The Balance of the Rose - Cover

The Balance of the Rose

Copyright© 2014 by R22CoolGuy

Chapter 3

The skill of the Toledo master swordsmiths was legendary and even bordered on the mystique. It was said that they did not just craft fine weapons but that they infused their swords with a soul. A Toldeo sword acted almost sentient in battle, knowing what its wielder required before even the wielder knew - that the swords parried and countered almost magically. The swordsmiths themselves never disputed the claims and in fact encouraged them to garner a higher price for their creations. The fact that all of the Toledo master swordsmiths used a portion of the same fire and crafted their weapons with a ceremonial flare lent credence to the legends.

In fact, the claims were without merit. No sword could act on its own, no sword could be infused with a soul, and no sword was sentient. Toledo swords were fine crafted weapons of war and knowing that gave their wielders a psychological advantage, but that was the extent of the magic. Unfortunately, rumors were more readily accepted than the truth.

Signore Tomas di Savoy was not the only one that had heard about the famous master swordsmith of Toledo who was now a local blacksmith in the kingdom of Sardinia. The news had reached the Bohemian Empire and the emperor himself, who wanted one of those magical swords. So it was that a small force of Bohemian Raiders, led by two Moravian Sorcerers, attacked the sleepy village before sunrise.

"Papa! Papa!" Karith cried out, entering the house. "The village bell is ringing!"

Galt was up in a flash and met her in the front room where they could hear the night watch yelling.

"To arms! To arms! The village is under attack! To arms!"

"Karith! Come with me!" Galt yelled as he spun around and backtracked toward his room.

Karith followed after him into the room where she found him dragging a long wooden box out from under his bed. Undoing the latches he flung the lid back and reached into the chest, calling out to her.

"Here, take this," he held out a jeweled rapier in a scabbard with belt and a bundled metal garment. "These were your Mother's, before she put them up to be a healer."

Rooting around in the box he removed a sword belt and scabbard and set it aside and withdraw a finely made mail shirt. Slipping on the mail shirt he stood and began buckling on the sword belt. He looked over and saw her staring at him blankly still holding the bundle he had handed her.

"Hurry up girl!" he commanded as he finished dressing and pushed her toward the door.

"What of Aaron?" she asked absently as she put on the mail and leather bustier and buckled on the belt.

"Who?" Galt stopped pushing and stared at her.

"Ahh, I meant Mann. What of Mann?" she asked, recovering from her mistake.

She really had not had the time to discuss things with her father and realized that she needed to do so soon, but obviously not right now.

"He should be fine," Galt remarked and then started toward the door. "We are not even sure of the threat yet. Come on."

They stepped out of the shop and into chaos! The village was under attack from all points and all quarters. Bohemian Lancers had surrounded the village while members of the Bohemian Infantry, their shock troops, were going from street to street and door to door, slaying everything in their path. Leading the attack were two tall figures wearing black hooded robes and red capes with cowls. Within the shadows of the hoods only the red pulsing of eyes could be seen. The figures seemed to float across the ground as they moved with the infantrymen.

One of the cloaked figures saw Galt and pointed a robed arm in his direction and barked a command in some guttural language. Several infantrymen broke off their individual attacks and headed toward where Galt and Karith stood at the ready. Galt proved that he was not only a master sword maker, but also a master sword wielder. The first infantryman went down with a sweeping slice across his midsection and Galt stepped to his left to attack the soldier approaching from that side. Karith drew her rapier and moved right to engage the soldier there. The infantrymen pushed their opponents back and away from each other, effectively cutting them off from each other.

While Karith was engaged with her attacker the cloaked figure floated toward Galt, pointing the same outstretched arm, directing a beam of blackness which enveloped Galt, who dropped bonelessly to the ground, unconscious.

"Papa!" Karith cried as she stabbed her opponent and turned toward her fallen father screaming. "Aaron, Mann! Help me!"

He had retreated once again to that safe place after the pain caused by the dreams grew intolerable. It was nice and peaceful in his special place. Perhaps, he thought, he should just stay here for all of time.

"But you cannot, for I need you," she reminded him. "We need you. We need you to remember, to be you. To be the SwordMaster, to be the WitchLord. You need to find me, to find us. We are in peril!"

"But you died! I saw you fall! I felt your pain! Your death! You are gone, forever!"

"Our souls are linked in a way that transcends death. My soul knows your soul; no matter the name, whether Tanith and Aaron or Karith and Mann, our souls know each other. No matter where you roam on the dunes of time I will find you, always. I told you once that Wyrms mate only once, why would you think that something as trivial as death could prevent me from finding you?"

