The Great Library of Palanthas

An Aesthetic shows you to a small reading room.

Stories of Ansalon from the view of Androkles.

A little gully dwarf runs by and says 'Wordwrap Off 65 80.'
The gully continues 'Eyes hurt? Turn Color OFF!! (regular story dates)

Astinus says 'Enter the main library here to view only the author list.'
Astinus gently places a small leaflet on the table in front of you.
You note the spine bears the word 'Androkles' scribed in earth-colored brown ink.

Author:    Androkles      
Date:      Thu Aug 31 23:04:11 2017
Subject     How Androkles Got Here

	The fog rolled in thick and cold and threatened to ruin the hunt before they even found a boar. Androkles sighed and pulled his horse to heel, signaling for the rest of his little hunting party to stop as well. "Melanthios, come here. Is this normal? How long is this going to last?"
	The slave rode forward, still chewing on the same wheat gum he'd left Dikaia with, and passively replied, "Never seen a fog like this before in these woods, or any other. Get a bit if the winter's bad, but not so thick, and not at midday. Not so far from the sea."
	Androkles scowled at the forest, daring it to defy his hunt and ruin his afternoon. He reached up and stroked his long beard, angrily enjoying the scented oil that his daughter had given him. The fog rudely chose to remain.
	This year's Eighth General's son, Linos, stepped his horse forward to join the conversation. The youth was newly fourteen and too short to be much help; however, he'd been nice to Androkles' boys, so he'd been permitted to come. "Noble Hero, I doubt the fog will last. The sun's glare will burn it away before long," he said. He sounded more hopeful than confident.
	Androkles did his best not sound to mean as he replied, "It shouldn't have formed in the first place. Two hours ago it was so hot we decided to hunt naked, but now it's cold enough I'm wishing I had my bearskin. If the fog gets any thicker, we're going to wish we had a road to follow. You ever been stuck in fog like this?"
	"No, master," said the youth, meekly.
	"I have, in the land of the Kelthuars. You might have heard about that."
	"Yes, master. I have," said the youth, thoroughly ashamed. 
Androkles sighed and looked at poor Linos, who was wilting like an unwatered plant. He said, "Calm down, boy, you're not in trouble. This is just how men talk amongst themselves. Especially ornery ones like me."
Looking back at the handful of men who had come with him, Androkles found them pulling their cloaks and tunics back on against the sudden cold, and he could tell from their faces and demeanor that they were growing as troubled as he was. Fog like this didn't just happen. Perhaps a few years ago, before all the intrigues that began with stolen silver, superstition would not have stopped a hunt.
	Now, however? Now, not a household anywhere in the Glories neglected piety and tradition.
	A little ball of anxiousness gathered inside him as he imagined some vague menace peering out at him from deep within the fog. It was all the more intimidating for its familiarity, since such things somehow managed to keep happening to him.
	The youth began to speak, "Great Hero..." but left off when he wasn't sure what to say. Apparently, it wasn't only Androkles who felt ill-at-ease; they all did. He could tell from their faces and bearing. It was as if some subtle miasma of the grave crept slowly in beneath that gentle blanket of mist that unrolled along the ground beneath the horses' hooves and rose to fill the forest before them.
	Looking back the way they had come, they knew the way was still clear, although it was closing. The four men and one youth met his gaze with quickly increasing urgency, but none dared speak aloud his desire. No one would admit cowardice in front of Androkles, son of Paramonos.
	He sighed. "This is stupid. I'm the one with the spear and experience. You all get out of here. I'll go see what this is about. If I don't make it back, someone tell my little boys this is why they weren't allowed to come. Everyone else, warn the rest of Dikaia that my wife is more dangerous than I ever was. All my property is hers to dispose of as she wishes."
	The men hesitated for a moment, then saluted him formally; even the youth, once he saw how they did it. Even the slave, who wasn't allowed. Androkles didn't mind. He turned his gaze back to the thick fog and took his spear in hand, then urged his horse to start walking. Behind him, the rest of his party made a hasty retreat.
	The horse didn't want to go, he soon discovered. It went perhaps another fifty steps before it stopped altogether and wouldn't move an inch, no matter how he smacked it. The poxy animal wasn't even tired--it was simply being stubborn. Wretched thing was too scared.
	"Biggest horse to ever prance into the Glories!" he said aloud in frustration as he slid from the saddle, mimicking the Skythander merchant. Better to simply tie the thing to a tree and get it later.
As soon as his feet touched the ground, however, the horse reared and kicked at him with its front hooves, and Androkles quickly found himself on the losing end of a struggle. He had a hold of the reins with one hand, but each time the horse lurched away, it threatened to snap the leather, and those hooves hurt. He had just enough time to grab one of his bags before the horse got away; fortunately, before it got far, his tunic snagged on a bush and the horse left it behind.
The bag, it turned out, was the one with the skinning and tanning supplies in it, not the food. He huffed in frustration and threw it into the mist, where it vanished in a swirl of fog a few paces away from him. He retrieved his tunic and slid it on, and began walking.
This was not how things were supposed be going these days. His adventures were at an end. He was forty-one; he had his new family, servants, and slaves, all settled in his ancestral home, with the blessing of patron gods old and new. Men hailed him everywhere he went, and groups of awe-struck children followed him through the public square like fish in the wake of a trireme. His children were integrated into aristocratic life, and his wife was well into her plots and schemes and had never been so happy. In short, everything was taken care of. After decades of struggle, travail, deprivation, and pain, it was finally time to enjoy the good life.
He had earned it, by the gods. The gods had even said so. This fog had better not be anything like with Mari.
Androkles was simply trying to stay frustrated to keep from growing increasingly unsettled, he knew, but he had no desire to stop, either. Something about the fog seemed distinctly unwholesome, reminiscent of the grave; if fog could seem skeletal, this did.
As he walked, the mists congealed thicker and colder, and his fingers grew numb around his spear. He didn't fully appreciate quite how thick the fog had become until he barely missed smashing his nose by walking directly into a tree. After that, he waved the spear ahead of himself to prevent further indignities.
It became impossible to keep track of time, but the cold sapped his strength. He began to wonder if he had wandered into some forgotten corner of the underworld by mistake. Perhaps Raphos Corpse-eater decided it was his turn to face the mighty Androkles and stir up trouble. Perhaps the world had gone too far off track and was being unmade so the gods could start over. Perhaps one of Wolfscar's old friends had simply come to say hello, an ice-spirit from the frozen wastelands of the extreme north.
Whatever it was, it had better happen soon, because Androkles' joints felt like they were full of tar and broken pottery, and it hurt to walk. That cold seeped into every bit of him, from toenails to eyelids. Even his foreskin ached; he wasn't sure if that had ever happened before. The light seemed to be fading; either the fog was growing thick enough to darken the sky, or the sun was going down.
As the darkness crept in, so did a feeling of dread and dreariness that Androkles couldn't shake. He tried imagining his son singing one of his songs, or his daughter lecturing someone on manners and morals, or the fairy doing anything at all, but nothing worked. Even thinking about what delights his wife would have ready for him when he got back failed to lift his spirits.
The darkness quickly become absolute and impenetrable. The thick fog made it seem as though night itself had descended and filled his lungs; his mind seemed to twist and writhe as visions of terrors flitted about just beyond his consciousness. He steeled himself and kept marching, tormented by the growing threat of madness.
An eternity later, his foot found gravel, and the sound was so loud that he almost dropped his spear in startlement. He took another step, and realized that he could hear normally. Which led to a second realization: the fog had been so thick until now it had blocked most of his hearing.
A bit of investigation showed that he had wandered onto a common dirt road. He needed only follow it a bit further, and he'd end up either at a farmer's household, or a paved road, and this nightmare would be over.
Since it didn't matter which direction he walked, he turned right and started walking. The fog seemed to be receding, and a bit of light from the night sky seeped through. Just enough to see the barest outline of the road if he walked slowly.
A short time later, at dawn, he discovered three things: First, he was utterly exhausted and could go no further without a rest. Second, the mists had receded entirely, leaving the morning overcast and foreboding but clear. Third, he was no longer in the Glories.
He recognized nothing about his surroundings. The trees grew thick and gnarled, twisted by storms and weather that never came to any region Androkles knew. Everything appeared gray and muted, and even though the trees were full of leaves, they hung dark, shadowy, and unpleasant. The clouds never broke, but he saw no hint of mountains or ocean, nor heard any birdsong, or really much of anything besides his own footsteps.
Raw bewilderment added itself to the mix of dread and exhaustion that had been simmering in his stomach all night, and he found himself close to weeping tears of pure frustration. He walked to the center of the road, which was mostly long and straight, and looked down it as far as he could see in both directions. Where was he?
His jaw dropped open to see a carriage, larger and more ornate than any he'd ever beheld, racing toward him. Its black paint and silver ornamentation, coupled with the four black, noble horses, gave it an air of unmistakable majesty. The driver, when he came close enough to be seen, was dressed in some sort of bizarre, ostentatious black clothing that covered him thickly from the neck down, with a bit of white at the chest and a red flower over his breast. His skin had a dark grey hue, but that might have been the light.
Androkles stood aside to let it pass rather than be trampled and planted the butt of his spear in the ground to lean on. The carriage surprised him a second time by slowing and stopping directly in front of him. He gripped his spear tightly, steeling himself against some sort of ambush.
The driver gracefully descended from his perch and opened the door to reveal a plush red interior, upholstered in a gleaming, rich cloth Androkles didn't recognize. The man said, "Androkles, son of Paramonos of Dikaia? My Master, Baron Strahd von Zarovich, bids you welcome in his domain. You are invited to join his Lordship in Castle Ravenloft, to dine and rest and entertain his Lordship in polite conversation. The journey will be several hours if you wish to sleep." His voice was pale and breathy, but not unpleasant.
Androkles hesitated. "Where am I?" he asked.
"You are in Barovia, and all things within are under the Baron's complete control. If you wish further answers, you must have them from my Master. Please. You will find the interior far warmer and more comfortable than the exterior." Again, the man in strange clothing beckoned him enter.
Although the carriage was large than any he'd seen, it was, of course, still too small for him, much like anything else not specifically made with him in mind. Once he managed to climb inside and store his spear, however, he found he could sit on one comfortably cushioned bench and rest his feet on the one opposite, and about two breaths later, he was fast asleep.
His sleep was dreamless and uninterrupted. He woke when someone opened the door to the carriage, increasing the amount of light and letting in a gust of cool air. He felt a hand on his arm, and a young woman's sulty voice said, "Androkles? Wake up, my dear. You've arrived." Then, to someone outside, she added, "My, sister, he's even larger than we were told!" She traced a finger up his arm, following one of his longer scars.
Androkles forced his eyes awake to meet a dark-eyes, raven-haired young woman of stunning beauty giving him a provocative look. Despite his weariness, he felt his cheeks redden and his loins stir slightly; all he wore was that tunic, after all. He could not help but feel terribly unbalanced.
For her part, she wore a thick, black dress of many layers, with frills, cut in a style he had never seen before. She took him by the hand and guided him from the carriage, where he found a small party waiting for him. Another young woman, her hair a mess of bright red curls, hugged him a bit too fondly for comfort. Two middle-aged men stood nearby, their posture rigid and their faces emotionless. Their chins were shaved bare and their hair was cut short, and they wore the same odd, complicated clothing as the carriage driver.
The driver descended again and formally addressed Androkles, "You may retain your spear if you wish. If you prefer, these two men will attend your needs and will carry it for you. Alternately, you may have the women attend you, but that might not be wise. It is, however, unfair not to allow you to decide, considering the consequences."
The black-haired beauty said, "Oh, he'll certainly choose us, won't he? Look, see how he already responds to the thought of it..."
Androkles cleared his throat and pulled his hand way from her, then straightened his tunic, unsuccessfully trying to hide his interest. He handed his spear to one of the blank-faced men and said, "I think I'll choose the men for now, until I know the master's disposition toward his women. I can think of lots of way that could go wrong on me. Now, where are we going?"
The driver gestured, and Androkles turned and gasped aloud in astonishment at a stone building grander and greater than he had ever imagined possible. It stood more than double the height of the Temple of Arkos, which had taken the greatest civilization in the world thirty years to complete. Taller by far than Diorodoros' Lighthouse. The main parts of the building were several stories at least, judging from the windows, and numerous dizzying towers reached skyward above them. The tallest reached so high the tip pierced the clouds. He couldn't even imagine how many people it could house, or the wealth of the ruler who could afford to build it, let alone maintain it.
"How...!" he stammered. "What god dwells here!?"
The women tittered, and the red-haired one said, "Oh, you'll fit in here very well, won't he, sister?"
"As long as he doesn't overdo it, my dear. There's a line between admirer and bootlicker."
"He can lick my boots, as long as he doesn't stop there," she said in a low voice. They covered their mouths and giggled to each other, enticing him with their eyes.
The driver coughed politely and said, "This is Castle Ravenloft, noble Androkles. It is the ancestral home of the von Zarovich family, and the seat of my Lord's power. Please, let us enter. Ladies, will you be joining us for dinner?"
