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Home Index of Cornell: The Resurrected Hero

Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Pt I" Cornell #1

"Call of the Dragon, Pt II" Cornell #2

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

"Childhood of a Fighter"

"The Pledge" Cornell #5

"The Rock of Discontent"

"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

 


Cornell: The Pledge

by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

  Section 1 / Section 2 / Section 3

Two weeks ago…

“A special price for you, Master Wizard!” The Tonomai merchant’s swarthy face broke out in a smarmy grin. “Only forty aryel, that’s a bargain!”

Barandas the Magnificent, self-styled, doubtfully weighed the small, triangular item in his hand. Its golden sheen caught the light of the sun, sparkling beautifully and enhancing the inscriptions snaking along its sides. “I’m not sure if it’s that much of a bargain. This isn’t even real gold, it’s been enchanted by a cleric,” he muttered.

“But you like it!” the Tonomai beamed. “It drew you from all the stalls in the market to my humble booth, and I –“ His smile suddenly deteriorated into crestfallen dismay. “I offered you such a marvelous bargain! A magical object, a – how do you say in your tongue? – an appliance. For many decades it has been in the collection of a wise wizard of our land, until he fell on hard times and had to sell it. Who knows what miracles are kept within it? Master Wizard, you must have it!”

Barandas chuckled. “Oh, sure, and all your friends in the other stalls would say the same thing about their appliances.” Negligently he dropped the item back on the display table. “Maybe some of theirs will be really to my liking.”

For a moment it seemed as if the merchant would just accept and wait for better clientele, then he nodded, smiling once more. “Can you read the inscription? It is an old tongue, that was spoken by the most distant ancestors of mine, but I can tell you what it says.”

“And what does it say?” Barandas answered offhandedly, as if he couldn’t wait to move on to another stall.

The Tonomai raised the item, squinted at the symbols, then he said in ominous tones, “Whosoever shall find my secret, shall unleash the powers of the beast. His shall be the strength of the dragon, the speed of the tiger, the agility of the weasel; all shall belong to he who knows me. Well, Master Wizard, what say you?”

“I say,” the wizard shrugged, “that you’re lying. The writing is Keroullian, from the land that now is Rek’atrednu, and it’s a simple riddle.”

“Oh,” the merchant grinned, the smarminess suddenly wiped from his face. “Half an aryel?”

Barandas shrugged, dug in a pocket of his robe and withdrew a few bronze coins. “Now that sounds like a bargain,” he said as he handed over the money and received the item.

“A pleasure to do business with you, Master Wizard.”

“Likewise,” Barandas nodded and began to saunter out of the market, looking to all the world as if there was nothing on his mind but enjoying the warm day. Once the rustle and bustle was behind him, though, he hastened into a shadowed alleyway.

In his right hand he still held the triangular item. With his left, he produced another object, gleaming gold, that seemed almost identical to the first. A grin spread on his face as he pushed the two items closer – and suddenly they snapped together, forming a single object. And the tingle that Barandas had felt since the first moment he had touched either of the objects grew stronger.

He slowly turned about. After completing one revolution, he looked toward the southeast. In that direction, the tingle had been the most powerful.

“Well, my dear merchant,” the wizard grinned, “you have no idea how close you were with your so-called ‘translation’. Powers of the beast… And they shall all be mine!”

 

 

Today…

 

“You’re very impolite, Master Cornell,” the alreu Flink piped and cast a most accusing look at the warrior seated across from him on a pile of blankets. If one listened closely, one might actually imagine muffled words coming from beneath the pile.

Cornell of Cayaboré shrugged and leaned against the wall behind him, hands folded behind his head. “It’s quiet,” was all the explanation he was willing to give.

“Oh, and I suppose you just gag everyone that you meet when you want quiet! You haven’t done that to Gabe, and you most certainly have not gagged me!”

“What a tempting idea,” the Cayaborean said, looking dangerously at the small, spindly creature.

The alreu rolled his large eyes meaningfully. “Oh, you don’t mean that,” he waved the thought away. “And my friends really cannot help themselves. My goodness, sir, just imagine if you had spent years trapped inside a monstrous beast, being that beast and killing and murdering everyone who happens to pass by and just wants a good, nice conversation! That’s so awful, so schrecklich, and my friends just need to talk!“

“Your friends,” Cornell muttered, “are getting on my nerves. Why don’t you try carrying the shield for a while?”

