Dark Monolith - F. P. Spirit - E-Book

Dark Monolith E-Book

F. P. Spirit

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Beschreibung

A cult of black mages and demons. The secret to the Thrall Masters’ terrifying power. A desperate race to find it first.

“They’ll be able to make… golems that haven’t been seen… since the Thrall Masters walked the earth…” Tevlar’s corpse warned.

A hundred and fifty years have passed since the Thrall Masters nearly destroyed the land of Thac. Now the secret to their terrifying power has been found and the Serpent Cult is after it.

To stop them, Glolindir and friends must seek out an ancient monolith hidden somewhere in the depths of the mysterious Darkwoods. Yet first they must deal with accusations of treason. They have been branded traitors and must prove themselves in trial by combat or be banished forever.

From the tournament fields of Ravenford Keep to the depths of the Darkwoods, the young heroes face deadly traps, fierce monsters, and cunning demons. Can they reach the Dark Monolith before the cult? And if so, what terrifying magical force awaits them there?

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Dark Monolith

The Heroes of Ravenford

Book 3

F.P. Spirit

Copyright @ 2018 F. P. Spirit

Cover Art by Jackson Tjota

Cover Typography by Amalia Chitulescu

Interior Design by Designs by Shannon

Edited by Sandra Nguyen

ISBN 978-0-9984715-9-4

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher. You must not circulate this book in any format.

Thanks to Tim for creating the world of Thac, and to Eric, Jeff, John, Mark and Matt for their roles in bringing the Heroes to life. Also, thanks to the rest of my friends and family who gave their time and support into the creation of this book.

Other Books in this Series

The Ruins on Stone Hill

The Serpent Cult

The Dark Monolith

The Princess of Lanfor

The Baron’s Heart

Contents

Map of Thac

1. Heals and Heels

2. Wins and Losses

3. The Fortune Teller

4. False Accusations

5. The Serpent’s Head

6. Lloyd vs. Fafnar

7. Pearls

8. Lightning

9. Road to Vermoorden

10. House of Barmann

11. Theater of the Festive Spirits

12. Lake Monsters

13. Battle of the Bards

14. Dreams

15. Up the Creek

16. Black Gem

17. Temptress

18. Inazuma

19. Into the Darkwoods

20. Inside the Monolith

21. Chakras

22. Blades

23. Phantom Armor

24. Runic Wheel of Fortune

25. Air

26. Above the Clouds

27. Water

28. A Walk in the Park

29. Earth

30. Fire

31. Stealle

32. Golden Sphere

33. The Woman in the Woods

34. Shadow of the Colossus

35. The Truth About Ruka

36. Above the Colossus

37. Hopes and Prayers

38. The Golem Master’s Secret

Story Continues

Princess of Lanfor Excerpt

Also by F.P.Spirit

About the Author

It has been nearly one hundred and fifty years since the end of the Thrall Wars, since the Thrall Lord and his minions reigned terror and destruction over the island continent of Thac. Chief among his lieutenants was the Golem Thrall Master, Larketh. The Dwarven master wielded a magic unparalleled even by today’s standards. His golems were the strongest of constructs and utterly under his control. Unfortunately, Larketh’s knowledge was lost with him at the end of that terrible war. To date, no trace of his works concerning golems has been found. Or if it has, it has been kept well hidden.

- Lady Lara Stealle, High Wizard of Penwick

1

Heals and Heels

If this were Dunwynn, those rogues would have never made it past the gates

Lloyd Stealle took a deep breath as he passed through the arched, double-door entrance to Ravenford Keep. It was something he immediately regretted. A sharp pain lanced up his side. It was definitely his ribs. One, or maybe even two, had been cracked during the battle with the Serpent Cult. The young warrior clamped his arm firmly to his side, giving no other outward sign of the pain he felt. It was a small price to pay for defeating the dark mages and their oversized serpents.

For reasons still unclear, the Serpent Cult had set its sights on the small seaport town. They had encircled Ravenford within a ring of monsters, assassins and demons. Caravans from the west were waylaid. Ships enroute down the coast were sunk. They even staged a home invasion of the town’s master wizard, Maltar. Then, in one final brazen move, the Serpent Cult infiltrated Ravenford Keep. The dark mages had threatened the lives of everyone therein. That had been their last mistake.

Lloyd had come to care a great deal for the people of Ravenford over the last few weeks, and none more so than the Lady Andrella. Lloyd and his companions had taken the Serpent Cultistshead-on in defense of the young lady and her family, the Baron and Baroness of Ravenford. It had been a deadly battle in the keep’s courtyard, with casualties on both sides. In the end, Lloyd and his friends prevailed. Now, mere minutes after the battle had ended, he was being led into Ravenford Keep. His other arm was firmly linked to the spirited young woman whom he had come to care so much about.

The Lady Andrella Avernos was quite attractive, a fact that Lloyd had been keenly aware of from the moment he first laid eyes on her. Yet, there was more to the young lady than her tall, slender form, her long, perfectly coiffed strawberry blonde hair and her striking blue eyes. Andrella was rather intelligent, though she did her best to keep it hidden. She was also verystrong-willed. Still, in quieter moments Lloyd had witnessed a gentleness about her, and a deep abiding concern for the people her family was charged with protecting. These were the qualities that he found most attractive.

“You were amazing!” Andrella gushed as she escorted him through the archway and across the black and white checkered floor of the keep’s wide foyer. “The way you faced down those giant serpents then rocketed into the air to finish that horrible wizard.” Her eyes glistened as she recounted his exploits.

“Oh, it was really nothing.” Lloyd grinned sheepishly, embarrassed by her passionate description of what was merely his duty. After all, he had sworn to protect the Baron and his family.

Andrella abruptly halted and retracted her arm from his. She placed her hands on her hips and gazed up at him with a petulant expression. “Lloyd Stealle! You are far too modest.” He felt himself flush even more as she stared at him, the frustration clearly written across her otherwise lovely face. After only a few moments, her eyes softened. Her expression changed and the corners of her mouth upturned slightly. “But I guess that is one of the things which makes you so endearing.”

Lloyd was unsure how to respond. He found himself completely and utterly mystified by this charming young woman. It was amazing how fast her mood could swing from anger to delight.

“Anyway, let’s get you healed up. She linked arms with him again.