The young women pouted, but they knew they were dismissed and gave no complaint. Satisfied that the servant with his spear was coming, Androkles followed the driver into the castle. The interior was, if possible, every bit as impressive as the exterior. Every corner contained a painting, or a gold vessel of some kind, or an expensive wooden cabinet, or some other such finery. Lamps of every kind abounded, most in a style Androkles had never seen. The large open rooms were lit by immense dangling lamps of many pieces of glass and hundreds of candles, and were glorious to behold. From the massive, ornately-carved front door to the suite of rooms that Androkles was instructed would be his own, not once did he set his foot on stone or wood--every inch of walkway was carpeted in lush red, patterned in gold.
Yesterday, Androkles had thought himself a wealthy man, among the wealthiest in the world, on par with some kings and tyrants, and almost any citizen of the Glories. Now, however, his opinion of his stature faded to nothing. What were his own meager holdings, compared to this? There, a gold urn rich enough to buy twenty slaves, and its only purpose was to keep a corner from looking bare. Across from it, a painting so detailed and accurate the world had never seen the like. Any artist in the glories would sacrifice his own son in public to behold it but for a day, and learn.
The servants drew a bath for Androkles of a pleasant warmth, and he hastily climbed in. However, instead of enjoying it, he found himself troubled by an ever-growing sense of dread. How far had the fog taken him? How could such a land as this exist, and he had never heard of it? Was it possible he was truly dead? Palthos had promised to take him after death, and Androkles doubted that god would lie, or be unable. This did not seem like Palthos' domain, so he must be alive.
So where was he, why was he here, and how could he get back? Surely his family would be worried sick by now. He could just picture his children sitting down right outside the gates of Dikaia, waiting anxiously for his return and asking everyone entering if they'd seen him. They would do this day after day, until they lost hope. He couldn't get the image out of his mind. The thought made him suffer.
The water went from warm to tepid, and finally Androkles stood and asked one of the servants, "Where's the oil?"
"There is no oil," said one, his voice as empty as his eyes.
"What are you talking about? How do I wash without oil?" replied Androkles, his dark mood making him quick to anger.
"Soap," replied the other, gesturing impassively to a square chunk of a mysterious substance on a table next to the bath.
Androkles looked at it for a moment, confused. "What do I do with it?"
"Rub it on your wet body to create lather. Use the lather to clean. Rinse the lather away with water," said the second one.
What they were suggesting was ridiculous. Water couldn't get a person truly clean--that required oil, and a scraper. Speaking of which, there was no scraper either, or anythign that could function as one. Was this some kind of prank?
Androkles gave the servants a good look for the first time. Something about them seemed truly off, but at first he'd simply ignored it, supposing they had better manners than the slaves he was used to. However, neither of them showed any emotion at all, or performed any unnecessary motion. They breathed, and answered questions, and performed their duties, and that was it. They unnerved him.
He sighed and took the small, pale bar and eventually figured out how it worked. Once he was satisfied that he was free of the slime it produced, he was impressed by how effective it was in cleaning his body. His skin felt dry and naked without any oil, but he was clean. All in all, however, it was a vastly inferior method. Whatever grandeur these people possessed, they were not fully civilized.
After drying, the servants dressed him in several layers of strange clothing, first white, then a bit of red, then black on the outside with a red flower, much like the the driver had worn, but finer. They explained that it was a cloth called 'silk', and he'd felt nothing so smooth and soft in his life. The cut of the clothing was awkward and unpleasant, and it crept and pulled in places and ways that Androkles could not fathom a person submitting to on purpose. However, once he was fully attired, he checked and determined that he retained his full range of motion, so he supposed it would do.
At long last, he left his spear in his room and they guided him to a large, square room dominated by an immense table covered with steaming food and drink of every variety. They closed the door behind him, and he found himself alone with a man who must be the Lord of Ravenloft.
He wore clothing much like what Androkles had on, and when he stood to greet his guest, he scarcely came up to his shoulders, although that was hardly unusual. Androkles was something of a giant, after all.
The man had black hair, short, slicked back with oil, and no beard. His eyes were quick and piercing, and his composure indicated that every inch of him was a ruler of men. He did not smile, but was quite charismatic nonetheless.
"Welcome, son of Paramonos. Please, have a seat at my table. You must be hungry after wandering so long," said the Lord of Ravenloft, gesturing politely to a chair.
Once Androkles sat, the man did so as well. He then waited while Androkles filled his plate with a bit of everything in reach before speaking.
Despite the fine surroundings and the graciousness of his host, something told Androkles not to fully drop his guard.
"My name is Strahd, and it is our custom to take our family name, not our father's. I am called von Zarovich. My title is Baron, which in this realm is something like a king. You may call me Lord Strahd. In my domain, you shall be called Lord Androkles, which is a title of nobility, lest anyone mistake you for a commoner. Be welcome in my home," said Strahd.
As Strahd talked, it quickly became clear that he was a fighting man. He spoke and moved with an easy grace that showed no weakness, no awkwardness or hesitancy, nor indicated any fear at all. Instead, his host was perfectly welcoming, perfectly comfortable having a stranger in his home who was bigger than he was and covered in scars.
Well, two could play that game. Androkles relaxed and ate comfortably, enjoying the food, which truly was magnificent. After a sip of outrageously expensive wine, he said, "I feel welcome, Lord Strahd. I appreciate your man finding me so quickly. It's almost as if you were expecting me."
"Indeed I was, Lord Androkles. Shall a man such as yourself be ignored? I think not," said Strahd, smiling to bare sharpened teeth, although not quite so sharp as a Skythander's. "Not after what you have done. Certain acts reverberate, my good man. They reverberate in ways you cannot conceive. Echoes and whispers reach even my ears, here in my quiet little Barovia."
Well, that was either a good sign or a terrible one. Androkles asked, "What specifically are you referring to?"
Strahd leaned back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other, then folded his hands in his lap. He said, "I have seen everything I wished to see of you. My eyes pierce all, if I wish it. Do you think me a normal man, and this a normal place? Surely, you must know better by now."
Androkles took another bite of the turkey, which dripped with fragrant juices. He had never tasted the spices used before, and probably never would again, but neither would he ever forget them. The distraction helped him resist Strahd's attempt to terrify him into... whatever it was the man wanted. He swallowed and said, "I have done much, Lord Strahd, and don't know what among my deeds impresses you the most. But I am pleased that a man as great as yourself has chosen to honor me with your invitation. The good manners of your staff and yourself have done much to put me at ease, where otherwise I might grow angry at being stolen away from my home and people."
"Is that an attempt at a subtle threat?" said Strahd, making an arch of his fingers over an amused smirk.
"I was never very good at subtlety," said Androkles, meeting his gaze evenly for a long moment before going back to eating. He did his best to seem unperturbed, but that dread still gnawed at him.
"Then I shall get right to the point. I want you to give me your spear. If you do, I will return you to your own lands and people with an appropriate amount of gold in payment. If you will not, you will remain in my realm until you relent. If your life ends before you do, you will be reborn here. I will then find your infant self and make you suffer. I will break you. If it takes a thousand lifetimes, you will relent. You will give me your spear, and I will cast your soul into the void." The Baron leaned forward slightly as he said this, his eyes becoming predatory and his voice becoming cold. The effect was only slight, but it was powerful.
"My spear? What for?"
Strahd's easy and relaxed manner was either an incredible act of disciple, or he had absolutely no fear of Androkles. More the fool, him, but there it was. The Baron calmly replied, "I am a prisoner in my own realm, Lord Androkles. Certain powers hold me here against my will. It is only with great effort that I have even become aware of them. I am a pawn to them. An amusement, and nothing more. Were I to turn that particular spear against them, they would be forced to release me. Can you think now what deeds attracted my attention?"
"I can imagine."
The vast dining hall became very quiet as the two men took measure of each other. Androkles wondered what power the man could be hiding, to be sitting so calmly, making such threats knowing full well what he was capable of. Could he be bluffing? Not likely. Androkles wouldn't be here if Strahd were bluffing--he'd be enjoying a meal of boar in a jolly symposium back in the Dikaia right now.
The more he thought about it, the more it seemed he had only one real option. He said, "It won't work unless I give it to you. That must be why you're asking."
"I'm aware," said Strahd, with the hint of a sincere smile on his lips.
"Send your man to fetch it."
Strahd didn't even twitch, but after only a moment, the door opened and one of the emotionless men entered bearing Androkles' spear in white gloves.
Androkles took it and gave it a look, final look, making a show of his heavy heart. He took in every detail from the large, flat head with the writing in characters no one could read, to the haft embossed with stunning gold filigree depicting beasts and flora in wild patterns, covered in an impermeable lacquer that never slipped in his hands.
Androkles stood, braced himself, and called deeply on his killing intent. Immediately, the room filled with the powerful aura of his anger. It radiated from him in perceptible waves in the air, pressing against the walls and reverberating. The silk clothing he wore began to smolder and singe, and before Strahd had even risen from his chair, it had turned completely to ash which swirled around him on the invisible currents of Androkles' power.
"That power of yours is quite impressive in person, Lord Androkles, but it will not be enough," said the Baron impassively. With one arm, he threw the entire immense table against the wall.
Androkles leaped forward with a thrust, which Strahd dodged. Androkles spun away from the counter punch and struck a blow for the man's knee, but Strahd slid mysteriously a few feet across the floor.
The Baron muttered a few words and made a strange sign with his fingers, and Androkles felt an odd pressure on his mind, but it could not overcome his fury.
He charged Strahd again, this time with a series of quick jabs, followed by several twirling, raining blows. Strahd floated away effortlessly, unperturbed.
Again, the Baron attempted whatever magic he had tried before, and it came closer to having its effect as Androkles felt his mind relax for the briefest instant, but the spell slipped away beneath the pressure of his killing intent.
Androkles feigned a stumble as though the magic had been effective, and that proved enough to get Strahd to lower his guard. Androkles lurched forward with an ungainly but effective thrust holding the very bottom of the spear and caught Strahd deep in the stomach.
He pressed his advantage and ran forward to press his enemy against the wall. Strahd twisted and tried to unskewer himself, but failed to get away before he was rammed into the wall, pinned there against the wood like a rabbit waiting to be skinned.
Androkles put all his fury into his killing intent, every bit of it he could gather and focused it on Strahd. The man's skin and hair began to singe and flake, and he screamed.
"I've killed worse than you, Lord Strahd. I thought you knew th...!"
A terrible pain in Androkles' throat stole his voice. He instinctively tried to jump away from whatever it was, but found himself held firmly in place. He let go of his spear and reached up to find a hard, round...
By the gods, that was a human head! Someone had bitten his throat and was sucking his blood. Androkles panicked and started punching the skull to get the person off, and Strahd looked up and smiled at him. "Fool," he said. "I was ready for you." He then collapsed completely to dust.
Androkles stumbled and slammed his back against the wall, trying to dislodge the man, but he couldn't get him off. He could feel his attacker draining out the essence of his killing intent along with his blood, as though his life and soul themselves were being torn away from him.
He soon grew lightheaded and lost his footing and fell to his knees, but his attacker never relented. His killing intent sputtered out and vanished, and for the first time in his life, Androkles knew that the seething well of anger had finally run dry. There was nothing left. He tried again to gouge his attacker's eyes, or do anything at all to get him off, but his arms had no strength.
The room filled with sunlight, blinding Androkles and forcing him to shut his eyes as hard as he could. His attacker immediately released him and shrieked in terror and pain, an inhuman, wretched sound. He heard his attacker frantically open the door and race into the hall, screaming all the while. His cries echoed for a long while from deeper and deeper within the castle.
The dining room, however, was quiet. All dread was gone, and Androkles' heart felt at peace. He struggled to open his eyes.
A child placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "Looks like he got most of it. That's too bad."
Androkles whispered, "Palthos!"
Finally, his eyes acclimatized themselves to the new brightness, and he saw the god standing before him. He appeared in the form of a boy of about eight, with long, straight black hair, wearing nothing but a long white loincloth emblazoned with gold. Only the god's eyes were unusual; they were dark and full of stars like the night sky.
"It bothers me how often I have to keep doing this," said Palthos, "but you're mine, not theirs, and they should know better."
"He took my strength..." said Androkles as he tried to gather some clarity, which was difficult after losing that much blood and power.
"I saw." The little god turned toward no one in particular and said, "Come here, all of you! Or I'm going to start making trouble!"
Even though the god's voice was not much louder than normal and sounded perfectly ordinary for a boy of his stature, Androkles could feel his words penetrate brick and stone and fling themselves far and wide.
Almost immediately, indistinct figures of shadow began to coalesce in the room. They exuded such pure malice that Androkles began to shake and feared he would weep, until Palthos noticed and put his hand on his shoulder. The feeling ceased immediately.
After about a dozen of the figures had arrived, the god said, "This one is mine. See the mark on him? If you ever get another one with that mark, I'm going to come back here and shake this place apart. I'll collapse the whole thing. I'm tempted to do it anyway! How dare you mess with my things?"
The figures waved back and forth almost like seaweed; it was impossible to tell if they even understood what the god was saying. Then, all the world shook with their response: WE SHALL EVICT HIM.
"Good. Make sure you send him back to... Oh, don't you dare! I'll..."
Dark tendrils of smoke rose up from the ground and pulled him into the floor. All became blackness.

