The Balance of the Rose - Cover

The Balance of the Rose

Copyright© 2014 by R22CoolGuy

Chapter 12

The Day dawned cold and overcast, with a heavy fog hanging like a blanket over the town. A drizzle of sleet and frozen rain greeted the travelers as they saddled horses and finished last moment preparations before leaving. By the time the caravan was ready to leave the sleet had given way to snow and the road had a light dusting of white powder on it. Benito took the lead and after sending scouts ahead ordered the column forward. Mann fell in beside Alexander, who was riding at the side of Maria's carriage, while Sergeant Alphonse took up the rear and sent outriders to scout their flanks. The caravan passed through the city gates and was back on the road toward Innsbruck.

The weather grew increasingly worse as they wound their way back and forth, gaining altitude with each switchback. They were still more than half a day from the summit of the pass and the weather did not look like it would be improving any time soon. The road began to straighten out as it continued to rise in elevation. The snow was coming down harder and the pace slowed down as the caravan bunched up for protection and safety. As they continued their climb the wind began to pick up, swirling the powdered snow around. The good news was the wind was keeping the road relatively clear. The bad news was that the whirling snow was approaching white-out conditions, dropping visibility until the caravan had to slow even more.

Brunhilda had returned to her small cabin in the woods just outside of town. She was watching the weather and began to have serious fears that the caravan would be lost in a blizzard crossing the pass. The bad weather surprised her. It was much too early for a blizzard in the mountains. This weather was not natural, which meant it was being controlled by another. She decided to try and help the party of travelers and started to chant to the Earth-Mother. She asked her Goddess to intercede on behalf of the caravan, to give them better weather across the Alps.

Brunhilda had finished her communion with her Goddess and had just started a pot to boil for tea when a knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. Opening the door, she was surprised to find the Lady of the Woods standing there.

"Invite me in?" She asked.

"Why are you here?" Brunhilda asked, holding the door open for her.

"Introductions first; you are Brunhilda, Druid Priestess and healer," the lady said by way of introductions. "I am Gwynith, called The Lady of the Woods and also a healer."

"Well, Gwynith I was about to have a cup of tea, would you like to join me?" Brunhilda asked, while offering a chair.

"Tea would be nice," Gwynith replied and sat in the offered seat. "Now for the reason of my visit. You were brought to the Bürgermesiter's house in your capacity as healer. Who did you heal?"

"Why are you interested?" Brunhilda asked, bringing a tray with cups and a pot of steaming liquid.

She sat the tray down and placed loose dried tea leaves in an infuser ball and placed it in one of the cups. She poured the hot water over the ball and filled the cup. After allowing the leaves to steep she removed the ball and offered the cup to Gwynith.

"I am concerned that someone might have been bit by a werewolf or marked by one of the ghouls," Gwynith replied, taking the offered cup.

"No, nothing like that at all," Brunhilda replied, repeating the process for her own cup of tea. "A man was sick, unconscious, and I was brought in to aid him. As a matter of fact you know him. He said you met during the attack of the wolves."

"Who is he?" Gwynith asked, leaning forward intently.

"Now we get to the heart of why you are here," Brunhilda replied chucking, as she leaned back in her chair, stirring the tea in her cup. "He is unique, is he not?"

"Yes, very powerful," Gwynith nodded. "Who is he and why is he traveling with the Austrian Royal Caravan?"

"He saved the Archduchess from a fate worse than death," Brunhilda replied. "As to who he is, well, I probably should not say. Let me just say that he is opposed to the Bohemian Emperor."

"If he is the emperor's enemy, then he is not mine," Gwynith countered, and then asked again. "Who is he and does he have a name?"

"An off-worlder and his name is Mann," Brunhilda shrugged. "He is the Harbinger of Change, Lady of the Woods. He is correcting Evil's hold on this world; nothing more shall I say."

"Where is the caravan going?"

"That I can comment on. They are returning home and he is accompanying them until their paths separate."

"Thank you for the tea and the information, I must be off."

