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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

 


The Miracle of Solstice Day

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

Index Page

Chapter 1 <==/ Chapter 2 /==> Chapter 3  


 

 “Who is Sylasa?” Gabe asked when he helped Cornell to sit up in his bed. They were in a tavern – not a kafeserat, fortunately -, that much his companions had told him after waking up. He had no idea what had happened on the road, and neither had his friends. Unpleasant enough to have just dropped off his horse, Gabe had now told him that he had been unconscious for half a day.

“A friend,” Cornell answered the barbarian’s question and gratefully took the cup of water from his big hands. “She helped Barandas and me up in Chazevo.”

The wizard coughed. “I wouldn’t go as far as to call her a friend, you know.”

The water was refreshing, driving some of the clogginess from the Cayaborean’s mouth. He looked over to the wizard who was sitting backwards on a chair, next to him on the floor Flink and the shield. “Barandas, you’d go a lot further with her than that.”

To Cornell’s surprise, the wizard shrugged with a grin. “That may be true, but I’ve seen what she can do with a sword. No, thank you. I like my head attached to my neck. Just a personal preference, you know?”

“But what is she doing here?”

Barandas leaned forward on the chair. “She’s after something, what else? My kind of woman.” He sobered up rather fast. “Which is always a good reason to stay away from her. Are you all right again, Cornell?”

The Cayaborean was ready to answer No, and get out so I can sleep, but he actually felt very refreshed. With a smile he handed the cup back to Gabe and leaped out of bed – only realizing a moment later that all his clothes were neatly stacked on a stool next to the bed. Blood rushing to his face, he grabbed the clothes and, pretending that there was nothing unusual about standing naked in front of his companions, proceeded to get dressed. The pretense was really difficult, considering that Flink sauntered forward, his large eyes studying his physique with extreme interest. Also, there was a slight laughter in the air, very feminine, coming from the shield. Halla.

“Uh, I’m hungry,” he said quickly. “If this is a tavern, there’s got to be a commons room, right?”

Doing his best to wipe a grin from his face, Gabe pointed downwards. “Yes, there is. The cook should still have something stirring in his pot. Smelled delicious.”

“Great, let’s go,” Cornell asserted, pulling his shirt over his head and fastening his sword to his belt – pausing for a moment when he remembered that Sylasa had picked it for him, during the fight in the merchant’s villa in Chazevo.

Flink nodded happily. “Oh, yes, that will be fun! And, think, Gabe, isn’t it good to see that the sir is fine again? I was really worried about him before, but now he is doing so well. Do you think we’ll meet that lady, this Sylasa? It would be so wonderful if one more friend would be with us for Solstice Day!”

The last two words hit Cornell like a horsedragon’s tail. They were still going on about that? His eyes rushed to take in the room – in particular Gabe -, and his suspicions were confirmed. The wand with the rubies was leaning on the bed, in grasping reach of the barbarian. “Gabe, leave that stupid wand up here, will you? The Tonomai won’t take kindly to seeing something like that. I want to eat in peace.”

“No problem there,” Gabe chuckled. “You’ll see.” He patted the Cayaborean on the back, forceful enough that Cornell thought he ought to be slammed into the next wall. “Solstice Day is soon, Cornell! Let’s enjoy it!”

 

 

“Let’s enjoy it!” The words echoed in Cornell’s head when he walked down the stairs to the commons room. The torches on the upper floor and below lit the way, enough so that he could see the oil paintings on either side of the stairway. Very un-Tonomai. One showed a lush green meadow, with riders hunting a fox, the riders wearing the typical attire of Cayaborean nobles. As if that wasn’t uncomfortable enough, Cornell thought that some of the faces looked very familiar. The other painting wasn’t much better, a tiny fishing boat riding the waves, with a port city in the distant background, one that looked a lot like Dauverre, also in Cornell’s homeland of Cayaboré.

He’d been out for half a day, Gabe had told him, right? Not half a year! There hadn’t been enough time to go all the way back to Cayaboré! His mind must still be playing tricks on him, he decided.

Then he exited into the commons and was greeted by a sea of red garlands hung on the ceiling, each carrying a paper mobile, with three disks pointing upward, three outward, and three downward. There was a smell of bakery, the sweet scent of almonds and the sharp aroma of seasonal spices. The source of the smell was unmistakable, bowls on each of the – very homestyle-looking tables – in the commons, each filled to the brim with fresh cookies and cupcakes.

