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Fall of Edonia, Prelude, Ch.1
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Prelude: The grand and pompous skyline of Edonia tore at the sky ahead. Arthur rubbed weariness from his eyes as his journey down river had finally come to an end. A sigh of relief left his lips as the mighty Edon River carried his royal vessel to the banks of the pristine city. Edonia’s vaunted bleached towers capped with gold dominated his view. Buildings of commerce, governance, and shelter crowded every inch of the coast and beyond. The city that ruled the world or so it still claimed stood ever proud. It was defiant of the reality that the once vaunted empire was now reduced to a regional power. Each decade its iron fist had rusted away little by little. Edonia and her army were still the greatest military force that walked the world. Arthur had no doubts about that. Only her reach was hampered by the decades of less than capable leadership. Thoughts like these were dangerous in the Edonia now ruled by the Emperor. Once the ruler of such a vast empire was selected by his cunning and strength. Now blood was the determinate of the throne. How that blood had diluted Edonia’s true strength. Arthur shook these thoughts from his mind as he stepped onto the docks. A royal envoy stood to greet him. Their scarlet armor gleamed in the midday sun. Etched on their breast plate was the griffin of Edonia. The sigil that carried both dread and pride depending who looked upon it. Wherever it was displayed one would know the might of the Edonian empire had come. “Welcome Duke Arthur,” said one of the guards bowing. Arthur returned a courteous nod as he motioned for the envoy to lead the way. Without word the royal escort took formation, pushing any gawking citizens out of their path. The guards lead their distinguished guest with pride through the bustling streets. Passing through the raucous crowds Arthur drank in the mass commotion that surrounded him. Endless faces streamed with restless motion to and fro. The occasional passerby stopped to see what royalty had greeted them this day, but in a city that claimed for itself a title like center of the world what was one more royal visitor to them? He had chosen to walk the length of the city this visit. Perhaps it was to stretch his legs after days on the deck of a boat. More so he desired to see what state Edonia was in. Rumors reached as far as his home in Fenikia of discontent among the populous. Arthur was determined to see for himself if the rumors were true. He passed a corner of men and women who laughed and danced without a care in the world. Such a scene was a rarity these days. “Little do they know,” Arthur thought to himself. His visit was more than a casual trip to the city of Edonia. It wasn’t just stirrings in the capitol city that disturbed the emperor. Great threats loomed on the southern edges of the empire. The region of Hunan was planning to rebel, or so was the word whispered on the lips of royal courtesans. The desert kingdom of Hunan was said to have broken free declaring for themselves a new emperor. Arthur’s own mind was skeptical. Hunan was nothing more than an outlier within the empire. Sure they had a vast population for such a desolate place, but what were numbers compared to what the empire held? Besides he knew of other tales. Ones that spoke of the growing paranoia within the heart of the empire. Those were rumors he could believe to be true. An angry voice shook him from his reflection. “Ungrateful dogs,” muttered a guard in Arthur’s escort.