When he regained consciousness, he found himself back in the hot sun, and thinking himself home, he shot unsteadily to his feet. His hopes were dashed, however, as soon as he took in his surroundings: this still wasn't the Glories. Instead, he found himself in some sort of village square, ringed in by orderly buildings of two stories each. The locals had paler skin than his people and looked more like the northmen, with brownish hair and spotty complexions. Despite the heat of full summer, they wore heavy shirts with sleeves to their elbows and pants that went past their knees. Many of the women wore dresses. Even the children were dressed. Heavily. In this heat.
By the gods, when could he spend some time in civilization? Why must it always be barbarians?
He quickly realized that the locals were loitering around watching him, perhaps thirty of them, not counting the children. They chatted amongst themselves in hushed tones, and the words Androkles could hear were in a language he couldn't understand. He put his hands on his hips and scowled. "Can any of you understand me? Where am I?"
They were quiet for a moment, and then several yelled at once, all sounding halfway between scared and angry. He couldn't understand a word they said. Several of the children crowded in closer, only to be pulled back by the adults; one, however, a smallish boy of perhaps five or six in terrible rags, made it past them.
The child beckoned Androkles down and cupped his hands over his ears. He whispered, "They sent you back to the wrong place out of spite. I punished them, but you're stuck here. It's a different world. You can't go home."
Androkles' heart fell. Tears came to his eyes and he sat down a bit too quickly. "After all that, now this... What of my family?"
"I'll send you dreams so you can watch them each night," said the god. "When you die here, I'll come get you, and then you can welcome them back one by one. Remember, you're mine, and so are they."
"What am I supposed to do?" said Androkles.
"The reason you're my favorite, is you'll do what I want whether I tell you or not. But you should wait around here for Kiri-Jolith. I think you'll like him. He's a lot like you," said the god. "Oh, and you can't have your spear back. The gods here would fight over it. There are only a few of them and they're very young."
The child leaned forward and kissed Androkles' forehead, then raced into the crowd without another word. None of them seemed to pay him much attention. Beggar orphans seldom got noticed anywhere, which he supposed made it a convenient disguise for the god.
Androkles found he could understand their language now. Only his sudden indignation at their words kept him from losing his composure completely and weeping.
"...hairier than a dwarf!"
"Probably seven feet tall ... must be half-ogre or half-giant..."
"He just appeared there?"
"Why is he covered in scars? He's got them everywhere..."
"Do you think he is intelligent? Can he talk?"
Androkles roared at them, "Of course I can talk!"
The crowd fell silent, and every motion stopped.
He shouted, "What are you staring at? Go bother someone else! Unless one of you is Kiri-Jolith." He crossed his legs and arms and sat in an imposing but comfortable manner, in case he might have to be there for a while.
After a slight pause, they broke out in riotous laughter. Androkles' cheeks turned red in embarrassment, but he had no more to say to them. If only he still had his killing intent, he could scatter them like... No, no, he wasn't ready to deal with losing that. Not yet. Best not to think of it. Not alongside losing everything else. Best to focus on being upset at these stupid barbarians. He straightened his back and scowled.
Two armed men wearing bronze breastplates and helms pushed their way through the crowd and drew swords. Like everyone else, they had medium brown hair and no beards, but they seemed young. They also didn't seem particularly confident. In fact, they acted somewhat terrified, and he suspected that if not for the crowd, they'd have left him alone.
"You're under arrest. Stand and come with us!" one shouted. His voice dropped off at the end, probably on accident.
Androkles glanced up at him and said, "Are you Kiri-Jolith?"
"We're lawfully commissioned by the Knights of Solamnia! Come with us or face the consequences!"
"Boy, if you point that thing at me again, I'll shove it down your throat, and that's no idle boast. Now go bother someone else," said Androkles. He looked away, but kept watched for motion in his peripheral vision. He was ready for them.
The two soldiers looked at each other, and the second one drew back for a badly-executed stab. Androkles jumped forward and caught the blade before it got moving and punched the man's face so hard the side of his helmet dented in. His fist would ache for a week after that, but they'd need tools to remove the helm. The soldier fell unconscious and released his sword, which Androkles retained.
He turned his gaze to the other man. "What's your widow's name?"
It took a moment, but the man got the meaning and lowered his sword as he backed away. It looked like he was so nervous he didn't realize he was doing it.
Androkles said, "Get out of here. I'll leave when I feel like it, and not before."
The soldier fled, to the jeers of the crowd. Androkles sat back down and resumed ignoring the locals.
Evening came without incident; with that good bronze sword across his knees, the locals lost their desire to harass him. Funny how that worked.
Unfortunately, being left alone by the locals meant being left with nothing to do but mourn. Periodically, a stray tear escaped his eyes and ran down his cheek and got lost in his beard as he remembered a tender moment with one of his children, or something particularly funny they had done, or a grand time with long-dead friends. Wars. Women. Food. Landscapes. All of it, lost forever.
He slept unexpectedly soundly that night, and the next morning, he found that someone had left him a bit of bread and wine in a glass vessel with a wooden stopper. He was completely ignored that day, as though he were simply a part of the scenery, aside from the odd glance in his direction, or the child who stared before her parents caught her.
In the afternoon, an enormous man wearing glorious armor of a metal Androkles had never seen before, brighter and clearer than the newest bronze, approached and stopped right in front of him. The armor was all of a piece, it seemed, or so curiously worked that the joints left no opening from head to toe. Either that, or it was a person made of metal. Androkles had never considered that either thing was possible.
Draped over his breastplate was a sort of short tunic embroidered with a crown, and some other markings that Androkles supposed indicated military rank. At his side, he had a two-handed sword like the one the Allobrogians had favored, but it was the same metal as the armor.
The newcomer popped up a faceplate and looked down at him incredulously. He was in his early thirties, or thereabouts, and had no beard. However, this man wore an absurd mustache that tumbled out of his armor and reached down to his collar.
"You have to be kidding me," the man said. His voice was strong, and Androkles supposed he had a lot of practice yelling.
"Are you Kiri-Jolith?" asked Androkles.
The man snorted. "Do I look like him? What do you think?"
Androkles rose slowly to his feet, and he watched the newcomer blanch as he realized that Androkles was taller than he was by a hand's length. Androkles looked down to meet the man's gaze and said, "If you're not Kiri-Jolith, I have no business with you. Got it?"
"I asked you a question, stranger. Give me your name." To his credit, the newcomer showed no sign of backing down or flinching in any way.
"I am Androkles, son of Paramonos of Dikaia. I am waiting here for Kiri-Jolith, who I'm told will be a friend. I'd ask who you are, but unless you're him, I don't care."
"Oh, by the Triumvirate. You have to be kidding me!" the man said, throwing up his arms and complaining to no one in particular. "Why are you naked!"
"It's warm out here. What backwards people are ashamed of nudity? What are you hiding under there?"
The man scowled at him and said, "Nothing! ... No, that came out wrong. Fine. It's hotter than a dwarf's temper out here, I'll give you that. So why are you covered in ash?"
"Are you Kiri-Jolith, or not?"
"Friend, I don't know what star you fell off of, but Kiri-Jolith is a god. Gods don't just show up in villages like Hartford here and talk to hairy, naked men with swords and bad manners. Unfortunately for both of us, I'm here to pick you up, and it looks like neither of us are going to be happy about it, so here's what's going to happen. I'm going to give you a blanket, you're going to wrap yourself up with it, and you're going to come with me. That's what's going to happen. I'm ashamed to be seen even talking to you, and if it weren't for orders and certain promises, I would have kept on walking," said the man. The man drew his greatsword, and hefted it atop one shoulder.
	"If you're not Kiri-Jolith, I'm not coming. Are we going done talking?" said Androkles, straightening his back to accentuate his musculature and make the other man feel small, since he certainly wasn't used to it.
	"You have a bronze sword and a death wish. This is steel, you cretin! You're naked!"
	"Are we done talking?"
	The man sighed. "I suppose we are." He turned and stepped back a few paces and readied his sword, then lowered his visor.
	Androkles rushed in with a high strike to the neck, which the man deflected. He swung low, and the man turned his knee to redirect the strike with the curve of his amor.
	The opponent popped the pommel forward to strike Androkles' face, but he was ready for it and stepped aside, swinging in hard with a slice to the ribs. It connected with a loud clang, and the opponent muttered something in surprise as he nearly lost his balance.
	The strike failed to penetrate the armor, and Androkles realized he was in trouble. The opponent lunged forward with a stab for his gut, which he deflected with the bronze sword, but...
	But he had nothing to deflect with. The sword was broken, shattered against the armor, and he hadn't even realized it. Androkles gasped and looked down to see himself fully skewered; the enemy's greatsword right through him, a handspan below the ribs on the right side. He sputtered and tried to grab the man's neck to strangle him before he bled out, but there was nothing to grab but armor.
	The other man quickly stepped back and yanked the sword free.
Androkles collapsed to the ground. He pushed up to his hands and knees and watched the blood pool beneath him with alarming speed. He tried to rise, but the other man held him down with his foot.
	"I don't think I've been hit that hard in ages. Thank Paladine you didn't have a good steel sword, or we might both have died, and that just wouldn't do. My name, Androkles, is Marshall of the Crown Sdresk uth Natar. Sdresk. Go on, say it."
	"No, no, it's like 'stressed', but with a k... never mind. You're dying, aren't you?"
	Androkles wanted to say something clever, but nothing came to mind. Every thought fled him, except one--that finally, it was at an end, and he could find peace. Peace. Now that he knew beyond any doubt that it was his time and had a moment or two to face it, he welcomed it like the embrace of an old friend. Soon, he would live with his god, and he could see his family any time he wanted...
	His arms lost their strength he collapsed into the mud created with his blood. His breath grew ragged and he closed his eyes. Soon.
	He heard a shuffle of metal and felt the man Sdresk place his hand on his shoulder. Sdresk reverently said, "Lords Paladine, Kiri-Jolith, Habbakuk; Holy Triumvirate, let this man be made whole by your power."
	Light filled Androkles' body and his wounds knit back together, leaving a pleasant coolness in place of the pain. A rush of warmth in his veins told him they had been refilled with blood, and he gasped and sat up to discover that his body had been made whole.
	Androkles stared wide-eyed at Sdresk, shocked beyond words.
	"Surprised? Get up. Cover yourself with that blanket. We're going to the stables to get my horses, and then we're riding back to the keep in Solanthus to have you inducted," said Sdresk. He pointed his sword at a blanket on the ground, but Androkles was still too shocked to move.
Sdresk sighed and said, "You know, dear Androkles, that I've only heard the voice of my god a precious few times in my life? The first was when he called me as a paladin. That moment was indescribably sacred, and I rarely speak of it. The most recent was last night, when he told me to come here and fetch your sorry, naked ass. He wants you in the Order. I feel like I wasted that one, to be honest. Do you know what I mean? It was a bit of a let-down. I heard the voice of my Lord Paladine, perhaps for the last time in my life, and it was more or less all about you. He said he wants you for a Knight of the Sword in service of Lord Kiri-Jolith. So I'm making you my squire, and there'll be no more argument. Now come along!"
Androkles sighed, stood, took the blanket, and followed.

