Monday, April 29, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 24

< Chapter 23                                                                                                   Chapter 25 >
Three men stand between our hero and the queen!

One man closed on the queen, his sword raised.  In the old adventure vids my father and I used to watch, there'd have been a chandelier I could use to swing over my enemies.  I didn't even have a dagger to throw.  So I threw what I did have.

My sword flashed in the torchlight before burying itself in the man.  His back arched and a hand scrabbled, trying to reach the sword.  While the other men gaped, I hopped from the table and grabbed a chair.

The leader was turning back toward me when I smashed the chair over his head.  The chair splintered and the leader reeled.  I was left holding two pieces of the chair back as I charged the nearest man.

The man slashed at my neck.  I blocked with one piece of the chair then smashed his wrist with the other.  Bones snapped and the man's sword fell from his hand.  Spinning, I cracked him across the head and kept moving.

I hurled one piece of chair at the third man, then the second piece.  That drove him back long enough for me to reach the man still flailing to reach the sword in his back.  I rammed the blade through him to the hilt.

Yanking the blade out, I turned to face the man I'd driven back with thrown chair pieces.  His eyes wide in terror, the man dropped his sword.

"I surrender!"

"Smart man," I said.

I clouted him on the head with my sword pommel then dropped Boost.

As I cut the queen free, she asked, "You're Callie's guard?  She's safe?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," I said.  "She's nearby, with her father.  And we need to join them before a raider airship arrives!"

Can our hero escape with the queen before the raider airship arrives?  Find out in Chapter 25, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 23

< Chapter 22                                                                                                   Chapter 24 >
Our stands ready right for the life of the queen!

The queen gasped and the six men laughed.

"Looks like the Spare Prince screwed up, as the boss expected," the leader said to his men.  "Now, do him a favor and kill this idiot."

Smiling and raising their swords, four men started forward.  The man with the slashed arm wrapped it with a cloth, stanching the blood.  He and the leader followed the others.  As expected, there was only one way I was getting out of this alive.

Boost!

I charged the front four.  Surprised, they all took defensive stances.  One of them left his sword low and I attacked him.  I slashed high, forcing his blade up, then attacked low.  Before he registered the move, I drove my sword into his gut.  Withdrawing my blade, I threw him at the man to my right.  They went down in a tangle and I kept moving.

Slashed-arm made a neat move and caught me in a bind.  I rammed my knee into his groin then, as he doubled over, broke the bind and cut his sword arm to the bone.  His sword fell to the floor, with him close behind it.

I leapt onto the table and spun to face the room.  Two men were already out of the fight.  The other four looked stunned at the speed of it all.  The smiles were gone, replaced by anger.  And fear.

"You're quick and good with that sword, boy," the leader said, "but you're not real smart.  Seems to me you're way over here and the queen is way over there.  Lon," he said over his shoulder, "go to the queen.  Kill her if this boy doesn't throw down his sword!"

Will our hero have to surrender to save the queen?  Find out in Chapter 24, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 22

< Chapter 21                                                                                                   Chapter 23 >
Our hero searches the Aerie for the missing Queen of Mordan!

As I neared the end of the passage, I heard voices.  They  came from behind a closed door, one without a little window cut into it.  The men were involved in some kind of bantering discussion.  I couldn't afford the time to figure out what was happening behind the door.  Even if the queen wasn't in danger, the other airship could arrive at any time.

I opened the door and strode in, my gaze sweeping the room.  Five men sat around a table to my right, dice and wine before them.  To my left, a sixth man stared at the queen, tossing a knife from hand to hand.

The queen's arms were spread wide, tied to iron rings.  Another rope hobbled her feet.  Slashed and cut clothing was piled on the floor, leaving the queen wearing only her shift and the underclothes beneath it.  She stared at the far wall, ignoring all within the room.

Time to make my play.  "What is the meaning of this?"

All heads turned my way.

"Who are you?" asked the one with the knife.  The others rose, drawing swords.

I continued with my act.  "I'm the man our employer sent to insure the prisoners' safety.  Give me that knife and get away from her!"

I held out my left hand, continuing toward the man.  He looked to someone at the table.

"Your word don't cut it around here," someone at the table said.

Within reach of the knife wielder, I drew my sword and slashed the blade from his hand.  He retreated toward the table.

"Who am I?" I said.  "I am David Rice, personal guard to Her Highness, Princess Callan of Mordan.  Surrender now or die!"

So much for subtlety!  Has our hero taken on more than he can handle?  Find out in Chapter 23, coming Friday!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 21

< Chapter 20                                                                                                   Chapter 22 >
Martin reports the queen's captors have vile plans for her!

A fist hit Martin on the side of the head and he reeled against the wall.  King Edwar followed with a punch to Martin's stomach.  As Martin doubled over, I caught the king's raised fist.

"The situation is not as you think, Your Majesty," I said.

"I know all I need to know," King Edwar snarled.

Callan placed her hand on his arm, "No, you don't, and we don't have time for explanations.  Martin is here to help us!"

"Martin?" King Edwar asked.  "You call this scum by his given name?"

"I call him friend," Callan replied.

Martin straightened, wincing, "Horst told me the men are bored.  They're gambling for first dibs on the queen!"

The color drained from the faces of Callan and her father.

"Any idea where they've taken her?" I asked.

"Horst didn't want to have to listen, so he sent them to the far end of that side passage," Martin said, pointing back the way we'd come.

Callan started toward the passage, the king on her heels.

"Stop, Callan," I said.  "I'll get your mother.  You and your father must go to the airship."

"I'm not going to run to safety while my mother is in danger!"

"Yes, you are," I said.  "The kingdom comes first.  That means ensuring the safety of the king and his heir!"

