"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
are you all grinning about?” Cornell muttered when he walked up to the
tavern. Its front was styled as the inns he was familiar with back home,
down to the wooden bust of a dragon over the entrance, and the flowery
script proclaiming that this was The Crimson Talon. (He supposed
that the unfamiliar letters below stated the same in the Tonomai
language.) Seated on stools inbetween two wooden columns – decked out
with the red Solstice Day paraphernalia – were Gabe and Flink, both
beaming happily at the returning Cayaborean.
sir,” Flink started, only to be cut off by Gabe who chuckled, “Let him
find out on his own, will you?” Curiously enough, the alreu immediately
closed his mouth and folded his arms before his chest.
wasn’t in the mood to play games. The shield had already filled his
quota for the day. Snarling at the barbarian, he slid the buckler off his
arm and thrust it into the ground before Gabe. The edge of the elfwood dug
into the hard stone, so that it stayed upright when Cornell let go. A
warning glance towards his friends not to ask questions, and he stepped
into the tavern.
he felt transported into his homeland, as soon as the familiar sights,
smells and sounds surrounded him. Vairpole was in the background, busy
cleaning a few statuettes of the gods. And next to the open fireplace, the
chair tipped back on its hindlegs, feet on the rim of the fireplace,
Sylasa sat and smiled at him. “Hello, Cornell!” she shouted. “It’s
been a long time.”
he acknowledged with a nod as he walked over to her. “What do you
warrior woman shook her head, her lush brown hair moving as if of its own
accord. “Oh, Cornell,” she reproached him, “I thought you’d
dropped the barbarian act. It doesn’t suit you.”
a quick side glance he saw that her weapons were stacked under the table,
along with that magical silver armor of hers that molded itself to each of
her movements as easily as wool. He also remembered that they had met when
he had pretended to be a barbarian – copying Gabe, to be exact. Sylasa
hadn’t been too happy when she’d found out that she had been duped,
but… “You liked that act before,” he muttered and dropped onto a
chair opposite her. “Now, what are you doing here?”
sighed, then pulled her feet off the fireplace and sat up straight.
“Solstice Day is three days from now, and I wanted to be with you,”
Sylasa flashed a smile and her deep hazel eyes at him. “All the way from
Chazevo. I thought you might have shown a bit more gratitude that I’m
ecstatic,” Cornell muttered, stared at her angrily. Yeah, right,
you’re here because of Solstice Day and me. How could you know that
I’d be in Atnas at this time? Not even I knew that we would come
here. “I don’t have time for this,” he shook his head and got
up. “It’s nice to know that you came here. But I won’t be around for
Solstice Day, my party and I are leaving tomorrow.”
languidly, Sylasa unfolded herself from the chair and stepped towards him
in fluid motions. He couldn’t help it, he had to stare at her – and
noticed uncomfortably that his lower jaw started to droop. Furiously he
fought down the fascination with her movement, hardened his face, no
matter that she reached out her hand and softly stroked his cheek. “Of
course I had to see you, Cornell of Cayaboré. Not only because of
Solstice Day. I was worried about you when you… fell off the horse.”
was nothing,” Cornell tried to bark, but his voice sounded a lot more
gentle than he had intended. What was it about this woman that made him
turn mellow and mushy like a rotten tomato?
course,” she said curtly and dropped her hand as if Cornell’s cheek
was suddenly burning. “You fall off your horse regularly. Nothing
unusual about that at all.”
took an angry step back. “I told you that it was nothing! I’m fine!
It’ll never happen again, and that is that. Now, if you’ll excuse me,
I have… things to do.”
it’s none of your business!” Yes, that’s it. You’ve finally got
your voice up! He cheered himself on, whirled about and huffed over to
the stairs leading up to his room. Originally he had intended to speak to
Vairpole about a local healer – for a second opinion after that blasted
Phindar had been lying to him. Right at this point, though, he’d rather
walk up and suffer Barandas’ company than stay anywhere near Sylasa.
enough, he didn’t feel the least bit relieved to find that Barandas
wasn’t in their quarters. He dropped on his bed, cursed about the hard
mattrass and tried his best to drive away the image of Sylasa looking
best wasn’t good enough.