Gwynith set the cup and stood and walked over toward the door, "I need to find him. This weather is artificially made and they are in danger."

With that statement, Gwynith opened the door and disappeared into the night. Brunhilda had put her own cup down, risen, and crossed the room to close the door, when she paused at a strange flapping sound. She looked out into the snowy night, and swore she saw a large shadow of a dragon crossing the moon. She laughed it off since dragons were known not to exist any longer. She paused a moment at the open door and shook her head and then closed the door.

Tarn had spent the previous evening pouring over old records, manuscripts, and tomes, trying to find a solution to Karith's condition. His research turned up no new information and he was forced to admit that he could not reverse the effects of the potion and incantation. With that resolved, he moved on to the more pressing issue: what to do with the white-haired stranger. He had sent two more sorcerers to help with the ambush that was planned for the pass across the Alps. He also sent two others to find and recover molten rock to aid in Galt's forging. In the event that the stranger actually made his way to Tarn's castle he wanted to be prepared. He decided to head down to the shop and check on the swordsmith and inform him of his daughter's infirmity.

Marianne had been at Karith's side holding a bedside vigil since the evening she took ill. She had only been spelled for short moments for food or other personal reasons. Marianne did not understand what was wrong with Karith; she had no fever, her breathing was easy, and she showed no signs of any maladies that Marianne had ever heard of. It was like her body was here but her soul was elsewhere, as if Marianne was sitting by an empty shell. She truly believed that Prince Tarn was involved somehow, that he was the cause for Karith's sickness. Her master had stopped in earlier to check on Karith's condition, but did not stay long nor did he seem overly concerned. He seemed distracted and left after only a cursory check.

Marianne decided to take matters into her own hands and do something about Karith's illness. She needed to get Karith to an actual healer, someone with more knowledge and skill than Marianne had. She called out for a relief and Alfred appeared in the doorway.

"I have a couple of errands to run, could you watch over milady until I return?" she asked as she stood and stretched her back.

Alfred said he could, and took Marianne's position by the bed, as she thanked him before leaving the room to put her plan into motion.

The weather had slackened a little and the caravan was better able to pick their way through the snow covered road. The captain brought the flankers back into the column so they would not get lost in the storm. Even the forward scouts were only a stone's throw in front of the column, staying in eyesight of the lead guidon bearer. Benito had the wagons bunched up for safety and had brought the cook's wagon forward to the head of the column to help clear a path for the rest to follow. The going was slow but the wagon did an excellent job of providing a good track for the rest to follow in.

The travelers took a cold lunch in the saddle, but the cook had a pot of brew going on the potbellied stove in the wagon. Cups of coffee were passed up and down the line to keep everyone warm. Maria began to regret not leaving earlier, but Esmerelda reminded her that it was no use crying over spilt milk. The women were bundled up warmly with overcoats and blankets, and the carriage even had its own small potbellied stove for heat.

"Mann, the weather should not be this severe this early in the season," Maria called out, over the noise of the wind. "I fear we are headed into danger. Should we turn around?"

"It is too late for that," Benito hollered into the storm, answering her. "Whether we go back or continue, we will still cover the same amount of ground. The top of the pass is only a few more miles ahead. It would be best to continue on and make for Innsbruck."

Alexander agreed, and the decision was made to continue as long as the weather stayed at the present intensity. If all else failed there was a traveler's lodge and toll station at the summit that they could use to ride out the storm. Benito had the word spread back down the column to continue and make for the lodge.

Thorn plowed through the snow as if nothing could stop him and Mann reflected on the uniqueness of his mount. Thorn looked back at his rider and Mann swore the horse winked at him before swinging his head back around. The travelers were each lost in their own thoughts, and it was Thorn's loud whinny of alarm which brought Mann out of his.

"Benito, be alert!" Mann called out into the stormy wind. "Alexander, guard the carriage! Thorn senses danger!"