“They don’t know what keeps an empire going,” responded another in their ranks. Arthur turned his attention to the source of their agitation. A small symbol of a griffin plucked of its feathers and in a drunken state was plastered on an adjacent wall. Underneath it read, Drunk on the Blood of the People. The two guards who voiced their complaint moved to harass the citizens gathered beneath it. “You know who did this?” one of them barked to the crowd. Fearful glances looked away, hoping not to be singled out from the crowd. One guard shook his head in disgust before he began snatching individuals to interrogate. The other guard with him ushered Arthur on, not wanting a dignitary of his status caught in the mess. The sound of a growing disturbance faded behind Arthur as he pressed further down the street. “What would become of the bystanders?” he wondered as the sounds faded in the distance. The small company rounded the street and was greeted with the marvel that was Edonia. Endless glistening structures of white spread out before him. Each building weaved together like a garment washing out the sky above. It left him feeling suffocated under its daunting shadow. The street level was no different. Thousands upon thousands had taken up residence in the capitol of the world. All a mix of complexions blurred together in the hustle of everyday life. The very nature of Edonia could leave the uninitiated feeling disoriented. Thankfully, as they plodded on, the mass of buildings began to dissipate until only one remained. The palace of the Emperor. Its magnificence and grandeur set itself apart in a city built on such claims. The breathtaking view filled Arthur’s vision. The Edon Mountains cast their shadows on a distant riverbank filling in the backdrop of the scene. Beneath them flowed the Edon river, its banks carrying countless passengers out to sea. Even set against such a scene the domed structure of the palace caught the eye. Hints of sunlight reflected off its golden craftsmanship. Every inch was covered in artisan’s skill. Each proclaiming the glories of the empire. White columns of enormous size lined the entryway. All of them displayed with detail the image of the mighty griffin. Every step toward the palace was littered with sculptures, towering arches, and armed guards. All of it a testament to those who looked on. It was here that the world’s greatest power reigned. At least that was what it was meant to declare. Arthur followed his guide up the familiar white marble stairs. The oversized steps lead to a vast portico. Beneath its covering towered two bronze doors engraved with the menacing griffin. Its talons clutched the victims of all who dared stand against it. With silent demeanor those who stood sentinel ushered them in. Behind the doors was a circular room with a vaulted ceiling. The tile floors were finely decorated alternating pieces of gold, crimson, and white. They all streamed to the middle of the floor where a beam of light cascaded from a hollow dome above. The light rested on the familiar sight, a regal and defiant griffin. Once more displaying the symbol of the empire’s absolute authority. Arthur listened to the clattering of footsteps coming from an adjacent hall. A host of guards marched with another royal guest, Thegn Lucian of Kaladin. The thegn was a youthful figure dressed in decorative robes. Embroidered on his chest was the proud eagle of his house. His sandy blonde hair was combed back and his face finely trimmed. His jade eyes creased with a smile at his familiar friend.

“Duke Arthur, you’ve arrived,” Lucian said as they embraced. “Have the others arrived for the summons already?” asked Arthur. Lucian gave a somber nod. “They arrived yesterday. Some preliminary councils were had and Emperor Septimus is...Well you’ll see.” Lucian turned to the guards. “Please, the Duke and I can find our way from here.” The captain and his men remained resolute. “Our orders were to deliver you directly to the emperor.” “So, Septimus really has become that paranoid,” Arthur thought. “Very well lead us then,” Arthur said motioning the captain of the guard forward. With quickened pace they moved toward the Emperor’s throne room. Through the halls covered in portraits of ancient heroes and rulers they pressed until a stunning section of open space greeted them. Within a fountain bursting with clear streams flowed into small channels across the floor. Lush vegetation filled with delectable fruits dotted the room. Golden hues from the sun’s rays filtered through golden silk curtains. With no time to drink in the calming scene they were brought before the massive throne room doors. They creaked open to reveal the room that put all others to shame. Gleaming Edonium decorated the lavish dwelling. Intricate detail was woven into every inch. An epic depiction of a griffin devouring a serpent rested before the throne in a circular mosaic. Treachery will not overcome the empire was its tale. Not to mention all the other creatures that lay slain near the griffin’s talons. No beast, no nation, no person will prevail against her strength. Above it sat Emperor Septimus painted in golden light on his ebony throne. Septimus straightened his posture as Arthur and Lucian entered the room. A small cluster of royalty standing at the base of the throne turned to the new arrivals. Arthur’s eyes remained on his emperor. Crimson robes embroidered with a white griffin clung loosely to the man’s flesh. Septimus' silver hair was groomed and tucked back, his beard sharing the same coloring only it remained unkept. The sapphire eyes set within his wrinkled face squinted at his guests with distrust. Resting on his head was a majestic crown made of Edonium. It seemed to weigh heavily on his wrinkled brow. “Welcome to my court, Duke Arthur and Thegn Lucian,” Emperor Septimus said in cold greeting. Both men dropped to a knee before him. “Rise,” Septimus said in exasperation. As if every sign of loyalty should be greeted with distrust.