called me a young sir,” Flink beamed while he was stacking the pastries
from the bowl into an intricate structure on the table. He’d broken some
of the cookies, to form little pillars that haphazardly supported other
pastries, which again had other pieces balanced on top. To anybody else,
there didn’t seem to be any sense to the structure, but to Flink’s
eyes it was a perfect representation of his home, Tieferbau, the tunnels
of the kennel leading towards his mother’s cave.
he wished that he could be there right now! In his own room, buried under
his favorite blankets, smelling the food that his mother, Sorgend, was
cooking for the Solstice Feast, listening to the noise of other alreus
around him. Maybe one of Sonnig’s children was rushing around outside,
wailing and pestering his mother for some food.
probably not. He suddenly stopped in mid-motion, a crooked piece of pastry
– resembling a marker rock in the kennel – in his hand. The children
must be three years old by now, far beyond the toddler age. They were
almost old enough to start helping out in the kennel with some light
years since he had to leave Tieferbau.
were starting to form in his eyes, and Flink hurried to shake his head.
“I’m a young sir!” he insisted to himself. “I don’t cry! The sir
there was the pastry replica of his home. He remembered how he used to
race through the tunnel, clambering over the rocks, maybe scooting up that
side tunnel which led to the roof entrance of his mother’s kitchen cave.
A faint smile tugged at his lips when he remembered how Sorgend had kept
admonishing him never to enter that way ever again – mostly because he
used to drop right on her head.
he knew it, the tears were flowing freely over his cheeks, and sobbing his
head fell forward, demolishing the carefully built structure.
Flink, my good, little friend!” a voice interrupted him that might have
sounded familiar if it weren’t for the friendly tone.
Flink looked up and saw Barandas standing before the table, smiling
broadly at him. The alreu blinked, instinctively brushed the crumbs of
pastry from his hair and the tears from his face to get a better look. No,
that really was the wizard, and he really was smiling.
was the woman next to him. Sylasa, the sir’s friend. He hadn’t spoken
to her yet, but if she was the sir’s friend, she had to be his friend,
too. But why was Barandas smiling? “Uh, hello, Master Wizard. Hello,
eyes widened for a moment when he addressed her. Odd, but she really
looked nice to him. Most human women didn’t. Oh, they looked fine
enough, just that they were so big, two times taller than he was, and that
was really… Yet for a brief instant, Sylasa seemed to look just right.
hello there,” she said brightly and went down to her knees so her eyes
were on the same level as Flink’s. “Barandas tells me you’re good
with tools. Are you?”
was taken aback. “Of course I am,” he insisted forcefully. “I am an
alreu, it is my birthright! I mean, Lady, I may not be as good as others
are, really, I’m not. Goodness gracious, I wish I had some of their
agility, but my fingers just aren’t as nimble as theirs are. Locks –
oh, well, locks I can pick with the best of them, though that’s not
enough!” Barandas said – and Flink breathed a sigh of relief that the
wizard sounded more like himself. With that wide smile on his face, the
alreu had started to suspect that something was amiss. Maybe that Tonomai
gum? It did have some strange effects on humans. On an alreu like himself
it only had a vile taste that made him gag. And Flink had tried the gum at
least seven times so far, to see what the humans liked so much about it.
wizard turned to Sylasa and grunted, “Like I told you, he’s good with
locks. Put him within three feet of one, and it’ll just open. Like
you know all about magic, don’t you?” Sylasa purred in his direction,
with an odd undercurrent in her voice that Flink didn’t understand.
Naturally Master Wizard was experienced with magic, that was why he was
Master Wizard. Was it really necessary to state that fact again? For a
short while he thought about this, only to be interrupted by Sylasa asking
him, “So, good alreu sir, would you be kind enough to accompany us?
Barandas and I are going for a stroll through town. You could advise us on
the artistry of Atnas’ buildings.”
