The Drow/Elf knight cleared his throat, "I need to thank you, Duchess Bugley, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to try that without your prompting."
"If you want to thank me, then please stop addressing me so formally. My name is Aurei, and my friends call me that. I hope you will too."
"Alright, Aurei, I can do that."
"I’m also rather tired of calling you Sir Eleazar. From now on I’ll call you ‘Laz’." She glanced at him to gauge his reaction.
"Laz? I would have thought ‘Zar’ would have been the logical choice."
"Precisely, this is why I want to call you ‘Laz’, at least while I'm speaking to you privately. Is that okay… Laz?"
"Very good! I have one more place to take you this evening, but as we walk along, I want to ask you a few things now that we are friends and all."
"Okay" he agreed cautiously.
Aurei laughed, "Don’t look so worried, Laz! It is actually ducal business on which I want your opinion."
Eleazar felt himself relax somewhat after hearing that, "Go ahead, Duchess – I mean, Aurei! Sorry, we are not supposed to address ladies by familiar names."
"Is that a Knightly vow sort-of thing?"
"Well, just don’t let any of your fellow Paladins know and I’ll be careful to call you Sir Eleazar when I’m around you in public."
"Thanks, that eases my mind greatly."
"Now, what I wanted to ask you about was defending the duchy. This duchy, I’m told, is 144 square miles in size. The duchy extends from the base of the mountains south 12 miles and from the edge of the Faesidhe forest in the west, eastward 12 miles. Westmark also is responsible, in times of war or danger, to the King for an additional 15 miles both south and east of our boundaries as that is half the distance to the closest duchies. Most of the people in this duchy live in the town or just outside of town, but we have three very small villages, one to the east, one southeast and one due south, that are each made up of clusters of farming families who constructed their houses close together with their fields radiating out from their little villages. The largest of these three villages is Thurgood to the South, which has about 75 people in it, the other two have between 20 and 30 people living in each. Now, I feel that our town here is growing more and more secure from attack, at least as much as we can against the Necromancer Guild and their airships. But these three villages worry me, as they could be easily overrun and if it happened at night, we might not know about it. I don’t want any more deaths like the Flydros family."
"Yet these farming villages are overly comfortable in false security and I doubt they would keep a very diligent watch if I left it up to them, as for many, many years these villages have not had to worry about any serious threat. So I want your opinion; what should I do to protect them? They never come into town when there is some sort of danger and I doubt they are skilled enough with the sword or bow to defend themselves if attacked. They are good people, but very stubborn and independent country folk. Sending patrols throughout the night to check on them makes me uneasy as I fear these patrols could get ambushed in route."
"I thought of having a great wall constructed around the entire border of the Duchy, but that is far too expensive and we don’t have the manpower for that. Have you any suggestions, Laz?"
Eleazar smiled slightly at the sound of her new nickname for him, but immediately he began formulating an idea.
"Well, the simplest thing would be to construct three watchtowers, each about 3 stories tall, one each for each village."
"That’s a good idea, Sir Laz, but it would take a long time to construct towers, wouldn’t it?"
"Don’t think of them like the towers here in town – here’s how you could do it. Dig a moat or trench on a high place near each village that has the clearest view in all directions. Use the earth from the moat to build up an earthen wall around the area where the tower will be. In the center of the circle, use earth, rocks or even field stones to make a simple tower, just large enough to provide shelter and basic comfort to a small garrison of 8 to 10 men. The top of the tower would be a look-out platform and you could set up a system of watch fires to quickly send warning to the other towers or to the Keep here in town. You could even put a small dungeon beneath each tower to imprison bandits or other troublemakers until they could be transported to Westmark. I’d construct a stable for the garrison’s horses next to the tower and then put up a wooden palisade to form a simple courtyard. They would not protect against a full-fledged attack, but they would hamper the Necromancer Guild from sending Ships too close if they knew they were being watched and that each tower could pass warning quickly to the other towers."
She stared at him, very impressed with the idea, "Wow, that sounds perfect!"
"Well, I don’t know – it depends on the location and if you can find materials and workers to build it, but it is similar to how the Emperor’s legions set up long-term military camps out in the field. They would work until you could arrange for something more permanent to be constructed."
"Do you think it is feasible?"
"I honestly don’t know until I see what resources you have and the sites for the watchtowers. But I would say it sounds reasonable, Duchess."
"Aurei" ,she corrected with a sweet smile.