"So you are her as well as you?"

"We are what we are. Does it really matter, beloved? You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it. RIGHT NOW!"

His eyes flickered open and he blinked several times to clear the disorientation he felt and then slowly sat up and swung his legs over the edge of his cot. He stood up and arched his back stretching. He heard a large commotion outside and then Karith's screams.

"Aaron, Mann! Help me!"

He threw on a shirt and then trousers and finally slipped on his boots before taking off like a shot out of his room. He passed through the shop and out the side door toward the street and pulled up short at the scene unfolding before him. There was a full-fledged battle going on and Karith was in the middle of it. Anger welled up within him at the thought that she was in danger and being threatened. They would pay for their actions!

"I need a sword, now!" he thought to himself and frantically looked around for one. "Where to get one?"

"As you command!" a voice in his head replied, and then he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his right wrist.

Mann felt his arm flexed down and straightened, locking into place, causing him to look down in time to see the symbol on his wrist flare brightly. He watched stunned as the tip of a sword blade appear out of his wrist just above the palm of his hand. More and more of the blade slid into view from his arm, until finally the sword grip dropped into his open hand. The wound immediately closed up, revealing no trace of the sword's penetration. He brought the sword up and turned it back and forth inspecting it. It was made of a silvery metal, lightweight but strong. Intricate symbols were engraved up the length of the blade, on both sides. All of this took place in an instant, though it felt like minutes to him. Time begun to slow as the battle lust came upon him. He felt the weight and constriction of a belt but had little time to ponder the event as soldiers descended on him weapons at the ready.

With little time to think, Mann quickly engaged the four attackers stabbing the one to his left in the heart. His left hand instinctively dropped to his sword belt where he felt the hilt of another weapon. Pulling the long, slightly curved parrying dagger, Mann pushed the attack back to his opponents. Bringing the dagger up, he blocked the blade of his opponent and stepped into the attack flicking the dagger back to the right, slitting the soldier's throat. Continuing his step to the right he swept his sword across the abdomen of his next opponent, spilling his guts all over the ground. After dispatching the first four soldiers Mann started toward where Karith was fighting when he noticed Galt crumpled on the ground. They were about thirty paces to his left, up the cobblestone street from the shop.

Four more of the raiders advanced at Mann. To deal with the first, he simply stepped in to the attack and slit his throat from ear to ear. Moving to the right he flicked his sword up and right blocking the down swing of his next opponent. A quick punching thrust of the dagger through the heart ended opponent two. Opponents three and four attacked simultaneously from either side. Mann threw his dagger at the enemy to his left, catching the raider in his throat and killing him instantly. Pivoting to his right, Mann blocked the swing of his opponent's weapon, cleaving his enemy's sword in two. A quick back swing separated the attacker form his head which went flying through the air before falling to the ground and bouncing down the cobblestone street. Mann retrieved his dagger and advanced on Karith's position.

Ahead of them he noticed two robed figures and heard one say to the other in a guttural language, which surprisingly he understood, "Take the daughter as leverage, I will deal with the other."

The figured moved forward, almost floating along the street, and straight at Mann. The other moved closer to Karith and stretched out a robed arm and pointed it at her. A beam of blackest night lanced out toward Karith enveloping her in its energy. She stood rigid for a moment and then crumpled to the ground.

"No!" Mann cried out and rushed toward her only to be blocked by the second robed figure, who was moving his arms in an intricately repeating pattern.

Beams of blackest energy shot out toward Mann enveloping him as pain shot through his body. Concentrating on moving toward Karith he pushed the energy aside and tapped into the flow of energy as he had done in the room. Sheathing his dagger he brought his hand up and opened outward as if holding a grapefruit. Balls of golden energy shout out of his open hand back at the robed figure, who was caught completely unaware. The balls knocked the sorcerer onto the ground, dazed. Mann paid him no mind once he fell, since he had more important things to worry about. He turned toward where Karith had stood fighting off the horde.

By the time Mann made it to where Karith had fallen she was gone, with her father and the first robed figure with her. Mann turned to where the sorcerer that had attacked him had fallen. The sorcerer had regained his footing and was preparing to strike again. Mann drew power in preparation for the attack and closed on the sorcerer.

The sorcerer stuck with multiple energy balls of blackest night, which Mann turned aside with a flick of his left hand. Mann countered with lightning from his fingertips as he continued to close the distance. A stray thought appeared in his mind and he acted upon it.