Barandas hurried to say, back with the smile (and Flink’s feeling
uncomfortable), “you know all about good buildings, don’t you? And
am an alreu,” Flink answered carefully. Of course he knew more about how
to dig a stable tunnel than how to build a good house, but artwork, well,
that came natural to his kind, didn’t it?
beamed at him, her smile sending waves of warmth through the tiny
alreu’s body. “Then you’ll come with us? I would love to hear what
you think of this town.”
would?” Of course she would, he chided himself. This was the
sir’s friend, and just like the sir she appreciated his comments. Flink
did his best to ignore Master Wizard as he jumped down from the chair and
cleaned his vest of the rest of the pastry crumbs before sliding his
knapsack onto his back. “I will gladly accompany you, Lady,” he said.
Sylasa said, got to her feet as well and held out her hand for Flink to
grasp it. Intrigued he noted that she wore a glove that seemed to melt
into her silver armor, but it felt as warm as normal skin. As much as he
searched with his fingers, he couldn’t find a seam between the glove and
the armor – and it didn’t feel like metal at all. “Uh, Flink,” she
said gently, “can we go now?”
alreu continued feeling her wrist with his free hand, completely absorbed.
just go,” Barandas groaned. “He’ll stop when you drag him along.”
moment later, after Sylasa carefully followed his advice, he had to add,
was early afternoon when Cornell finally came down to the commons room
again. As soon as he became visible on the stairs, Vairpole dropped a
cloth with which he was nervously cleaning cups and hurried over,
straining himself quite a bit to maintain the servile expression on his
face. “Yer lordship, if ye don’t mind,” he said – falling back
into the thick accent of the Northerton folks.
Cornell barked back.
well, it’s a simple matter that ye might want –“
Cornell cut him off, not even noticing that he automatically assumed the
tone of the aristocratic class, “Master Vairpole, if it is a simple
matter, I am sure you can take care of it yourself and have no need to
bother me with your affairs. Prior to taking care of that business of
yours, I would like to have lunch.”
wasn’t in the mood to discuss the timing of his hunger. After the
exchange with Sylasa, he wasn’t exactly in the mood for anything. All
right, his heart hadn’t given him any trouble these past hours, but he
wasn’t about to forget about that anytime soon. “Now,” he muttered
and headed for the table next to the fireplace.
innkeeper walked by his side, wiping his hands on his pants, “Uhm, yer
lordship, it’s a wee bit after the lunch hours, and I’d honestly
appreciate if –“
wasn’t Vairpole’s day for finishing sentences. At least not as long as
Cornell was in the vicinity. “Your excuses are of no importance to
me,” he said and sat down at the table. “Bring me an ale while I wait
innkeeper gawked at him for a moment, exasperatedly, then he turned away
quickly – probably to disguise the shocked expression on his face, which
could in no way be called servile anymore.
looked after him briefly, fully ensconced in his armor of rage. Then,
slowly, he started to remember where he had seen similar expressions
before, and how he had felt disgusted. “Great Gods,” he muttered and
slumped down in the chair, “I’m starting to sound like Gaius.” His
brother had always been the one to haughtily order the servants about, act
like a proper, high and mighty Cayaborean aristocrat – while Cornell had
been the one most like their father, Victor. Cornell had been the one to
treat the servants as human beings (or dwarven beings, in two exceptions),
the one who liked to take dinner in the kitchen now and then, listening to
the servants’ stories. Since he had been doing that from childhood on,
there had never been a time when the servants felt intimidated by the
nobleman’s presence. They had taken him for granted, dealt with him
almost like an equal – at least when Cornell was in the kitchen. Then he
was still the young boy whom the cook had whooped more than once for
stealing food at night, or some other mischief that Cornell had gotten
always enjoyed that. Being in the company of the servants, that is, not
getting his behind slapped vigorously. But now he was treating Vairpole in
the same fashion as Gaius would have done.
irony in that had always been that Gaius hadn’t been born a nobleman.
Their father had been elevated to aristocracy when his half-brother had
been two years old. Cornell was the one who had been a nobleman from
closed his eyes for a moment, breathed deeply and tried to concentrate.
