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Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 10 – The Paladin

It was nearing noon. The large pendant on its silver chain rattled against the paladin’s polished breastplate as his warhorse reared to a stop. The pendant was in the form of a silver hand holding a silver lightning bolt, the holy symbol of Heironeous, the deity to whom Sir Olorry Gleamheart had dedicated his life and sacred honor. It flashed brightly in the sun as the he dismounted at the gate to the governor’s residence.
As he removed his helmet and gantlets he addressed the guards, “I must see the Governor at once!”
The guards looked at each other. The first one said, “Of course, Sir Gleamheart, sir. But, you see, he wasn’t expecting you and, well, perhaps if I have someone announce you he will grant you an audience when he is free.” It was not surprising that he knew who this knight in shining armor was. Everyone in town knew of this man.
A young man, a squire from his clothing and demeanor, ran up from the stables to take the paladin’s horse and see to any of his other needs. Gleamheart handed him this helmet and gauntlets and turned for him to assist in removing his cape. “Tell Governor Patrick that his godson seeks his counsel in regard to this dragon business.”
Just then there arose a commotion in the street. A man in a torn and battered city guard uniform and a crazed expression on his face was running toward them. “You must die!” he exclaimed as he ran directly toward Sir Gleamheart and raised his sword to attack. With a swiftness born from years of practice, the paladin drew his sword and in that same motion swung it into his attackers weapon with a force that nearly knocked it from his hand and, ducking and spinning, he pivoted on one sabaton covered foot, turned a full circle and struck the man in his chest with the other, sending the attacker to the ground. The two guards were just now drawing their swords. Before they could approach, Sir Gleamheart stopped them with a raised hand saying, “This man is obviously under some kind of spell.” Reaching the man before he could get back to his feet, the paladin spoke some ancient and mysterious words as he placed a hand on the man’s forehead. Almost instantly, the man dropped his sword and looked around as if seeing his surroundings clearly for the first time.
Seeing the sword still in the paladin’s hand, the man dropped onto both knees and said, “Sir Gleamheart, please spare me! It wasn’t I who meant you harm, it was Abraxas! The dragon! He hexed me! I swear it!”
“Of course,” Gleamheart said as he sheathed his sword. “You are injured,” he said as he offered him his hand. “Can you stand?” With Gleamheart’s help he stood uneasily. “Let me heal you.” Then, with a magical incantation he had recited many times before, he invoked Heironeous’ divine mercy to heal the man’s wounds. The man acted as many before him when first receiving magical healing. First disbelief in the sudden and compete healing of all his wounds and restoration of his health and vigor. Then extreme happiness at his good fortune. “How do you feel?” Gleamheart asked.
“I feel great!” he answered as he turned himself around with outstretched arms, examining his arms and chest where seconds before there had been multiple scratches and bruising. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Thank Heironeous,” Gleamheart replied. “I am only his servant.” Then, turning to the squire he said “Bring this man some water. He looks thirsty.”
“Yes, now that you mention it. I guess that I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for nearly two days. Ever since the dragon snatched me from the ballista tower.”
“It is important that you tell me of your ordeal. All of it, in so far as you can remember.”
“Yes, of course. And I can remember it all clearly.”
“But wait, you must tell it all in front the governor, so it won’t lose anything in its retailing.” He grabbed the man by the arm and took him quickly to the large doors of the white granite building. Ignoring the startled guards at the door he cast a spell which pushed the doors open with a slam that could be heard in the street. Without breaking stride he continued into the large foyer. He turned and started to toward the assembly hall when a guard stepped in front of him. Before the paladin could push him aside, the guard pointed to the descending staircase to his left. “He is in the dining hall,” he said with a grin. Sir Gleamheart smiled in return and turned to proceed down the wide stairs and then along a short corridor with doors to either side to arrive in front of another pair of ornately carved doors. He had ran and played in the corridors of this mansion as a child and knew every alcove and secret passageway. From beyond the doors to the dining hall he could hear music playing. It was a song he remembered from his youth. He stopped and waited for the song to end. The sweet sound of a child singing to the strings of a high strung lute.
He opened the doors to see that the lute player was a young boy astride a pure white buck which was being led by a fair hared girl. She led the buck out a near side door as all eyes turned to the intruders.
As soon as he recognized who it was, the Governor called out to him from the far end of the room, “Olorry!” Then with a wave for him to come on in he corrected himself, “Sir Gleamheart! You and your guest come join us. We were just finishing our meal, but I’ll have them return with soup and mead.”
Governor Tamas Patrick had bright turquoise eyes that could be seen clearly from across the large room. His complexion seemed somewhat paler than the paladin remembered but his wavy brown hair was pinned back as was his custom from as far back as Olorry Gleamheart could remember. He was a tall man, but was now somewhat stoop shouldered. His was wearing a suit of leather armor in gray and copper. The great hall was lit only by clusters of candle chandeliers rendering it rather dark. All of the main rooms of the mansion were built underground for fear of dragon attacks. This was a rectangular room three times as long as it was wide. The governor sat at the head table. There were tables to the left and to the right. With the central area for entertainment and for the servants to access the tables. Although the room could easily seat 50 or more guests, there were less than 20 seated here now. There were various land owners, money lenders, high ranking military men, guild masters, the harbor master, and other nobles and knights. Many of the faces were familiar to Glemheart, but none more familiar than Gauwalt Byne, the old wizard sitting to the mayor’s right.
Pushing the suddenly timid guard forward, Gleamheart said, “Governor Patrick, I came to discuss the dragon hunt, but first this man has some valuable information to share.”