(c) Ryan English 2017, all rights reserved

Author:    Androkles      
Date:      Sun Oct  1 01:30:14 2017
Subject     Story quest 2 - Androkles Goes to Palanthas

Androkles Goes to Palanthas
by Ryan English

A shameless work of fanfiction written for AnsalonMud

"You hold your elbow like that, and Caide's little sister's gonna knock that spear aside with her hairbrush!" shouted a shirtless and furious Androkles as he towered over a cowering recruit.
"Yes, Sergeant!"
"Then you'll die, if that wasn't clear!"
"Yes, Sergeant!"
"Then your brothers-in-arms you will die trying to pull you to a healer!"
The young man paled and his knees trembled. He shouted, "Yes, Sergeant!"
"Turn and look at him. Look at the man next to you. Do you want him to die because of you?"
The young man turned and glanced at his neighbor who stared resolutely, and only somewhat anxiously, forward. "No, Sergeant!"
Androkles pointed to two long, thin scars that ran from his right forearm past his elbow. "See these? All of you, look over here. See these scars?"
He walked in front of the line of the ten recruits nervously holding spears and shields, pointing at his elbow. They all looked. "I got both of these scars fighting Sarpaeans. People from my old world. Man in front of me got stabbed in the throat and tried to scream. It sounded like a long, wet gasp. Awful noise. Made me nervous. Guess what I did?"
No one said anything.
"I raised my elbow too high like this damn idiot was doing! It gave the enemy something to poke at!" he thundered.
A small voice behind him meekly interrupted, "Sergeant Androkles, sir?"
Androkles turned to find a boy of about twelve anxiously trying to get his attention, while still being polite about it. The child wore dirty pants, a plain shirt, and a tunic with a crown that marked him one of the freshest squire candidates. "What is it?" Androkles asked.
"Begging your pardon, sir, but there's a note for you, sir," said the boy, holding forward a scroll of the expensive-looking parchment they called paper. The note bore the official seal of the High Clerist.
Androkles looked down at the boy and asked, "He give this to you himself?"
"Yes, Sergeant, sir."
"Was he in a good mood?" Some of the men chuckled at this before they caught themselves and swallowed it.
"I think so, sir, but it's hard to tell, sir."
Androkles broke the seal and read:

Sergeant of the Sword Androkles Agapatheid,

Immediately cease all other activity and commence preparations for the task outlined below. Arm and armor yourself fully and take whichever horse you wish.
You are dispatched with greatest haste to the City of Palanthas. In preparation for the imminent war, you will treat with Lord Amothus Palanthus and request the aid of his navy. Request whatever crew he can provide to man them, with the understanding that regulars from our enlistees will shore up any deficiencies in manpower when our forces converge. 
Once Lord Amothus has placed his Navy under your temporary command or made a similar and satisfactory arrangement, you will meet me in Caergoth and transfer command to myself or another superior officer bearing my orders for the same, and wait on further orders for yourself. Inform Lord Amothus privately and discreetly that the Solamnic and Palanthian amphibious forces will proceed to Schallsea and commence final preparations at Keep Fortitude, from which advantageous position we expect to launch attacks at every position the Dark Queen should endeavor to assail. With Schallsea properly reinforced, the appeal of any town along the New Sea is greatly reduced for her voracious appetite, and all waters beyond the Straits of Schallsea are closed to her.
I am made to deeply regret at this time that I have not assigned you a squire. The haste with which you must depart prevents me from giving you one now. I apologize for the discomfort you will experience sleeping in your armor. You will doubtless be concerned by the magnitude of the task before you; however, you have no reason to fear--we are taking steps to ensure the success of this mission by diverting the attention of Dragonarmy forces in a manner that I will not divulge here. These steps bear some relation to the unavailability of assistance for you.
	I am not convinced that I like you, Androkles. You are an enormous and strange man and your acceptance into the Sword has been highly irregular. I do not second-guess the demands of the Triumvirate, as their High Clerist; I simply remark on plain truths. We are an ancient order, and even a grizzled old warbear like myself must stand on tradition at some point. Your skill with the tools of war cannot be denied, nor your own confusing sense of dignity and honor. You have little regard for proper customs, yet somehow have made the new recruits unanimously adore you. This has made you an excellent Sergeant; however, nothing in your character, comportment, or short history with our Order gives me any confidence that letting you outside these walls is a good idea. And yet, I cannot shake the feeling that you are the man I must send for this mission.
Son of Paramonos, if you do not get these ships, Schallsea will fall, followed rapidly by Port O'Call and Caergoth. With them undefended, not a city anywhere will be safe from the Dark Queen's armies. The lives of hundreds of thousands rest on the acquiring the Palanthian Navy with the greatest haste possible, and the man I feel I must send refuses to even shave his beard. Triumvirate save us all.
One final word: Rumors abound that a small raiding party has escaped our lines along South Shore and is heading inland, reaching perhaps as far as Gaardlund. Do not allow yourself to be waylaid, and if you spot them, send word so they may be dealt with.

Est Sularus oth Mithas
High Clerist Verrochio uth Blevin

Androkles rolled it back up and handed it to the boy, who gave him a surprised look instead of taking it. 
"I'm all sweaty, boy. Where am I supposed to put that? Down my pants? Hold on to it for me. You're not dismissed. Did he say anything else?"
"Not for you, Sergeant, sir. He just said that after I gave it to you, I was to head over to the kitchens to put in an order for refreshments for a meeting, sir, and then report to the stables to perform chores." The boy was edging his way backward as he spoke, trying to indicate that it was time for him to go. 
"Perfect," said Androkles. "You're going to skip right to the chores. First, you're going to go tell the servants to draw me a bath. Then, you're going to run as fast as you can to the armorer and tell him that my order has to be finished before dinner today. After that, you're going to the stables to tell them to outfit a horse for me. I want the biggest, meanest one they've got. I want one they stole from a minotaur. Recruits, how long is the road to Palanthas? Five days? Ten?"
The recruit with the errant elbow, taking great care to demonstrate that his posture was now perfect, said, "Sergeant, sir, it depends on how much you like your horse. It's two hundred miles to Palanthas. Safe pace on a horse you like is thirty miles a day. Safe pace on a horse you don't like is forty. Unsafe pace on a horse you don't like is fifty or more. Reckless, brutal pace on a horse you trust with your life, and that you don't mind killing, is a hundred. But it's a rare rider who can pull that off, sir."
Androkles nodded. "Check your elbow!"
The recruit blanched.
"Just kidding. It's where it should be," he grinned. "I've never met a horse I liked, so I'll shoot for fifty."
"Just make sure you don't get there so sore you can't fight, Sergeant, sir," said the recruit, who then blushed with what looked like embarrassment.
"I'm not going there to fight. I'm going there to beg. The High Clerist has been watching you out the window and has been weeping all morning. I'll let you fill in the rest," said Androkles. He looked down at the boy, who continued to try to edge his way out of the conversation. "Why are you still here? I just gave you a list of things to do. Go get them done!"
"Sir, but the High Clerist, sir!"
"I don't see him here volunteering to help get me on the road, so you're going to have to do it. Do his stuff after mine. You don't have time to stand there and fidget like you have to piss! Get moving!"
	The High Clerist's page left at a dead sprint, and the recruits continued their drills as Androkles made his way to his quarters to take another short, unpleasant, lukewarm bath and begin packing for the trip. 
Packing took no time at all--he didn't have much clothing. A single uniform would do for when armor wouldn't, assuming he could find a way to take the armor off, and two suits of the thick, woolen clothing worn beneath that armor should be plenty. One suit to meet with Lord Amothus, and one for the rest of the time. Again, assuming he could find a way to change.
The field rations were square, and better than he was used to. In his old army in the Glories, they had to make their own bread each night from barley flour. Solamnic rations came with the bread already made and included meat, so not everything was worse than home.
Indeed, these barbarians had the most bizarre ideas about everything imaginable, from bathing (which they seldom did) to the proper order of society (they outlawed slavery, but then put kings and aristocrats in charge of everything anyway), but Androkles had to admit that this metal they called 'steel' had a certain appeal. It was an incredibly rare and valuable metal, as precious as gold and silver, but when handled properly, it was impenetrable. The bronze he'd worn his whole life seemed almost laughable now.
After packing, Androkles discovered that a miracle had happened: his suit of armor was actually ready for him when he came for it. Theros and his team of smiths had it sitting on a dummy in the sunlight when he arrived, and as they helped him into it, he could not keep from grinning. He smiled so much his face hurt.
The armor fit him perfectly. It responded to his every movement and hindered nothing. It felt solid and impermeable, yet light and flexible. It covered nearly every inch of him from head to toe, either with shining plates of steel or tight rings of chain. By the gods, if he'd had this during all those years back home...
The head smith Theros said, "It looks like you approve, Sir Androkles. I'm glad. That's enough steel to suit up three regular-sized men. We could buy ten farms and the animals to put on them, as well as hire workers for five years, for the price of that much steel."
Androkles glared down at him for a moment before a sparkle of amusement lit his eyes. He replied, "Then it's a good thing I'm worth a hundred regular men. You're getting a great deal. My enemies are looking forward to finding all the weak spots in this, Theros."
"They're going to be disappointed, you ass. Here's your helmet. I made it in the dwarven style, with a little window for your beard. The High Clerist gave me strict instructions to have that added. He's hoping it gets burned off and you have to start shaving."
"It's nice to know the High Clerist wants me lit on fire. Farewell, Smith. Thanks for the armor," said Androkles, squaring off against the man to show his sincerity.
"Farewell, Sergeant. Bring it back without any holes in it," said the smith as he brushed his hands on his smock out of habit.
They nodded to each other, and Androkles hefted his pack and made his way to the stable, where he collected the biggest, orneriest horse they had, and made his way for the gates.
When he got there, he was surprised to see some fifty men or more lined up to see him off, dressed in their ceremonial finery. They were all men he'd trained but who hadn't shipped out yet--squires and knights postulant, as well as a couple dozen recruits. They stood in perfect rows alongside the road just inside the gate. How the word had spread so quickly, and whether they'd even gotten permission, he had no idea.
"Hail Androkles, Sergeant of the Sword!" they shouted in perfect unison, raising their swords in ceremonial salute.
He returned the salute with formal pride and sincerity as he rode between the lines, thinking perhaps for the first time since being torn from his home and family and thrust into this strange world that there might be some value in his being here after all.