Lloyd shook his head slowly but said nary a word. He had learned it was best to keep silent when faced with situations like this. The duo strode together into the keep proper and entered the main hall. Lloyd carefully scanned the large chamber—it had a vaulted, two-story ceiling, thick white columns interspersed at even intervals across the room, and four balconies on the second floor above them along either side of the lengthy room. The hall was decorated with plush red carpets, multicolored tapestries, and various portraits. There were a number of benches along the walls, some of which were already occupied.

Lloyd scanned those seats for Glolindir and Seth. After the battle, the duo was nowhere to be seen. Glo had disappeared, his absence made all the more ominous by the rantings of Voltark, the leader of the cult attack. He could still hear the evil mage’s sinister voice in his mind. You cannot defeat us! See how easily your wizard falls. As for Seth, he had not been seen since before the Serpent Cult attacked.

As Andrella ushered Lloyd down the long hallway, he spied two familiar figures huddled close together on one of the benches. The first was clad in purple robes—the second wore an elegant bronze gown. A wave of relief suddenly washed over Lloyd. The purple-robed figure faced away from him, but there was no mistaking the long pale blonde hair and the tip of a pointed ear that peeked through those locks. That’s Glolindir!

There was no mistaking his companion either. The long golden-blonde hair with faint greenish highlights, the vivid aqua blue-green eyes, and the shimmering bronze dress all clearly indicated that it was Ves. The young lady was the eldest of the mysterious three sisters they had first met on the beach at Cape Marlin.

Lloyd quickened his step, overjoyed at having found his missing friend. “Glo!”

The elven wizard spun around, a thin smile spreading across his normally serious face. “Lloyd! Glad to see you are alright.”

A broad grin crossed Lloyd’s face. “I could say the same. From what Voltark had said, I feared the worst.”

Glo’s face flushed with embarrassment. “Yes, well, I had a bit of a mishap.”

Before he could say another word, Ves cut him off, her head slightly tilted as she gazed at him reprovingly. “Glolindir took the full brunt of a ball of fire, despite the fact that his protection spell had all but run out.”

Andrella, still hanging on to Lloyd’s arm, squealed with alarm. “I saw that! You were almost burnt to a crisp!”

Glo face scrunched up into a pained expression. “Yes, but I didn’t really have much choice. After all, there was an entire crowd of guests behind me, including the both of you...” His eyes swept from Andrella to Ves.

Ves’s expression softened, a slight smile spreading across her lips. “No, I guess you did not,”

Andrella gave the wizard a wry smile. “It was rather brave—even if it was stupid.”

Glo glanced up at her and let out a short laugh. “Well, thankfully Ves was right there.” He reached out and grasped Ves’s hand. The young lady dropped her eyes down, her cheeks turning slightly pink. “Just glad I could be of service.”

“Yes, Vestiralanna, thank you for taking such excellent care of our good friend,” a stately voice rang out from behind them.

Lloyd spun around. The Lady Gracelynn approached them from the direction of the courtyard. Gracelynn Avernos was the Baroness of Ravenford and Andrella’s mother. She was aptly named as the lady was the very picture of grace both in appearance and temperament. Perhaps an inch taller than Andrella, her lithe form seemed to glide across the hallway as she moved toward them. Her long chestnut hair flowed down from the small circlet across her brow and draped over the shoulders of her pale blue gown. Emblazoned on her chest was a golden circle with six rays spreading outward from it—the symbol of the god Arenor, the Hand of Light. Aside from being the Baroness of Ravenford, the Lady Gracelynn was also a very accomplished cleric.

Gracelynn led a procession of followers. Just behind her, Lloyd spied their friend Elladan, the elven bard still dressed in his white spangled outfit from the night’s earlier performance. He was accompanied by the bardess, Shalla. The light-brown-haired songstress was dressed similarly to Elladan, except in white and green. Next to the two bards stood Aksel, their copper-haired gnomish friend and leader of the little band of companions, garbed in his white clerical robes. He was accompanied by the town head cleric, Abbot Qualtan. The erstwhile traveling companion of the Baron, Qualtan now appeared to be a rather sour-faced middle-aged man.

Behind them stood Sir Brennon and Sir Duncan, knights from Lloyd’s own home city of Penwick. They were both dressed in the red doublet of the Penwick army, with shining rings of chainmail covering the rest of their bodies. Sir Duncan’s doublet was ripped, his chainmail tarnished and broken in spots. Next to Sir Duncan, dressed in a white doublet and chainmail, was the fierce redheaded Knight of the Rose who had also joined them on the battlefield, the Dame Alana. The entire group was flanked by Francis and Relkin, the two town guards who had befriended Lloyd and his companions over these last few weeks.

Lady Gracelynn stopped in front of them. “And thank you, Glolindir, for your bravery. Were it not for your sacrifice, I’m afraid there would have been many more folks who would have perished this evening.”

Glo merely bowed his head to the Baroness. The Lady Gracelynn smiled in return then turned around to address her entourage. “You were all quite brave, in fact, coming to our defense in our hour of need. Now let us repay you in some small measure. Please find an empty seat so we may tend to your wounds.”

Ves leaned in closer to Glo. “That’s my cue. We will talk later.” She then let go of his hand, got up and joined Aksel, Qualtan, and the injured combatants. The entire group moved on down the hall.

Andrella prodded Lloyd, her tone quite firm. “That means you, too.”

Lloyd sighed. He had been so distracted that he had almost forgotten about his own wounds. Now that she reminded him, he felt the pain again in his side. “Alright.”

Gracelynn took the seat Ves had just vacated. “I’ll be with you shortly. I just want to check on Glolindir first.”

Lloyd nodded his understanding. “No problem, your Ladyship.” He knew first hand that Ves was an excellent healer. However, considering that Glo had almost died, it made sense that Lady Gracelynn would want to give him a quick once over.

Andrella tugged on Lloyd’s arm and motioned with her head toward the next bench down. The others had left it vacant, probably assuming he would want to stay near his elven friend. Lloyd let Andrella lead him to the bench and they sat down. It was the first time he had sat since the battle with the Serpent Cult. It felt good. While they waited for Lady Gracelynn, Lloyd saw a slim figure zip by. The cap of short, sandy-blonde hair and the telltale pointed ears revealed that it was none other than Donatello. The wiry elf flashed him a quick twinkling smile then continued down the hallway. He did not stop until he caught up with the redheaded lady knight. Lloyd watched with keen interest as the slight elf smoothly gained the Dame Alana’s attention.

Andrella let out a soft laugh. “Your new friend there appears to be quite the charmer.”

