A quest is given and angry help is offered
The great hall of the Duke of Whattlesworth was just what you would expect a prosperous nobleman’s great hall to be. Armor and weapons were displayed, not so many as to indicate that the Duke was a bloodthirsty warlord, but more than enough to let visitors know that he was a man who could take care of business, if need be.
Garfan knelt before the Duke as the warrior woman who had rousted him from the One Eyed Giant loomed behind him. The knight had counted the sets of armor (seven), and the weapons (thirty eight) and blinked five times, then four times.
“The knight, Sir Garfan, slayer of the Beast of Arnak, reuniter of the Merpeople, the restorer of all of-“ pronounced a herald.
“I think we all know who Sir Garfan is. Chosen One, do you mind if we dispense with the formalities?” asked the Duke.
“I knew your father, we fought the Goblins at the Gorge of Fire. I’m sure he must have mentioned me.”
Garfan couldn’t recall his father ever mentioning this pudgy little nobleman and had a harder time imaging him fighting a Goblin hoard, but appearances can be deceiving.
“Often and with great affection, Your Grace,” he replied.
This clearly pleased the Duke, who gestured for Garfan to stand.
“Would you like some wine? I just got some Gnomish red, which is rather good. It pairs nicely with our local cheese. Did you know that we are rather famous for our cheese in these parts?”
Garfan stood and a servant brought them each a glass of wine and a plate of cheese, which, as the Duke has promised, paired very well with the wine.
“I know most experts think that Elves make the best wine, but I am very partial to the Gnomish stuff. It somehow seems more honest. Not to say that Elves are dishonest, by no means! It’s just-“
The warrior woman cleared her throat forcefully.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t just bring you here to discuss wine, pleasant as that would be. I have a bit of a problem, you see.”
“What is it you need, Your Grace?” asked Garfan.
“Ah yes, it seems my youngest daughter, Daphnae, has been kidnapped by Shadow Creepers.”
The knight paused and looked at the Duke. “Pardon?”
“Did you not hear!” bellowed the warrior woman.
“I’m dreadfully sorry, I do mumble a bit,” said the Duke, who cleared his throat and spoke louder and slower. “MY YOUNGEST DAUGHTER, DAPHNAE, HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED BY SHADOW CREEPERS.”
Garfan stifled his first thoughts and moved on to subsequent ones. “Duke, I don’t mean to seem indelicate, but you do seem…” Garfan gathered his thoughts once more, “very calm about this.”
“When it happened I was wroth, over wroth, I dare say. I mean, my innocent child, in the hands of those monsters! Unthinkable!”
Whattlesworth was getting wroth, bordering on the over variety.
“And what has changed? If you don’t mind me asking?”
A wide smile broke out on the Duke’s face. “Why your arrival, Sir Garfan! It was foretold!”
A scholarly servant appeared with two other servants holding the ends of an extremely long scroll. Not just any scroll: it was, of course, the prophecy.
“Read that bit you read to me before, scholar Rubert!” insisted the Duke.
Rupert spoke in a high, nasal voice. “When the tiniest is hidden in shadows, the light shall arrive from the east to uncover what was lost.”
The Duke beamed at Garfan.
“You did come into Whattlesworth from the east, did you not?”
“He did, Your Grace; his servant confirmed it,” said the warrior woman in a shouty way.
Garfan turned to her. “Who are you, exactly?” he asked.
She fixed him with an accusatory glare. “I am Tarnah, Captain of the Duke’s Guard!”
“Do you think that because I am from Whattlesworth, a remote Dutchy, I am incapable of leading warriors in to battle or that I am too unsophisticated to know how to fight?!” she bellowed.
Garfan knew, from personal experience, that sophistication was no barrier to combat skill. Often it was a boon.
“No one is thinking that, trust me.”
“It’s a mistake many have made, and it was to be their very last mistake!”
“I didn’t make that mistake. You didn’t introduce yourself. All you did was shout “come with me!” Garfan was getting a little fed up with this woman, this incredibly beautiful woman.
