First of all, sixty men at arms, riding horses, with lances and shields and hammers at their belts is quite a formidable sight. Turns out every third man carried a torch instead of a lance, but that just added to the ambiance. They looked mysterious and powerful. I was relieved at first. They looked more than capable of protecting us from a gnoll attack. I especially liked the way they rode in unison, turning and wheeling to surround our little wagon — parade precision they bragged later. Very well synchronized and impressive to behold. Too bad they are total jerks.
The leader of this contingency called the troop to a halt and sent one man forward to demand we come forth and surrender for crimes against the church. I glanced at Liz who shrugged and stepped away from the wagon, letting the hood of her cloak fall away. The reaction from the troop was immediate and infuriating. Several of the troop spat at Liz, while one man in the back called out, “demon spawn.” The commander took a full minute to get his troop under control. I had my hand on my mace, watching for who would make the first move to attack Liz. I knew demon spawn and these idiots were seriously out of their element.
If there weren’t dozens of lances leveled at us, I’d have thought we could take a run at them, but the odds were definitely not in our favor. With a comatose Kithri in the back of the wagon our options to be daring and brave were rather limited. Instead I waited until the troop was once more called to order before standing with my mace in my left hand. I did not lower my hood, let them worry at the shadows. I stood a full head taller than the guy on the horse in front of me, which gave me a slight psychological advantage. That and the fact my mace was rimed with a blue aurora which flickered like flame but gave off no heat. It did draw the attention away from Liz.
I’ll note here I’ve never seen the mace give off this aura before. There was something new at play here, and I was intrigued to find out what it was.
The young man in front of me, a herald, looked up at me and flinched. The combined light of the torches and the flickering light from my mace gave me a clear image of the lad. Like all the others of his troop he wore a cloak of deepest red emblazoned with a glowing white sigil of a hand on his breast. There was magic in that sigil, I could feel it from where I stood. It actually glowed. This hand was held up, palm out with the thumb over the bent down pinky finger. The remaining three fingers stood tall and close together. I’ve seen a lot of holy sigils back in my studies at the monastery, but I have never seen this symbol. Curious to think I had never seen it as it represents the dominate religion in the known world. Add that to the growing list of things I never learned.
As I watched them watch me, I unconsciously made that symbol with my right hand. A second gasp swept through the troop and this time the commander had to settle jostled horses and frightened men. Liz may be demon spawn, but something about me seemed to terrify them.
The young herald blanched when I made that hand signal, but he did not shy back as many of the others did. As a matter of fact, he sat up straighter in his saddle and his face hardened along with his resolve. I liked that about him. May be the only thing I liked in the end, but that is a tale yet to live. He was no older than I was when I left home, which was a second mark in his favor.
After the troop was settled the second time, this young herald pulled a scroll from inside his cloak and unrolled it, angling it to catch the light from the nearest torch.
“Unknown heretic,” he intoned, “you are accused of consorting with non-human demon spawn,” he glanced at Liz and shuddered.
“Just look at her,” one of the troop called.
I looked at him, an older man, forty winters perhaps, with a red beard streaked with white. One hand worried the pommel of his saddle like a nervous twitch while his other shook holding the torch the herald read by. When he noticed me turned to him he glared, thrusting out his chin. He would be the first to act, I realized. The sword at his belt would taste air at least this night. But not blood, not if I had anything to do with it.
The herald cleared his throat and continued. “This is an offense punishable by hanging.” He looked up at me for a reaction and I slowly returned my focus to him. When I did not voice a comment, he nodded and continued. “Further you are accused of desecrating the dead, destroying church property and stealing from the most holy bishop, Edmund Cirila, Warden of the Northern Kingdoms, hand of the One True God, voice of the high church in the Far Spire protectorate.”
“Not if captain Kershaw has anything to say about it.”
In the back, set a little off from the high commander of these bung punchers rode a man obviously not a part of this troop. He sat on his horse casually, his posture and face appearing to be disgusted and annoyed. But that could’ve been the way the flickering flames of the torches lighted him.
“We’re not doing any hanging this night,” he announced. “Captain Kershaw had your sworn word, commander Aston.” He drawled out the name, accenting the first syllable in a way that indicated what he thought of the man.
“I’d hate it to get out that you pretty boys can’t keep your word. What would that do for your reputation?”
The troop grumbled, agitated to the point of breaking ranks once more. Perhaps they weren’t as regimented as they first appeared. As a matter of fact, as I glanced around at them, they looked a lot more motley then I had first observed.
“We are to arrest them and bring them to justice,” Commander Aston hissed.”
“Captain Kershaw said we could escort them back to Far Spire is all.”
I risked a glance down at Liz who was watching the red bearded man with a feral look in her eye. I’d seen that look. If any of them moved, she’d rip his throat out before he had a chance to draw that sword. Unless, of course, I didn’t bash his brains out with my mace first.
My perception of these men had degraded to nothing more than thugs.
Then one of them swung his lance down and caught Liz a glancing blow on her shoulder and the tension was broken. I raised my mace and cried out in Abyssal, using that one swear word that made my nose hairs smolder. At the same time I drank in the divine, unsure of exactly what was gonna happen, but damned sure I wasn’t going to let us get cut down by these rabble.
Somehow the mace interfered with the divine, well, not interfered exactly, more altered and focused. From one heart beat to the next a pulse of green light erupted from me like a stone hitting a pond. The energy that rippled away from me swept the men from their horses, flinging them all backward a good rod from where they’d sat. None of the horses were affected. I had meant to cast a protection ward over the wagon (meaning Kithri), Liz and I. Instead I had pushed away anything metallic, including all that lovely armor those boys were wearing. We remained unaffected in the eye of the storm but everyone else was unhorsed and flung back like dolls. The soldier from Far Spire was not affected as he was dressed in leather.
His sword did fly back, which did not sit well with him, but overall he thought it was amusing.
None of the rest of them were entertained, however.