Both men nodded in understanding and acceptance, while Mann put his heels into Thorn's flanks moving ahead of the column. Maria watched Mann ride into the storm on the pale-colored horse, fading into the snowy conditions. She gasped when the scene reminded her of a similar one from the Holy Bible. Maria turned to where Alexander and Benito were sitting on their horses and quoted from the book of Revelations:

" ... And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, 'Come and see'. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword..."

"No, not Hell," Alexander replied, shaking his head. "He is riding to Hell's doom, not the Earth's. Have faith Maria. Have faith."

"What is it, Thorn?" Mann reached down and patted his horse. "Show me what has you on edge."

Thorn lifted his head up and sniffed and then snorted, bobbing his head. The horse picked up its pace from a walk to a trot, and finally to a canter, stepping nimbly through the snow. Mann scanned the surrounding area, watching the cliff faces on both sides for signs of a rock slide or worse, an avalanche.

All of a sudden, Thorn stopped and threw his head up and down and whinnied again. He looked to the right and then looked ahead and started forward before stopping again and finally turning right. Thorn plunged through the snow heading in a perpendicular direction from the road. In the distance Mann could just make a yellow glow of light. Thorn had traveled only a couple of hundred yards before stopping in front of a crystalline obelisk, about ten feet tall. The stone was milky white and translucent, similar to alabaster with an inner yellow glow radiating out in intensity. A beacon of sorts in the storm. Thorn stopped and lowered its head as if in prayer or reverent supplication. Mann dismounted and while holding the reins, slowly approached the monolith.

"My Lord, our presence is requested at an audience with the Council of Elders," Caledor informed him. "We are summoned."

"I thought I was not beholden to that body?"

"You are not, My Lord. We answer only to The Balance."

"Then I can turn down the request?"

"If you so choose, My Lord."

"No, let us go and find out what this is about. Is that what has Thorn's hackles raised?"

"I do not believe so, My Lord. Before we go there are things I have been given leave to show you."

Many images flashed before Mann's mental eyes as he was filled with enlightenment. Scenes played out before him, images engrained in his mind. He saw both Shadac's as well as Azeroth's culpability in the events that caused the tip of the scales. He learned about the Moravian Sorcerers and the spell scroll. He was shown Shadac's desire for the ring on his finger. When the scenes faded away, Mann had a better understanding of Evil's tampering with the normal order of things.

"Caledor, who gave you leave to show me these things?"

"I am the instrument of the Balance's will, My Lord. Now we are ready to deal with the Elders, just reach out and touch the obelisk, My Lord."

Mann complied with Caledor's directions and a silvery glow encompassed him, holding him fast.

Mann found himself once again standing on a small platform, with a wrought-iron railing, high in the air surrounded by a gallery of stone thrones.

"Why have you summoned me?" Mann asked, looking around at the assembled entities.

"Evil has lodged a complaint, Herald," one of the entities stated. "Evil contends that its emissary need not have been banished for its recent actions."

"And?" Mann asked as he drew Caledor. "Caledor's judgment was banishment. Evil's emissary interfered for its own gain."

"He was aiding a mortal that had asked for patronage," Evil countered.

"A Mortal? You truly are The Lord of Lies," Mann chuckled and held his right hand up high. "He was contacted, that much was true, but contacted by a Wyrm prince. He chose to aid because he wanted something in return. He chose to intercede to gain the ring on my finger."

"What proof?" Evil asked.

"What proof?" Mann asked in disbelief and then grinned his feral grin. "I do not answer to any of you, remember? I am The Balance's Herald and I wield the instrument of its will. Caledor passed judgment; that is good enough for me."

"One of your ilk tried to obtain something of mine?" Another entity rose and challenged Evil. "Something I gave to another, that was then passed down to the Herald?"

"It would seem that you are not as pragmatic about each other as you claim to be. If this body interferes again I will be forced to pass judgment on it. Oh, and Evil, I will be coming for one more of your princes."

"Caledor, it is time to return."

"As you command, My Lord!"

Mann released the monolith and mounted Thorn and turned him around and started back toward the road. He stopped abruptly and grabbed the hilt of his sword.

