept the donation, and will-”
A slap of mud arced through the air and struck the burgermeister. Clarice made to move forward to help the Burgermeister but was stopped by Allen as he took hold of her shoulder. Carefully I managed to move close enough to overhear him sternly rebuke her.
“He’s a cowardly servant of darkness, Clarice. We have no business interfering with this.”
“Gwenyth would have helped.”
Allen turned his head sharply to face her and I briefly saw the anger etched there.
“Gwenyth is dead!”
“No, Allen,” Clarice meet his eyes, “I know she alive. Ghost can’t write letters from beyond the grave requesting help and even if she was dead I would honor her memory by aiding those in need.”
With a jerk she freed herself from his grip and slipped into the crowd. He made to go after her and on reflex I pulled on his tunic. Angrily he turned to see me standing there. The anger turned to surprise then rage as he reached for sword. As I looked him straight on eye to eye as I willed him to listen, just for once to listen and not resort to violence.
“Allen please hear me out,” I pleaded. Almost reluctantly he put down his hand. I could still see the anger in his eyes, though it seemed for a moment that it had become dimmed and uncertain.
“Accept the gold and the holy artifacts. I want to make amends. Please, help the people understand, I am not the Dark Lord,” Allen shook his head confused as he backed away.
“Promise me," I requested before I turned back into the crowd. As I glanced back I saw Allen was standing idly for a moment before turning and making his way to the front of the crowd. By the time I made it to the back of the crowd, Allen had climbed atop the wagon raised his sword skyward.
A flash of light illuminated the street and sent a ripple of burning hot wind over me. I scurried into the shadows of a dark alleyway before cautiously glancing back out onto the crowded street.
The commotion only lasted briefly as Allen and his allied knights push back against crowd to form a perimeter around the wagon and the burgermeister. Allen kept calling for order and silence. A couple of times his sword flashed with light that illuminated the street till finally the crowd settled and quieted enough for Allen to take control of the situation.
“Good people! This gold and treasure will be ours!”
A low murmur started to build.
“Hear me! With this gold we can rebuild your church! Raise up your walls and fortification so that you may stand defiant to all evil that may assail you!”
Allen took his sword and smashed open one of the chests. He then grabbed a handful of coins and held it out to the gathered villagers to see.
“This is your gold! Use it! Or see it used against you!”
The murmur of the crowd continued to grow but no one dared break past the knights that stood protectively around the wagon. Allen dropped down from atop the wagon and waved the driver forward. With a flick of the reigns the wagon continued forward.
Satisfied I turned to leave only to find my feet couldn’t move. I looked down to see ice slowly growing over my feet. Someone chuckled and I glanced over my shoulder to see a bearded cloaked figure leaning casually against the alley wall.
“Wildaburn, I didn’t see you there,” I acknowledge. Wildaburn straightened up twirling his beard absentmindedly.
“I happened to be close by and noticed your little talk with Allen. Strange how you managed to convince him to act your generous gift. Almost like you had charmed him in a way.”
“Couldn’t just say hello?” I asked pointing towards my feet encased in ice.
“A precaution,” said Wildaburn apologetically, “but where are my manors.”
He gave a deep bow, “My Lady, on behalf of my companions and members of this village I am glad to see you’re alive and well.”
“Somehow I feel mocked,” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“Oh?” said Wildaburn as he stood up with a humorous smile that played about his bearded face, “Would I be mocking an old friend or insulting the young ruler of the land?”
“Definitely mocking an old friend. Unless you decide to leave me frozen to the ground in a darkened alleyway. That I might take as an insult.”
Wildaburn gave tisk and gave a small shake of his head, “It would be unbecoming of a gentleman to leave a young lady traped against her will in a dark alley. Though I fear more for the person who found you after that than what someone would do to you.”
My thoughts turned to the encampment of knights armed to the teeth with holy weapons just down the road from here.
“Depends really on who found me.”
The quiet stretched on for a bit as Wildaburn seemed to be settling on something that occupied his mind. I tried to move my feet, to see if I could break free. If need be I surmised I could easily just abandoned my boots. With my undead condition I figured I had little to be concerned about with the cold or possible injury, but I would rather avoid running around in bare feet if I could avoid it.
“I am truly sorry my dear Gwenyth,” Wildaburn finally spoke, “Perhaps if we had searched a little harder and a little longer we might have found you before this curse could claim you.”
“There is nothing to be sorry for,” I said, “It was the Dark Lord.”
“We could have suspected he might inflict you with his curse, but we never could find you. Fittingly enough we did hold a vigil in your memory of your life.”
I shrugged. I wasn’t sure how to respond to the direction of our conversation. It was also difficult to understand what Wildaburn wanted
“I still died in a way. Now I’m just undead,” I said finally.
Another awkward silence fell and I glanced worriedly towards either end of the valley. Every moment I was trapped here was another moment a knight or someone would stumble across us. Wildaburn didn’t seem to care or acknowledge the worry.
“What will you do now?” he asked.
“Kill the last of the Dark Lord’s followers. I have reason to believe they seek revive him again.”
“I see,” muttered Wildaburn, “That would be difficult unless they uncovered the body or a fragment of it at least.”
“So it is possible?”
“The curse gives its host an unnatural resilience. It's how the Dark Lord survived so long. Near immortality in a twilight between life and death. Not to mention the access it grants to the dark gifts and arcaneum.”
“All paid for by stealing the blood of others,” I said flatly.
“Yes, unfortunately,” Wildaburn sighed. He once again seemed to be considering something before he asked another question, “Your not going to eat me if I free you right?”
I was taken aback by the unexpected question.
“No…?” I said with a tone of confusion.
“Just making sure,” he said with a witty smile. Wildaburn muttered something else under his breath and the ice melted from around my feet leaving behind a puddle of water.
“Thank you Wildaburn.”
“No need to thank me. After all I inconvenienced you for a mere small chat.”
“You also didn’t try and smite me or blast me with fire.”
“I have already rob this valley of one rightful ruler. I don’t see a reason to commit regicide again,”grimly he paused and looked me steadily in the eye, “At least for now, and I pray I never will.”
He turned and left the alleyway.
I considered his words as I made my way to my next destination. It took a bit before I found the right house. It was a well kept manor just a little ways down the road from the burgermeister’s estate. I came up to the door and knocked. Several long moments passed before I could hear the sound of footsteps as they approached the door. A hatch slid open and I briefly saw the light of a candle followed by a weary set of eyes.
The set of eyes peered quietly at me then the shutter closed. The sound of heavy locks and bolts being undone followed before the door was pulled open.
Veronica Elwich stood in the doorway, surprisingly still fully dressed despite the lateness of the hour.
“My Lady,” she bowed her head slightly in greeting, “I am surprised to see you.”
“I have a request,” I said pulling out a formal letter, “I need a representative. Someone to speak on my behalf and to represent me. Would you accept these duties?”
“I am certainly honored my Lady. However these are troubled times, and your rulership is currently in question.”
I was a bit taken aback by her response, but I chose not to falter as I handed her the letter, “Regardless of that, I have a message to the Burgermeister. You are still acting as the ambassador for the village, correct?”
“Yes. Meister Collins feels more secure with an intermediary between him and the valley ruler. A tradition that has carried back several generations since the late Dark Lord’s reign.”
“How well has that worked out for him?”
“The Collins name has survived longer than most others, if that means anything.”