Arthur fixed his gaze on the others who had answered the summons. Before him stood Duke Volkmar, the only other man to lay claim to that title. His sharp, narrow, face and dark eyes twisted into a formal smile. His thin locks of ebony hair were brushed back and resting just above silver robes sporting a black raven. Beside him was Baron Holger. A husky man whose tunic always looked to be bursting from the seams. The Baron kept his hair long and decorated with elaborate beads and braids as was Bjønen’s custom. His rosy cheeks and round face burst into an obnoxious greeting. “Greetings Duke and Thegn!” he roared in his baritone voice. Volkmar rolled his eyes at the informality of addressing his superiors first. “Yes, greetings my fellow Duke and comrade Thegn.” “Where is Thegn Oswald?” Arthur asked eyes searching the group. “He has fallen ill and has remained in Venhorn,” Emperor Septimus said with a scowl. Arthur and Lucian fell in line as they finished their formal greetings. Each set of eyes quickly returned to the emperor who sat impatiently waiting atop his throne. “Now that we are all here we can finally discuss the pressing issues of the empire,” Septimus said. Arthur could sense the tension in the room. Something had the man shaken. As if on cue Octavian, the emperor’s head advisor stepped beside the throne. His sharp features and clenched jaw fit the description of most high born citizens in the empire. Adding to this demeanor was his finely groomed hair. It’s black strands with streaks of silver were combed back tightly with firm control. Few would know the man was of foreign origin. Arthur was positive the man wished to keep it that way. Octavian had gained the emperor’s undying trust. One of the few in Edonia who could make such a boast. He carried a proud demeanor as he straightened his crimson garments. Clearing his throat he took his place beside Septimus. “Tell them Octavian,” The Emperor ordered. “I speak for the Emperor and all Edonia’s subjects when I say that our very civilization is being threatened,” Octavian stated. “How so?” asked Volkmar. Octavian licked his lips before speaking, “The kingdom of Hunan once loyal to our empire has declared independence from our rule.” “Let them. A bunch of desert rats can do no harm to Edonia,” Baron Holger bellowed. “Are you as dim as you are fat?” snapped the Emperor. Holger blushed with embarrassment but knew better than to reply.

“Holger speaks crudely, my lord, but his words are not false. What could Hunan possibly gain by doing this?” Arthur asked. Septimus’ face grew grim. “Continue, Octavian.” The head advisor nodded. “Our scouts have warned us that Hunan may have somehow found a way to manufacture their own Edonium weaponry.” “So the rumors are true...” mused Lucian. Septimus’ gaze weighed each of them. “This will not stay hidden for long. That is why we must act swiftly to find out if Hunan really can produce enough weapons to threaten us. If so we need to get ahead of this before panic spreads in the streets.” “Do we know how many they possess?” Arthur asked. Octavian cleared his throat, “Only a handful. Even if they truly do possess knowledge to fabricate Edonium weapons, an Edonium blade is not easily forged. It takes time to mass produce let alone require the necessary metal. We’ve already sent out what spies we have in the capitol to find where they are getting their raw materials.” “A traitor under our nose selling our most valuable resource,” roared Septimus as he slammed his fist against the throne. A fearful silence choked the room. None gathered wished to draw upon themselves the wrath of the emperor. “Emperor Septimus and I have devised a plan to assault the kingdom of Hunan before they can rise in strength,” stated Octavian. Septimus spoke once more with restrained rage, “You will gather as many fighting men as your kingdoms can spare and send them here. Then we will sail along the southern coast wiping out any Hunan outpost in our path. Let them see the cost of resisting the empire.” Volkmar gulped before speaking, “Your Majesty, you have our swords, but why call us in person for such a message? Would we not have been able to respond quicker had you asked this of us before we arrived?” “Wise words, Volkmar. I called you because I suspect a network of traitors in our lands. Loose words on parchment cannot be trusted in times such as these. Only words heeded in council.” The emperor’s eyes pierced each of them from his throne. “Even still my trust waivers. What have I done to deserve such treachery? Have I not provided peace? Stability? Ungrateful...”