“This isn’t possible,” he whispered and was jerked unpleasantly from his shocked sightseeing when Gabe pushed him on into the room, out of the stairway. The barbarian raised his hand and called a cheerful “Yelof’s blessing to you, Master Vairpole!” to the innkeeper, a rotund man with a reddish face.

“And may Egap smile on all of you!” the innkeeper responded with a basso profundo voice that was tinged deeply with the accent of the northern provinces of Cayaboré. He was standing next to his counter, fashioned from oak and darkened from spilled drink and the soot of the open fire burning in the center of the commons room. A pretty girl, her face cut somewhat similar to the innkeeper’s, was standing behind the counter, filling jars of ale and handing them over to a young man who looked to be her brother. Behind them, a bust of the goddess Airnté – who, amongst other things, was responsible for bringing ale to Gushémal – took up a large part of the shelves filled with bottles and jars.

Cornell thought he should be dizzy and swaying. This had to be Cayaboré. Somehow, they all must have been transported home, across the hundreds of miles, across Shane’s Sea, far away from Tonomat.

Except… What were those Tonomai doing in his homeland? He counted at least eleven, sitting along the tables, some munching on the cupcakes, others drinking their coffee – all unmistakable by their garb and their swarthy faces.

“What is this place?” he muttered.

By then, the innkeeper – Vairpole – had come closer and was taken a good look at Cornell. “You’re the one who fell off the horse, aren’t you?” he asked.

Automatically Cornell’s head jerked up and he said, “No, I never fall off a horse, I –“ Fortunately he stopped himself and remembered what had in fact happened a little earlier. “I mean –“

“He’s still suffering from his fight with an emperor dragon,” Gabe commented nonchalantly. “It was a magnificent battle! Isn’t that right, Cornell?”

“Uh,” Cornell said eloquently. He didn’t remember all that much about fighting the dragon – not much more than running a lot until he faced the beast, and that was pretty much where his memory ended. He knew that the dragon had been slain, he did remember seeing the cadaver. Beyond that, he had no idea what had happened. “That’s, uh, right.”

Vairpole laughed heartily. “Then it’s no shame to have kissed the ground like that, my friend. Few people survive to see an emperor dragon. What is your name? I would like to have a plaque inscribed, that you stayed here!”

He was looking at the Solstice Day decorations around him, so very surreal in the Tonomai Empire. For that reason he wasn’t thinking too clearly when he said, “I’m Cornell of Cayaboré, and I really don’t think that a plaque –“

At that point he saw Vairpole’s face suddenly drop in surprise, and then gradually transform into a servile and very pleased expression. “That is really an honor, your lordship! To have you hear in the time – you will stay for Solstice Day, will you not? Please, it would be a great honor to have you here on The Longest Night!”

Cornell was very much aware of the curious glances he suddenly received from his companions. He almost could see the buckler grow eyes as well, probably on stalks from the bronze knob. “Oh, Master Vairpole, I cannot yet say how long my business will keep me and my friends in this city. Your hospitality is much welcomed.”

“Of course, of course,” the innkeeper hurried to say, then waved to a table next to the fire – currently occupied by three men with the faces of southrons like Cornell. “Would your lordships wish to sit down? I’ll have my wife prepare you a humble dinner, it shall only take a short while, rest assured of that.”

Cornell nodded and headed over to the table, preceded quickly by the innkeeper who spoke to the patrons in the nearly incomprehensible dialect of his home province. The patrons gaped at Cornell, then hurried to fetch their mugs and withdraw from the table. Vairpole quickly straightened the coasters, wiped some of the spilled ale with a towel that had been stuck in his belt, then smiled widely at the party. “Thank you, Master Vairpole,” Cornell said, sat down – and froze suddenly when he saw the incredulous glances of his companions.

Oh, no. Within heartbeats he had slipped back into the familiar attitude of home – completely forgetting that none of his companions knew (or were supposed to know) that Cornell was not just any adventurer but a nobleman officer of Cayaboré’s Dragonrider Corps, on an extended mission of espionage. The moment he had told the innkeeper his name, Vairpole had known him to be an aristocrat. Only nobles had the privilege – and duty – to call themselves of Cayaboré. No ordinary citizen of his homeland would ever dare to use that suffix. At best they would say that they were from Cayaboré, but never would they use this in their name.