Lloyd couldn’t help grinning. “It would seem so.”

Andrella slowly spun around, her eyes sparkling with laughter. The two of them stared at each other until Lloyd felt himself flush again. She’s so beautiful. He could still remember the taste of her lips. At the end of the battle, she had rushed across the field, thrown her arms around him and kissed him ardently. Now he wanted nothing more than to taste those lips again. Lloyd slowly leaned toward her. Andrella responded in kind.

“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long,” a familiar voice spoke up behind him.

Lloyd froze in place, the blood rushing to his cheeks. He spun around and saw the Lady Gracelynn standing there. She watched them curiously, the trace of a smile on her lips. Still red in the face, Lloyd stammered his reply. “N-no, not really.”

Andrella started to stand, but her mother waved her to stay where she was. “Sit, Andrella. The two of you just scoot over a bit, and I will have more than enough room.”

Andrella smiled brightly at her mother, then she and Lloyd slid over as requested. Lady Gracelynn seated herself on the other side of him. “Please give me a moment.”

She closed her eyes and folded her hands together, softly praying. It was a prayer to the god Arenor for divine power and guidance. Lloyd had heard that same prayer many times, his own sister being a priestess of the god of light. After a minute, her eyes snapped back open and she reached out, placing both her hands a few inches away from his side. White energy radiated from her palms, the light flowing over him and seeping into his body. The sharp pain in his side began to dissipate.

“The ribs are broken, so this may take a while,” Lady Gracelynn explained to him, not taking her eyes off her work.

Lloyd nodded his understanding. He quieted his thoughts and focused on his breathing, doing his best to remain still. It was hard at first, but as the pain subsided, it became easier. He had just lulled himself into a semi-trance when the sharp click of boot heels echoed down the hall. Lloyd opened his eyes and saw Sir Fafnar marching down the hallway toward them. Lloyd let out a deep sigh. Fafnar was the last person he felt like dealing with right now.

Sir Fafnar Strakentir was a noble from the city of Dunwynn, far to the north. The knight had accompanied the Duke of Dunwynn to Ravenford, supposedly as the Duke’s right hand man. The pompous knight had proceeded to throw his weight around town, interfering with the companions’ efforts to protect the Baron and his family. Fafnar had even tried to get them banned from the keep. Luckily, that had not happened, or the consequences would have been disastrous.

Now the arrogant noble strode straight for them. He wore an insipid expression, his pencil-thin mustache and goatee making him look that much more absurd. Fafnar’s shoulder length brown hair flapped as he walked, keeping time with the clicking of his boot heels on the stone floor. His fancy blue doublet was stained with grass, but otherwise the noble appeared unscarred by battle. In fact, Lloyd didn’t remember seeing him on the field at all during the confrontation. That seemed rather surprising, considering how the man liked to brag about his fighting prowess. Lloyd had no time to contemplate the matter further as Fafnar stopped right in front of them. With a low bow, the foppish noble spoke in a fawning tone.

“Excuse me, ladies. I am glad to see that neither of you were hurt in that little fiasco.” His eyes fell on Lloyd as he uttered that last word.

Lloyd refused to let this pompous fool get under his skin again, especially in front of Andrella and her mother. He kept his emotions in check, glaring silently back at the arrogant noble. The Lady Gracelynn also remained quiet, diligently concentrating on her work. Andrella, on the other hand, chose to reply, her response equally lofty.

“I thank you for your concern, Sir, but we were in good hands, I assure you.”

“Really?” Fafnar arched an eyebrow, his voice taking on a snide tenor. “If this were Dunwynn, those rogues would have never made it past the gates.”

Lloyd felt his anger rise. He nearly stood up, but then remembered he was being healed. With a great effort, he forced himself to remain still.

Andrella on the other hand, did not refrain from responding. “Is that so? Tell me, Sir Fafnar, where were you during all the fighting? I did not see you out on the battlefield.”

Fafnar’s cheeks reddened slightly. He pursed his lips, his face taking on an even more sour expression, if that was at all possible. “Ah, yes. It seems that some varlet thought it would be amusing to tie my bootlaces together. By the time I had them undone, the battle was over.” The nobleman looked pointedly at Lloyd, and then over at the next bench where Glo still sat. Lloyd followed his gaze and noted that Elladan and Shalla now sat with the elven wizard.

A short laugh escaped Andrella’s lips. Lloyd spun his head back around and saw the young lady had her hand to her mouth, her head turned to one side. Lloyd found it hard to contain himself. He gazed down at his boots in an effort to hide the grin on his face, however, his body spasmed with silent fits of laughter.

“Lloyd, you must remain still if I am to heal you properly,” the Lady Gracelynn admonished.

"Sorry," he said, trying his best to keep his voice even.

Andrella recovered her composure, responding to Fafnar’s plight in a placating tone. “I’m sure the prankster, whoever he was, meant no real harm.”

Sir Fafnar’s tone turned haughty once more. “That’s quite alright, milady. I will prove my prowess at tomorrow’s tourney, then you will see some real swordsmanship at work.”

Lloyd glanced up. The arrogant noble stared directly at him. This was not some veiled accusation. That was a direct challenge.

Lloyd met Fafnar's gaze, his own voice cold as ice. “I look forward to it.” The two glared at each other unflinchingly, the tension almost palpable between them.

“Yes, I’m sure you do,” the fop finally responded, his tone dripping with conceit. He turned toward the Baroness and gave her a curt bow. “Lady Gracelynn.”

The Dunwynn noble next turned toward Andrella and put out his hand. The young lady paused a moment then courteously extended her hand. As the noble bent to kiss it, she turned her head away. Lloyd watched the entire exchange with interest. When Fafnar stood back up, his disappointment was obvious. He quickly turned on his heel and strode away, his boots clicking sharply on the stone floor as he marched off. When he passed Elladan, Shalla, and Glo, he glared at them briefly, then continued down the hall.

Once he had passed, Elladan rose from his seat. The bard came over to join them, placing a hand on Lloyd’s shoulder. “Lloyd, you better kick his butt tomorrow.”

Lloyd nearly choked. His eyes moved from Andrella to Gracelynn, his face turning a light shade of red. Andrella’s reaction surprised him.

“Please do!”

“Andrella!” Gracelynn chided her daughter.