The road from Solanthus to Castle di Caela and Hartford was new enough it wasn't on the map he brought, but that shouldn't matter much--north was easy. The countryside was heavily farmed, with peasants working every inch of the fertile ground. Indeed, the amount of pleasant and well-watered ground was almost shocking, now that he got a good look at it. No wonder these people could afford to build themselves immense castles of thick stone, and unlock the secrets of steel and magic, and other such things. They were wealthy beyond reason, from the endless bounty of these fields.
	By the time night fell, he figured he'd made it somewhere between fifteen and twenty miles. He could just barely see the Castle di Caela where it stood proud above the plains limned in torchlight, several miles further on. He was too tired to bother with a fire, and after seeing to the horse and removing enough of his armor to sleep, he ate his evening meal in the dark.
	He pulled out the small ivory figurine of Kiri-Jolith he kept and ran his fingers along its horns and axe. He couldn't quite explain why he preferred the god in his minotaur form, but something about its unflinching ferocity spoke more deeply to him than the stoic armored human preferred by his fellow Knights. He briefly considered praying, but he still could not bring himself to call on a god without offering a sacrifice, and the knights frowned on such things, for reasons they couldn't explain.
	His unwillingness to pray or make sacrifice was never far from his thoughts. As a knight, he was expected to pray constantly, but he merely went through the motions. The god of his old world had said that he'd like Kiri-Jolith, but how was he supposed to get to know a god he never honored?
	He did not delay sleep for long, though. The patron god of his old world who could not (or would not) take him back home had agreed to send him dreams of the family he left behind, and he didn't want to miss them. Sometime he wondered if it was a cruelty rather than a kindness, watching a family each night that he could never again hold; but neither he did take any steps to get the visions to stop.
	He dreamed that his sons got into an argument over their morning meal that devolved into shouting and hurt feelings, and each fled to opposite ends of the household to sulk and be lonely. His daughter spent great effort running back and forth between them trying to make peace, and by noon the whole affair had become a game with most of the younger slaves roped in.
	His wife, may every god bless her, waited until the boys were thoroughly over their anger before she got involved. She called them to her chambers and threatened to whip them for having the temerity to make enemies of each other, after all they had been through. She then recited everything the two of them had endured together, point by point. She ended with the words, "Have you little rats already forgotten about your Papa? Androkles, my poxy ogre of a husband? Remember him? How much of his own blood do you think he spilled to buy that mosaic you're standing on? Just for that little part, right there where you're standing? Hmm? The god said he's still watching over us, from wherever he is. If you think I'm mad, how do you think he feels right now?"
They left her in tears, arms across each other's shoulders. His children were inseparable the rest of the day. He woke before he got a chance to see them safely tucked into bed.

