Chapter 9- Whisper
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Aizgar City- Three am. Just outside Briarock Castle

Guriant Tremayne, horse breeder and mayor of Aizgar City of the southern realm, awoke to citizens shouting in the streets. They howled that four summoned warriors had just slain the tyrant Morvin in the castle. 

“Summoned warriors?” Guriant asked the crowd at his door as he stepped out with a jacket and slippers. 

“Not just warriors, Guriant, but Death Dealers!” a man explained. “Ysilda’s boy, Gideon, summoned them from the void. And from what I hear, they arrived furious and used their foreign weapons to massacre Morvin and his bounty knights.”

“I see.” Guriant leaned back in thought. 

“Yes. And they say the four are meeting with Duke Sulwyn now, and have sworn to his banner.”

“Sulwyn’s banner?” Guriant laughed. “I guess Death Dealers don’t have grand ambitions.”

“Heh heh, don’t be mean, Guriant,” the people scolded their elder mayor. “Duke Sulwyn will expect support from the city elders.”

“Expecting and wanting are two different things,” Guriant joked as he gazed at the horse stables behind his home. “Well, I’d best prepare to meet the Duke this morning.”

“Right, you do that. You’re the mayor,” the crowd responded.

“Yes, yes.”

A Few Hours Later 

After sunrise Guriant met with civil servants and two other elders. The group then set out for Briarock castle, a half-mile from the city. But as they rode, a contingent of shop owners and other curious folks, numbering close to a hundred, followed them to the gates.

After a short wait, Guriant, and ten of his entourage, were escorted onto the castle lawn. Soon Duke Sulwyn appeared at the main entrance and walked toward them.

“Are you here to wish me good fortune, Mr. Mayor?” Sulwyn greeted Guriant as he stepped out of the castle.

“Of course, my Lord. House Webb is always in Aizgar’s prayers,” Guriant replied with a smile, as he and the other city folks bowed deep in front of the, reinstated, Duke of the Southern realm. 

But as Sulwyn approached, four people in royal garrison uniforms followed behind him. And as the four grew closer, Guriant observed that they were not only foreign but very young. 

“Eh? Three girls and a fellow. And none look older than my teen granddaughter,” said Tibin, a city elder and master blacksmith. “But by the heavens, they are an attractive lot. Especially the black-haired girl.”

“Don’t be deceived by their age, you old fool,” Dr. Merinda, a healer and city elder, replied. “For their mana burns bright like the sun, only matching their warrior’s gait,” she said, pointing out their confident struts. 

Present 

Standing tall, Duke Sulwyn smiled and introduced the Death Dealers by name and rank. He also made sure to mention, "They serve under my banner.”

“For the sake of the realm, we are glad to know that, my Lord,” Guriant said as they all greeted the young foreigners.

The city men, as expected, drifted to the Lady Angel, Cassia, and Mina, who all struck-up friendly conversations. But Sir Eric wasn’t outdone as Dr. Merinda, and the other city-women giggled at his every comment. Heh, ya old forest-witch, that young boy doesn’t want you, Guriant laughed to himself before steering the conversation to pressing matters.

“Hello, all,” Mayor Guriant spoke aloud, gaining the foreigners’ attention. “As citizens of this land, we common folk wanted to meet the slayers of the tyrant Morvin. And we hoped to know your future plans as we are at this juncture, sadly, a nation in turmoil.”

As he spoke, the Lady Angel stepped forward with fearless brown eyes. “Mayor Guriant, right?” she asked.

“At your service, my Lady,” he answered.

“Mr. Mayor, we appreciate your hospitality. But I’m sure you want to know if we are real or a threat, yes?” While she spoke the castle servants began hauling the bodies of the slain bounty knights out to the lawn. 

“Uhh?” Guriant didn’t respond right away as he and the other elders gaped at the corpses. Most had holes in their heads, two with deep sword slashes. 

“This is our work in case you harbored doubts, Mr. Mayor,” Angel deadpanned while pointing at the bodies. “Now, let me be clear with you all. We Death Dealers are not here to be anything but what we are. Mercenaries under the banner of Duke Sulwyn Webb, and by extension, the sword and shield of the people of Aizgar!” The Lady Angel then summoned and raised a shining broadsword above her head. 