Lloyd swung around to face the Baroness, yet she did not seem upset. In fact, there was the hint of a smile on her lips. Lloyd found their reactions heartwarming. Underneath all the titles and finery, the Avernos were just plain folks. They reminded him very much of his own family. For the first time in over a month, Lloyd felt like he was home again.

2

Wins and Losses

These folks are ruthless and will stop at nothing

A short while later, Lloyd’s ribs were healed. The Lady Gracelynn took her leave, off to check on the rest of the wounded. Lloyd and Andrella turned to face each other, his mind quickly wandering back to where they had left off when last alone. He reached over and grasped her slender hand, holding it gently in his own. Andrella smiled softly as he began to lean in toward her. She tilted her head up slightly and closed her eyes as their faces drew nearer.

“Lloyd!”

He froze just inches away from Andrella’s lips. “Come join us!”

Thatwas Elladan’s voice.

Lloyd reluctantly pulled back from the lovely young lady. He turned to see the bard standing in front of the bench where Glo and Shalla sat. He waved Lloyd over. Lloyd turned toward Andrella and sighed. “We probably should.”

Andrella hesitated a moment, mixed emotions playing across her face. She sighed in turn. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

The duo stood up, still holding hands, and walked over to join the others. Elladan was in the midst of a vivid recounting of the battle with the Serpent Cultists. Glo and Shalla sat quietly, rapt in the bard’s description of the clash.

“Lightning flared and thunder boomed. Yet another dark mage fell, his serpent mount sizzling. Lightning was met with fire. The crowd threatened, the elven wizard made the supreme sacrifice. Everyone held their breath, but in the end, the fierce ball of fire was stayed; but not without cost, for the wizard fell, charred and broken.”

Elladan’s voice grew soft at the end. Shalla reached over and patted Glo’s hand. After a momentary pause, Elladan’s voice rose once more.

“Yet the battle was not over. Swords danced, and serpents writhed. Fang and steel, coil and muscle, the fierce battle pressed on. And behind it all, two giant behemoths vied for supremacy over the field.”

Lloyd found himself completely absorbed by this retelling of the clash. He had just lived it, and it had indeed been brutal and deadly. Elladan, however, made it sound like an encounter of near-epic proportions. The bard went on with his vibrant narration, until he reached the climax of the battle.

“The last dark mage, Voltark himself, hung suspended over the battlefield, threatening the host below with yet another magical barrage. A flash of lightning, a lance of light, and a rain of arrows, all bombarded the evil mage. The villain reeled, unaware of the red-clad warrior rising up from below, his swords alight with the fire of vengeance. There, high above the battlefield, he clove the dark mage in two with his fiery wrath and thus ended, once and for all, the threat of evil that hung over the keep.”

When Elladan finished, silence fell over them. Lloyd was half honored and half embarrassed to be painted as a hero of such grand proportions. Andrella was the first to break the silence. She began to applaud.

“That was magnificent.”

“Yes, it was indeed.” Shalla stood up and kissed Elladan on the cheek.

“That does make quite a tale, doesn’t it?” Elladan’s lips parted to form a quasi-smile. “I’ll have to make it into a song.”

“You mean we’ll have to make it into a song,” Shalla corrected, elbowing him in the ribs.

Elladan grabbed his side but quickly recovered. He took Shalla by the hand, his smile widening. “We will write it into a song.”

Shalla’s feigned irritation quickly melted away. A wide smile spread across her lips as she eyed the bard fondly.

Lloyd suddenly remembered something that had been bothering him. He turned to Glo. “If you were that hurt, how did you manage to fire off that last bolt of lightning at Voltark?”

Glo peered at Lloyd, a perplexed look upon his face. “That wasn’t me.”

The response caught Lloyd by surprise. Not just anyone could cast a bolt of lightning. You had to be a fairly experienced magic user to do so.

“If you didn’t shoot Voltark, then who did?” Elladan asked.

Glo’s brow furrowed. “That is a good question.”

Any further discussion was cut off when a voice rang out from down the hall.

“Gentlemen! Ladies!”

Lloyd spun around to see Donatello strolling up to them. Alongside the artist strode the redheaded lady knight, Dame Alana.

“Donnie!” Elladan stepped forward to greet his old friend. The slight elf walked up and grasped hands with the bard. “That was some fancy footwork out there.”

“Indeed,” the lady knight concurred. “His timely distraction saved Sir Craven and me from quite an unpleasant situation.”

“From what I’ve heard, he makes a habit of saving fair ladies in distress.” Shalla’s full lips were upturned ever so slightly.

Alana turned toward Donnie, her expression darkening as she folded her arms across her chest. “Oh, really?”

Donnie raised his palms up in front of him, his face flushing with sudden discomfort. “Well, not so much a habit”—he swiftly changed the subject—“but where are my manners? Everyone, I would like to introduce you to the Dame Alana Benefilla. Alana is a Guardian in the order of the Knights of the Rose.”

Elladan peered at Alana with clear admiration. “The legendary Knights of the Rose—tales of their valor date all the way back to the Thrall Wars and beyond.”

Alana turned toward the bard, her expression brightening. “Why thank you, Elladan, is it?”

“Elladan Narmolanya, at your service,” he replied with a low bow.

Alana turned to face Shalla. “And you are the Bardess Shalla, also from tonight’s performance?”

“Shalla Vesperanna,” the songstress responded with a curtsy equally as graceful as Elladan’s bow.

“We must talk more,” Alana said, moving closer and placing a hand on Shalla’s shoulder.

Donnie cleared his throat and once again redirected the conversation, pointing toward Glo. “And this is Glolindir Eodin, acting town wizard.”

“We were indeed lucky to have you and Sir Craven by our side this day,” Glo said as he rose and bowed to the lady knight.

Alana nodded to him. “Thank you, good wizard. I could say the same of you.”

Donnie continued introductions around the circle. “And this is the Lady Andrella, first daughter of Ravenford.”

Andrella executed a graceful curtsy of her own. “As our good bard has already stated, the Knights of the Rose are well renowned. Your presence on the battlefield today was our good fortune.”

A wide grin spread across Alana’s face. “It is our pleasure to serve and protect your ladyship.”

Donnie pointing toward Lloyd next. “And this is Lloyd Stealle, of the noble Penwick House of Stealle.”

Lloyd stepped forward and extended his hand to the lady warrior. “You and Sir Craven were truly valiant out on the field today. It was an honor fighting beside The Knights of the Rose.”