“The emperor desires that this council remain hidden from the public,” Octavian said directing them back to their purpose. “He also desires that Lucian and Arthur would lead our forces in battle.” “Us?” asked Lucian. “You know we will serve at your pleasure but...” “Yes, yes you will,” interrupted the emperor leaving the matter at that. “We will bring you a swift victory,” Arthur replied sharing a nervous glance with Lucian. “What of me?! You send these limp armed warriors to fight and not a roaring bear?” groaned Baron Holger. “You have your own problems to account for. Did you not think I would hear of this rebellion in the north?” chided Septimus. Once again Holger’s cheeks flushed at the scolding. “John and his merry band of woodland folk are nothing but a flea. Give me but a short time and you’ll hear of him no more.” “We shall see.” The piercing sapphire eyes of Septimus bore down on the Baron as the words left his lips. Try as he might Holger couldn’t help but squirm under that gaze. “What of me, your majesty?” asked Volkmar. “You and Thegn Oswald will serve as my council in the matter of these traitors. Return home, send your troops, and from there see if you can help unravel this knot we are tangled in. Also another matter.” Septimus nodded to Octavian who pulled out a small parchment from his tunic. “Here is a formal letter I would like you to pass on to the Duchess on my behest.” Volkmar bowed in response. “As you wish, your majesty.” “So the emperor decrees. You have your tasks gentlemen,” Octavian declared. “Now be gone and return quickly,” grumbled Septimus. Before they could dismiss themselves they were stopped by the growling voice of the emperor. “And remember no one must speak a word of this.” The four of them bowed before quickly shuffling from the room. As the doors closed behind, Arthur turned to Lucian and motioned for him to remain a moment. “The emperor is clearly shaken by this news, but Hunan can’t possibly be able to create their own Edonium Blades can they? That secret is hidden beneath the palace in vaults even we

cannot access. Only master blacksmiths know the secret, and they are never given permission to leave.” Lucian sighed as he weighed the question in his mind. “This is strange news indeed if proven to be true. The emperor’s foul mood doesn’t help the matter either.” “Silence, Lucian we are but steps away from his court! Talk like that...” “I Know, I know. It’s best we end this war quickly and be done with it.” The two of them turned to follow after the others down the hall. Arthur couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread rise within him. Whatever was happening to the empire he doubted it would end quickly.


Chapter 1: John of the Wood A kaleidoscope of colored leaves painted the Northern Darkwood. John winced at the crunch each of them made beneath his feet. Today was the day. The day he and his merry band of rebels would finally get what they needed to stand a chance against the tyrant Baron Holger. A small armed caravan treaded on high alert through the columned trees just ahead. Men with spear and axe in hand scanned the surrounding foliage. John inhaled, letting the breath leave his lungs as he notched his arrow. Another breath, and just as the air left his lungs he released the fletching. The bolt zipped past oak and pine until it sank deep into the neck of an unsuspecting guard. A battle cry burst from the woods all around sending the caravan into a frenzy. A host of a few hundred lightly armored warriors rushing forth, battle axe and dagger in hand. John could see the guards around the caravan fight back the fear rising within them at the sight. What could a few dozen do against so many? Yet, they had one advantage. Unlike John and his men, they were equipped with patches of plated steel. Some may even be fused with the precious metal Edonium. He looked on as the first wave of his men swarmed the caravan. Sparks ignited as steel weapons did their deadly dance. He notched another arrow quickly lining up his next victim. The man never saw it coming. His corpse dropped with a sickly thud, and those around him moved on to find another foe. John prepped to send a third arrow when a voice came behind him, “John, I’ve got urgent news!” “It best be, Maggie, I was just about to take another shot,” he said with slight annoyance. He turned to face his companion and part-time lover. Her bleach blonde hair was pulled back and tightly woven for battle. The round shape of her face and its soft features could easily fool a stranger into thinking she was just like all the other village maidens of Bjønen. Little did they know hidden beneath her innocent form was a deadly warrior. Meeting her caramel eyes he knew she was serious. “Our scouts just sent word. The baron and his men are on their way. He’s caught wind of our attack.” “How far out?” She reached beneath her worn leather jerkin, pulling out a small parchment. “Not far.” He took it in hand scanning the contents. Tucking the note away he let out a sound of disgust. “It’s too late. We need this shipment of Light Bringers.” “But if the baron arrives!” Maggie protested before he cut her off.