Flink looked aghast. “Sir, it is your shield! You saved them from the beast, when you sucked them into the shield! I would never presume to take your place, much as I would enjoy talking to them!”

“Yeah, of course you wouldn’t,” Cornell grumbled and returned to staring at the slightly overcast sky of Tonomat. Below the pile of blankets, the noises from the shield were getting louder, three voices crying out for the cover to be drawn from them. And if he did, all he’d hear would be a shower of complaints about being in the dark for that long. The Gods alone knew how the poor souls could see anything, ensorceled into an elfwood shield as they were. But they could see, and what was worse, they could speak.

All the way from the ancient temple at the edge of the Elfadil Desert to this small town somewhere in the Tonomai Empire, they had rarely taken a pause in talking to him. Nev, the former accountant, who clearly never liked anything; Phindar, one time caravan leader and priest of Decalleigh, who always had one more anecdote to tell, no matter how annoyingly similar it was to the previous ones. And then there was Halla Valfrey, the Shield Maiden from Keroull.

Cornell still didn’t know what exactly a shield maiden was, or what the connection with the elfwood shield was. Which was probably part of the reason why he liked Halla. She had not told him her entire life story, in fact she had been quiet most of the time while Nev and Phindar had been going on about this and that and this and that and…

Well, there had to be an end to this endless chatter, hadn’t there? Impolite or not, after more than three weeks he deserved a break!

“Marvelous news, Cornell, Flink!” a baritone voice interrupted the Cayaborean’s thoughts, and when he looked up he saw a giant of a man looming over him, garbed in leather that was much too warm for the local temperatures – which hardly fazed him at all. A large battle-axe was on his back, the blade peeking through the shaggy blond mane of hair. “I found us something to do!”

“Gabe,” Cornell shielded his eyes from the sun as he looked at his barbarian friend, “you were supposed to buy provisions for the rest of our journey. We agreed to travel straight to Cayaboré, didn’t we?”

The barbarian shrugged. “The cave’s on the way, so I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

“Which cave?!” Cornell shouted.

“My goodness, sir,” Flink chimed in, “is something wrong? You are only loud if there is danger about, aren’t you and – Oh, dear! Are there monsters? Where? Can I see them?!”

The Cayaborean held up his hand, glanced at the alreu, and for a wonder, the little creature fell quiet, staring at the hand with utter intrigue. “Gabe,” Cornell said slowly, forcing his voice to be level, “what cave are you talking about? And what is it that you have found for us to do?”

“A task of honor and acclaim!” the barbarian said proudly. “We will travel south to a deep and dangerous cave that is guarded by sorcery and magic, and we will break through the barriers as the first mortals to ever do so! No sorcerous guard can stand against the might of bwyell, not when combined with the force of the great Cornell of Cayaboré!”

“Uh-huh.”

Gabe apparently didn’t register the dubious glance of the Cayaborean as he pointed over his shoulder down the road. “I met a wizard who told me of this cave, and he will accompany us. He’s watching the provisions I bought right now.”

Suddenly Cornell shot up and grasped the barbarian’s right arm. “You left a stranger with our provisions?! Not with the money, too?!”

Gabe shrugged once more and patted the axe on his back. “The wizard knows what bwyell will do to him if he crosses us.”

The barbarian’s assurance did little to ease Cornell’s mind. Quickly he threw away the blankets and reached for the buckler-style shield below. He didn’t even notice the angry comments of the spirits inside the elfwood as he strapped it on and hurried down the road in the direction Gabe had pointed out. Did that madman ever learn that some people thought they were faster than his damned axe? ‘Bwyell will teach him never to do that again,’ oh, yeah, right!

The roads were full of people, Tonomai going about their business, wearing wide hats casting  blissful shadows on their faces, and Cornell roughly shouldered them out of the way, until he finally saw a wagon with two drawhorses in front of it. On the seat sat a robed figure, a slim man of some twenty-five years with a narrow face that managed to look at the same time openly friendly as it maintained a weasely quality.

“See,” Gabe puffed as he pulled up aside from Cornell, “the wizard knows that bwyell would take his head off if he had stolen our property!”