Four days later, he saw the smoke from the city's many homes and public fires reaching far into the sky. The city was not yet in view, but would be shortly, and the sight could not be more welcome. The recent stretch of journey had been rough--through the mountains up past the High Clerist Tower, through Varus, and downhill along a winding road dotted by numerous mines.
The mountains that surrounded the Lord City Palanthas had been, to his surprise, sharp, jagged, and tall, and seemed completely unrelated to the gentle pastureland hardly a stone's throw in the other direction. But here he was, on a trail cut directly into the rock of the canyon and lined with dirt and gravel, wide enough for two oxen teams to pass each other without slowing down.
After making his way further downhill for several miles, the wind slacked and the air grew warmer, and he knew the city should come into view at any moment. Palanthas, he had been told, housed somewhere between thirty and thirty-five thousand permanent residents, with another five thousand or more travellers at any give time entering from the docks. Yet, he'd seen hardly a soul coming back up this road the other direction. Did they all just prefer the ships? Surely someone had to bring food for the miners in these mountains. There were mines everywhere.
Rounding another bend, he found a crowd of hundreds of people blocking the road, facing further down the path. The stood quietly, some clutching to each other, some weeping softly, others trembling and fidgeting nervously. They packed the road for hundreds of paces, preventing him from getting through or even seeing what was going on, but his stamping, snorting horse breathing down their necks was enough to get their attention.
Those who turned to see him had ashen faces full of dread and horror, and many tried to get out of his way but were unable due to the press of the crowd. Slowly, slowly, he inched his way through them, silently ignoring their muttered complaints as his horse wedged its way in amongst them. His own heart grew troubled and apprehension filled him as he gazed at the smoke pooling in the sky; previously, it had seemed like no more than the normal smoke of an active city, but now?
About he'd made his way about halfway through the crowd, Palanthas the Beautiful came into view, little more than a mile down the road. Vast sections of the impressive, circular, white-rock city burned. Dark, greasy smoke stained the towers in the city center, and the main gates themselves lay thrown from their hinges and completely undefended. A scarce few groups of escapees stumbled up the rocky and unforgiving mountains, but most of the city's inhabitants were trapped inside by a handful of soldiers at the gate, hacking down any who tried to flee the ravages of their fellows.
From the looks of it only a third of the city had been penetrated, but Androkles had no way of knowing how the tide of battle was flowing. The time for patience was done. No, it was long past done, and he should charge right through this crowd, broken bones and all, to lend whatever aid he could to the city.
He drew his sword and banged it loudly on his shield to get everyone's attention. When most of them turned and gasped and began to mutter things like, "Now that's a big knight..." just loud enough for him to hear, he shouted, "Make way! Make way, or the horse will make it for you! MOVE!"
They hardly had anywhere to go, but they were far more motivated now, and somehow they opened a narrow trail for him. It took far, far longer than he wanted, but soon he was free of the crowd and ready to charge into the fight. 
However, just as he was preparing a charge, he was shocked to find a small group of eight men armed with spears and chainmail standing around trying to look useful. Their armor bore the crest of the Lord of Palanthas, the platinum dragon, and they pretended they were holding back the crowd and keeping them out of harm's way.
Fury filled Androkles with a heat that made his armor feel like an oven, but with his visor down, they must not have seen it. One of them saluted and said, "Sir Knight, glad to see you, sir. Hope there are more coming. We'll keep these people safe, sir."
	There was an uncomfortable quiet moment during which Androkles calmed himself down enough to keep from shouting incoherently. After a few breaths, he asked, "Are you the leader of these men?"
	"I am, Sir Knight."
	"Are you a man of Palanthas?"
	The man went pale and shifted his weight back a bit, as if unconsciously preparing to flee. He stammered slightly and answered, "Yes, Sir Knight. Amothus' loyal man from birth."
	"Then why are you up here, coward! Deserter!" Androkles shouted, loudly enough that it hurt his ears inside his helm. In a swift motion, he drew his sword and swung viciously for the man's neck, but the man pulled away. Androkles' stroke struck high and sliced the man's head in half at the ear. The body took two reflexive steps backward before it crumpled. The brain and scalp flew in an impressive arc thirty paces down the road.
	He turned to the others. "You gonna hide today, just to die another day?"
	No one spoke.
	"Are all men of Palanthas so shameless?"
	No one spoke. He waited.
	"How many of your wives and daughters are getting pregnant with half-draconian babies right now?"
	That one got a spark. Several of them looked up at him with anger in their eyes. He shouted, "I'm going to assume you were just following his orders, and not kill the rest of you right here. Now get in line! We're going in, you craven half-men!"
They took up their shields without argument and got in line behind him. He kept a quick pace, but took care not to wear them out. 
Androkles had seldom felt so exposed as he did riding down that road in plain view of everyone, including every enemy in Palanthas, with a mere seven men following behind him. He watched impatiently for a volley of arrows that never came, and his arm seemed to ache from being at constant readiness to raise his shield overhead.
When they got within two hundred paces or so, the enemy at the gates turned, perhaps thirty men, mostly human with a handful of the lizard-men he'd been told about. They seemed hardly concerned about the lone knight with his little band of deserters, but they leveled their spears all the same.
Androkles and his followers continued their approach. The sounds of battle were clear now. Screams and shouts and clangs of metal called from within the city, and smoke salted his nostrils. Flashes, some from fire and others he had no explanation for, lit up the towers and smoke.
A hundred paces. Fifty.
"Sir Knight..."
Androkles said, "Shield wall! Slow march, spears out! Keep moving forward. I'll go harass them!"
He spurred his horse hard and raced forward, charging directly into the invaders. They braced themselves against his charge, ready to impale the horse as soon as it got close enough. His mount balked and reared a single pace short, but he'd been expecting that. He slid down the horse's rump and charged in.
He lowered his shield and used it like a battering ram to smash his way through. He struck the space between two shields and threw the men holding them off-balance. Before they could regain their feet, he had stabbed one in the gut.
"KIRI!" he shouted, swinging his shield around to deflect a series of spear thrusts. He spun and slammed the edge of his shield into the skull of a lizard-man behind him. His armor protected him from two glancing strikes before he got his shield back up.
"JOLITH!" he shouted again. He parried once, twice, and blocked with his shield. He thrust high with his sword and was blocked, then whipped the blade low and severed a leg below the knee. He crushed the man's windpipe with his steel boot after he fell.
"They tell me!" A hammering blow on his back pushed him forward, and he almost tripped and fell into the group of men he was trying to kill. He spun and shot his sword forward but missed, spun again to intimidate them, spun again, and slammed his shield into a man approaching from his left, knocking him over. He stabbed the man in the throat.
"You don't like sacrifices!" The enemy's hasty lines collapsed, leaving each man to fend for himself. They pressed in to kill, but their lack of discipline prevented each other from being able to evade or block. He stabbed a man in the face, and another in the neck, and hacked another's arm into uselessness.
"So how about this!" Finally, his seven cowards entered the fray. They assaulted the tangled enemy harshly with their spears. Four men were quickly stabbed in the back, including another draconian. Androkles smacked a sword aside and cut an attacker's stomach open, then blocked an incoming spear thrust.
"The blood of my enemies!" The invaders turned and tried to flee, but were prevented by their own confused formation. Androkles began hacking them apart before they could untangle themselves and start running.
"And the rescue of this city!" His deserters hesitated at first, but followed his lead. Androkles grinned darkly under his helmet as he killed nearly a dozen men, mostly by stabbing them in the back. The rules said not to kill men unawares. Knights of Solamnia did not lay in ambush. These men, however, knew he was here.
"Are my offering to you!" he shouted to the sky. Then, under his breath, he muttered, "And you damn well better like it, you wild bastard."
	Only six invaders managed to escape into the city. Androkles grabbed an axe from the ground and threw it high and long, hoping for a lucky shot, but it clattered uselessly against a roof.
He lifted his visor and scowled at his cowards for a moment while he caught his breath. When one of the wounded rose to his hands and knees and tried to crawl away, Androkles kicked the man's hands and viciously crushed his skull with the heel of his steel boot.
He sighed and said, "We better kill the wounded. We don't have anywhere to put them." He took up his sword and started making sure the two dozen or so fallen were, indeed, dead.
One of his cowards hesitantly said, "Sir Knight, that's rather dishonorable for a knight, isn't it? Isn't that against the Measure?"
Androkles gave the man a dark, malicious grin and said, "I haven't been a knight long enough to learn all the rules. Like I said, where are we gonna put them?"
"But sir..."
	That was the last of it. Did these people truly have no real depth of honor at all? No self-awareness? Infuriated, Androkles strode over and backhanded the man, knocking him to the ground and sending his helm flying. 
He spoke quietly, coldly, and as viciously as he could. "You are a deserter. You left your city and people to die. A mine slave has more honor than you. Now get up." Forcefully pointing at each of the rest of them in turn, he said, "You're all dead men unless I keep my mouth shut. They'd hang you from this gate. Got it?"
He went back to making sure the fallen stayed down, and this time the others did the same without complaint. When that work was done, they made their way into the city.
The main artery was a broad and smoothly paved road lined with square buildings of two to four stories. The pale stone gleamed brightly in stark contrast to the desolation of soot and bloody grime wherever the sunlight found an unbesmirched corner or pavingstone, giving the city a strange iridescence. The dead lay everywhere, mostly civilians. The doors to every building on the street had been smashed open, and when Androkles found no one still inside them, he supposed that the inhabitants had been dragged out and slaughtered, including the women and children. 
This was not an occupying force.
In twenty-five years of warfare back home in the Glories before the misfortune that brought him to Krynn, the basic rule had never really changed: kill all the men, enslave the women and children. Any time that rule wasn't followed, something else was going on. With almost the entire force inside the city, the enemy wasn't planning on a prolonged siege and occupation, nor were they planning on a lucrative raid--there were no wagon trains waiting to haul off gold and slaves, nor were there reserves waiting to reinforce and hold the city.
That meant this was an act of pure malice. A battle whose only purpose was naked bloodshed--not to conquer and capture territory, to gather resources, or to establish some political end. The Dragonarmies were here for nothing other than the work of death.
	The invaders' main forces had breached the gates at the city center, another mile down the road, and the fighting looked heaviest in that area. However, judging from the sound of it, small clashes with raiding parties could be found everywhere. Weighing his options, he turned down a side road and began to jog up it as he looked for prey.
	Fifty paces on, he caught three Dragonarmy soldiers emerging from some sort of shop looking rather pleased with themselves. They didn't have all their armor back on yet on and were not ready for his attack, so Androkles and his cowards made quick work of them. A quick peek inside revealed the shopkeeper and his family had been some sort of elves, and their final moments were unpleasant. The goods, mostly grain and flour, were untouched.