"Caledor, who was the second Goyle, who spoke out against Evil?"

"My Lord, you should know since you bear its token. It is Shadow."

"The ring?" Mann asked as he examined the piece of metal on his hand.

"Yes, My Lord, the ring, and before you ask it does not bind you to Shadow, it is simply a tool, like your mount."

"Speaking of which, what exactly is Thorn?"

"Another token, My Lord. Your mount is a thing of Law and will serve you truly and faithfully."

"Are they trying to curry favor with me?"

"That is for you to decide, My Lord. The mount and ring are tools."

Mann reached down and patted Thorn's neck and gently nudged him forward. The horse plodded back through its tracks and reached the road turning right toward its original destination. Mann peered through the falling snow and could see shapes standing in the middle of the snow covered road ahead. As he closed the distance he recognized the black robes with red capes of two Moravian Sorcerers and then watched as they stepped aside to reveal two more. The sorcerers put some distance from each other and faced Mann with determination. Mann smiled and began to tap the power of the mountain, drawing it forth like water from a spring.

The sorcerers attacked without fanfare; there were no challenges given, nor oaths uttered, nor long diatribes. They simply called down lightning bolts as black as night upon Mann, who began to laugh!

Gwynith reappeared just behind the caravan and started up the road toward where the caravan was stopped.

"Hail to the camp," she called out. "I am unarmed, may I come in?"

"Come in and keep your hands away from your sides," she heard in reply.

Gwynith slowly approached the wagons, that were closed in around themselves, protecting a traveling carriage. She saw several guards with swords drawn watching her for any sudden movements.

"I am the commander of this caravan, what can we do for you?" Benito stated, stepping forward.

"I am looking for the one called Mann," Gwynith declared. "There is danger present and he should be warned."

"Who are you and how can we trust what you say?" Maria asked.

"I am called the Lady of the Woods and Brunhilda, the Druid Priestess, told me where to find you," Gwynith replied. "Is that sufficient to appease you?"

"He is up ahead and we are waiting here," Benito replied.

Benito turned and then pointed further ahead and everyone save Gwynith flinched at the booming of thunder and flash of golden light. Gwynith turned and ran forward toward the sound of the thunder.

The black lightning bolts lanced down hitting Mann who turned them aside with a flick of his left hand. Sliding off of Thorn he advanced on the sorcerers as he pulled power out of the air, tapping into the strength of the storm. He tapped into the power in the wind and in the clouds and added it to the power he was already drawing from the mountain itself. Power filled Mann, and still he added more, until he was overflowing with Eldritch. He began to glow with a golden light as his hair stood up on end and his eyes flashed with the intensity of the power.

"So you like lightning do you?" Mann announced, laughing at their feeble attempts, and then screamed in anger. "Let me show you how a WitchLord wields lightning!"

Mann re-fed the power back into the snow clouds, turning them black and angry. Golden lightning began to flash within the clouds. He stretched forth his left hand and lightning struck it which he then gathered and redirected into four separate bolts, slamming into the sorcerers, scattering them about.

"Caledor, stand your position," he commanded and released the sword and brought his other hand up catching lightning in it as well.

Caledor hovered in the air as Mann battled the sorcerers, albeit a one-sided battle. The sorcerers tried to turn back Mann's attack, but the power and ferocity was more than they could match.

"You have one chance to survive!" Mann screamed. "One chance; tell me where she is!"

Mann released the lightning from his left hand and stretched it out. The four sorcerers flew into the air as if puppets held by their strings. He stripped them of their power and began to lash them with lightning. The sorcerers had no chance of survival and died from massive electrocution, their insides charred from the electricity. Mann did not realize, due to his rage, that he had already killed them, but Caledor did.

"It is enough, My Lord. They are dead!"

No response from Mann. The dead bodies began to smoke and sizzle. Mann continued the assault, ignorant of the results.

"My Lord, it is finished!"

Still no response. The sorcerers dead bodies burst into flames and were consumed by the ravaging lightning.

"My Lord!"