Cornell sighed, a sneer on his face. “Not that he’d be losing a vital part of his anatomy.” Louder, he said, “You must have forgotten how to drive a wagon, right? Or is there any other reason why you haven’t left town already?”

The robed figure turned around, beaming widely when he saw the Cayaborean, then Barandas said, “Well, now, I’m happy to see you, too, old friend.”

 

 

“Oh,” Gabe said, disappointed, “you know each other.”

The wizard laughed. Cornell was much less inclined to mirth as he drew a grimace and muttered, “Longer than I care to remember. Why is it that I keep running into you, Barandas?”

“Probably your good fortune,” the wizard answered and pointed towards the load of the wagon. “Let’s get this somewhere safe, and we can talk about the little trip I have planned for us. Then we… Uhh, Cornell, would you mind telling me what that is?”

“Why, sir,” Flink said cheerfully, loaded down heavily by the blankets with which Cornell had muffled the shield, “I am an alreu! May the gods bless you, am I the first one of my species you meet? You must have so many questions about me! Just ask, please ask, I will –“

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Barandas moaned. “Cornell, don’t tell me you’re running around with a bloody alreu?! By the tides of magic, I don’t watch you for a few days, and you get one of the manlings?”

Cornell sighed heavily as he climbed onto the seat, slamming the elfwood shield into the back of the wagon. Small cries of protest issued, which the Cayaborean happily ignored. “Far as I recall,” he muttered to the wizard, “you made pretty good use of that alreu idol a while back, didn’t you? Barandas the Magnanimous, wasn’t it?”

“Magnificent!” the wizard cried – and grunted unhappily when he saw the satisfied face of Cornell.

“My mistake,” the Cayaborean said, enjoying every word. “You’d never be generous, of course.”

Flink and Gabe climbed on board the wagon, found spaces for themselves between the loads of provisions, and the barbarian cast a sorry glance at the two men on the seat. “Must have missed something here,” he muttered, then he resigned to listening to Flink as the alreu began enthusiastically going through the provisions and listing heartily all the things he found.

 

 

“And stay out!”

Angrily Barandas slammed the door shut after pushing Flink out of the small room for the third time. For a moment, the alreu’s complaining voice could be heard through the wood of the door, then he seemed to fall silent. In all probability, Cornell thought, he had just turned to Gabe or the shield for some new line of thought.

“All right,” Cornell said and sighed heavily, “what are you after this time? Money or magic? I don’t suppose there is a maiden in the cave that needs rescuing by a heroic wizard?”

Barandas rolled his eyes. “I’m getting the feeling you’re not really happy to see me.”

“I’m ecstatic. Now spit it out.”

The wizard rolled his eyes again and sat down on a stool next to a workbench. They were in a tiny adjunct to a stable, the room containing no more than the stool, the workbench and a pile of horseshoes. A few minutes earlier Cornell had sold the mare he had bought from the sandmen in the Elfadil desert, for ninety-five silver aryel. Then he had asked the stable owner for a private room, and to his surprise the Tonomai had readily agreed. He seemed to be overly busy with moving the emaciated desert horse into his stable to care about the other wishes of his customer – a good sign, Cornell had hoped since he was planning to buy a good horse here. A real horse, fit for a Cayaborean warrior.

But first there was the business of Barandas to deal with.

“So, which is it? Magic or money?”

Barandas shrugged. “Magic. I got a map from a merchant that shows the way to the cave. Supposedly, a powerful wizard used to live there until he fell on hard times and left. Don’t ask me what exactly happened, I don’t know. But the merchant told me that the wizard had to leave some of his stuff behind. Might be something good.”

Now it was Cornell’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oh, great, another quest for a mysterious place. Just what I need now. What’s the danger? Burrower dragonflies? A spell that incinerates all who enter? Or a holnesh? Believe me, I don’t need another one.”

Another one?!” Barandas perked up at the mention, raised an eyebrow, obviously waiting for further explanation – but got none. Finally he shook his head, grunted something inaudible, then said, “All right, here’s what I know. There are three lines of defense at the cave. The first is an illusion spell that hides the entrance to the cave. No problem there, I know how that works and can disable it. The secondary defense is a door with a spell on it that turns all who open it into stone.”

“Who did you have in mind for the petrification? Me?”