"Sorry", he blushed slightly at her look and hoped she couldn’t tell with his skin color. Her charm was growing more and more tough for him to work against, and though he was horrified at the thought, he was growing more and more willing to do whatever the Drow girl wanted, even in the few hours he had spent with her. Eleazar closed his eyes, trying to visualize the image of his mother when he had been charmed by his paternal grandmother. Her look of shock and fear that her son was being manipulated by a scheming and evil Drow matron. The image filled his mind.
"Aurei, I’m rather tired now, so if we are through, I think I’ll go and get some sleep."
"We’re not quite done, I want you to see something, first." she responded, noticing his change of mood. She stopped at the pathway that led toward the town’s Mill. Eleazar could hear the sound of the millwheel turning, rustling up the water.
"Couldn’t you show me tomorrow?" he protested and she just shook her head and with the look of a child about to get into some sort of mild misbehavior, she motioned for him to follow her and she hurried up the path, stopping to open a gate that blocked entry to the millpond area.
"Isn’t this private property? It’s trespassing." He warned, knowing his words sounded really stupid coming from a grown man.
Aurei just turned around with a sly grin and a sparkle in her eye, "Well, report me to the night watch – I’ll have to put myself on trial when the case comes up, but I don’t think the Miller will be too upset – I used to do this all the time when I was younger."
"Do what?" he asked, very worried over what she might have in mind.
"Take your boots off." She ordered and he felt his stomach flip-flop.
"Take my boots off?!" he asked nervously, "Duchess, I don’t know if this-"
"Shh!" she held a finger to her lips, "Just do as you are told, please. And it is Aurei, remember."
"Aurei, as a Paladin, I don’t think I can do this-"
The Drow girl looked at him puzzled, "Do what?"
"Take my clothes off. Skinny-dipping – that is not proper."
"Skinny-dipping?!" Aurei burst into laughter, "Oh for Heaven’s sake, Sir Laz! I didn’t say anything about taking your clothes off – what kind of girl do you think I am?!"
"I don’t know." he stammered, completely confused, "I’m not sure what you want."
She shook her head, "You really don’t know, do you? My goodness but you are high-strung. Let me show you what I had in mind."
Aurei knelt down and slipped off her ankle-high boots, pulled up her skirt to almost her knees and sat down on the stone pavement edge of the pond, sticking her feet into the cold water, saying, "Oh, that is COLD!"
Eleazar felt like the world’s biggest fool right then, but silently took his boots off and sat down next to her, plunging his feet into the briskly cold water of the pond.
"Invigorating, isn’t it?" she asked him happily, "After a long night of running around waiting on tables, this is heaven. The water is cold year-round, it runs down from the mountains I guess, but the cold water wakes me up and numbs my tired feet at the same time. I thought it would be something pleasant you might enjoy."
"Oh" he replied, miserable in his embarrassment for acting as foolish as a drunken Halfling.
"The trick is not keeping your feet in there too long or you won’t be able to walk for a while until they warm up some. Don’t worry though, the Miller is used to me sitting here late at night with my stinky feet poisoning his water."
"I’m sorry I reacted as I did, Duch--- I mean, Aurei. I really haven’t had much experience with recreation – at least of this type."
"I suspected as much, and I’d like to show you how to relax and enjoy simple things. Just look overhead at those stars, I love looking at them. Have you ever laid back on a summer night and looked at them?"
"A few times, I guess." He looked up into the heavens, and the autumn air seemed to sharpen the brightness of the stars, "The view is very spectacular."
"Laz, I think you probably need to do things like this from time to time; to clear your mind of your burdens and remind you how pleasant life can be when you take time to enjoy it."
He nodded, "I’ll try to remember that. Thank you, Aurei, you’ve been very kind to me."
"I’d just like to be your friend, Sir Laz; everyone needs at least one."
Eleazar’s mouth was dry from nervousness and the deep struggle he was experiencing to say what he knew he had to say. He had sworn to himself to never have a close friend after seeing his beloved mother tortured and murdered in order to bring pain and rage upon him, but now he was terrified that the very thing that he had vowed to avoid was happening. Though common sense told him to get up and run as fast as he could from the situation, he heard himself respond, "Okay, I’ll try."
The Drow girl was pleased and smiled her devastating smile, her red glowing eyes sparkling in the starlight. Eleazar knew he was in big, big trouble. The terror of it thrilled him so much he found himself returning her smile.