	A hundred paces further, a dirty girl of about eight or nine years wearing nothing but a shirt that barely covered her ass darted out from beneath a decorative bush at the side of the road. "Mister Knight!" she shouted in terror.
	Androkles was so surprised he nearly dropped his sword; a homeless orphan? In this extravagant city? It wasn't possible. But there was no mistaking it, looking at her--she hadn't been bathed in months. Her hair needed to be shaved and burned. "How in the hells...?"
	"Please, Mister Knight, no one will look after us! They're killing the little ones, and the bigger ones, they're... um... the boys and girls both, they..."
	"Shut it, girl. I know what they're doing. Do you live on the streets? Are you a beggar?" he asked, trying not to sound angry. It didn't work, though. She wilted beneath his questions.
	"Please, Mister Knight, I'm just a poor little girl, even if I'm a beggar. The gods'll reward those who help--"
	"Oh, stop it," he interrupted. "I don't care if you're a beggar. I'm just amazed they have beggars here at all. How many little friends do you have hiding around here with you?"
The girl paused for a moment and gazed up at him confused. She finally held up five fingers.
"So many? What a resourceful little thing you must be. See that house back up the street, with all the bushes? See how the door's open?"
She looked where he was pointing, and nodded. The cowards began looking somewhat uncomfortable, trying to indicate by their body language that they disapproved of whatever it was Androkles had in mind. He gave them a brief glare, daring them to speak a word.
He continued, "We just checked it out. Big family, all dead. Bodies are in the street. Don't look at them. There's food upstairs, and clothing for plenty of children. Hide upstairs. Eat the food. Keep silent. Leave the doors open so the invaders know they've already been in that house. When the war's over, go find the well out back. Take some soap and a bucket and bathe. Take all the clothing and money. Don't take anything to sell, or they'll think you're looters. Got it? Do everything I told you. Repeat it back to me."
The little girl gave him another strange look which he thought was part confusion and part awe, and repeated back his instructions.
He nodded and said, "One last thing. You know what the gods do to people who hurt little orphans?"
She wanted to say, 'Nothing.' He could see it in her eyes. Instead, she merely shook her head.
He deepened his voice into a monstrous growl and said, "They send me!" He slammed his visor shut and strode down the street with new purpose.
It did not take him long to find more enemies to kill; it seemed every time he turned a corner, a small raiding party was breaking their way into a house or trying to fight their way over a barricade to get at a group of town guards. He began to feel what it meant to be a Knight of the Sword, to be the instrument of death and vengeance against the wicked.
In his forty-one years of struggle and warfare, Androkles had deeply felt what it meant to be honorable or dishonorable. He had tasted the sweet wine of victory and the bitterest gall of defeat. He knew what it meant to be justified, vindicated, duty-bound. But never before this moment had he known what it felt like to be righteous.
All his life, to say a thing was good was merely to say that it provided a benefit, and to say it was evil was to say it caused a harm. A warm cloak was good, and a sharp thorn was evil. To the men of the Glories, saying a god could be evil, like the knights said of Takhisis, was laughable. Gods simply were. Sometimes good, sometimes evil, depending on how things were going.
High Clerist Verrochio himself had tried to explain that a higher standard of behavior and truth existed that stood above all other virtues, and honor was only a part of it. Furthermore, all action could be judged against it, even the acts of gods. The idea was too foreign Androkles' way of thinking for him to understand, and the discussion had not gone well. They hadn't really gotten along since then.
He finally understood. To fight to save this city was right. Not because it was an ally city, or because he had orders to get ships and this would be necessary to get them. But because saving this city and its people from the ravages of evil was simply the right thing to do, on the face of it. It would be the right thing to do no matter who you were. It was a righteous act.
His seven followers soon became fifteen, then thirty, then fifty, as he conscripted the town guards or thrust swords and shields into the hands of any able-bodied men they rescued. When they reached a hundred, he split them into three groups and ordered them to start making sweeps and growing their own numbers while making their way toward the center.
He kept his own group small, under ten men; any more than that, and the enemy would flee before he got to them. He could almost feel himself being tugged, pulled to run faster than he should have been able. Once, an invisible hand yanked his arm and spun him toward a house, where he prevented two youths from being violated and ruthlessly slaughtered six Dragonarmy soldiers caught with their pants down.
Another time, sudden thirst drove him into an expensive-looking house seeking wine. Huddled in the cellar he found a full thirty guardsmen protecting a terrified, skinny nobleman with his wife and young heir. He lifted his visor and loomed over the man, glowering at him. The nobleman tried to bluster and look defiant, but soon began sweating and backed away. 
Androkles said, "I'm tempted to kill you, but I won't. I'm also thinking about burning your house down, but I'm not gonna do that either. I don't even know why. You deserve both. The guardsmen are coming with me. And you, boy, better grow up to be a better man than your father."
He turned and left in a huff, muttering to himself angrily as he stomped up the stairs. When he didn't hear the guardsmen rushing to follow, he shouted down, "If everyone with a weapon doesn't get up here RIGHT NOW I really will burn this place down!"
That got them moving.
So it went. Androkles fought ever onward, driven and energized by righteous fury. The padding beneath his armor grew heavy and damp from the blood of his enemies, but instead of slowing him down it seemed to give added weight to his sword. Every Dragonarmy soldier he could catch, he hacked apart. Any time he had some inkling he should turn a corner or check a house, he did.
Finally, there was nowhere to go but into the city center. He found his men, now gathered together and well over two hundred in number, waiting at the gate that marked the boundary of the Old City. He walked before them and saluted them smartly. After waiting for them to salute him back, which they did unevenly and mostly improperly, he turned to survey the situation.
The gates themselves had been shattered into a hundred fragments and thrown inward for fifty paces. The brickwork was crumbling, and one of the towers listed dangerously inward. Androkles had no idea what could cause such force other than a god, or perhaps a dragon, and he had no idea what to think of dragons. He'd only seen them depicted and heard stories--no living knight had ever seen one, as far as he knew. If there were one here, he should have seen it circling overhead. Whatever did it wasn't here, and there was nothing he could do about it now. 
Some three hundred paces beyond, the main forces from both sides clashed in dire combat. He estimated some two thousand invaders sought to overrun a hasty barricade guarded by a mere five hundred Palanthian guardsmen, including a handful of Solamnic knights. There was no doubt in his mind that similar battles were taking place elsewhere as well, resulting in a nearly impossible defensive situation.
"This is it, boys! We fight to death!" he shouted. He pointed toward the enemy with his sword and raised his shield for a charge.
He roared and ran up the street, not even waiting to see if his assembled army followed. Bloodlust filled him and overshadowed his mind as he felt himself carried along on the waves of war.
The enemy was four hundred paces off, and still had not heard him. How much closer could he get before they noticed? Would he be able to reach them before they could turn and form a defensive wall?
Three hundred fifty paces. His little army followed closely behind him, running in a somewhat acceptable formation. He could hear their evenly-timed footfalls echoing against the stonework of the tall, ornate buildings of the Old City.
Three hundred paces. He smiled in pure exultation beneath his visor, screaming his eagerness to strike down his foes. He felt like a bull, inexorable and strong, charging down weaker creatures to gore them and trample them under foot.
Two hundred paces. A woman wearing black leather and a silk veil stepped out of a hole in the air; he could think of no other way to describe it. She simply appeared, holding a raised dagger in one hand and a staff of wood in the other. 
She shouted a word he did not recognize, and a bright flash of lightning shot from the staff and struck his shield with a loud crack. His shield-arm and back burned with great heat, and he heard a dozen screams of pain behind him. Sparing a quick glance, he saw that the lightning she conjured had passed harmlessly through his armor somehow, but fifteen men or so directly behind him had not been so lucky. Half had died immediately, and the others were horribly burned and would not last long.
He turned again to face the mage, nearly shocked out of his fury to learn that the stories about them were true. Again she raised her staff and uttered a word. This time, an immense ball of fire ten paces in diameter grew in the space between them.
"Get down!" Androkles shouted. He hunkered down behind his shield.
A voice like granite rubbing together said, "Ah, there you are." A man in expensive-looking black robes paced quickly into the street and raised a staff of his own, and the enormous ball of fire shot into the sky and exploded with a deafening concussion.
The woman hissed, "Falkore!"
"High Archmage Ironforge to you, dabbler. What other cantrips have you learned?" replied the black-robed mage.
"Our Queen's will holds more power than your Conclave or its tower ever did!" she spat at him. She raised her staff again, and this time a line of green ichor shot toward the High Archmage.
With a gesture bordering on contempt, he created a shield of air that dissolved her acid. He turned to Androkles and said, "Shouldn't you be going somewhere?"
Androkles said, "Thank you for the timely rescue. I'll remember it."
"I bear no love for you Knights. I just hate her kind more than yours. Please leave." The man's hair was a pale blond mixed with gray that contrasted starkly with his eyes, which were pits as black as coal.
Androkles nodded and raced onward without another word, trusting that the strange man would keep the other mage occupied. Judging by her screams, he did.
A hundred paces.
Fifty paces.
The clash of battle was terrible and glorious. It was brutal and punishing and welcome. Androkles charged in without a care, driven by righteous fury. The enemy had no idea how to fight him, not in his armor. He was a foot or more taller than any of them, and covered head to toe in the finest armor in the world. He had no care for tactics or formation or self-preservation. His every strike fell with the weight of an anvil.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that if he died, he would return to his old god and would no longer have to wait for dreams to see his family, but he also knew that this could not explain his behavior. He was saturated with vigor and fury, so full of it that he dare not stop lest it ignite within him and incinerate him where he stood.
	Whether the enemy broke or simply chose to retreat, he could not say; he saw nothing but the dozen or so Dragonarmy soldiers scrambling to untangle themselves and fight him as he charged through their ranks. Not until he found himself passing under the ruined gate with the precariously damaged tower did he even realize the enemy was retreating.
	He stopped his attack and let them flee. For a long while, he watched them leave as more and more of the world came into focus around him. He realized that he was panting heavily. That he was exhausted. That night was nearly here. That many of his men had survived, and surrounded him awaiting further orders.
	He tried to sheath his sword, but found he couldn't let go. He glanced down at his gauntlet and discovered a crossbow bolt sticking out of it. Then he felt the wound--it had gone right through his hand and cut his fingers, then gotten stuck in the metal. He would need an armorer to remove it, no doubt.
	It wasn't the only one, either. He counted six more crossbow bolts sticking out of various places, and saw ten more more spots where his armor had been smashed by a ball or hacked open by an axe or sword. His armor was red or black from blood, every inch of it. There wasn't a shiny patch left. 
He couldn't see out of one eye. He couldn't open his visor. Every inch of him hurt. He could feel places where his joints were grinding together. He had bone bruises. He had an arrow in his gut. But damned if he was going to waste a moment of real glory.
He turned to his men and said, "I need to see Lord Amothus Palanthus. Let's go find him, shall we?"

