Excerpt from Chapter 10 of “Whispers of the Dragon”
The Golden Goshawk was a classic Landish trade road inn. It was large, with encompassing, defensible walls big enough to hold all the people, animals, and wagons of two or three merchant trains at once. Rooms inside the main building offered a comfortable night’s rest, with good food and professionally friendly staff. Like most of its peers, it had stood for more than one hundred years, withstanding times both prosperous and troubled. Its proximity to the holy city of Djardin also lent to its success. From here, it was only a single day’s ride to the city itself. The Goshawk lay on the northern trade road between Cherry End and Djardin, along the foothills of the Flint Ridge Mountains, the preferred route of the dwarven masters of the Greysmere Trading Coster. They shipped their finely worked metal goods north to Cherry End and south to the Djardin River Valley along this road.
As such, the entire route was well-patrolled by royal troops, the county forces of both the South March and Djardin, and numerous mercenary companies of the Orcish Confederacy. One of those orcish companies was camped nearby, and some of its officers were enjoying the food and drink of the Goshawk as Max and his group stopped in for the night.
“Fifteen raiders in one sortie!” a well-armored orc with a broken left tusk shouted, brandishing a full tankard and congratulating his fellows with a sloshing salute. “And that was just me! My men racked up even more! Why, there must have been forty or fifty altogether!”
A round of laughter and cheers prodded him on.
“They went down like South March militia in front of an ishan horde!” he yelled, obviously getting into the spirit of the moment. He pounded his chest with his free hand. “I tell you, boys, when it comes to wiping the floor with bandits, there’s no one who does it better than Thag Redknife and the Brokefinger Longspears!”
Sir Khinar paid the orcs little heed. He threaded his way past them to the nearest bartender. Max and Toryo waited near the doorway to the front desk. The mercenaries were spread around six tables between the doorway and the bar, dominating the taproom. Most of the caravan staff were dining in the farther wing of the inn.
“Hey, little knight!” the mercenary yelled. “Will you drink to the greatest bandit-killing, Shadow stomping warriors ever to walk the mountains?”
The paladin turned and nodded. “You lead the Longspears?”
“A drink then, to your unit and its victories,” Sir Khinar agreed. “These lands are safer with your vigilance.” Another round of cheers welcomed his acknowledgement. He gestured for the bartender to draw him a tankard. He raised it to the orc. “A salute to the Brokefinger Longspears!”
“Yar! To the Longspears!” the mercenary shouted, raising his tankard to Sir Khinar’s before downing a great slug of ale. He wiped his lips with the sleeve of his shirt. “No one else does it better!”
The paladin chuckled and nodded. He turned back to the bartender to finish his business. After a quick nod and a word or two, the man pointed Sir Khinar to the next room. The Qoolmian knight thanked him and went in search of the person the bartender pointed out.
“I hate guys like that!” Toryo complained privately into Max’s ear. “All talk and puffery, and no style! I don’t see why Sir Khinar puts up with it.”
“Uh, because he’s polite? And it’s no skin off his nose what the mercs want to say about themselves.”
“Bunch of bullies is what they are.” Toryo had that sly resentful look Max recognized. “Somebody ought to take them down a peg. Especially that half-tusk braggart!”
“Oh, no you don’t! Not here! Not with Sir Khinar around!” he warned his smaller friend. “You’ve held off for weeks! Don’t lose it now!”
“Oh, nothing big, Max! Maybe just a little poke with a spell or two….” He leaned against the door frame with a considering look at the mercenaries.
“Hey, that little guy doesn’t look like he likes us!” Thag Redknife had noticed Toryo. “He probably doesn’t ‘preciate what we do for scrawny little humans like him, makin’ him safe from the Shadow-twisted bandits!”
Toryo’s expression grew insolent. He shot back, “As a matter of fact, I know firsthand what it takes to fight Shadow, and you sure haven’t got it! In fact, you don’t even have a clue!”
“What?” Taken aback, the orc captain straightened to his full height with a disbelieving frown. “Little snip thinks he knows something? Insulting us? You don’t got the brass, kid!”
Max was already groaning in anticipated misery. He hissed, “Tory, no!”
“Yeah! It takes more than a head full of rocks and some rusty spears to deal with Shadow! By God, you’ve probably been preying on desperate locals, doing the Shadow’s work for it! Some heroes!”
“Hey! You take that back!” the orc shouted, pointing at Toryo with a thick, calloused finger.
“Such mighty Shadow fighters, eh? Well how about you show us what you’re really made of!” Toryo worked his fingers and magic flew from them. A massive shadow-cloaked form rose from the floor in the middle of the room. It moaned like the herald of the damned. Embers of hellfire glowed inside its hood. The shade turned toward the orc leader and reached out a skeletal black arm to grasp at the man with bony fingers.
Thag Redknife pinwheeled his arms and backed up so quickly that he fell over one of his men, and then the table behind him, a look of absolute terror in his eyes. The mercenaries went over in a heap as they tried to escape the touch of the angry apparition. Toryo stepped forward with a look of determination and raised his left hand. A bright, white light blossomed in his fingers. He uttered an incantation and shouted, “Begone, Shadow! Back to the pit that spawned you!”
Max groaned again, watching Toryo hold his right hand behind his back, his fingers controlling the illusion like a puppet.
Toryo tossed the light from his fingers at the apparition. When the light met the shadow, there was a blinding flash of light and a clap of thunder. When everyone’s eyes cleared, the shade was gone.
“Shadow can come from anywhere! Fortunately, there are real heroes who can deal with it!” Toryo announced to the crowd. He bowed with his arms spread wide, as an actor would. He scowled at the frightened mercenaries and added for the rest of the patrons, “I leave you gentle folk to draw your own conclusions!”
Sir Khinar stomped back into the taproom. His eyes narrowed and he took in the scene. With a hard expression, the paladin advanced on Toryo and Max. “Out. Now.”
“Yes, sir,” Max replied and dragged Toryo by the arm away from the taproom. Cinna and Leilani had seen the show and followed along as the Qoolmian knight angrily pointed the way. Max stopped only when he had reached the corner of the inn by the stable entrance where Sir Khinar halted them.
“You heard him bragging, sir! And disparaging good folk!” Toryo tried to mollify the paladin. “Some people just need to be taken down a peg!”
“That was shameful!” the paladin growled. He fixed Toryo with a glare. “This is not the way of the Light! I see what you mean now about trouble! You make your own trouble and go out of your way to spread it like manure! This is disrespectful, unneedful, and thoroughly unhelpful! I do not want to see you until we are saddled and ready to leave in the morning! Leilani, get him to his room, and lock him in, for all I care!”
The knight turned and stormed out to the yard.
His squire shook her head at Toryo and snorted with disgust. “Follow me. That was stupid of you.”
“Well, maybe. You win some, and you lose some, I guess,” the apprentice mage replied with an apologetic shrug.
Just before they walked out of earshot toward the stairs, Cinna grinned and added, “But it was hellaciously funny!”