"Et!" he commanded as three golden rings appeared binding the sorcerer who became rigid and unmoving.

Mann cautiously approached the sorcerer who was unable to move. He did not know how he knew the word, some type of binding word he surmised, but it held the sorcerer fast.

"What type of sorcerer are you?" the bound sorcerer asked in its guttural language.

"I am not a sorcerer," Mann replied and then remembered a part of the dream from the other night. "I am a WitchLord, but that is not important right now. What is important is that you took from me something I hold precious; dearer than my own life. Where did they take the girl and her father, the swordsmith?"

"Where you cannot follow," the sorcerer replied with a smirk. "I am prepared to die."

"You would be surprised where I can follow," Mann replied with a grin that soon turned deadly. "I never said anything about dying. No, I am going to skin you alive. I want answers and either way I intend to get them."

He reached down and pulled the dagger from his hip and brought it up to show the sorcerer. He began to draw power then paused for a moment when a stray memory began to play itself out in his mind...

Mann/Aaron reached out and touched Rük's right arm by the bicep with his index finger. He concentrated as a tiny spark of Eldritch lanced out, penetrating the flesh of the arm into the nerve pathways and then traveling down Rük's arm over-exciting the nerve endings responsible for pain. Rük screamed as his arm began to burn and throb with a sharp, red-hot pain. Mann/Aaron removed his finger and Rük began to hyperventilate from the intensity of the pain.

The pain of the memory forced Mann to his knees as white-hot pain lanced through his head. Dropping the dagger to the ground, he grabbed his head with both hands and tried to slow his breathing and wrestle control of his consciousness from the pain. Finally pushing the pain down until it finally stopped, he continued his deep cleansing breaths and located his center before reaching for the dagger and sheathing it. When he felt he could, Mann stood and smiled at the sorcerer.

"I have something better to try," he smiled a feral grin and reached out and touched the sorcerer on the upper right arm.

Reaching down and tapping into the flow of energy, he called it forth and caused a tiny golden spark to leap from his index finger into the arm of the sorcerer, exciting the nerve endings in his right arm. The sorcerer felt the red-hot sharp pain traveling up and down his arm and began to scream. After several moments, Mann finally removed his finger and waited for the pain to subside.

"Now, let us try this again," Mann smiled a grin that would make most men shiver. "Where did they take the swordsmith and his daughter?"

"To a hidden fortress deep within the Carpathian Mountains," the sorcerer replied breathing rapidly.

"How do I find it?" Mann asked and brought his hand back up.

"You must travel through the Iron Gates and find the Mures River," the sorcerer explained. "Follow the river until you reach the city named for its open markets, Marktstadt. From there you must follow the hidden road."

Before Mann could ask anything more the sorcerer burst into black flames and died. Mann stepped back and drew his sword in preparation for the attack. When none came he sifted through the charred remains of the sorcerer and found nothing of usefulness. He needed to decide on his next course of action.

He looked around at the deserted village and realized that there was nothing further to be gained by staying there. He returned to the shop and gathered his belongings. A thorough search of the house revealed a small cache of gold and silver coins, which he took, along with a travel pack that he had found amongst Galt's personal things.

He packed some bread and cheese and grabbed a skin of wine. Remembering Galt's tobacco pouch, he grabbed it and the spare pipe. Returning to his room he began to pack everything in the rucksack and picked up his cloak to put it on. He did not notice the tendril of viscous black fluid that flowed from the ring on his finger into the cloak, which shimmered for a brief moment and then returned to normal. He searched the room one more time and, after shouldering the rucksack, left the shop, and the town, heading north-east.

Mann found the tracks of the raiders north of town and began following them. He stayed on the main road following the tracks and had only progressed a few short leagues when a noise in the surrounding brush brought him up short. He silently drew his sword and paused a moment in amazement at the weapon that had appeared from with him. It was about three feet long, made from a silver metal that was lightweight but strong. Intricate symbols, runes he remembered, were carved into the blade down the length of the fuller on both sides of the blade. There was a blood-red ruby inset in the pommel. It was a vastly superior blade to anything he had seen while staying with Galt. He wondered if the swordsmith might be able to ascertain the maker of this finely wrought blade. The noise within the brush brought him back to the here and now and he left the road for the woods and silently crept forward. The angry snorting of a horse led him deeper into the brush until he came upon a dappled ashen gray horse ensnarled in the thorny runners of a wild climbing rose bush.

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