21. Jack in Irons
They set up sentries all around the top of the hill – eight of them per watch and Aurei joined the first shift, taking her post close to where the giant club still lay in the grass. Its presence made her very nervous, for it just seemed too conveniently placed to her. She scanned the surrounding countryside with her Infravision, something she had never really been taught to do, as nearly all the people in Westmark did not have the heat based ‘sight’. She had learnt that it was indeed a sort of sight, and the degree of heat coming off of an object could tell her a lot. Scanning across the country below, she only saw the scurrying of small nocturnal animals – foxes, skunks, even an occasional deer, but nothing dangerous or worrisome. Yet she couldn’t shake her nervousness and kept glancing back to the large club.
Her watch ended about four hours later without any incident. One of the merchant guards that had come back to Westmark with Sir Davit came to relieve her.
"Anything unusual?" the man asked, yawning.
"No, I haven’t seen or heard anything, really."
"Your eyes are glowing fiery red right now, you know, THAT is unusual." The man was smiling and she realized it was a sort of flirt with her.
"Not for me its not. It lets me see all around here and aside from foxes and deer there isn’t much going on."
"I’m glad to hear that. Sleep well, Duchess."
"I’ll try." She walked over to a spot under the shadow of one of the many boulders that littered the hilltop, nodding to several of the others from her watch that were also preparing to get some sleep. She labored to find a comfortable position in her Drow plate armor, but the suit was not made for relaxing and everywhere she turned there was something uncomfortable in her way. With an exasperated sigh, she finally sat up and was debating removing the pesky suit of plate armor when she noticed the sheep began to suddenly stir and bleat. Those still awake as well as the guards on watch, all came to alert, glancing around and listening. A moment passed, then, far off, a wolf or coyote howled, followed a moment later by a separate howl from another distant canine. The howling continued for a minute and then began to drift off, still far in the distance. The camp began to relax, though the sheep still seemed very upset.
Aurei glanced around the hilltop, turning her thoughts back to figuring out a way to sleep, when out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement from one of the large boulders next to where her sentry post had been. She blinked once, thinking she had imagined movement but it was true – the boulder was moving straight up in the air as if something was levitating it. She looked up overhead, expecting to see the dark bottom of an airship, but only beheld stars instead. Her replacement sentry had his back facing the boulder, staring down the hill.
"HEY!" she managed to cry out before it all began.
It happened in a flash, but the whole scene registered in Aurei’s mind as if in slow motion: Her yell caused the sentry to spin around, just as she was able to make out a giant form rising up from underneath the boulder, holding the huge rock above its head as it got to its feet without using its hands. It was a huge giant – probably 15 feet tall, and her infravision did not register any warmth from him, which meant he was not alive. The rattle of chains sounded as he moved and his body was covered with them – rusty chains mixed in with hides and skins and some large round objects bobbing from some of the chains. The guard was pulling his sword from his scabbard and the camp erupted into motion as the giant, with a roar, chucked the boulder into the middle of the camp, squashing two of the caravan guards that were just then leaping to their feet. Chaos reigned on the hilltop. Sheep and horses were bolting in panic, men were running toward the giant and the giant was not waiting for them. He swung his arm at Aurei’s replacement sentry, who ducked the blow, only to have a large section of rusty chain dangling from the Giant’s arm knock him from his feet. The giant snatched up the club they had found earlier and before Aurei or any of the others could get to him, had brought the wicked weapon savagely down onto the stunned guard.
One of the other sentries – a man from Westmark—came at the giant from the brute’s left side, swiping at his pillar like legs. The sword stroke contacted chain with a loud clank and the giant swatted down at the man, knocking him several yards with his club.
Two men came at the giant from its rear flank, chopping and hacking, but he seemed unfazed, twirling around to face them, his club whistling through the air. One man fell dead, but the other dodged behind one of the rocks, the giant’s blow sending sparks and large pieces of rock flying.
Aurei reached the giant at the same time Sir Davit, Brother Darv and Pectros. Without a word, the four surrounded the creature. The giant swung his huge club low, causing Aurei and Sir Davit to dive flat to the ground to avoid getting hit. Brother Darv was not quick enough to get out of range and took a hard glancing blow to his legs, knocking him a short distance, flat on his back. Pectros’ shield absorbed the rest of the giant’s swing, tearing the metal shield in half and sending him rolling off the side of the hill.
Aurei was on her feet in a flash, diving through the giant’s legs and slashing at his hamstrings as she passed. Her enchanted blade bit deep into the giant’s flesh, but she was not surprised to hear no roar of pain or flow of blood from the wound. The giant was undead.