Barandas shook his head vigorously. “Goodness gracious, don’t you have any trust in me?! You’re my friend!” Indignated he stared at Cornell, then he shrugged and said, “I’ve been thinking about the alreu.”

Clearly the wizard was waiting for an angry explosion from the Cayaborean – but Cornell nodded solemnly. “Not a bad idea, that one.”

“Don’t go off like a –“ Barandas started, caught himself after a moment and squinted at Cornell. “You’re not serious, are you?”

The Cayaborean’s grin sparkled evilly. For a moment one might have thought that he would have gladly cast the alreu into an abyss and followed up with a load of boiling oil, just to make sure. Then the evil look dissipated and was replaced by a gladsome questioning visage. “What have you got to undo the petrification?”

“Bloody Cayaborean –“ Barandas stopped himself, pulled a small flask from a pocket of his robe and thrust it to his friend. “Pour it over the stone alreu right after the spell has taken effect. He’ll barely know what happened to him. And, seriously, it had better be the alreu. The manlings are pretty good at opening locked doors. As for the third line, there are two statues in front of the entrance of the wizard’s abode. A riddle activates them to move aside, so you can happily stride inside and pick up the goods.”

“Sounds like you got everything covered,” Cornell nodded, pondering the wizard’s words carefully. “Why did you want to get Gabe to accompany you?”

“Oh, did I?” Barandas smiled.

Cornell was baffled, looking at the quiet contentment of the wizard – then the pieces started falling into place. “You knew that he’s with me?”

“Tides of magic, Cornell, you’re pretty slow,” Barandas teased. “Remember the magiscribe message in Chazevo? Your barbarian friend’s name was written clearly on it, so I only had to keep an ear out for him to find you. Now can we forget about the savage? Why don’t you tell him to hunt a stag so we can feast after the cave?”

“I don’t think Gabe wants to stay outside,” Cornell commented with a grin.

Barandas grunted, “Dump him! We don’t need the brute. The alreu’s of use, so fine, he can stay.”

“Really? And you’re going to tell him?” Cornell asked, thought for a moment, then said, “Gabe usually swings his axe from the right, to lop off the head. If you duck at the right moment, maybe you can run fast enough.”

“You seriously want to take the savage along?”

Cornell raised an eyebrow. “Nobody called you to join our party. I know it is hard for you to understand but the world doesn’t revolve around Barandas the Magnetic.”

“Magnificent!” the wizard shot back automatically.

They stared at each other. Finally, Barandas snarled, “All right, if you want to, we’ll take your savage along. What about you, are you in, or aren’t you?”

Cornell rose, shrugged and headed for the door. “Gabe’s going to that cave whether I say yes or no. And since it’s liable to be dangerous for Flink and him, I’m coming, too.” He opened the door.

“And what about me?” Barandas. “It could get dangerous for me as well!”

The Cayaborean smiled brightly at the wizard, then he walked out.

 

 

Finally there was a good piece of horse flesh under him, Cornell rejoiced as they were riding towards the cave. Twenty-five torkyn the brown stallion had cost him, but it had been worth every gold coin. The horse was a powerhouse, rippling muscles, and its love for gallop had been obvious from the first moment the Cayaborean had laid eyes on it. Stormwind was the name he chose for the horse, and as soon as the party had left the city wall, the stallion had proved the name to be very apt. Cornell had been forced to use all his strength to keep Stormwind from bounding ahead, eating up the dirt road across the hilly, grassy land.

A few miles to the east the mighty Cheselain river flowed, supplying this part of the Tonomai land with plentiful water to support several farms – not to mention that there were bushes and trees growing everywhere. One couldn’t call this place lush, not when one was used to the rich nature of the milder climates. For Tonomat, it was a beautiful oasis.

“Any of you have an opinion on this?” Cornell asked the elfwood shield fastened to his saddle.

“We’re going to die,” the voice of the cowardly Nev answered. “The magical traps in that stinking cave are going to kill us.”

Phindar, former caravan head and priest of Decalleigh, muttered, “Well, all this reminds me of a trip my friends and I took some twenty years ago. Or, wait, wasn’t that twenty-five? Time passes so quickly…”

Calmly the only female voice from the shield interrupted Phindar, “So, shield bearer, is that what you expected?”

