The Knights of Northmarch
Up in the Air
Duchess Aurei Bugley of Westmark was miserable. More precisely, she was cold, wet, and miserable. She stood with a thin cotton cloak wrapped around her, shivering as a cold, early winter rain fell, wishing more than anything to be back home sitting beside the fireplace of the master bedroom at the Muddy Boot.
Instead, the Drow girl stood on deck of the Emperor's huge airship yacht staring through the grey rain at the top turrets of King Haroldris' massive castle, while across the breech of air, the Emperor's page was rapidly growing hoarse trying to work out a diplomatic solution.
On the castle turret, eight heavily armored guards stood -- equally as miserable-- while their own page yelled back to his equal on the ship, in parley.
Beside her, Matron Zeatt, the Bishop of the Drow followers of Yesh in Aeropolis, sneezed and tried to pull her own cloak over her as she stood shivering. Aurei looked at her aunt with sympathy -- the priestess was used to the warm climate of the south and was no better clothed then she was, so had to be really suffering, though from her stoic expression, you'd never know.
"Are you alright, Matron Zeatt?" Aurei asked her, and the beautiful Drow lady turned with a sweet smile that betrayed her personality, "Aurei, you really don't have to address me as 'Matron Zeatt'. You don't hear me calling you, "Your Grace" or "My lady" do you? Call me Aunt Zeatt… I've never been called that, and I really like the sound of that, okay?"
"Okay, Aunt Zeatt. But are you okay?"
"I'm frozen to the bone, my dear, as I'm sure you are as well."
Aurei sighed, "Well, I'm more wet than cold -- I'm used to cold weather; we have nearly six months of it in Westmark. However we do usually stay inside away from the worst part of it, or at least put on cloaks thick enough to keep the cold and wet away."
Zeatt frowned, but nodded in agreement, "His Excellency did not apparently think out this move."
"So why in the world is he making us stand out here on deck in the cold wind and rain?"
"It is because of you, my dear, that's why!"
"Me? Why me?"
"You are Haroldris' noble liege woman. The main reason we have not been allowed to drop anchor, step off this infernal airship and back down to solid ground again is because your King is demanding that you be released as the Emperor's prisoner. Then Fendoris bragged to Haroldris that he also had me as a prisoner, and your King demanded that I too be released before they would receive the Emperor's party."
Aurei groaned, "Great; that will certainly not improve our status with him. I wonder if any of King Haroldris' people could heal us or resurrect us if we were to jump over the edge?"
Zeatt smiled at her niece's idea, "Tempting, I agree. But I imagine they will work something out soon, if we don't freeze to death."
At that moment the negotiations seemed to break down, and both pages stormed away from their posts; the Emperor's page gesturing to the Imperial guards standing bleakly in the rain a short distance behind them. They hurried over, and somewhat roughly pulled the two women toward the shelter of the airship's cabins, eager to get out of the misery of the weather.
He stood with the water dripping down off the edge of his helm into his red eyes, staring up at the bottom of the hull of the massive airship which had anchored several miles away from King's Reach. Although the area around the city was heavily populated with close-lying farms, the cold rain kept everyone indoors, which pleased the Elf immensely this evening.
Dorthellus cleared his throat impatiently from nearby where he held the reins of both horses as he waited for his master.
"Yes?" Eleazar asked the squire, not taking his eyes off the bottom of the airship.
"Uh…sir, I apologize for my impatience, and forgive me for I have not served long as a squire, but may I ask you why you are staring at the hull of that airship?"
Eleazar smiled -- though he had only met the young squire, who had come from Aeropolis with several others on the very day Aurei had used a communication scroll to send a magical message to her people in Westmark- he saw in the young man a practical common sense that told the Half-Drow that Dorthellus would one day make a good knight.
"You think I've lost my mind, perhaps?" He asked the squire, still smiling.
"Oh no, sir! I just don't understand what the logic is of staring up at the hull when it is raining and growing more and more dark every moment."
"That is a sensible question. I am trying to determine if the anchor rope in front of us is attached to the ship on top of the quarterdeck, or if it goes up through the hull of the ship through a small passage."
"I can only just make out the ship itself, sir, surely you have no hopes of seeing any details of the vessel?"
"Actually, I am waiting for it to grow darker so I can see a bit better. I'm half Drow, Dorthellus, and thankfully for the current situation, I inherited my father's sight in darkness."
"Oh." The youth replied, though it was evident he still didn't understand what the Knight was going to do.
Eleazar decided then to show him, and wrapped his cloak tightly around himself.
"You see, Dorthellus," the knight said as he walked the few yards to where a large heavy lead weight attached to a thick corded rope held the airship in place, "my mother was a Faesidhe Elf, and they are known for two things -- their impatience and their great agility. These two traits I also possess. I want you to take both horses, and go to King's Reach and report to Sir Gelven, who is the commander of our order there. I hope he is now in residence, but if he is not, then report to King Haroldris. The Order's barracks are across the main plaza from the palace keep. Tell Gelven - or the King, if you must-- about what I'm preparing to do right now."
The squire's eyes widened, "Sir, what are you going to do?"
"Well, since the rain has caused the airship to lower its altitude to only about 25 feet off the ground, and since I now can see that the anchor rope is attacked to a pulley system that they swing back and forth over the side of the quarterdeck, I am going to -- with Yesh's help-- climb the mooring rope and board the ship."
Dorthellus' mouth flew open, "What?! Sir, that is insane! You'll be killed! If you fall you'll break every bone in your body and even if you do make it to the deck, you'll be outnumbered up there 10 to 1. Surely this is madness!"
Eleazar chuckled, "Which is why I'm going to do it -- few people expect such an insane move. Remember what I told you to do. I hope I can convince His Excellency to change his course of action. I'm leaving my greatsword strapped to my saddle to keep it from weighing me down. My longsword will suffice."
"Sir, can you climb such a distance in plate armor?"
"I don't know… I've never tried. Let's find out." With a grin, the Elf/Drow grabbed onto the thick rope and with an amazing show of strength began to ascend.
Dorthellus held his breath for most of Eleazar's ascent, sure at any moment he'd hear the half-Drow scream, followed by a loud, sickening crash as his armor-clad body smashed into the ground. But many minutes passed, and as darkness fell, the squire lost sight of the Paladin. He wasn't sure how long he should wait, until he felt the rope shake. He looked up, barely seeing a pair of glowing red eyes looking over the side of the quarterdeck.
With a long exhale of relief, the boy shook the rope to answer him, and quickly hurried off to King's Reach.