Cautiously glancing over at the men who had just vacated the table, Barandas sat down opposite from Cornell and stared at him suspiciously. “You wouldn’t mind explaining what just happened?”

“Why?” Cornell asked innocently back. “Anything unusual about the innkeeper being happy to see another Cayaborean?”

“Well,” Gabe said and plopped down heavily into a chair, leaning the buckler against a table leg and putting his wand on top of it, “those other people were Cayaboreans, too, weren’t they?”

Cornell shrugged, plucked one of the pastries from the bowl and took a bite. “But they are locals, I’d say. And they haven’t killed an emperor dragon. That’s very important in my home. Songs are sung endlessly about it, and –“ A grin appeared on his lips, and he shrugged again. “You did hear the innkeeper talking about that plaque? Just another sign. It’s a divine gift, being allowed to slay an emperor dragon.”

Neither of his friends were satisfied with that answer, except for Flink. The alreu clambered on a chair of his own, staring greedily into the bowl. He took a very long time before he selected a cupcake – with the ninefold symbol of Solstice Day in its center – and carefully nibbled on it, completely absorbed by the task.

“What will your lordships be having?” the pretty girl interrupted the business of Cornell staring innocently at Gabe and Barandas, while the latter were staring suspiciously back. “We have good wine from Northerton Province, our home. The very best, mind you. Or would you like some ale?”

Barandas was startled, his head jerked about and stopped very quickly at the sight of the girl. A supposedly suave smile crept onto his face, as he leaned back and pursed his lips while pretending to look at her face rather than several inches below. “Well,” he started to say slowly – but found himself cut off by Cornell who curtly said, “The wine will do fine, young maiden.”

She nodded – but before she could turn around, Flink urgently said (most of his mouth busy with consuming a cupcake), “Do you have coffee? I’d really love some of that stuff to dunk the pastry in, you know, I bet that must be a terrific taste! Why don’t we all try it?”

“No!” Gabe, Cornell and Barandas said in unison.

Unabashed, Flink shook his head and directed his soulful eyes at the waitress. “But I can have some, can’t I?”

The girl cast a quick glance to Cornell who shrugged and nodded. “Of course you can, young sir,” she smiled and tousled Flink’s hair. “It will be along shortly. I’ll brew it myself.”

“Great!” Flink cried, nibbling the cinnamon crust from the next cupcake.

With another smile to the alreu she walked off – straight by Barandas who couldn’t resist pinching her full behind. He already had a look of utter innocence firmly entrenched in his face – when the girl giggled and gave him a smile before walking back to the counter.

Smugly (and a bit surprised), the wizard turned back to the table and reached out for the bowl of pastries.

“Don’t be so sure of yourself,” Cornell muttered. He knew why the girl had minded being pinched – and also why it had been her instead of her brother coming to the table. Vairpole and his family thought all of them were noblemen (probably excluding Flink who must have been registered as a pet). “I’m betting that this lady has only thoughts of marriage.”

“Marriage?” Barandas guffawed. “Whatever gives you that idea?”

Cornell covertly pointed at the innkeeper who was watching them proudly. In particular his glance seemed to be directed at Barandas, with a sort of fatherly expression in his face.

The wizard’s face fell and he quickly stuffed a piece of pastry in his mouth. “No, thanks. One marriage is enough for me.”

The next moment he clearly regretted saying that, for now every eye at the table (plus the bronze knob of the buckler, apparently) was staring at him with the same curiosity that had plagued Cornell a bit earlier. “Do tell…” the Cayaborean said softly. “You wouldn’t happen to be married, now would you?”

Barandas breathed deeply, shrugged, looked over at the nearest table – longingly eyeing the mugs of ale -, then shrugged again, got up from his chair and said, “Where is that wine? I’d better –“ Then he caught himself when he noticed the innkeeper perking up and watching him expectantly. “Gotta be a chamber pot around here, somewhere,” Barandas quickly corrected himself and headed urgently for the stairs.

Gabe and Cornell looked at each other, determined to find out just what was behind the wizard’s odd behavior. And also making mental notes that marriage was a topic to taunt Barandas with.

In the meantime Flink had hopped off the table to stand before the table and tap lightly on the elfwood. “Did you hear that?” he asked excitedly. “She called me ‘young sir’! Just like the sir, you know?”

 

 

“Is it just me, or are there more imperial guards around?” Cornell whispered the next day, walking along one of the many roads of Atnas.