Lightning began to strike everywhere now that the bodies had been consumed. Rocks were blasted from the walls of the cliffs on either side. A section of snow covered cliff face slid down scattering rubble across the road. Mann had become one with the power he was wielding. He was as one with the mountain and with the storm at the same time. From a distance it looked like he was in the center of a swirling vortex of golden energy shooting off lightning bolts in all directions.

"Forgive me, My Lord!"

A silver lightning bolt leaped from Caledor's tip and connected with Mann's forehead, causing a disruption of power. Mann stiffened up and fell forward, face first into the snow! Caledor fell from the air landing beside Mann's fallen body.

Gwynith came running up the road and came upon the scene just before its conclusion. She saw the display of power and feared she would be no match if he turned on her. She saw lightning jump from the tip of a sword, floating beside the one called Mann. A sword floating in the air! She watched Mann stiffen up and fall forward, face first into the snow and then the sword fell beside him.

She had started toward him, when a horse blocked her advance and reared on back legs striking the air with its front hooves. Silver bolts of Eldritch lanced out at her, which she was just barely able to turn aside.

"Be at peace, thing of Eldritch," she called out. "I mean him no harm and only wish to help."

The horse settled down and then backed up shaking its head up and down, letting Gwynith pass. She hurried forward and dropped down next to Mann's body and gently turned him over and cradled his head in her lap.

Marianne returned to the keep after placing her plan in motion. She had considered and rejected several ideas before finally settling on one she thought had the greatest chance of success. She planned to smuggle Karith out in the supply wagon that came to the keep on a daily basis to bring fresh food. There was a village about a mile below the keep that kept the castle in food and other essential items. Her plan was to sneak Karith down to the wagon by way of the kitchen and then out of the keep, to freedom. She thought about and rejected the idea of bringing the driver into her confidence, but decided to knock him out or incapacitate him somehow instead. All she needed next was help getting Karith's unconscious body down from her room to the kitchen's storeroom and into the wagon. There was a dumbwaiter on the second floor which was large enough, but she was not strong enough to lower a body down to the kitchen, and besides, she would need someone on the other end as well. She needed to confide in Alfred and hope he would make the right decision. The long knife she had hidden on her person would ensure that he would not be a liability if he made the wrong decision. Marianne returned to Karith's suite and saw Alfred sitting at the bedside chair.

"No change?" She asked, approaching him.

"No, and this is unnatural." Alfred replied, standing up. "Something has happened to her and I think the Master is involved."

"Oh, most definitely," Marianne agreed, deciding that perhaps he was trustworthy.

"What can we do to help her?" Alfred asked. "I have become attached to her in just the short time that she has been here."

"I have a plan, if you are interested." Marianne explained. "It would go against the Master's wishes and we will have to act fast."

"I will help any way I can," Alfred replied. "What can I do?"

Marianne laid out the plan in its entirety and Alfred could find very little fault in it. He suggested that after they moved Karith to the kitchen that they tie up the wagon driver and leave with him. Alfred explained that he had decided to leave with her and thought that taking the driver would help cover their tracks.

"When do you want to do this?" Alfred asked.

"Now is as good a time as any," she replied. "The wagon should still be here; wait here I will go and check."

Marianne left the room and made her way to the kitchen and the large pantry and storeroom. Sure enough the supply wagon had just arrived and the kitchen staff was busy unloading it. She returned to the bedroom and informed Alfred of her findings. They bundled up Karith's belongings and brought in a laundry cart to transport her to the dumbwaiter.

Marianne checked the hallway clear and then signaled Alfred who wheeled the cart out of the room and toward the dumbwaiter. After receiving a nod from him, Marianne left and headed for the kitchen. Arriving there she made sure that the area was clear, then procured a serving cart with a cloth drape and wheeled it to the dumbwaiter. She pulled on the cord to signal Alfred that she was ready and waited with bated breath for the platform to appear. Once the platform came into view, she carefully removed Karith's unconscious body to hide her under the draped cart, then tugged on the rope to signal Alfred that she was done. Several tense moments, later Alfred finally showed up and they wheeled the cart to the store room, hiding behind some shelving until the unloading was complete.