“If he does we’ll deal with him. These swords are our one shot at forging a kingdom of our own.” Maggie placed hands on hips as she surveyed the ensuing battle. “Come then, we best finish this quickly.” John cracked a smile. “I thought you’d never ask.” He followed her example notching another arrow to his bow. The two of them let loose striking two more guards to the forest floor. Perfectly in sync. That described their relationship most days. Besides the occasional spat, he knew Maggie would always have his back. The one person in the entire Edonian Empire he could trust completely. That trust didn’t hurt their bed sharing either. He pushed such thoughts aside as several remaining guards took note of the deadly duo reigning bolts upon them. With raised shield they charged in their direction. Maggie causally placed her bow on her back, withdrawing two bearded axes from her side. John followed suit pulling his short sword free from its sheath. With unified cry they rushed to meet their attackers. Maggie let fly the axe in her left hand. It found its mark in the shin of the closest warrior sending him to the forest floor. John took advantage removing the man’s head with one swift blow. He turned to see Maggie leap into the air landing on top of the other man’s shield. The momentum sent them both tumbling to the ground. The only difference was Maggie rolled regaining her composure. Leaping to her feet she pounced on the dazed guard, finishing him off with one swing of her axe. John moved toward the two enemies that remained. One of them thrust his spear catching John’s left arm, thankfully striking hidden chainmail. Before the spear could retreat John took the shaft in hand jerking it free from the man’s grip. Maggie reading John’s mind let out a violent screech drawing another of the guards’ attention toward her. Seeing the man was now distracted John sent the spear in his hand whirling into the man’s back. Only one remained. Behind the helm was a face filled with terror. John smirked as Maggie moved to his side. “What are you two?” mumbled the remaining guard. “Your doom,” John whispered. They moved in one swift motion cutting the man down with ease. With the job down the two of them took stock of their victim’s possessions. Moving to one of the dead guards Maggie bent over to retrieve the axe she’d thrown. She clicked her tongue as she did so, “You’d think they’d learn to send better guards to protect such a vital resource to the empire.” John watched as the few caravan guards that remained fled into the depths of the Darkwood. A cheer rang out from his men as the quick work of raiding the caravan began. He motioned for Maggie to follow him. As they drew near one of the captain’s came forward shaking his head.

“What is it, Huldwin?” John asked as the man approached. “They’re not here sir,” Huldwin replied. “What do you mean?” Maggie asked. “The Light Bringers. They must have moved it or heard we were coming. It’s a dummy caravan, sir.” John let out a cry of frustration as he grabbed a nearby helmet sending it into the ground. “Holger that shantz. He knew we were coming.” “John,” Maggie said clasping his arm. “The note.” His mind cleared in an instant at her words. She was right, there was no time for his temper tantrum. Holger was coming, he had set the whole thing up. Suddenly, the sound of a bellowing horn rumbled through the surrounding trees. “Form battle lines! Hide the archers in the trees!” John cried. “Sir?” Huldwin asked in a panic. “It’s Holger. He’s here.” “But...but...that’s why we came for the weapons. So we’d have something that could stand against him. Without it...” “We don’t have that luxury right now, Huldwin!” John snapped. “Remember, Martha? Your daughters? Your sons? Do you remember what the Baron did with them when your crops didn’t yield what you’d hoped?” “Of course,” Huldwin said with a look of shame. “Well now’s your chance to do something about it.” Without another word he faced Maggie who knew what to do without command. Skills built by years on the run, she quickly vanished behind a set of pine trees. In fact as John glanced around over half his forces had disappeared within the cover of the wood. They knew their moment for revenge and glory had come. Mustered around him were the designated few he had picked to stand as a decoy for such a trap as this. He could hear the sound of hooves drawing near and shortly after he could see the beasts of war break from the tree line ahead. Leading them was the fat baron on his steed. His hair hung loosely in auburn braids over a leather tunic embroidered with the bear of his clan. Hanging at his side was what gave him his true power, an Edonium Blade. A weapon that could tear any