Dame Alana took Lloyd’s hand and shook it vigorously. Her grip was rather impressive. “You are all too kind, Lloyd Stealle. You handle those swords as if you were born with them in your hands. It was our honor to fight alongside a warrior of such prowess.”

Lloyd cheeks reddened at the praise. “I try my best, good Dame, but I am no knight.”

Alana’s entire face lit up at Lloyd’s humble reply. She opened her mouth to respond, but their conversation was abruptly interrupted. Another familiar voice rang out across the large hall.

“Attention! Attention! The Baron of Ravenford would like to say a few words.” Captain Gelpas, the head of the Ravenford guards, stood in the center of the hall. Behind him were Baron Gryswold, the Lady Gracelynn, and Abbot Qualtan.

Gryswold Avernos was dressed in his typical spartan military attire, a dark grey outfit with a longsword strapped to his side. The only decoration on his jacket was a small heraldic in the upper left corner. It was multicolored, with a background of red, white, and blue overlaid by a large black figure representing the dragon that he had slain to save the seaport town some ten years ago. Gryswold’s powerfully-built shoulders appeared tense, his expression pensive—his dark brown hair, mustache, and beard making him look positively grim.

The Baron and Baroness stood amidst a crowd of party guests. Behind them were a mixture of Ravenford guards in their black and white uniforms, and Dunwynn men in the powder-blue outfits. Everyone in the hallway hushed as Gryswold began to speak, his deep baritone voice reaching across the area, thanks to the superb acoustics of the main hall.

“I want to thank all of you, Knights of Penwick, Knights of the Rose, and our very own Ravenford guards. Your swift rise to arms and prowess in battle has won the day for us.” He paused a moment as cheers and clapping ran through the crowd, then continued, his voice rising over the throng. “But most of all I want to thank the Heroes of Ravenford. Had they not uncovered this foul plot and prepared us for it, the day might have turned out far differently.”

More cheers broke out, accompanied by clapping this time as the crowd turned to face the companions. In lieu of Aksel, who had not yet rejoined them, Elladan stepped forward and spoke for the group. “It was our pleasure to serve.”

The crowd clapped even louder and a few cheers of Heroes could be heard interspersed among those gathered. The Baron let it go on for a bit, then again raised his own voice above the assembly. “There is one sad note.” The crowd quieted down, the mood turning rather somber once again. “Sir Calric, the valiant knight from Penwick, was killed by those accursed mages. He died with honor, protecting us with his very life. Gryswold swiveled to face the Abbot. Therefore, I would like to ask our good friend Qualtan if he could attempt to restore this brave knight back to life.”

All eyes fell upon the middle-aged, white robed cleric. Qualtan eyes flickered around the waiting throng, his eyes shifting back and forth and his hands twitching slightly. After a moment or two, he turned toward the Baron. "Well then, I may be able to restore his spirit in the morning. That is, with proper prayer and donations...”

A few gasps went up through the crowd. Gryswold’s jaw dropped, his mouth hanging open. He attempted to speak, but no words would come out. Finally finding his voice, he cried out in dismay. “Qualtan! Whatever has come over you?"

Qualtan averted his eyes as more murmurs sprang up amongst the gathering. Gryswold’s face grew red, his eyes turning dark with anger, but before he could speak further, the Lady Gracelynn grabbed him by the arm and pulled him aside. Their exchange was rather quiet and could not be heard over the crowd, but Gryswold was fuming, his hands clenching into fists and unclenching. Somehow, Gracelynn managed to calm him down, and when he looked up again, he seemed in control once more. The crowd hushed as the Baron turned toward Qualtan.

"Very well. The town of Ravenford will pay for Sir Calric’s resurrection. After all, he died defending us.”

"Excellent," the Abbot simpered, "I’ll head back to the temple at once to prepare for the morrow. Please have the good knight's body sent over so that we may preserve it until then." The white robed cleric quickly spun around and disappeared into the crowd.

"That was a less-than-divine attitude," Donnie observed.

Andrella’s voice was rather subdued. "Abbot Qualtan is usually quite amenable. He has seemed rather distant, though, as of late—almost as if something were preying on his mind.”

The Baron addressed the assemblage once more. “Very well then, we are done here. Once again, thank you all.” Gryswold and Gracelynn adjourned themselves from the main hall, followed by the town guards and the Dunwynn contingent.

As the crowd dispersed, Sir Brennon came over to join the companions. “I wanted to personally thank you for your help today. It was an honor fighting beside you." The others responded in kind. A short discussion ensued about the day’s events, at the end of which he said, “My apologies, but I must take my leave. Sir Duncan and I will be accompanying Sir Calric’s body to the temple, where we will remain in vigil until they attempt to raise him on the morrow.”

Alana nodded. “As I would do for one of my fellow knights.”

Sir Brennon’s gazed at her briefly, a look of understanding passing between the two. “Thank you.” He then turned to Lloyd. “A moment if I may, young Master Stealle?”

Lloyd whispered to Andrella, “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll be waiting,” she whispered in return.

Sir Brennon led Lloyd a short distance away from the others. "Lad, it is now up to you to represent Penwick at the rest of this gathering."

Lloyd suddenly felt as if a great weight had been placed on his shoulders. "I'll do my best."

The trace of a smile passed across Sir Brennon’s otherwise grim countenance. "Of that I have no doubt. I must say that was quite some display of swordsmanship out there today. I’ve fought beside your father before, and you looked just like him on the battlefield.”

Lloyd was honored. His father was the best swordsman he had ever seen. That was quite a compliment coming from the Penwick knight. “Thank you, Sir Brennon. That means a lot.”

Brennon actually smiled this time, but his expression quickly turned serious again. His eyes briefly swept the area, then he stepped even closer to Lloyd, speaking in a very soft voice. “A piece of advice—the Lady Andrella seems to have taken a fancy to you. Just be warned that there are those who seek her hand for more than reasons of the heart. Watch your back, son. These folks are ruthless and will stop at nothing. If they see you as a threat, the next attack may not be on the battlefield.”

Lloyd nodded. He had already experienced Fafnar’s attempt to discredit them. He would not put it past the noble to try again. “Thank you for the advice, Sir Brennon. I will heed your words.”

Sir Brennon placed a hand on Lloyd’s shoulder. “Very good. Stay safe, young Lloyd Stealle.”