The only thing he managed was to become aware of noise coming from
outside. Snippets of conversation, cries and questions, all in the
guttural language of the Tonomai. What? Had Vairpole turned the front of
his tavern into a kafeserat?
to think of it, the voices sounded rather loud. As if there was a sizeable
crowd outside The Crimson Talon, not just a few people enjoying a
coffee in the afternoon. The tone of the voices also sounded odd – both
curious and very animated. Not enraged, certainly not, although the sound
of the Tonomai language grated on his ears.
appeared again, a mug of ale in his hand. “Here ye go, yer lordship,”
he said as he put the mug on the table. “I warmed it over the fire,
t’get it to the right warmth, yer lordship.”
not act like Gaius,
Cornell told himself and forced a smile onto his face. “Thank you,
Master Vairpole. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
innkeeper frowned at that, clearly confused by the sudden change of
demeanor – although there was a slight indication in his face that he
was willing to accept all kinds of strangeness from noblemen. Just when
Cornell thought that the man would lose his apprehension, there was a loud
cry from outside, one that sounded vaguely familiar. If there hadn’t
been all the other noise, maybe he could have identified the voice, he
is going on out there?!” Cornell shouted angrily and got up from his
face, which had been on the verge of relaxing, lapsed back into the
nervously kept up servile attitude. “Yer lordship, that’s what I’ve
been talkin’ aboot. Yer lordship, uh, must’ve forgotten, but surely
there’s a good reason –“
mind,” Cornell rolled his eyes and headed for the doorway, noting
distractedly that Vairpole was following him quickly, wringing his hands
could this be about? The closer he came to the exit, the more he realized
that there was a good-sized crowd in front of the tavern, talking
animatedly about something that seemed to be hidden somewhere in the mass
of bodies. Something that Cornell had no chance of seeing. Frustrated, he
turned his eyes back to Vairpole – and got his answer from the middle of
voice cried out in pain, quickly joined by another, speaking meantongue,
and shouting, “Stay back! Ahreph Teshoon! Won’t you listen?!”
Cornell realized with a shock, and the next thought followed like hot oil
poured on his head. The shield! I stuck it in the ground before the
tavern, and it’s – still there.
tides!” he yelled, grabbed the nearest man and tossed the Tonomai away
like a spry scarecrow, followed by the next, and the next, never caring
about the screams of surprise (and pain as soon as the men landed hard on
the ground or impacted on the walls of buildings). Quickly the crowd
became aware, and a path opened before him, leading straight to the
buckler impaled in the pavement, angry voices issuing from it.
bearer!” Halla cried in relief. “Finally! Get us out of here!”
never bothered to answer. He bent down, easily retrieved the shield and
slung it onto his arm. Then he cast a warning glance to the Tonomai around
him, let it settle for a few heartbeats and slowly walked back into the
tavern. His dignified exit was not the least bit troubled when he had to
step over the body of one of the Tonomai he’d thrown out of the way.
you see that?” Nev’s voice asked. “He just threw them like –“
quiet,” Halla cut him short, before continuing in a more mellow tone of
voice, “Shield bearer, I am grateful that you have returned. The locals
have been mystified by the sight of the buckler. I am afraid that we
raised more attention than you had wanted.”
can say that again,” Cornell muttered. It’s your own fault, he
chided himself. He should have realized what would happen. Not even at
home in Cayaboré did it happen every day that a talking shield was thrust
into the pavement in front of a tavern. Oh, the locals probably hadn’t
realized that it was a talking shield at first. Not before one of them had
tried to withdraw it from the stones – and three voices had started to
wanted to keep a low profile in Atnas. Yeah, and the first thing he’d
done when coming into town was fall off his horse. Right in front of two
imperial guards. Add to that the fact that his buckler had drawn a large
crowd, and that the local authorities must be perking up their ears about
the new arrivals.
bearer?” Halla asked carefully. “Are you all right?”
up,” Cornell muttered, clattered the shield onto the rim of the
fireplace, completely disregarding the fact that a goodly part of the
elfwood was exposed to the flames. It wouldn’t destroy the wood, not
even char it – one of the magnificent characteristics of elfwood. But it
would get nice and hot, just the right thing for the three souls in the
there was the nice ale that Vairpole had brought him. Breathing deeply
(not that it improved his mood the slightest), Cornell took a long draught
of ale. In a few moments he would call the innkeeper over and ask him
about a healer, Phindar be damned. He hadn’t told him the truth – and
he might as well learn that Cornell didn’t trust him anymore.
didn’t matter. He drank again, rested his elbows on the table and tried
to enjoy the warm taste of the beer.
Read on in Chapter Four!