Thrilled as he was by the feel of the magnificent mount beneath him, Sahl's lingering apprehension was instantly reborn as full-blown paranoia. Five more soldiers, plus one on either flank. The warrior transferred the reins to his left hand, then backed his mount a couple of shuffling steps. His eyes kept constant track of the seven men around him. The horse must have sensed his tension, because it was fidgeting and trembling just a bit. Sahlman thought that the horse, which he was going to have to name before long, might have been more anxious to take off at full tilt than its rider.
Ziedon looked at the two groups of horsemen and wondered, 'What is Sahlman doing with those two? He still carries his sword so he obviously is not being held as a prisoner. What transpires here?' With a malicious grin Ziedon realized that he would be able to test out his magical powers sooner than he thought.
Planting his feet solidly in place, Ziedon braced himself and began to recite his much-used incantation. He focused on the closest of the soldiers facing Sahlman.
Slowly, the power built within Ziedon, filling him with increasing energy until he uttered the last word. He lurched forward for a second as he expelled an invisible force.
Ziedon wiped his forehead and watched the soldier's reaction. Confident that his spell was a success, Ziedon emerged from the trees, walking slowly towards the two groups of horsemen, and placing his weight heavily on his staff.
The apparent head of the new group stopped his party and asked, “Where is townsman Ulan?”
The soldier on Sahlman's left answered quickly and rudely. “In town. Where else would he be?”
“He'd be… Why are you here?”
“I'm searching for an escaped prisoner.”
“Don't take me for a fool. I know you're one of Ulan's men. He–”
“Townsman Ulan sent me. It was _his_ prisoner.”
“And he sent you with _him_?” The soldier looked at Sahlman.
“Of course not. We happened to meet on the way. You're trying to make me say something revealing, but it's not going to work; there's nothing to reveal.”
“Where are the other three missing soldiers?”
“_Other_ three? You mean the two of us are missing? I don't know anything about missing soldiers, here or anywhere else. All you had to do to find out we left was to ask the Townsman. My guess is that you can find out about the 'other three' just as easily.”
“Now look here–”
Another soldier in the new group interrupted. “Hello there!”
The first speaker looked up and saw an approaching man in black robes. “I suppose you met _him_ on the way too?”
Raising his voice so he would be heard, Ziedon asked, “Excuse me friends: what transpires here?” Ziedon acted friendly, but was watching for any sign of impending attack. On his lips were the words of his second spell, ready to be called forth against any such attacker.
Kay and Ardith ran from the campsite to the road, then peered up the road to where they heard the hoof beats. When they saw what was going on, they walked casually toward the groups. Kay held her bow at the ready and Ardith, although she made sure her staff was in hand and her other weapons were in easy reach, made sure to look composed.
A ways behind the robed man, the first speaker saw two women appear, one carrying a bow. “What's going on here? Is this some sort of poorly constructed trap? I have a mind to–”
The second speaker interrupted again, shouting to Ziedon. “Oh, we're just questioning this party of soldiers here. We were sent to find a townsman of Maelbourg, Ulan. Maybe you–”
The first showed a look of increasing confusion. “What the–”
“Maybe you've heard of him?”
“What are you doing, Waylad!?”
“I personally would rather be back in town, but hey, we're paid well, so why complain!” He turned his head and spoke in in quieter voice. “What do you think I'm doing? I'm talking to that nice gentleman over there.”
Ziedon's heart beat fast in his chest as he listened to the banter between the two guards. Silently cursing the fact that he cast his spell at the wrong person, Ziedon tried to salvage the situation. He continued to walk forward, and addressed his new 'friend' in a casual manner as if talking over a pint of ale, “Waylad is it? Ziedon's the name… You ask of Ulan? Of course I have heard of him. By the by, who sent you out looking for him and why, if I may be so bold as to inquire.”
Ziedon shot a quick glance over at Sahlman and shook his head slightly, signaling to the desert dweller to forestall any actions for the time being. Returning his attention to the new soldiers, Ziedon smiled wickedly as the leader of this new band blanched at Ziedon's easy manner and the fact that Waylad answered just as easily.
Ziedon was never such a welcome sight. The methods employed by the mage were horrendous, it was true, but at that moment Sahl was of the opinion that horrendous methods might be his only hope. What was better, Ziedon looked as if he had a plan of some sort. Sahlman listened to the verbal combat between the guards and also realized that they didn't seem to be on the same side. He guessed that the five who'd just ridden up were dispatched by Galgewe. The desert man considered it unfortunate for them. By treating the men who'd accompanied Ulan in such smug, shoddy fashion, they'd very likely given away a solid advantage. And praise Ay'wah for that.
“Ah, it was the Master Galgewe who sent us. One of his men, actually. He –”
“Have you gone mad? What are you doing?”