The buckler on his arm responded in Phindar’s voice, “That may be, but I’m a lot more concerned about how you’re using my abilities. I don’t think it’s proper that I should heal your hangover. You should pay the bill for drinking that much wine yesterday.”

Cornell shrugged. “You were there.” He noticed that some of the people around him were staring openly at him, and chided himself for speaking to the shield like that. In the past few weeks he had gotten so accustomed to this, he’d forgotten that other people weren’t used to a spectacle like this. Especially not with the buckler answering.

“That does not matter right now,” Halla interrupted forcefully. “You have the right of it, shield bearer. The guards are more numerous.”

“Think they know what we did?” the accountant Nev asked in a trembling voice.

That same thought had been going through Cornell’s mind from the instant he had left Vairpole’s tavern. He had wanted to pass through Atnas without calling any attention to his party. Instead he had fallen off his horse in the middle of the main street, right behind a convoy with imperial escorts. If Phindar was wrong about the Empire’s stance towards those rebels, they would know for sure who he and his friends were.

On the other hand, he told himself again, the guards hadn’t paid him any attention at all. At least not more than could be expected when the Tonomai saw a foreigner walking through their town. There could be some other, perfectly innocent explanation why a guard was standing at every street corner, and patrols were frequently passing through the street, warily watching the passersby. Cornell only wished he knew what that explanation was.

He also would have liked to know what exactly he was doing right now. He wanted to know why he had fainted on the street. That wasn’t a habit he wanted to get anywhere near to. Then there was also the fact that Sylasa had been there. The last time he’d seen her had been in Chazevo, several months ago. Cornell had planned on travelling to the southern coast of Tonomat in the straightest line possible, but his plan had unraveled more than once along the way. Sylasa might have reached Asnat as much as a month earlier. She had disguised herself as a male Tonomai – given that her figure was quite feminine, she was lucky that the locals preferred baggy clothes.

Just walking around town didn’t seem like a good way of solving either of his problems. Staying at the tavern hadn’t been an option, though. Not with the way that Vairpole and his family were fawning over him. Oh, sure, Barandas was enjoying the attention, Gabe was pretending to ignore it, and Flink was hopping mad with joy.

Getting out had seemed a good idea at the time.

“This looks like a merchant’s quarter,” Phindar commented. “Lots of warehouses, a couple of shops and very few living quarters. Didn’t you say your friend was dressed as a merchant?”

Cornell stopped and took a closer look around. The priest was right. In the other parts of town, there had been more non-descript people who seemed like they were going for a stroll. Women had been walking around with their children, and in some cases the children had been dragging their mothers along.

He could only see one woman now, and she was standing inside a small booth, hawking sweetmeats as refreshments. The shops looked more like they sold from one merchant to the other, no wares on obvious and alluring display, except for a few here and there. So, was that good, or was that bad.

Frowning he rubbed his chest. His heart was starting to ache a little.

Wait a minute! His heart? Just like it had been on the road? No, not quite. His mind was still as alert as before. At least he thought so, but there was a slight pressure on his heart, not really painful, just barely noticeable.

“Phindar,” Cornell whispered to the shield hesitantly, “would you please examine me, if there is anything wrong with my heart.”

The priest harumphed, then said, “Of course. Put your hand on the buckler’s knob, and I’ll have a look.”

Cornell did so, wondering how silly he looked. A lot, probably. Not that it mattered to him that much. He hadn’t liked fainting, and if he was sick – well, he’d better find out as soon as possible, right?

“Phindar?” he asked when the priest hadn’t said anything for a while.

“I’m sorry, shield bearer,” the voice from the shield said. “It took me a while to understand your heart, it’s not like I’m used to –“

Halla interrupted the priest suddenly, “Your heart is fine, that’s what he’s saying. Why?”

“Never… mind,” Cornell said slowly, blinking twice. There had to be something wrong, he knew, but why had Halla interrupted Phindar? The two of them had struck him as very honest people, reliable and trustworthy. Not like Nev, the other soul in the shield. (Or, come to think of it, Barandas.)

All right, that was a third mystery. Or was it? If this was connected to his fainting on the road, then… But why wouldn’t they tell him what the matter was? Was it something dangerous? Was he sick?

He’d have to find another priest to examine him. Did the Tonomai have healing priests? They had priests, that much he was sure of, but he didn’t know the extent of their abilities. Vairpole would know. Yes, he’d ask the innkeeper later on.

For now, though, he’d just continue walking and trying to find something of interest.

