“I pray thee hold, Eminence. This one is an officer.”
An’drow hesitated, hand still gripping the lever that controlled one of Frogdor’s lethal claws. He had performed the Lord’s work for nigh on a quarter of an hour as the remnants of East Rim’s broken militia reserves had fled from the field of battle into the supposed safety of the thicket; cowards all of them, it had been just and holy to sacrifice them in Blessed Apollyon’s name.
This one is different, he thought. An’drow didn’t know enough of heraldry to know what had identified the horseman before him as a field commander to his co-pilot, but he did know courage and resolve when he saw them, and this one had both qualities in spades. This is a leader of men, he decided. He deserved a grander death than what the bishop could offer from inside the bowels of this metal monster. Removing his grasp from the lever, he selected another such pulley next to it and pulled down on it. Frogdor lurched forward in response.
The officer’s warhorse whinnied loudly and the creature’s eyes rolled in growing terror. Still, horse and rider stood their ground as the death trap advanced and An’drow’s admiration grew. The man before him sought to die honorably … but sadly, this was a blessing that the bishop would not be able to bestow. Not yet, anyway. The Dread Tyrant has another purpose for you, captain. Your deliverance will have to wait.
An’drow pulled on yet another lever and the machine’s lobster-like arm swung in a wide arc, striking horseman and mount alike with great force. The militiaman was thrown from his mount into a nearby tree; his body came to a rest at its base, clearly in a swoon. His horse was not nearly as lucky; it struggled in vain to rise, several of its bones clearly broken by the impact of the swing. An’drow pulled the lever once more, this time in a different direction and the arm came down upon the poor animal a second time. It laid still then, gifted a merciful death by the adherent of Apollyon and all became silence.
“Great Master, your humble and obedient servant would speak with this infidel, vanquished with your help,” An’drow prayed, crouching over his comatose captive. “He may yet be of use in your great cause and if it be so, bless him with your strength so that your unworthy servant may set him upon the True Path.” Prayer ended, the dark elf rose and flourished his robes for effect, for captor and prisoner were not alone. An’drow and the officer, a great prize indeed for he had been identified as East Rim’s own Constable Gobert Berengar, stood in the middle of a hastily erected internment camp established by the victorious coalition of forces cobbled together by the Forty Horse Thieves. The gnome’s plan had gone even better than they could have hoped; their losses had been slight and most of the enemy had been taken or slain. The bugbear had, as always, insisted upon having his grievous nicks and paper cuts attended to as soon as his barbarian battle rage gave way to his more typical and taciturn barbarian stupidity. An’drow deigned to oblige him this once; the Braindoom had led the van in the battle after all, even if Justinius had tricked him into it.
A deep darkness, a shadow that pulsed as if it were a living thing, appeared about the Constable and enveloped his body as what remained of his men looked on in a mixture of worry and curiosity. Berengar’s inert body convulsed then, then again, then thrice. Finally, he emitted a sound that could best be described as half-gasp, half-scream and he sat up violently with a start. An’drow did not begrudge the man these unbecoming acts; his Master’s healing touch, sublime as it was, was not gentle and required a stalwart constitution.
“Constable Berengar,” An’drow said whilst delivering half a bow. “Stand easy. You have lost the field, but not your life.” Berengar looked about then, taking in first the camp, then the measure and number of his men, then finally the shackles at his hands and feet.
“Am I to know the name of the great captain who put me in chains this day?” Berengar asked at last.
“Best if you do not, Constable. Let us say instead that you are yet another to fall before the Master of the Horse.”
“The man upon the flying horse? Tell me, who betrayed—”
An’drow knelt before the constable, so that his captive might look into his cowl and gaze upon the fiery red orbs that were his eyes. “It seems I have been unclear,” whispered the bishop, “but it is I who will be asking the questions.” Berengar said nothing at first and held the fell priest’s gaze for a time. Eventually, however, the dark elf won this final contests of wills, and the constable bowed his head slightly, averting his eyes from An’drow’s.
“As you say,” Berengar murmured.
An’drow rose and spoke more loudly now, so that the other captives might hear his wise words once more. “You and those of your men who yet draw breath fought well today and for that Mighty Apollyon, blessed be His name, has seen fit to spare you.”
“Is that it then, Priest?” the constable demanded angrily. “Are we to be sacrifices for you devil god?”
“No such thing shall befall you or the brave men under your command, Constable,” answered another voice before An’drow could correct this latest blasphemy. The voice belonged to a human woman, barely in her twenties by the look of her, who emerged from the ring of captive and captor soldiers to join the parley that occupied the ring’s center. Berengar studied the young woman intently as she came to stand to An’drow’s immediate left, as if he knew her from somewhere…
“Penny?” the constable asked, eyes widening with recognition at last.
“Penny” smiled with pleasure and curtsied with the grace of one born and raised at court. “My lord Berengar,” she acknowledged, “it has been far too long.”
Berengar stared at her for long moments, then at An’drow, then again at Penny. “Oh Penny,” he said then, dismay and perhaps a bit of disappointment evident in his tone, “what have you done, lass?”
“I came home,” Penny replied simply.
An’drow cleared his throat. “This battle is at an end, Constable. You and what remains of your forces will be released as soon as our own troops are ready to depart.”
“Then we shall meet on the field again then, Priest,” Berengar returned. “His Grace will not suffer raiders in his lands, I can assure you of—”
“I can assure you that Lord Lowell shall not marshall the militia again, Constable,” Penny broke in once more. “Arrangements have already been made. As His Eminence says, the battle is over … and so is your war.”
“Child,” An’drow said gently, “a prison camp is no place for one of your station. It would be best if we go now.”
Penny drew herself up, a trace of displeasure apparent in the blue eyes she shared with her sister. “As you will, Eminence. But if I may, you wrong me. I am no child.”
An’drow considered her words. The woman before him was young and yet she had shown great cunning during her escape and subsequent exile from Nameless. Justinius had gone to great lengths to find her and even with the Forty Horse Thieves promise of protection, she had returned here at great peril; that demonstrated unusual bravery. Moreover, she had proven herself more than capable during the battle itself whilst they had done the Lord’s work in Frogdor.
If New Aramar was to thrive, it would need the governance of temporal princes as well as spiritual ones, and this one showed great promise. Best to make an ally of her, An’drow decided. He made a deep and formal bow in the fashion that the gnome had taught him.
“Pardon, Your Grace,” the elf amended. “I meant no disrespect.”
So saying, Bishop An’drow and Lady Penelope Lowell took their leave.