3

The Fortune Teller

Sometimes I can even divine the future

Seth Korzair had watched the entire battle with the Serpent Cult from the roof of the keep. He had gone up there to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. That is indeed what the dark-haired, black-clad little halfling found. Sitting quietly on the rooftop near the front of the keep was Ruka, one of Ves’s younger sisters. The sandy-haired girl had hidden up here to avoid the pageantry below. She and Seth were of a like mind in that respect and in many others. Neither trusted anyone, both expected the worst from a situation, and they tended to hide their feelings behind a veil of sarcasm. Thus, when the serpents and their riders first exploded out of the ground, both of them played it cool.

"Think they need our help?" Ruka stood up and nonchalantly stretching her thin five-foot frame.

"I don't know." Seth’s voice was measured as he gingerly moved his own three-foot frame to the edge of the roof. He carefully surveyed the battlefield below. Three dark mages astride seven large serpents, versus Lloyd and Donatello—what could possibly go wrong?

The two listened silently as Voltark made his pre-battle speech. They nodded appreciatively when Lloyd slew a large serpent and watched intently as Voltark’s companions were felled by lightning bolts shortly thereafter. Seth finally spoke up after four chain-mailed warriors, the castle guards, and the Boulder joined the fray.

"No, I believe they're good." He sat back down at the roof’s edge.

"Whatever you say." Ruka shrugged and seated herself next to him.

They watched the spectacle below until Glolindir was caught unprepared. Seth shot up, the blood draining from his face. He watched in horror as his friend was consumed by Voltark's fireball. He briefly relived that awful moment when his old master died. It had happened in much the same way. Seth held his breath as the fireball dissipated and Glo's burnt body fell over.

Ruka’s voice was filled with uncharacteristic concern. "Don't worry. Look. Ves has him. She'll take care of him."

Seth saw a blonde figure, garbed in a bronze gown, catch Glo. Shortly thereafter, he saw the blue white light of Ves's healing power envelope his friend's body. Abruptly, Voltark's voice bellowed out from a spot over the battlefield. He gloated about his triumph over Glo and threatened the other combatants. Seth found himself quite irritated that the mage was not in knife-throwing range. "You know, he is starting to really piss me off. I just wish Glo could’ve gotten off one last lightning bolt...”

Ruka’s reply was cryptic. "That can be arranged."

The girl drew out her short sword and pointed the weapon directly at the hovering mage. The blade began to glow, then a flash erupted from it, sending a bolt of lightning across the courtyard! It hit Voltark at the same time as a ray of searing white light and a pair of arrows.

Seth cried with glee. “Nice!"

"It was nothing." Ruka sounded rather pleased with herself, despite her nonchalant choice of words.

Seth then caught sight of Lloyd rising up from the ground, his blades alight with flame. He watched with keen pleasure as the warrior sliced the evil wizard in half. Both he and Ruka lost their composure, breaking into cheers and dancing with delight in a precarious circle at the edge of the rooftop. Just as quickly, the pair stopped, staring at each other self-consciously.

Seth was the first to speak, trying to mask his embarrassment. "You know, they don't make villains the way they used to. First sign of trouble and they just fall to pieces."

Ruka snickered. "Yeah. Guess he just couldn't hackit."

They both stood there, arms folded across their chests, their mouths twisted into lopsided grins. As things wound down in the courtyard below, Seth’s thoughts went back to Ruka’s sword. A weapon that could shoot lightning bolts was not exactly common. In fact, he could swear he had heard a legend about it at some point. He decided to say something to gauge her reaction. “By the way, nice sword you got there.”

"Thanks." Ruka’s tone was curt, her eyes remaining focused on the aftermath below.

Seth tried once more. "So where does one get one of those?"

"Family heirloom." She still refused to look his way.

Seth shrugged his shoulders. Oh, well, nothing ventured. “Anyway, now that that's over, I think I'll go back and check out the campsite. Someone needs to makes sure none of those creeps are still skulking about."

"Good luck." Ruka barely nodded.

"See you around." Seth made his way across the rooftop. The whole time, he could not get the image of that glowing sword out of his head.

Seth re-entered the performers’ camp a short while later. It was situated halfway down the hill, between the keep and the town proper. Earlier in the day, he had spied a number of new wagons at the other end. Upon further investigation, he had found a large serpent hidden in one of those enclosed wagons. Seth now slowly crept between those same wagons, virtually silent and invisible thanks to his magic cloak. Without warning, an unfamiliar voice spoke behind him.

“Where are you going, little one?”

Seth started, quickly spinning around. A tall human female stood outside one of the wagons he had just passed. He could have sworn there was no one there a few moments ago. The strange woman was dressed in gypsy’s garb, the most striking thing about her being her bright violet eyes. They were currently staring right at him, even though he was supposed to be invisible.

“Yes, I can see you,” she said in a quiet voice, as if reading his mind.

Seth walked cautiously over to the woman, keeping an eye out for anything that might be a trap. He stopped a few feet from her.

“Who are you?” he whispered.

She pointed to herself in mock surprise. “Me? I am a mere fortune teller.”

Seth eyed the woman suspiciously. This was no mere fortuneteller, especially if she could see him while he was invisible.

The woman wore an amused expression. “If you must, you can call me Elistra, but what you really want to know is how I can see you when you are invisible. Am I right?”

“You might be.” Seth’s tone was noncommittal. She was exactly right. Seth was no novice to magic—he knew that wizards and sorcerers could cast spells to see the invisible. They could even make items that would enable the wearer to see the invisible. Perhaps this woman was wearing such an item. She did have a number of rings on her fingers.

"No, it is nothing I am wearing," she answered his unasked question, still appearing quite amused. “Let’s just say that I have certain gifts, and these gifts provide me with advantages that most people do not have."

Seth was not often taken by surprise, but he was not sure what to make of this Elistra. She was either really good at reading people or she could actually read minds. Seth had known quite a number of gypsy folk growing up, and he knew most of the cons. Thus, he was not that easy to read. She had caught him by surprise at first, but now he was on his guard. He decided to play along with her.

“So what are these advantages?”

Elistra placed a finger on her chin as if deciding how best to explain. “For one, I can see and hear things others cannot. For example, I can speak with spirits, and sometimesI can even divine the future.”

Seth studied the woman carefully. “That must be pretty useful.”

A full-fledged smile sprouted across her lips. “It can be at times.”

So either she is psionicist, she is trying to con me, or she is just plain nuts. Psionicists had psychic powers—some could in fact read minds. Either way, Seth did not trust her.