The Duke tutted. “Now Tarnah, even in this crisis there is no call for bad manners. After all, you are my eldest daughter.”
Tarnah looked as if she was going to let loose with another outraged tirade but then bowed and said, “Yes father. I shall do my best to be more polite in the future.” Which reminded Garfan of the time the High Priest of the Icy Vale promised not to attack him but did nothing to prevent his pack of polar wolves from doing so. “Letter of the law, and all that,” the High Priest said with a wicked smile.
“So,” asked Garfan already knowing the answer, “the Prophecy foretold my arrival, so I could rescue your youngest daughter?”
“What could be clearer?” asked the Duke.
The problem was, to Garfan’s thinking, that everybody who had read the Prophecy or, given the large margin of illiteracy in the Land, had it read to them, thought he was there to solve whatever problem they had.
And EVERYBODY had a problem. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help people, he really did enjoy it. But when birthing a calf was predestined by a sacred scroll, it was transmuted from doing someone a solid, to an historical event. And when the person asking was a Duke, all you could do is say was…
“I’d be honored to find your daughter and return her safely, Your Grace.”
The Duke did a little jump, which in his mind was a frightfully jaunty dance. “Splendid! I shall equip you with whatever you require for your quest and I shall put as many men at your disposal as you will need.”
Garfan wanted to avoid leading an army across the Land. An army’s numbers were inconstant, people joining or dying or getting separated. Just thinking of the computations made him break out in a cold sweat. Time to think on less worrying things, like monsters.
“Other than the fact it was Shadow Creepers who kidnapped your daughter, do you have any clue as to who was behind this?”
“No ransom was issued!” Captain Tarnah roared.
He looked at her. “You can see I’m right here, you don’t need to shout everything.”
“I speak my mind, is that not how it done in the great cities of Land?”
What he wanted to say was, “Yes, but not as loudly,” but he instead replied, “I can see and hear that, Captain.”
She glowered at him. “Have care, Sir Knight, I am not to be mocked. Ask our last jester.”
“Yes, that was rather sad; I thought him quite amusing. But live and learn, or not,” added the Duke.
“So you have no idea who might have done this?” asked Garfan, trying to get things back on track.
“I must be some sort of necromancer or Fell Wizard, I think those are the sorts who traffic with Shadow Creepers and the like.”
“None of those nearby?” he asked hopefully.
“Oh no, we burned all of them a while back, nasty business.”
“I’ll need to consult with the Cat Folk of the Fernwood. When the Land is disrupted they know, they hate change.”
“Excellent! How many of my troops will you need?”
“The Cat Folk do not enjoy large groups marching into their forest; they’ll just hide in, under, and above the trees till they leave. My squire and I will go alone.”
Tarnah, with a great bit of clatter, knelt in front of the Duke.
“Father, allow me to join this quest! Daphnae is blood of my blood, I would see her safely home!”
Whattlesworth looked at Garfan. “Would you mind terribly? She’s frightfully fierce with that battle-axe.”
“I can imagine.” He looked at her. “This will be very dangerous.”
“I fear nothing!” she exclaimed.
Garfan had learned that some battles were not worth fighting. “We’ll leave at first light.”
The Duke said. “Ooo!”, clearly remembering one last thing. “There is one last thing: if you would be so kind to look up at the archway at the end of the room.”
Mounted on the top of the archway was a huge ogre’s head covered in savage tattoos and painful looking piercings, his mouth wide with more razor jagged teeth than Garfan had the time or inclination to count.
“That fearsome fellow was the chieftain Oook-Maart. I beheaded him at the battle of the Gorge of Fire and back then mounting heads was quite the fashion.”
“My father has a few, Your Grace,” he recalled the Hall of Foes that had terrified him as a very small child.
“More than a few, I’d wager,” he chuckled, “Now, I had no personal quarrel with this fellow, just war and all that. So, imagine what I’ll do to the man who fails to rescue my youngest child. I say this just as a courtesy, I have every confidence that you’ll be triumphant! But I do mean to be clear, just so there is no confusion down the line.”
Whattlesworth smiled pleasantly.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t leave right away. My horse!”