Sir Davit rushed the brute, his great sword swinging mightily. The giant tried an overhead pounding with his club, but the knight dodged out of his way as his weapon slammed into the ground with a loud *BOOM!*. Davit slashed at the giant’s arm before he could pull his club free from the ground and the knight’s blade sliced through bone. Aurei chopped at the undead giant's other arm with her long sword, scoring a deep wound, though not dismembering the arm as Davit had.
"He’s undead!" Aurei screamed to the knight as the giant stood to his full height. The brute suddenly tilted his ugly head back and gave a loud deep bellow much like an angry bull. As soon as the sound escaped his lips, the dark objects hanging from his many chains began to move. Twin points of blue light popped up in each sphere and Aurei then could tell that he wore severed heads from the chains and they seemed to be animated as well, the lights shining where their eyes should have been. It seemed as if the giant’s moaning was being echoed by the severed heads, for their jaws jerked opened as if they too were screaming.
Aurei and Davit slashed frantically at the giant, hacking at his legs as it just stood there, head tilted back, moaning.
"What’s it doing?!" Aurei yelled to the Knight, but he just shook his head and continued trying to bring the creature down. The blue glow in all of the eye sockets of each head seemed to cover all of their heads now and was creeping over the giant like a glowing blue fog. Whether it was the sight of the undead giant or his horrid moaning, either way, none of the others in the camp seemed to be able to attack the creature but simply stood where they were, trembling, while others were cowering behind some of the boulders.
"He’s paralyzed them with fear!" Sir Davit shouted, "It’s up to us!"
Aurei furiously attacked the creature’s leg, trying to knock him off his feet, but he stood moaning and the blue glow now covered him. Davit slammed his great sword down on the neck of the creature, but it had no affect, as if the glow had produced some sort of shell around him, coating him with a magic armor.
All at once the Giant’s severed arm began to glow blue as well and began twitching and moving, inching its way toward the Knight’s leg as Davit furiously tried to destroy the brute.
"Look out, the arm!" Aurei shouted, but at the same moment the huge giant hand of the severed arm clamped down on the unaware knight’s ankle and jerked it out enough to send him sprawling. The Giant rushed forward and stomped down on the prone knight, who managed to roll his head and torso out of the way of the monster’s foot. Instead the brute pinned one of Davit’s legs with his stomp, his armor absorbing some of the crushing impact, but still breaking bones.
Aurei leaped forward, slamming herself into the backside of the undead giant in hopes of knocking him off balance. Her small form did not knock him over, but did manage to make him stagger enough to release Davit’s leg from his crushing pin.
The giant flicked his leg, sending Aurei sailing off, tumbling over the side of the hill and then down half the slope, bouncing off rocks as she tried to control her roll.
Though her body screamed in pain, she immediately began clawing her way back up the hill. As she scrambled to the summit she was relieved to see Brother Darv had recovered enough to have cast a spell. A spectral war hammer flashed in mid air, pounding the giant again and again, driving him backwards and away from the knight. Again the Giant began his awful moan and there was a flicker of blue light from the bodies of their fallen comrades then they began to jerk and stand, still broken and dead, slowly staggering toward the Cleric and the Knight.
"Zombies!" She warned, but did not wait to see if they heard her. Wielding her long sword with both hands, she rushed in front of the reanimated corpse nearest her and struck with all her might, chopping the zombie’s head from his body. For a second it swayed, then it collapsed in a heap, the blue glow leaving it.
Another one reared up in front of the Cleric and clawed at him. Instantly his spell broke as he struggled with the corpse. The Giant, now freed from the menace of the spell’s hammer, took one long step and reached down to grab severed arm, which had been crawling its way toward him. The undead brute held the limb up to his stump and the glowing blue light flashed between the two, seeming to join them back together.
From behind the giant, the form of Pectros abruptly mounted the hill, one arm hanging limp at his side, but the other one holding a dagger which he thrust into the thigh of the creature. The giant, flexing his rejoined arm, kicked sideways, sending Pectros rolling. Aurei started running toward the giant, only to be jumped by one of the zombies. She flung the corpse of the caravan guard that had flirted with her earlier, over her back and drove her blade into the base of his neck, sickened at having to do such an awful thing. The zombie went down with the blue glow fading from him.
Aurei glanced back at Brother Darv who was slowly overpowering the zombie attacking him, as Davit was struggling to stand on his good leg, probably attempting to assist her or Darv. Suddenly the Giant charged forward, his club raised high over his head. Aurei only had time to duck as the club missed her by inches, but Sir Davit was not as lucky, taking the blow in his upper shoulder. The knight sailed backwards, his great sword falling to the ground. Aurei stabbed at the monster from the back, aiming as high as she could, but her blade only contacted some of the many chains wrapped around him. As he spun around to face her, she again dove beneath his legs, rolling to her feet to slash at his hip joint, but again her blade contacted chain and was deflected.