The room grew quiet and the guard looked nervously around. He then stood tall and straight. “My name is Quaintus Northant, second paviser, third armored company, blue division of the city watch. On the night of the dragon attack I was stationed on the ballista tower on the corner of Rosemont Street and the Warfe Road.” Looking back at the paladin seamed to give him courage to continue. “The fog was so thick we couldn’t see even as far as the next tower over. The first notion we had that the city was under attack was the screaming. And then we saw a flash of fire in the distance. We manned the ballista but couldn’t see no target. Then there was a dark shape coming down and the dragon grabbed me up. His scaly foot, it was like a crow’s claw, only big, you know? It was near as big as me and it crushed the breath out of me. It flew away with me. I tell you, I have never been so scared. I don’t know if I was more scared of being crushed to death, or of being dropped. I had no way of knowing where we were, or how high we were flying because of the fog.”
Looking around at all the eyes watching him, he swallowed hard and continued, “Finally he flew far enough away that he was out of the fog and I could see how high in the air we were. I held on tight and closed my eyes. A couple of minutes later he landed. I could see that we were near the coast, many miles north of here. He must have cast some kind of spell on me because all of a sudden I wasn’t afraid any more. It was like he was the greatest creature in the world and I was his best friend. I mean, he isn’t really my friend. I was under a spell and I just thought he was. You have to understand that I wouldn’t do anything to help Abraxas. I swore an oath to defend Rockport from dragon attack and I take that oath seriously.”
Governor Patrick assured him, “I understand, my boy. You are not in trouble. Please continue.”
“Well. He asked me a lot of questions about the expedition that was being organized to come after him.” Turning to Sir Gleamheart he said, “I am sorry, but I told him everything that I knew. After I told him where the wagons were being kept, he instructed me to return to town and slay you. Failing that I was to give you a message. Then he flew back towards Rockport. That was the last time I saw him. I started walking. I didn’t stop until I found you. You know the rest.”
Gleamheart asked, “The message, what was it?”
“Please don’t hold this against me. These are not my words, they are his …
“Abraxas, the largest, most fearsome, most deadly, and greatest dragon since Tiamat, supreme lord of all land over which he flies, issues this command to Sir Gleamheart. You shall abandon your ill-conceived expedition. You shall obtain the gem that I seek, and you shall return it to me personally. Do this and I will stop my assault on your towns and villages. Defy me and not only will your entire expedition be utterly destroyed, but I shall start a campaign of fire and destruction such as has never before been seen.”
Gleamheart said, “Did he say what the gem was that he wants me to bring him?”
Quaintus shook his head and said, “No. I got the impression that he thought you knew what gem he was talking about.”
Gleamheart said, “I only wish that I did, and that I had it. Perhaps I could end this whole bloody mess.” Then he pointed to the nearest table and said, “Sit. Eat. Thank you.”
Quaintus went around to the table and quickly set at the nearest spot. Halflings hurried to the table to bring him food and drink. Gleamheart walked up to the head table. “Governor,” he began, “the expedition is in dire need of volunteers.”
Tamas Patrick answered, “I have already encourage all city guards that wished to volunteer. I granted them leave and told them they could keep their share of the treasure. As I recall, you seemed pleased with the response.”
“The attack has changed all of that. Yesterday many of the volunteers withdrew their pledge and returned their shares. More left this morning. It has been reported that some were seen leaving the city and taking their shares with them. Taking into account those that were killed or wounded that we were not able to restore, we are left now with less than one in five of the original number of fighters.”
“I can order more men to volunteer,” the governor replied.
“No,” snapped Gleamheart. “I will not lead men who are forced to fight!”
From the governor’s right Gauwalt Byne spoke up, “Tamas, Olorry, have either of you asked King Veray for help?”
They both turned and stared at the old wizard. This small man in the black cloak and pointed hat that he always wore had been sitting and listening calmly until now.
“King Veray?” asked the governor. “He is sitting on his throne in the Golden City of Wheathorp, a thousand leagues and two mountain ranges away. He wouldn’t be able to get any troops here even if he could be persuaded to part with them.”
The wizard tapped his bony finger on the table, then turned to the governor, “You are always overlooking the power of magic. No, I don’t have the power to move large numbers of people a thousand leagues or more, but the King has more powerful wizards than me at his command, and may have other magical means of transport we are unaware of. All I am saying is that it could do no harm to ask.”
Governor Patrick looked at Sir Glramheart, then turned back to the wizard and said, “I don’t suppose it would do any harm to ask. Can you send him a missive?”
“I took the liberty of preparing this earlier. It needs only your seal,” the wizard said as he handed him a parchment.
The governor looked it over. It eloquently but briefly, described the entire situation. It ended in a formal request for any help in the form of willing fighters that the king could provide. After reading it, he held a stick of red wax in a candle flame to drip the wax onto the document and then pressed his signet ring into the hot wax. While he was doing this, his wizard was clearing the table in front of him and setting a small silver tray there. When the governor handed the document back to him, he placed it on the tray and cast his spell. The document disappeared with a sparkling flicker. “We must now wait for his reply.”
Gleamheart and the governor continued discussing the upcoming quest. Gleamheart said that he had been informed that the wagon makers and ballista maker are requiring coins on the barrelhead and will no longer accept the golden coins for a share of the treasure in payment, and furthermore that it will take at least a week to equip and provision even the small band of volunteers he now had available. The governor gave the paladin an account of the destruction from the attack and what emergency measures are now in place. While they talked the wizard noticed a small transparent globe appear near the center of the room. It floated just above head height and was as elusive as a whiff of pale smoke. No one else saw this magical apparition which the wizard recognized as the receiving eye of a scrying device. As he watched, it winked out of existence and a heartbeat later a black robed man with a long grey beard appeared.

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