man in half with a single swing. While all knew such a blade weakened with each taste of men’s blood, many a killing blow could be served before it became like all the rest. “John of the wood, I see you have made a fine mess of my caravan. Although I suspected more of you to survive against such a pathetic guard,” bellowed the Baron. “Baron Holger, I see you’ve grown even larger in your trip to the south,” John shot back. “The food must be extra special in Edonia.” “Enough petulant boy. You’ve done enough carousing in the woods. It’s time you let the adults deal with the problems of Bjønen.” “Ha! You speak of solving problems, yet that is exactly what I am doing. I’’m getting rid of you.” “Silence! I have heard enough of your pathetic droning. My men have waited many days to wipe your blight from Bjønen.” “Let us see if you are up for the task, my baron.” With that Holger let out a flustered grunt before issuing the order for his men to charge. A host of lightly armored calvary streamed forward. Their plated armor glistening from the beams of light peaking through the forest canopy. Behind them five squads of troops armed with sword, spear, and axe followed. “This will be interesting,” John muttered. “Sir, we can’t possibly stop them,” Huldwin complained beside him. “Enough of your cowardice, Huldwin. If you wish to turn tail and run be my guest. Though I doubt you’d make it far.” The captain gulped and mustered what courage remained in him. John narrowed his eyes watching for the precise moment when to give the order. The thundering of hooves tearing at the earth grew in strength with each heartbeat. Still he waited. “Sir are you going to give the order?” Huldwin asked, voice shaking. “Enough, Huldwin!” The man was so dim witted at times. Several more seconds passed until the riders reached the destroyed caravan. Just as the first of their ranks reached the broken down carts John cried, “Now!” A storm of arrows showered through the dense woods. The crossfire of bolts struck down beast and rider alike sending them into a panic. The riders in the back had no time to halt their mounts and found themselves crashing into their dying companions. Some were sent flying off their

steeds, while others found themselves impaled on the splintered wood of the earlier assault. John smiled with glee at the sight of their most dreaded enemy devastated in one fell swoop. “Fire!” The order sent another hail of bolts crashing into those that remained. Even the plated armor couldn’t protect their foes from the amount of arrows being thrown their way. Men slipped on the blood of fallen allies as they scrambled to break free. It was all too perfect. A command rang out for the dismounted troops of the Baron to move forward. They rushed in the direction of arrow fire hoping to dislodge John’s carefully placed archers. In reply John’s men sent a volley toward the Baron’s incoming troops. Arrow pierced tree and man alike as they whistled through the forest. Foot soldiers stumbled forward over fallen peers. The sharp steel in their hand ready to seek revenge. “Archers!” John cried hoping for one last volley to cut down their pursuers. Muffled cries mixed with the whoosh of arrow fire followed. Some of the baron’s men were able to reach John’s archers before they could release their shot. Chaos soon enveloped the field of battle. Men reached for axe and spear to fend for their lives. What was once neatly drawn lines blurred into fury and chaos. Even with the success of a surprise attack John knew they were outnumbered. Only one option remained. He rushed to secure a nearby horse that had lost its master. With a thrust of his sword he cut down a soldier that tried to stop him. Just as he mounted he heard the cry of Maggie’s voice behind him. “John, what are you doing?” “Finishing this,” He said, spurring his horse forward. The forest was a blur as he brushed past any who tried to stop him. Through the thick of combat he could just make out the plump Baron surveying the battle on his steed. His greedy eyes gleamed as he must have felt victory was now assured. “Baron!” John roared as he drew near the man. Holger gave a smug smile as his hand moved to the sword at his side. His eyes quickly morphed to panic as a single bolt sank into the throat of his steed. The horse reared unsteady as he ordered it to turn, but the swift motion along with the horse’s imbalance sent the Baron crashing to the ground. Holger’s horse shrieked in terror as it capsized. John watched in amusement as it bucked and squirmed until it was able to return to its feet leaving its master exposed. Holger clamored to his knees, eyes filled with animalistic fear at John’s swift approach. Without fear for his dignity he floundered away as John pressed toward him. Just as John was about to sink his thirsty blade into Holger’s flesh, one of the baron’s knights rallied to his aid. The plated soldier moved to block John’s pursuit. Other knights seeing the event unfold moved to join in protecting their master.