Lord Amothus, to his credit, was in the thick of it surveying the damage and overseeing the distribution of supplies to the wounded. The man was perhaps forty, with good features and a soft physique. He carried himself well, but had none of that undeserved overbearing pomposity that some of the other nobility seemed to have.
Lord Amothus saw him coming, of course. Androkles was seven feet tall, unarmored. "By the gods! Is that him? That has to be the man!" he said loudly to one of his aides. "Bring him here! And find some good medics and armorers at once!"
Androkles approached and stopped a few paces away and raised his sword in a respectful salute. He said, "I'd sheathe this thing, but I can't. Hope you'll forgive me. Can't raise my visor, either. Sergeant Androkles of the Sword, at your service. I'm here on official business, but it looks like I walked into a bit of a mess."
Lord Amothus' demeanor showed obvious respect and admiration. He raised his arms approvingly and said, "Sir Knight, your ferocity in the midst of the enemy formation is already grinding in the rumor mill. You kept the enemy from performing maneuvers with any coherence, and the men you brought into their flanks distracted them horribly. You came out of nowhere and turned that entire field of battle. Please, no knightly modesty here! You must tell me how I may reward you."
"Easy enough. High Clerist Verrochio of the Sword calls on Palanthas to send every available ship in her fleet, and every soul she can spare to man them. The Dragonarmies are on the move, and we go to war. And if you lean over here, I'll whisper what we're planning on doing with them."

Ten days later, a heavily bandaged and unarmored Androkles sailed into Caergoth with nearly the entire Palanthian navy; Lord Amothus retained only a small force to patrol and protect the Gates of Paladine against any sudden incursions by sea. The size of the navy was staggering, as were the variety and size of ships. Androkles had expected a hundred triremes, but received instead seven hundred strange vessels, many full of soldiers, others bearing ballistae or bizarre gnomish contraptions that hurled fire or rocks. It was a magnificent force.
The welcome he received in Caergoth was somewhat less than appropriate for the magnitude of his victory, and soon he learned why. A large contingent of Solamnic forces had launched a surprise attack on Sanction herself, deep in the heart of Dragonarmy territory, and it had been a costly loss.
The Dark Queen had launched her own attack on an unsuspecting, undermanned, and unready Schallsea, and overtaken it easily. The entire New Sea was now hers, and any lands surrounding it soon would be.
During the battle, High Clerist Verrochio was lost at sea. High Warrior Frank was severely injured by dragonfire and presumed unable to command. He and a disheartened High Justice Sdresk were currently sailing for Caergoth on a mercenary ship called the Vanderkaum, which had a reputation for, among other things, piracy.
	Androkles pulled out his small figurine of Kiri-Jolith and ran his thumb along the edge of its axe. "I hope this isn't a short war," he said darkly, his heart in turmoil.

Copyright 2017 Ryan English

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Author:    Androkles      
Date:      Tue Oct 31 16:16:59 2017
Subject     HSQ2017

Author: Androkles Date: Mon Nov 6 23:57:05 2017 Subject Androkles writes a letter to Stones

"This is perfect. I don't understand a word of this," said Androkles, looking the letter over with a bemused grin. He flipped through the pages a couple times, but only recognized about two of every three words. The handwriting was written with great flourishes, too, which looked pretty but made it even more illegible than otherwise. "Thank you, Lord High Clerist," replied the twitchy old scribe. He fiddled with the lining on his robe for a moment, and opened and closed his mouth several times. Androkles looked up and charitably asked, "What? You look like you want to ask me something." "Lord High Clerist, you... you can't be serious about this. Stones is rumored to be... to be a g..." The man's voice faltered and failed him and he chose to end the sentence with an awkward cough. Androkles put the papers down on his desk and folded his hands patiently over them, and commenced staring at the man. Silently. Patiently. The scribe grew even more uncomfortable, and began to tremble slightly. Androkles lowered his eyebrows into a scowl. "Lo... Lord High Clerist, begging your pardon, but..." the man stammered, hardly sure what to say. He glanced back at the door, wiped his hands on his robe, and glanced again. He began to sweat. Androkles scowled. The room grew hot, and the scribe started sweating more profusely. He pulled at his collar and tried to fan himself off with his hands. He opened his mouth to speak, then left it open and simply stared at the floor, face red, hands trembling. Finally, Androkles spoke. "Did you write in your letter that I gave my word?" he asked quietly. "Yes, Lord!" said the scribe, nearly shouting. "Then why are you asking me why I'm still doing it?" asked Androkles. He let the question hang in the air for a moment before he continued. "I gave my word. I'll die before I break my word. I'll let the whole Knighthood fall apart before I break my word. I'll let Krynn fall into the Abyss before I break my word. I never go back on my oath. Got it? I'm not any happier than anyone else that some ripe little gully got a promise out of me that I'd give him a task, but I did, and that's that. All we can do now is hope that the stubby idiot can't find someone to read it to him, that he can't understand it once he does, and that he gives up in frustration before the battle is over. Holy Triumvirate help us if he somehow pulls it off!" "Indeed, Lord," said the scribe, nodding assiduously. By the gods, the man was awkward. Where did they find him? And why didn't they leave him there? "You're dismissed. Send in the messenger on your way out. He's not going to like this, is he?" asked Androkles with a subtle, wicked smile.

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