Karith/Tanith brought them to the base of a mountain pass covered in snow. The wind was ferociously whipping snow about, causing a veritable whiteout. The noise from the blizzard was so loud that they could not communicate verbally with each other. Mann looked around trying to see the road through the pass, but the intense snow storm had completely obscured the road. They were lost in a whiteout and could not find their way to the road. Mann had had quite enough!

He began pulling power from the mountain, reaching deep within the rock, tapping into the Eldritch and drawing it forth. His fingertips tingled with the energy he was holding, and still he drew more. He was holding so much energy that his hair defied the whipping of the wind and stood straight up as energy crackled around him. He still drew more, tapping into the very life force of the mountain, and then still he drew power. Now he felt he was ready.

"Silence!" he screamed into the face of the storm, releasing the power in a roaring storm of his own. "That is quite enough!"

The wind died and the snow stopped falling as Karith/Tanith, and another woman who seemed vaguely familiar to him, looked around in awe. The stars twinkled in the clear night sky as peace and tranquility settled over the mountain. The road was laid before them through the pass and the small trail was clearly visible winding up the mountain to the mouth of a cave.

"Mann, what did you just do?" Karith/Tanith asked in shock.

"I silenced the storm," Mann replied with a shrug.

"Mann, you controlled the weather with a word," Karith/Tanith corrected him. "I know of no one that can do that. You continue to amaze me."

"Well, there is the path. Let us get off this mountainside." Mann said pointing at the path leading up for the cave.

Mann's eyes fluttered open as he processed the memory and he looked up groggily into what he thought was the face of his beloved.

"Karith?" He groaned.

"How do you know the name of my daughter?" The face asked, pulling away and allowing more light in, revealing that it was not in fact Karith. "Can you get up?"

Mann nodded and stood up, shaking the snow off of his clothes. He noticed that his sword scabbard was empty and looked around frantically.

"Caledor, to me!" He called out into the storm and held out his right hand.

"My Lord!" The sword flew from where it lay buried in the snow and into his out stretched hand.

"Your sword just talked!" Gwynith declared and backed up. "It talked! Who are you?"

"You said Karith is your daughter, but she said you were dead," Mann held his sword at the ready. "Explain?"

"A necessary and painful subterfuge to protect them from another," Gwynith explained, and then pointed to his sword. "What is that and who are you to Karith?"

"Her bond-mate," Mann replied. "It is called a Runesword and it is a sentient force. Who were you protecting them from?"

"Then you know what she is, or what she will be. I was protecting my family from the Bohemian Emperor. I understand you are his enemy."

"No, I am the instrument of his death," Mann replied grimly, smiling a feral grin. "He has Karith and your husband. I do know what she is, which means I also know what you are."

"He is a Wyrm Prince and powerful," Gwynith declared.

"I know that as well, but he is not nearly powerful enough, and I have been eliminating his minions as I encounter them," Mann shrugged. "You are called Gwynith, correct?"

"Yes," she nodded. "You have encountered Moravian Sorcerers and have eliminated them?"

"Seven or so as of last count," Mann shrugged again. "Come, I must return to the caravan."

"Wait, you have not told me who you are?" Gwynith replied, stopping.

"I did, you just were not listening," Mann smiled. "I am called Mann. I am your daughter's bond-mate and the instrument of the emperor's demise. Now, I need to get back to my companions, are you coming?"

Mann grabbed Thorn's reins and led him back to the caravan, not waiting for a response from Gwynith.

Tarn was busy supervising the installation of a new forge, heated from molten rock, obsessed with the creation of the perfect weapon, a sword unlike any other, with amazing abilities and power. After the bricklayers had built the forge, Tarn had spent hours enchanting it until it was finally ready for fire. He was waiting for two of his most trusted servants to return with the fire and then he would see if his latest endeavor bore fruit.

To read this story you need a Registration + Premier Membership
If you have an account, then please Log In or Register (Why register?)