“Get me...Get me out of here!” panted the horrified Baron. The lead knight nodded. “You heard him! Give him a mount.” One of the others dismounted allowing Holger to climb onto the steed. Without hesitation he spurred the beast back in a wild panic toward Bjønen. “Retreat! The Baron’s Retreating!” came the cry across the battlefield. Soon Holger’s forces melted away into the thick of the forest. The knights now paid no mind to the rebel leader before them. As the baron’s forces fled John felt the presence of another move beside him. “You’re welcome for the arrow.” came the voice of Maggie. “I always knew you could read my mind,” John said with a smile. “Should we give chase?” “No...” John replied narrowing his eyes. “Something feels off.” “Then we will have wasted the lives of countless men! No dead Baron and no Light Bringers!” “Not a waste...” he replied half listening. In a blink it all made sense. “John?” Maggie asked. “What’s got a hold of ya?” Ignoring her, he dismounted moving toward the spot where the baron had collapsed. Resting discreetly on the forest floor was a glimmering object. He quickly brushed away the loose foliage and to his utter joy his suspicions had come to fruition. In his hand was Bear Paw, the Edonium Blade of Bjønen. A sword that laid claim to Bjønen itself and was only matched by those who held great power in Edonia. “Is that what I think it is?” said Maggie in revenant awe behind him. John turned with a sly grin, “We have won more than a token victory today my dear.” *** The tavern was dimly lit, but John needn’t see its occupant’s faces to know they were full of joy. Sounds of laughter and revelry reverberated off the walls. He rested at the bar, Maggie at his side. The return journey to Laketon was the easiest they’d ever made. It wasn’t long before each man found himself at the famous Lucky Fish tavern. A night of celebration must occur with the vital blow they had struck on the Baron and his men. With such a defeat John could rest at ease of any prying eyes of the Baron’s spies in the sleepy fishing town.

He felt Maggie stir beside him, her marvelous emerald eyes surveying the room. She felt his gaze and turned with a seductive smile. “The men sure look to be enjoying their victory,” she said ruefully. “As they should,” John proclaimed in an inebriated tone. Maybe he had celebrated a little too much. “We’ve not won yet, John. The baron still lives.” “We will deal with him soon enough, Maggs. With this!” He tapped the finely crafted sheath at his side. Its black leather was woven with intricate golden thread made to look like the paw of a bear. “You know that sword makes you a marked man now?” “Ahh my dear you needn’t worry,” he said with a sip of ale. “Besides, wasn’t that our plan all along? To steal the empire’s precious Light Bringers to forge an army of our own?” “You and I both know we’d hoped at best to come away with more Light Bringers than dead. From there we’d see where we stood.” “Yet here we are with a weapon that brings terror to all who look upon it. Even better, we have made our fat little bear of a baron toothless.” “So what are you thinking, John? What’s next?” Maggie’s words captured his thoughts. For so long he had dreamed of this moment. A moment to free Bjønen of oppression, to seek revenge on those who had taken so much from them. As he searched deeper there was another thought that came unguarded to the surface of his mind. For once there might be a chance for a commoner, a man of the people to have the say in how things should be ordered. Not some royal bureaucrat or wealthy patron who had never struggled a day in their life. This was a moment he knew that would shape the histories and he was the center of it. “John?” Maggie’s voice shook him from his day dream. “Sorry, Maggs, I was just...dreaming.” “That doesn’t answer my question. What will we do now that we’ve got that fancy sword?” His face broke in a wryer smile. “We grab ourselves a kingdom.” Those emerald eyes gleamed with delight at such an auspicious future. “Does that mean I get to be your duchess, my duke?” she said with a mocking bow.

“Ahh Maggie, my dear, don’t think so small you could someday be Empress with such beauty as yours,” he proclaimed. A blush filled her face. “John, don’t mock me. I was being serious. Besides you got to make me an honest woman first.” “I know how to make you a dishonest one,” he said rising to his feet. “A drink for all on me!” He slammed a bag of coin down onto the bar as a wild cry filled the room. After he offered a hand to lift Maggie from her stool. “Come, Maggs, I know a place where we can celebrate.” Maggie giggled taking his hand in her own. The two of them scurried out into the midnight air. As if in a dream he could hear Maggie’s giddiness beside him but his focus was somewhere else. It was that thought that gripped him earlier. A long buried seed that was now coming to bloom. Maybe, just maybe he would be someone to remember after all.

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