Waylad turned again to his companion. “The man's just curious.” He turned back to Ziedon. “He wanted us to –”
“That's enough out of you,” the soldier shouted as he drew his sword.
“Pardon me if I don't answer your question, but there's a sword pointed in my direction.”
Through the whole episode, all the soldiers not directly involved showed looks varying from amusement to utter confusion. The huge man on Sahlman's right, who the warrior had picked for his apparent ferocity, even let out a chuckle at one point. Two of the new soldiers backed up their horses when the sword was drawn.
Ziedon exaggerated the motions of scratching his head in bewilderment and said, “Well, if he is going to draw steel on you, perhaps you should come over by me. He might be silly enough to try and attack me for just asking questions. I would appreciate any defense you might offer.”
Ardith and Kay were only six yards away now, close enough to hear all that was going on.
Ziedon didn't smile as much as grin as Waylad pulled out of the line away from the menacing swordsman and trotted his horse over by Ziedon. If nothing else, this would increase the odds in favor of Sahlman in case battle broke out.
“Where are you going?” the bewildered commander asked. He brought his horse forward a few steps, but quickly thought better of it and retreated to his previous position. “Come back here!”
Ziedon asked again. “Now, why did Galgewe send you looking for Ulan? What were you to do if you found him?”
“You get the wrong idea. We weren't going to do anything to him – just escort him back to Maelbourg.”
The commander sheathed his sword and spoke to himself. He looked more confused than anyone. “He was – no, is – a loyal soldier, member of the Town Guard for ten years. He knows not to blurt things out like that, however unimportant.”
Ziedon reminded himself that Waylad would have to live in Maelbourg long after this incident was over, and couldn't help but feel somewhat guilty. He decided to muddy the waters a bit. “Galgewe was placed into the position that he currently holds by me. I think that it is okay to answer my questions.”
A soldier from the back spoke up. His horse was retreating slowly, and the man held a powerful look of fear. “He's bewitched. I seen it before, when I had to check something out at Westearth Falls. One day, a lady was quiet and unobtrusive, the next she was a blabbering idiot.”
The name “Westearth” immediately struck Ziedon, and he couldn't help a twitch in the soldier's direction. Westearth was Ziedon's birthplace, and he had visited the falls many a time. He also recognized the story.
Ziedon's first master, Moutelle (the name filled him with memories), spent some time in Westearth after accepting his student. Ziedon, the young son of a bone-setter, was thrilled with his newfound powers and ever eager to try them out. When Ziedon had mastered a minor form of mind-control – oh, what a new and exciting ability, so unlike any he had imagined before – he made use of it immediately.
Agla was the daughter of one of Westearth's many fishermen. She was slight of figure but very pretty, and her father was a master of his guild. What a foolish use of Ziedon's power she was, especially in a town where almost one out of a hundred had witnessed magic of some sort. Ziedon had to be considerably more careful after he unwittingly turned the quiet girl into such a babbler. The effects lasted a month, so they surprised and angered the town as much when they stopped as when they started. Ziedon would have stopped her sooner, had he not been afraid of making things worse. And he would never have dared tell his master.
Whatever the case, the coincidence was not enough to completely distract Ziedon. He looked back up at the soldier.
“Bewitched? How can that be… but is there another explanation?”
Ziedon dismissingly waved his hand and let out a single bark of laughter. “HA, what rubbish; next you will be talking of fairies and talking animals!”
The commander's unsureness was enough to send the remaining three soldiers off at a trot. The commander himself only backed off a few yards. “What is going on, Waylad?”
Under the current distractions, Ziedon asked Waylad and the commander, “I left after emplacing Galgewe. Has he supplanted the townsman? I mean, do you follow the townsman's orders or Galgewe's?”
Waylad answered. “I don't –”
“Waylad! I order you to stop talking!”
Waylad looked at his commander and shrugged. “Stop interrupting. I'm trying to have a conversation.” He turned back to Ziedon. “I don't know much about politics. We're taking Galgewe's orders, but why would he supplant a townsman? No one has the right to do that.”
“Fairies indeed!” the commander shouted. His horse took a couple more steps back, then turned. The commander spurred the horse and galloped away as fast as he could.
All: This turn got off to a slow start, but still got out early. Thanks, everyone! I, and a bunch of you, will be going on vacations in August, so I'd like to make turn 32 a fast one. Please respond as soon as possible so I can get the turn out before I leave.
In this turn, I added a story about Ziedon's past. It just came to me last night, so I wrote it down. If any of you ever feel like making up stories about your characters and submitting them in your responses, feel free. Just stay in character, and don't have your characters doing anything too amazing in their youth. :)
Ziedon – you raised a level, and got 4HP, bringing you up to 10.