The pain in his chest didn’t subside, a troubling truth in the back of his head that he tried to ignore during the next minutes. Few people in the street paid him any attention, the merchants going about their business and conversing in their odd language. Cornell understood a few of the words, enough to know that most of their discussions revolved around prices and trade.

The only thing he found strange was the watchdog in front of one of the shops. A big canine monster that looked more like a wolf than a nice little doggie had been lying there, chewing every now and then on a bone, looking as ferocious as you’d please. But when Cornell had come closer, the dog had looked up in sudden fear, forgotten about its bone and ran yelping inside the shop. Talk about ferocious, Cornell thought. One harmless Cayaborean, and the dog was useless.

His amusement ceased a bit later when the pain in his heart increased. He didn’t feel any strain, breathing was easy. That shouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. Cornell had heard of people having trouble with their hearts, but those were all old people on the verge of dying. And out of shape. Cornell was neither.

Grim thoughts chasing each other he dug into an alley, out of sight of most people and propped his buckler against the wall. “Let’s try this again, Phindar. My heart is not fine, and I don’t care what Halla says. Find out what’s wrong and heal it. Understood?”

Halla herself answered, her strong voice unperturbed. “Shield bearer, I would never interfere with Phindar when it comes to your health. If you believe otherwise, you have misunderstood –“

“I don’t give a damn about that, Halla. Phindar, do your work!” Snarling he pushed his chest into contact with the bronze knob, careful not to let his hands touch the sharp edge of the elfwood shield. His heart still hurt, and it wasn’t changing. “Phindar!” Cornell said urgently.

The priest’s voice was muffled when he answered, “I truly am sorry, but I cannot find anything in your heart that should cause you pain. It is perfectly embedded in your body, and in excellent shape for its age. If you feel pain, there is no physical cause for it.”

Enraged Cornell tore his chest away from the shield, got back up to his feet. What was wrong with these souls? What were they keeping from him? “I’m not imagining the pain,” he snarled.

“I did not say that,” Phindar said in a tone of voice that would have been credible at any other time. “I said that I could not find any cause in your body. Please remember that there are other causes that a priest of Decalleigh knows little about. Magic, for instance. Perhaps the wizard Barandas could be more helpful.”

“That is –“ Cornell started to answer but stopped himself. Actually it wasn’t all that ridiculous. Maybe somebody was casting a spell on him. And for some reason it didn’t work. Or did it? Maybe it was supposed to make him distrustful of his friends, just as he felt right now.

Except that the souls in the shield were keeping something from him. Something about his heart. Frowning Cornell slipped the buckler back onto his arms. Three days more until Solstice Day. Spend The Longest Night with your family and friends. What a laugh.

 

 

“Excuse me, your lordship,” Vairpole said as he peeked into the room that Cornell and Barandas shared. The wizard was lying on his bed, toying with an arcane object that he was trying to make sense of. He wasn’t making any decent progress thus far, and besides, he really enjoyed the way the innkeeper treated him. (Also his daughter’s attentions were welcome, but he still had to plan exactly how to avoid the dreaded topic of marriage. Perhaps later that night.)

“Yes, what is it?” Barandas said in an annoyed voice as if he shouldn’t be bothered right now and the innkeeper should have known better.

Vairpole swallowed. “Pardon me for intruding, your lordship, but there a woman downstairs who has asked for you and Sir Cornell. Maybe you would like to see her?”

“A woman?” Barandas said, working hard to contain his interest. Well, obviously he didn’t know who this woman was, or even if she was good looking. It never hurt to keep your options open, though. Besides, she was interested in him! (And Cornell, but Barandas believed that minor details should not spoil one’s enjoyment.) “And she asked for me? By name?”

The innkeeper crooked his head slightly as if he was afraid of continuing. “Well, not… not exactly. She said that she would have words with, and mind you, I am quoting here, these aren’t my words –“

“Spit it out!”

Vairpole nodded. “She said she would speak to a Barandas the Magpie.”

The wizard’s mouth fell open. And closed half a heartbeat later. “That’s Barandas the Magnificent!” he yelled and jumped up from the bed.

“Yes, I know, you have told me so,” Vairpole hurried to assert – and then hurried to get out of the wizard’s way. Barandas barreled down the short corridor to the stairs, and the innkeeper rolled his eyes and muttered, “You’ve told me so repeatedly.”

 

 

Read on in Chapter Three!