“By the heavens!” Guriant yelped as he and the elders stepped back in awe at Angel.

The crowd erupted, “She’s a true Death Dealer; they all must be so strong; I wonder what other weapons they use?” 

During the fervor, the Lady Cassia leaned over and whispered aloud to Angel, “Leader, humble.” 

“Uh, yes,” Angel replied before turning to Guriant. “Mr. Mayor, as I said, our swords belong to the people.” She then lowered her head and presented the weapon to him in salute. “And we are unarmed in your presence.”

“My Lady,” Guriant muttered before examining the blade. “By the everlasting sky, this sword was crafted for a king,” he said, wide-eyed, before passing the weapon to Blacksmith Tibin, who cradled it in his arms.

“Aye, Guriant,” Tibin replied. “The balance of the leafed-blade, the design of the hilt." He looked at Angel. “This is the treasure of a Sword Mistress.”

The crowd murmured, “The Lady Paladin is a Sword Mistress."

“Sword Mistress?” Angel tilted her head as the weapon vanished in Tibin's hand. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Not at all, Lady Angel. It is the opposite,” Guriant confirmed. “For in our ancient lore, the Sword Mistresses are the divine hand of the heavens, who collect the souls of warriors slain on the battlefield."

“Oh, is that right?” Angel glanced at Sir Eric, who smirked at her.

“Did we say something funny, my Lady?” Guriant asked. 

“No, Mr. Mayor,” she answered while scowling at Eric. “It’s just that in our own lore we also have Sword Mistresses. Except we call them Valkyrie.”

“Valkyrie?” Guriant nodded as the crowd repeated the foreign word out loud. “And are you such a divinity, my Lady?”

“I asked her that same question, Mr. Mayor,” Eric interrupted with a grin. “She never answered.”

“As you were, Sir Eric,” Angel retorted. 

“Oh, well." Guriant read the situation. "Perhaps it’s best we don’t know all the secrets of the stars. But let's give thanks when they aid us against tyranny.” He took a deep bow, signaling for the others to do the same. Then he remembered, “Ah, the stallions.” Guriant motioned to two men to go to the castle gate. 

What stallions?” Sulwyn asked.

“The horses requested by Lord Morvin. To include three for his bounty knights,” Guriant answered. “And since he is no longer among us, my good Duke, we shan’t let them go to waste.”

“Of course,” Sulwyn replied in a dry tone. “And I assume these horses are not gifts?”

“They would be your gift to the Death Dealers, my Duke.”

Sulwyn smirked at the horse breeder. “Fine, Guriant. The castle will reimburse you.”

“Most appreciated, my Lord.” 

Discussion

After a moment, the people outside the castle gate cheered as a crew of men walked four horses onto the great lawn. Oh wow, Angel thought while eyeing the big stallions from top to bottom. The steeds all varied in color from jet-black, dark-brown, grey-silver, to tan-blonde. Angel noted the slight difference in their sizes.

“Judging from their wider build, the grey and the black are war-horses,” Angel said aloud. “The dark brown and tan are scout-horses.”

“Most impressive, my Lady.” Mayor Guriant smiled. “And I assume your equestrian knowledge stems from a noble lineage?” he asked.

“My father raises thoroughbreds, good Mayor,” she replied, evading his question. But when the handsome horses arrived, her eyes locked on the big grey, who bounced up and down, yanking the handler. Angel smiled at the beast. “Oi, you’re a spry one, what’s your name?”

“His name is Brutus, my Lady. And he’s quite bold,” Guriant answered. 

“Does he think so?” Angel asked while taking the reins from the handler. But in defiance, the big grey horse leaned down and “Reeed!” at Angel, before poking her chest with his nose. “How rude!” Angel yelped at the silver-haired stallion who shook his head at her. “Heh heh.” Grinning, Angel pulled him close and whispered, “Mr. Brutus, I’ll have you know I’ve tamed heavier boys than you, and I will not be bullied, yeah.” 

“Ree!” Brutus answered, and nuzzled her face.