Around came the giant’s club, aimed low this time, causing her to drop nearly flat on the ground to miss it. She jumped to her feet but the monster surprised her with a quick thrust of the handle end of his club into her face. Her helm absorbed the impact, but the blow knocked her backwards, falling over Davit’s unconscious form. Before she could untangle herself from the knight’s form entirely, she heard the whistle of the giant’s spiked club sailing through the air. She tried to twist to the side, but the club caught her square in the side, sending her slamming hard into the ground. For a moment she thought it had crushed her, for she could not breathe or move, but the pain flooded over her and she forced herself to roll to her back, glad to find that the Drow plate armor had absorbed the impact enough to keep her from being killed.
But in her injured state, she was only able to try to wiggle backwards from the brute using her elbows to propel her. It wasn’t enough and with a loud roar, the giant brought the club down on her with full force, its massive head pounding into her chest. The impact again knocked the breath from her as her body crashed onto the ground with enough force to cause her to bounce once. Again the giant brought the club down full force on her chest, the rusty spikes producing sparks when it contacted the Drow breastplate. The armor deflected the deadly spikes, but in spite of the protection of the magic armor, she felt ribs snap as again her body bounced.
Unable to move or breathe, she could only glance up in horror as the monster swung a third time, this time aimed at her head. The blow sent a flash of light and a loud clang resounding over her as her helmet was knocked free from her head. Her left eye exploded in pain from a spike entering her socket, while another spike crushed her jawbone, sending another shockwave of pain. She felt blood rushing out of her head in spurts as the impact again sent her body into the air and then back down to the ground. She knew the end had come, but as her dying form landed again in the soil atop the hill, her limp left hand bounced from the impact, coming down upon the pommel of Sir Davit’s enchanted Great Sword.
As soon as her fingers touched the grip of the sword, a blinding flash of light engulfed her body. Her form went rigid, every inch of her body flashed with a surge of energy that lasted only an instant, but in that instant she was healed.
The flash of light made the giant stagger backwards for a moment, blinded by the light. The blue glow disappeared from his body and the zombies fell lifeless to the ground. But the Giant recovered, though the after image of the flash still blinded him, and with a mighty roar brought the club down with all his might to finish off the Drow girl.
The club pounded into the ground with a loud *BOOM* sending clumps of soil flying, but the girl was not there. Before the giant could focus or again lift his club, Aurei, who had rolled quickly to her left, leaped to her feet and with a scream of fury swung Sir Davit’s Great Sword with all of her might at the giant, still bent over after delivering the massive blow. The Knight’s huge sword, which she found amazingly light in weight, sailed as if of its own will hard into the undead giant’s neck, slicing through a bit of chain, then flesh and bone. The brute’s head rolled off his neck and the giant fell forward, yet before either had hit the ground both dissolved into thin air, sending his club crashing to the ground.
Wild-eyed in her surge of power, Aurei looked around for any adversary, and finding none, ran over to the form of Sir Davit. Brother Darv was already there and had turned his body over, revealing serious wounds. The Cleric was in the middle of a healing spell and Aurei dropped the knight’s sword and knelt beside him. Somehow she knew what she had to do, and with a breathed prayer to Yesh, she placed her hands on the knight’s head and said aloud, "In the name of Yesh, be healed." For the second time, a warm flow of energy left her body and flowed into the knight. He suddenly started coughing, taking a couple of ragged breaths as blood flowed out of his mouth. Aurei knew her touch had not been enough, but Brother Darv’s completed his spell at that moment and the Knight was engulfed in a warm pink glow for an instant. The blood flowing from his mouth stopped and his breathing grew less ragged, as his body relaxed.
"He’ll survive, but my spell is not enough either, Aurei. Thank Yesh you laid hands on him, together it is enough."
"What happened?" Davit asked hoarsely to the Cleric.
"The giant is dead, rest easy." Brother Darv said to the man.
"Aurei took up your sword and cut his head off."
"Yesh be praised!" Sir Davit closed his eyes for a moment, smiling.
"Yesh worked through your sword" Aurei told the Knight as she stood, looking around to find Pectros, "the giant had killed me, but when my hand touched your sword I was healed."
"Healed?" The knight rose up on his elbows, "When you touched the sword?"
"The giant had mortally injured me. He kept pounding me with his club, but one time the impact bounced my arm and my hand came down on the grip of your sword and I guess that was when Yesh decided to heal me."
"I’m sure he did, Aurei, but that is one of the enchantments of my sword – it can heal the wielder once a day…if he or she is worthy."
"Worthy? How?" She spotted Pectros’ body and ran over to it. The others in their party were beginning to get their wits about them and several of them followed Aurei over to where Pectros laid. He was conscious, his arm obviously broken and blood flowed from a broken nose as well as several scratches.