Elistra continued in a casual tone. “But it is not all fun and games, I can assure you. It is a good thing that you are skeptical. There are dark forces at work here, and it is best that you are on your guard.”

She folded her arms across her chest and regarded him silently, waiting for his response. Seth was not in the mood to play guessing games though. He stared back at her, refusing to speak. The gypsy woman finally gave up, letting out a deep sigh. Her tone was now serious, all traces of amusement gone. “Very well, I know that you and your friends are seeking them out. My instincts are telling me that I should help you uncover them.”

“My friends?” Seth was unwilling to give her any bit of information.

“Yes, Seth, your friends. I know who you are and who your friends are as well. You Heroes have become somewhat of a force for good in this area in these last few weeks. That is something that will be sorely needed in the days ahead. If I can help you in some small way, then that will be beneficial for all involved."

Seth mulled her words over. It didn't surprise him that she knew who he or his friends were. There had been gossip about them all over Ravenford that could have easily spread to neighboring towns by now. Even Fafnar had alluded to knowing their name. Yet he was still not quite sure whether he believed her, so he decided to put her to the test. “That’s all well and fine, but what I really need to know right now is if there are any more of these Serpent Cult folks around. Can your giftstell me that?”

A smile crossed the gypsy woman’s face. “Why, yes, they can actually.”

Her head tilted back, and her eyes took on a faraway look. It reminded Seth of when Glo was in contact with his raven familiar. It only lasted a few moments, then her eyes cleared and her expression grew serious once more. “While I no longer detect serpents or dark magicians in the area, I do in fact feel something dark emanating from that carriage.” She pointed to an enclosed wagon about a dozen yards to his left. It was not much different from the rest, other than the orange sides and green trim. Like all the others, the door was closed and the shades were pulled.

“Well then, let’s go and check it out,” Seth said, still wary of this strange woman.

Elistra laughed gaily at his measured response. “Oh, you are the doubter, aren’t you? Very good. Do you want me to lead the way?”

Seth shook his head. “No. I’ve got this.”

On their way over to the wagon, Seth wondered if this woman was playing some kind of elaborate game with him. There was always the possibility she was luring him into a trap. He was cautious, though, and trusted his own reflexes enough to get not caught. There was also the remote possibility she was telling the truth. Yet, Seth did not trust in the altruism of any mysterious benefactor. No, if she were helping them, he found it hard to believe that it was merely out of the goodness of her heart.

This Elistra was shrewd. She was playing some angle he hadn’t quite yet figured out, but he would sooner or later, of that he had no doubt. When they reached the wagon, Seth climbed the short stairway to the door. Elistra stayed on the ground below. Checking the door, he found it was locked, but that was quickly remedied. Seth slowly opened it and peered through the doorway. There was a dull glow coming from somewhere inside. He turned to look down at the gypsy woman.

“Coming?” he mouthed the word.

She smiled and silently climbed the stairs behind him. As Seth entered the wagon, he heard a low moan.

“Help me,” the disembodied voice lamented.

He scanned the inside of the wagon. There was a small room here in the front of the wagon, filled with chairs and a table with a number of grotesque-looking instruments on it, as well as magical paraphernalia. One of those items was a dimly-glowing lamp. A hall led down the center toward the back of the trailer. Abruptly, Seth’s eyes fell upon a gruesome sight. There was a body, or the top half of a body, hanging on the wall. It appeared to be alive, or at least it was talking.

“Help me,” it gasped. “Please. I am in pain like this. Please... kill me.”

The figure seemed strangely familiar. He knew that face from somewhere. Then recognition dawned on him. He had seen this human back at Stone Hill. It was that dark wizard, Telvar!

“Is he alive?” he whispered to the gypsy behind him. “Half alive,” she responded.

Despite himself, Seth snickered.

“No pun intended. It is an evil spell which keeps the spirit tied to the body, even though it is dead.”

“Listen to me,” the apparent corpse of Telvar continued. Its voice was strained as if it took a great effort just to speak. “They have my work, and they know... where I found it. Now they go... to seek the rest. They go to... the Monolith.”

“What research do you mean?” Seth asked, all sorts of warning bells going off in his head. He still did not trust this whole situation, but he would continue to play along until he was sure one way or the other.

“The... golem master’s... notes. Larketh’s... notes,” the animated corpse continued, its voice sounding as if it were in agony.

Seth raised an eyebrow. Many people knew about the golems, but no one knew about Larketh’s notes—no one except for Maltar, the Baron, the Baroness, and Captain Gelpas. Somehow, he did not believe any of them would share that information. No, he was certain, now, that this was Telvar, or at least what was left of the dark mage. The half-alive wizard continued to speak.

“But the Master’s book... Larketh’s book... can be found... at the Darkwoods Monolith.” He paused and gasped for air once more. “If the cult finds it... they will be able... to make their own golems... like in the old days. Golems that haven’t been seen... since the Thrall Masters... walked the earth.”

If what Telvar was saying was true, then this was extremely serious. The Thrall Master’s magic was unparalleled in their respective areas of research. Even today, no one could make golems as powerful as Larketh had.

“Now please... end this spell,” Telvar groaned with pain. “Set my spirit free.”

Seth turned to Elistra. Can you do that?”

“Yes I can.” The gypsy woman slowly stepped forward and raised her hands in concentration.

Seth watched the whole scene carefully. The evil mage peered at the woman standing before him, but there was no recognition in his eyes, nor any fear. She had been telling the truth and had sensed the presence in this trailer. She was not merely one of Telvar’s torturers, using this as some kind of clever ruse to gain his trust. Seth still did not accept this woman at face value, but he could live with that for now.

What Telvar had just told them was far more important than any lingering distrust he had of this Elistra. If the Golem Thrall Master’s work did fall into the hands of the Serpent Cult, they could supplement their army of serpents with an army of golems. He just imagined the town of Ravenford being invaded by dozens of serpents and Boulder-like creatures. Even with him and his friends by their side, Ravenford would not stand a chance. The Baron and his friends needed to be warned.

Abruptly, Seth felt a surge of power in the air. It was not quite magical, it was somehow different, but it was most definitely power. The light from the lamp on the table dimmed, and the half-corpse of Telvar sagged as the life went out of it. He and the gypsy woman now stood alone in the near darkness. Seth heard a ghostly Thank you, and then the lamp light brightened once again.

“He’s gone,” Elistra announced with a sigh.

“I need to report this to the others. Will you still be here in case they want to talk with you?”

“Wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else,” Elistra said as if she had been expecting the question.

Seth stared at her for a few moments, but the gypsy woman merely gave him a calm smile. It was as if she was certain they would be calling upon her again soon. The halfling just shook his head, then vaulted out of the trailer and headed back toward the keep.

4

False Accusations

If you want to question the honor of my friends, it shall be at the end of my swords

Back up at the keep, the rest of the companions had followed Gryswold and Gracelynn outside to the courtyard. There they began to assess what was left of the dinner that had been laid out for Lady Andrella’s birthday. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much left to be seen. The food was destroyed, the place settings melted, the great oaken tables charred, and the chairs smoldered kindling. Gryswold and Gracelynn stood, quietly surveying the aftermath. Andrella, however, was not so silent.

“My party is ruined!” The young lady turned and buried her head in Lloyd’s broad chest, openly weeping. The young man did his best to console her, holding her close and talking to her softly.

Gryswold reached over and placed a large hand on his daughter’s slim shoulder. “Now, now, Andrella. It will all be fine.”

Andrella gazed up at her father, but then buried her head in Lloyd’s chest again, her tears beginning anew. Gryswold dropped his arm, looking utterly defeated. The Lady Gracelynn pulled her husband aside, reached up, and placed her hands on his broad shoulders. Her eyes were filled with sympathy and understanding.

“Then we'll just have to start all over again.”

Gryswold smiled at his kindhearted wife. He then straightened up, turned around, and shouted to the surrounding staff. “I want everything repaired here and ready within the hour.”

Grabbing Gracelynn's hand, the two of them went to direct the recovery. Meanwhile, the companions surveyed the wreckage around them.

Aksel shook his head. "What a mess. I don't see how they're going to be able to fix all this in an hour.”

Elladan wore a thoughtful expression. "If they commandeered the kitchens in all the inns they mightget enough meals prepared. They could even borrow silverware if necessary."

Glo’s eyes swept across the burnt tables. "They would still need seating for sixty. I guess they could cart up tables from the inns, too."

Aksel’s face brightened. "It's a good idea. We should go tell the Baron."

Aksel and Elladan went to tell Gryswold, but something held Glo back. If the other casters had been prepared, they could have magically mended the tables and chairs. With just himself, though, it would take all night, and they would still be without food anyway. His eyes returned to Lloyd and Andrella, the young man still trying to console her.

Glo silently wished there was more he could do. He knew there was a spell that could in fact conjure up an entire feast. It would include tables, chairs, food, and drink. However, it was far beyond his current ability to cast. Glo scanned the crowd in the courtyard, not sure what he was looking for, then his eyes fell on Sir Fafnar. The Dunwynn noble glared at Lloyd and Andrella, his jealousy of the pair quite apparent. Glo watched curiously as the noble leaned over and whispered to the tall gentleman next to him. The man was none other than the Duke of Dunwynn.

Sir Kelvick was a tall, gaunt man with dark hair, a thin mustache, and a goatee. There were traces of grey here and there in each, but it made him look distinguished rather than old. He was dressed in a fancy blue outfit with the heraldic of Dunwynn woven into the fabric of the jacket. It was a golden crown floating above a crossed sword and scepter, all on a background of deep royal blue. The Duke stood there with a sour expression as Fafnar whispered to him. A slight smile crept across his face.

An eerie feeling came over Glo as he watched that smug smile. Kelvick snapped his fingers, and one of his menservants came running forward. After a brief exchange of words, the servant ran off. He returned a minute later with two scroll cases under his arm. Kelvick held out his hand, and the servant placed one of the scrolls into it. Glo stared intently at that scroll case. What could the Duke be up to?

No! It couldn’t be. What were the odds that Kelvick would come to Andrella’s party with scrolls of Feast? That would be incrediblypresumptuous, even for the Duke of Dunwynn. Glo watched in disbelief as Lord Kelvick stepped forward. He cleared his throat, drawing everyone’s attention to himself. “Ahem. Lady Andrella," he said in a voice loud enough for all to hear. "Please allow Dunwynn to assist you in your time of need.”

Andrella paused her weeping and looked up from where she was nestled in Lloyd’s arms. The Duke made a grand gesture of opening the scroll case, removing the scroll from it, and unrolling it.

“He missed his calling,” a voice whispered behind him. “He is actually quite good with theatrics.”

“What he is, is an unmitigated ass,” another voice replied.

Glo nearly choked. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Shalla, Donnie, and the Dame Alana standing behind him.

Alana spoke up. “That is not a kind way to talk about such a high-ranking noble.” The lady knight appeared quite serious at first, but then sighed, the corners of her mouth upturning. “Alas, from what I have seen, I cannot argue the point.”

The trio smiled in unison at the lady knight. Meanwhile, Lord Kelvick was still engaged in his theatrics. He spoke in an officious tone. “Stand back, please.”

Fafnar and the rest of the Dunwynn retinue moved forward. They unceremoniously cleared everyone out of the way.

“Kelvick, whatever are you doing?” a gruff voice spoke out. Gryswold and Gracelynn had rejoined them. They now stood next to their daughter and Lloyd.

“You shall see in a moment, Gryswold,” Kelvick answered in a haughty tone. When enough room had been cleared, Kelvick read from the first scroll. It was a short incantation. When he finished, a glow of light appeared in the center of the area. The light grew brighter and then expanded until it was a few yards long, two yards wide and four feet high.

The bright light slowly coalesced until it formed into a long table, complete with seating for twelve. The table itself was magnificent—long and ornate, with twelve matching chairs, twelve fancy place settings, a frilly lace tablecloth, and six sets of candelabras down the center. Further, the selection of food on it was unbelievable. There was bisque, chowder, prime rib, lobster, chicken, fish, potatoes au gratin, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, three different kinds of bread, butter, herb salad, apple pies, cherry pies, pudding, and a number of clear flasks filled with golden nectar. This was no mere meal; it was a banquet fit for a king. The spread made what the Baron had originally presented look quite meager in comparison.

Gryswold stood there stoically, not reacting to the Duke’s conjuration. Gracelynn stared from her husband to her brother, a concerned look on her face. Andrella, on the other hand, seemed totally mesmerized. She had pulled away from Lloyd and stared in awe at the table before her. Kelvick did not stop there. He appeared quite pleased with himself as he received the second scroll from his servant and repeated his previous performance. When he was done, a second table appeared a couple of yards from the first, equally as marvelous.