“Yes,” Cornell nodded with a tired grin, “everybody going through the same familiar motions.” He cast a glance over his shoulder to Barandas driving the wagon. The wizard’s eyes were glued to the shield rather than the road, greed glistening. “No way,” Cornell told him. “I’m not going to give you the chance to inspect this magical item. While we’re on that topic, what happened to that magical ring I gave you half a year ago? You just wanted to take a brief look at it, then return it, right?”

“Uhmm…” Barandas quickly dug in his robe, produced a map sketched on papyrus and waved it, saying, “Just a mile or two left, at best! We’ll have to turn at the next crossing.”

The Cayaborean grinned self-satisfied and returned his gaze forward. At least half an hour would pass before Barandas would start eyeing the shield again, maybe a few moments more. And perhaps the buckler might stay quiet as well.

He wasn’t that lucky, Cornell soon discovered, for Phindar breathed deeply and then started to recount the story he had scarcely begun a little earlier. And the Cayaborean’s head slumped forward, resigned to another long, long hour. Maybe, he thought after a moment, it wouldn’t be that bad for Barandas to take that close look at the shield he so desired. After all, then Cornell wouldn’t see the buckler again for a few years at least…

“… took out three of ‘em clawvoles back then,” Phindar was saying. “Well, I was a tad younger of course. Had a lot more muscles to my frame, bit like Gabe, y’know? Hah, women were flocking after me like moths with a candle about! The temple elders kept getting their robes in a knot, seeing what I was doing! But back to the story, and to that lair we’d found…”

No, Cornell thought resignedly, I couldn’t hand these poor souls over to Barandas. Who knows what the idiot might do to them?

After an hour of uneventful riding – and one detour when they found their path blocked by a lake that clearly hadn’t been on the wizard’s map -, Barandas announced, “This is it, we’re here.”

“Thank the gods!” Flink exclaimed, slipped from his pony and rushed behind some shrubbery to take care of highly personal business.

“You should have thought of that earlier!” Gabe chuckled.

The party dismounted and started to look around. The rockface ahead of them was impressive. It seemed a strange sight, to see something close to a mountain rise from a hilly landscape, none of the mounds of earth higher than some eighty feet. What was ahead of them towered at least five hundred feet over them, growing like a spike into the air – like a giant’s tooth, thrown loose in a battle and embedded in the earth. Alder and cedar trees were plentiful enough to form a semblance of a forest, receding from the increasingly rocky ground at the foot of the mountain where bushes grew.

Except for one clearing where the earth had obviously been burned by a fire not too long ago. Chipped, white pieces lay scattered on the ground, half buried by wind, rain and mud. More identifiable pieces were under the shrubbery, the bones of pigs, cattle and sheep.

Gabe picked up one of the bones and frowned. “Toothmarks,” he said. “What kind of a party was this? Don’t these Tonomai know how to contain their cooking fires?”

“Perhaps the feast before the summer solstice,” Phindar pondered from the buckler. “In the Tonomai belief, their One God came to Gushémal a month before the solstice and spent four weeks spreading his belief. I keep forgetting the name of that feast, but the Tonomai faithful celebrate the coming of the One God, and on solstice day, they celebrate his departure, having left his word behind.”

While the others were discussing Tonomai religion – and Flink emerged from the bushes with a relieved look on his face -, Barandas slowly wandered along the foot of the mountain, one hand stuck in a pocket of his robe. There was no unusual feature in the rock, just plain gray stone, some of which covered by moss, a few niches filled with earth that sustained grass and shrubbery.

Then Barandas’ face lit up and he pointed with his free hand toward a spot on the mountain. “I’ve found the cave!”

“Really?” Gabe wondered and shook his head. “There’s only rock.”

“It’s an illusion, stupid!” the wizard exclaimed and walked straight into the mountain. And disappeared in what seemed an ordinary boulder.

Cornell drew a face. “That about settles it, I guess.” He checked the hold of the buckler on his left arm, hefted his sword in his right hand and followed Barandas into the mountain.

Flink hurried after him, afraid he’d miss out on any of the fun, while Gabe removed his axe from his back and glanced at the metal blade. “Well, bwyell, time for a little more honor and glory, isn’t it?”

 

Read on in
SECTION 2