“Eh? You don’t believe me?” Angel patted his head. “Well, it's your choice to be a good lad, or not,” she told him in his ear. And after a moment, Brutus calmed down and stuck his cold nose down her neck. “Haha, that’s what you wanted all along, innit?” 

“Ree!”

“Ree indeed!” Angel smiled and pet the grey before mounting his saddle. Once on top of the horse, the crowd outside the gates roared.

“The mighty Brutus has succumbed to your charms, my Lady,” Guriant said with a smile. 

“Of course!” Angel shot back while trotting the stallion in small circles. “He whispered that our goals were aligned, and I believed him.” 

“Ah, I understand.”

While Angel enjoyed Brutus’s company, Mina made friends with the black war-horse with the white star on his head. His name was Midnight. “You are too cute!” Mina cried.

Meanwhile, the tanned stallion named Pacer walked right up to Cassia and chose her by nuzzling her cheeks. “I guess this means I belong to you now? Ah well, hee!” she giggled at the pretty steed. 

That left Eric with the dark-brown scout horse, named Artek.  

“Artek is the fastest of the four, Sir Ranger. He’s spirited and friendly,” Guriant said.

“I can tell already.” Eric smiled while patting the horse. 

Grass

When all of the foreigners mounted their steeds, the Lady Angel called out to the Duke, "Lord Sulwyn, the stallions want to run, and we'd like to see the city."

"Certainly, my Lady. I also want to show you the training Garrison as well," Sulwyn replied while mounting a horse brought to him. He then turned to the elders. "Good people, please allow me a word with the mayor."

"Yes, my Lord," Tibin the blacksmith responded as he and Dr. Merinda rode toward the foreigners.

The Death Dealers and elders led the procession of riders out of the castle gates. But Guriant and Lord Sulwyn rode behind the group and out of earshot to hold a quick discussion.

“I know your greetings were brief, Mr. Mayor. But what are your thoughts on the foreigners?” Sulwyn asked.

“I can only speak of Lady Angel, my Lord. And my impression is she’s a direct, no nonsense leader, and holds her cards close in diplomacy,” Guriant answered.  

“She doesn’t give away much, does she?”

“Only that she's serious.”

“Ha ha, confident youth,” Sulwyn laughed. 

“I also believe her professionalism suggests she was born to a noble bloodline." 

“Yes, I am of the same opinion.”

“Right,” Guriant replied while peeking out at the four foreigners in the front. Mighty warriors riding and laughing with the sun in their faces. “They all look like fearless children to me, my Lord.”

“See them in battle, Mr. Mayor. Only then will you grasp their swagger.”

“Eh?” Guriant smirked at the Duke. “You seem smitten by them.”

“Hmm,” Sulwyn smiled. “When four young people arrive from the void and murder thirteen veteran bounty knights and a tyrant, I’d trust you'd lean in their favor as well.”

“Understood. But speaking of those thirteen knights. Was it Lady Angel’s idea to display their corpses on the lawn?”

“Yes, an exhibition of the Death Dealers' skills,” Sulwyn replied. 

“Hmm,” Guriant frowned. “My Lord, the dead knights weren't shown as a demonstration of skill.”

“They weren’t?”

“No, Sire. Those men were displayed as a warning from the Lady Angel to never cross her, or her companions.”

“Ah, well,” Sulwyn replied as if the thought never occurred to him. But after a moment he responded. “Mr. Mayor, treachery is not in the heart of every man, nor does every shadow harbor a knife."

"Oh, umm…" Guriant paused. Perhaps his pessimism rubbed the wrong way. He changed course. "My Lord, when you put it that way, I guess from Lady Angel's perspective she has every right to be defensive. And to be honest, the way she defers to her companions' council-" 

"You mean with genuine consideration?"

"Precisely." Guriant nodded. "The Lady Angel even displays warmth with them. Both are traits of an honest leader. But it also means her companions are equally as competent."

"I agree, Mr Mayor," Sulwyn said. "And I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought that. Now, let's ride ahead."

"At once, Sire." 

The two men rode forward, taking their place at the front of the crowd.

 

...

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