"I’m alright, Aurei," he said with a bloody smile, "thanks to you."
"Your arm is broken."
"Yes, it hurts like… thunder."
Aurei put her hands gently on his arm, looked heavenward and said, "Be healed."
"You can only do that once a day." Pectros answered her puzzled look.
"Pray for healing?"
"You were laying hands on me, weren’t you? Like you did out at the Flydros farm?"
"You can only do that once a day… at least that is all that I’ve always been told that they could."
" ‘They’? Who are you talking about?"
"Why Paladins, silly girl! They have the ability to lay hands upon an injured person once a day. And you already laid hands on Sir Davit."
"It wasn’t laying of hands, Pectros! Yesh merely answered my prayer!"
"But he didn’t this time?"
"I don’t know!" she said somewhat crossly, "Maybe you aren’t injured bad enough to be healed."
With that she stormed off, returning to Brother Darv and Sir Davit, who was now sitting in the grass, drinking water the Cleric had brought to him.
"Yesh won’t heal Pectros!" She told the two, fuming in frustration.
"You can only do that once a day." Sir Davit said to her, "Bring him over here, I haven’t laid hands yet so I can heal him."
She motioned for some of the men to bring the captain of the guard to them and they helped him stand and walk, wobbly, over to them. The Knight put both hands on Pectros’ foot, closed his eyes and said, "Be healed." There was a small flash of pink light and Pectros’ nose stopped bleeding.
"Thank you sir," he said to the knight, "My arm still is broken, though, so I’ll have to get someone to reposition the bone."
Brother Darv stood and took his broken arm and a minute later, as some of the others held him steady, the Cleric adjusted the bone back into place. Pectros did not cry out, though his eyes watered from the ordeal.
"Tomorrow," Brother Darv told him, "have one of the Paladins lay hands on you and it will speed the healing."
"’One of the Paladins’?" Aurei shook her head, upset though she really didn't know just why. "You mean me, don’t you? I’m not a Paladin, for heaven’s sake! Can’t a believer receive some power from Yesh to heal once in a while?"
"Oh yes." Brother Darv assured her, "And you have that power once a day."
She sighed in frustration, but they had too much to do for her to continue the argument. There was no other wounded among them, but four dead men. All of the horses, as well as the shepherd boys’ herd, had run off. Dawn was breaking by the time they had secured the camp and found most of the horses and all of the sheep. Brother Darv said a liturgy for the dead men and they burned them to keep their bodies from being reanimated again. They also burned the Giant’s club, though no other sign of the undead monster was to be found.
The shepherd boys were nearly comatose in fright after the nighttime battle and Aurei was able to get from them the names and locations of their families and sent a couple of riders off to fetch them. When they had sent the shepherds off (along with their flock) with their families, all agreed they needed to get as far away from the boulder covered hill as possible. They rode all day in near total silence and were resting their horses about five miles south of Westmark for the last stage of their journey when Aurei broke the silence.
"Sir Davit?" she asked the Knight as he sat stiff-legged in his saddle, his broken leg having been set by Brother Darv before they left.
"You said that your sword can heal once a day one that is worthy?"
"Yes. It will be tomorrow though before I can use it to heal my leg." He answered, assuming that was what she was wondering.
"What did you mean by one who is worthy?"
"Well, any good person can wield my sword, but its abilities – its enchantments, I mean— are reserved for those whom the blade was created for as a tool."
"You mean a Paladin?"
Aurei sighed, her shoulders slumping, "So the only way I was healed was because the sword ‘thought’ I was a Paladin?"
"It is as I told you back in the Inn, Aurei, the enchantment of the sword considers you a Paladin, like I am."
"But I’m not!"
"Oh no? You lay hands and heal, you can wield my Holy sword, and you were unaffected by the fear the undead giant generated."
"I was afraid!"
"But it did not paralyze you as it did most of the others. You see, Paladins are immune to fear, Duchess."
"Sir Davit, how could I possibly be a Paladin? I’ve never been trained; don’t most Paladins belong to an order and have to serve as squires or something?"
"Usually, yes. Obviously you are a novice, so to speak, but the signs are there, Aurei, you are most definitely a Paladin."
"Whether I want to be or not?"
The knight smiled, "You know you secretly want to be – you want to protect those in your charge, don’t you? That is the desire of all Paladins, to serve good and protect the weak."
"But there is more to it then that, isn’t there? Wouldn’t I have to join an order or something?"
"There are no set rules for a Paladin of Yesh other than obedience to Him, serving the good of all and defending the innocent."
"And that is all?"
"Obviously, Duchess, you need to be trained. But I suspect Yesh will see to it, as He has blessed you with the abilities of a Paladin already."
"Just what I need; another job." She grumbled, but there was no real malice in her words and the Knight smiled at her in spite of the pain in his leg.