In the fenced courtyard of the Blood Knight's Keep, King Haroldris stood with Sir Eleazar and Sir Aeric watching a handful of Paladin recruits practicing Sword and Shield drills in the ankle deep snow.
"We drill them in all sorts of weather as battle can occur in all sorts of weather." Eleazar explained as the trio stood there trying to ignore the bite of the frigid wind as the blizzard continued to quickly dump more and more snow onto the town.
"Sir Eleazar, I imagine this northern snowstorm is somewhat different from what you have experienced." The King said as the half-Drow pulled his cloak around him tightly.
"It is rather cold, but actually I enjoy it - too many years spent in the Underdark with no weather, I guess."
"I am most glad you are here now. I owe you thanks for rescuing Duchess Bugley and Reverend Mother Zeatt, as well as protecting my Queen and Captain Vinth."
"I only wish, Your Highness, that I would have been able to save the other Orcs in the Queen's Guard. They died valiantly and I have never known more noble Orcs then those."
"They are indeed a shining example of the best of their breed. But I'm afraid that their deaths are just the first of many. The Emperor, I fear, will suffer a fate similar to what we suspect Sir Alvis will experience at the hands of the Necromancer's Guild. Yet they will make certain he appears to be living so he can 'reappear' and reassume the imperial throne. He'll be a puppet of the Guild and they will guard him fiercely. Then I suspect he will first concentrate on clamping down with an iron fist on all parts of the empire. Finally, his subject kingdoms will be dominated, with his legions backed by the armies of the Necromancer's Guild."
Eleazar and Aeric nodded at Haroldris' prediction.
"Your Highness, you mentioned receiving help from The Bitter Dregs and specifically a sorceress - are they still available to assist Northmarch?" Aeric asked the King.
"Regrettably, no, Sir Aeric. It was a small group that was teleported in to assist me - they returned to Aeropolis by spell the following day to resume struggling against the Necromancer's Guild's schemes. But they did advise me to strengthen Northmarch's defenses in any way that I could."
"So did you get the feeling that the Bitter Dregs were losing the battle against the Necromancer's Guild?" Eleazar asked.
"I think they are hard pressed. The Blood Knights are scattered all over the world, many in hiding for they are hunting for them. The Dregs are more covert, so they are not in imminent danger, but I did get the distinct impression that soon there will be too few resources left for the Dregs to assist, in any large number, any Kingdom or group of people. The Archbishops of Yesh are also scattered around and I'm not sure where they are located or what their plans are. Where would one look? No one even knows where St. Kinnis is right now. Our religious governing body has been scattered, the imperial order is in shambles and both the Bitter Dregs and your own knightly order are reeling from the chaos of the sudden civil war. So I would say that we won't receive any outside help."
"That poses a problem for Sir Aeric and me - we belong to an order now without any structured leadership."
"Sir Eleazar, I may have a solution for you. As the Blood Knights are scattered all across the world, I propose that you and Sir Aeric take charge of this branch of your order. I will personally put it under the jurisdiction of Northmarch until the time St. Kinnis reappears and restores the Order. I propose that you and Sir Aeric train knights here for the protection of Northmarch. This Kingdom remains free, but we all know that will soon be severely challenged. Rather than taking a handful of your new recruits up against the Necromancer's Guild, why not train a large force that may be of a challenge to them?"
Eleazar and Aeric looked at each other, considering Haroldris' words.
"Your majesty, our first vows were to the Blood Knights."
"I realize that, Eleazar, but the purpose of the order was to fight evil and maintain peace, to further the cause of the reign of Yesh the Merciful, throughout the world and protect the innocent."
"Yes, you stated it perfectly, Your Majesty."
"I ask you: how can you best fulfill this vow in the present situation? I propose that you can do this by training Paladins and even soldiers here, under my Kingdom's protection. We will call the Order, the Knights of Northmarch, and when St. Kinnis restores your order, I will happily merge this Order into the Saint's Order. I believe this is the way to proceed, gentlemen, because if you agree to open this order for the protection of Northmarch, my barons will gladly agree to fund your order - especially after our recent trouble. If you try instead to maintain the Blood Knight's order here in Westmark, I cannot fund it as the laws of Northmarch does not allow for the funding of an international organization with Kingdom money. I would allow you to set it up with identical rules as the Blood Knights, or however you see fit."
The King looked at the two Elven men hopefully and they seemed persuaded.
"You present a strong case, Your Majesty. Would you allow us several hours to discuss it with members of our order that are here?"
"Certainly! I want to tour the Dwarven armory and I imagine that will take some time."
"That will be fine, Your Highness, we will have an answer for you by then."
With that said, Haroldris left the two to gather their recruits to present the idea to them.
"-and that was what King Haroldris proposed to us, so we present this now to you. None of you are required to change allegiance from your Blood Knight vows, and there will be no hard feelings if any of you decline. I will be glad to give any of you a letter of recommendation to any other knightly order, if you are not willing to join this new order. So what is your decision?"
The group of men seated in the great hall of the Paladin's Keep all voiced their enthusiastic support of the plan, much to Eleazar's relief. He glanced over to Aeric who gave him a thumb up.
"I'm very pleased, men. I plan on keeping the rules and vows of the Order of Northmarch the same as those of the Blood Knights, only we will now vow to support the reigning monarch of Northmarch, and support his causes as long as they do not conflict with the teachings of Yesh. This order will open to any man of any race willing to take the vow and accept training of arms."
"What about women?" There came a voice from the door behind them and Eleazar spun around to find Aurei and Alis standing there with sour looks on their faces.
"Duchess…" He began, but he knew he was caught and his voice trailed off.
"Why weren't we notified of this organizational meeting, Sir Eleazar?" Aurei asked, her red eyes glowing slightly as she and Alis crossed the room to join them.
"I was going to speak to you about it later, in private."
"You can speak to me about it now, Sir Knight. Why were we excluded from this meeting?"
Eleazar looked to Aeric for help, but the half-elf had an equally sick look on his face and shrugged.
"You are excluding us, aren't you?" Alis asked, "How unbelievable!"
"Now wait a minute ladies-", Eleazar tried to speak but a glance from Aurei shut him up.
"How dare you attempt to keep us from joining this new order! After all that we've been through! I think Alis and I have more than proven ourselves in battle."
"It's not that-"
"Then what exactly is it, Sir Eleazar?" Aurei snapped, "Is it not worthy of the manly image of the knight that you have in your head to have two scared helpless women among you?!"
"I know it is not the King's idea, in fact he was surprised that we hadn't been notified and suggested we hurry over here! It is a good thing that we did or we'd have been excluded."
"You HAVE been excluded, Aurei! I'm sorry, but it is for the best; we've already voted."
Aurei's eyes burned with anger, but she held her chin high, "You are forgetting one important detail, Sir Eleazar!"
"Duchess Bugley, to you! This is MY duchy and your keep rests on my soil."
"-That you gave to the Blood Knights!"
"-But not to your new woman-hating order. Part of the charter, dear knight, stated that any change in ownership or function of the Blood Knight's keep had to be approved by the Lord or Lady of the Duchy and guess what… I AM NOT APPROVING OF IT!"
Aurei spun on her heels and stormed out of the Keep, leaving all within the great hall staring on in amazement. With a growl of frustration, Eleazar jumped to his feet and ran after her. Alis stood by the door with her arms folded across her chest and glared banefully at the rest of the assembly, all of whom lowered their gazes.