"But-"

"I'll rescue her, Callan."

"And I'll help," Martin said.  "With two scouts-"

"No, Martin," I said.  "You're the only person I can trust to leave us behind, if necessary."

Martin nodded and Callan kissed me.  "Be careful, David."

The king's eyebrows shot up at the kiss, but he said nothing as they headed down the hallway.  I took the side passage and set off to find the queen!

Will our hero reach the queen in time?  Find out in Chapter 22, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 20

< Chapter 19                                                                                                   Chapter 21 >
Callan has an idea for approaching the guard at the end of the hall.  An idea our hero hates!

Martin, Callan, and I rounded the corner into the long hallway.  Martin walked ahead of us, his stride full of purpose and confidence.  I held Callan's arm and walked a bit ahead of her, as if I was pulling her along.  Callan held her hands behind her back as if they were tied.

We were gambling that the guard would recognize Martin or at least know him by reputation.  With the other airship bearing down on us and no time to spare, we were trying Callan's idea.

When the guard noticed us, Martin raised his hand in greeting.

"We've got an extra guest for you!" he called.

"Bane?  What are you doing here?" the guard called.

"Horst, good to see a familiar face!" Bane said.  "After my contract ended, your employer made me an offer."  He motioned back to Callan.  "Wanted the full royal set, I guess."

A face peered through the bars in the door behind the guard.

"Callan?" cried a man's voice.  "Not you, too!"  The eyes shifted to Martin.  "If anything happens to her, Bane, I'll-"

"You'll what?  Take a firm tone with me?" Martin sneered.  He turned to the guard, "Give my lad the key and walk with me for a moment.  I've got new instructions."

Horst handed me the keys and walked down the hall with Martin.

"Young man," the king whispered, "help us escape and I'll pay you handsomely!"

Unlocking the door, I whispered, "That's what I'm here to do, Your Majesty."

A thud sounded behind us.  Martin knocking out the guard.

Callan rushed into the cell and hugged her father.  The queen was not with him.

Martin returned and whispered, "We've got to hurry.  Horst told me the other guards have vile plans for the queen!"

Where is the queen?  Can our hero reach her in time?  Find out in Chapter 21, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 19

< Chapter 18                                                                                                   Chapter 20 >
Someone is in the supposedly abandoned Aerie.  But who?

It took Nist twenty minutes to complete his approach to the fortress, drifting with the winds and using the propellors to improve steering.  He landed in the shadows, with a tower between us and the lit windows.

We climbed onto the fortress wall as Martin issued instructions to Nist.  "If Stubb's airship gets here before we're back, slip away and get help.  The map shows where the closest pair of my ships is searching."

Nist nodded and the nine of us entered the tower.  We descended the stairs within the tower.  Stone stairs wouldn't creak, but ancient, iron hinges were going to be a different matter.  I'd been prepared to risk the squeal of rusted iron, but Tristan had a better idea.

Using chisels from the Pauline, we dug into the rotted wooden door and freed it from its hinges.  Three of the soldiers pulled the door from its frame and leaned it against the wall.  It was quiet but took five precious minutes.

We slipped from one hallway to the next, watching for guards.  Whoever was in charge in the fortress wasn't expecting company, because we didn't see a single guard.

Minutes later, I peered around a corner and saw a lantern burning at the far end of a hallway.  A lone man sat beneath the lantern, facing in our direction.  He cradled a cocked and loaded crossbow in his arms.  There was no way to sneak up on the guard.  If he was awake, he'd sound the alarm long before we reached him.

Explaining the situation to the others, I asked, "Any ideas for approaching this guy?"

"Yes," Callan said, "but you won't like it."

She was right.  I hated it!

What is Callan's idea and why does our hero hate it?  Find out in Chapter 20, coming Friday!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 18

< Chapter 17                                                                                                   Chapter 19 >
Our heroes have caught up with the airship carrying Raoul, Rupor, and Windslow to the Aerie!

I looked in the direction Martin was pointing but could see nothing.  That's not surprising, since I don't have his experience.  A raider who couldn't spot an airship in the dark probably had a very short career.

"Can they see us?" Callan asked the question on everyone's mind.

"I doubt it," Martin said.  "We're well below them and, between the darkness and the camouflage netting over the envelope, should blend into the background.  I think we'll slip past them unobserved."

"But?" I asked.

"But we won't have much time to spare when we reach the Aerie," Martin said.  "I'd guess an hour at most, but we'll spend a lot of that sneaking up to and into the fortress."  He turned to me, "How goes the planning for the sneaking-in bit?"

"Great, except there are three likely places where king and queen could be held," I said.

Martin thought for a moment, "Is one of them on the north face of the fortress?"

"Yes."

"Plan for that one," Martin said.  "There's nothing north of the pass, so they can burn lights on that side without worrying about a passing airship spotting the light."

"Let me guess, that's what you'd do," I said.

Martin grinned in reply.

I went below and planned our entry from the north face.

Three hours later, the Aerie came into view.  It sat atop the tallest mountain in the region, commanding all that lay below it.  Nist stayed close to the ground, reduced speed, keeping our engine as quiet as possible, and piloted around the mountain.

When the north face came into view, I said, "It helps to have a reformed raider on our side."

Light flickered from four windows.

Can our heroes infiltrate the fortress and rescue the king and queen (if they're even here) before the other airship arrives?  Find out more in Chapter 19, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 17

< Chapter 16                                                                                                   Chapter 18 >
Our heroes hope they are on their way to rescue the king and queen of Mordan!

Nist flew faster than I would have thought possible.  The five man squad took turns feeding the fire, keeping the boiler pressure up and a tail wind added to our speed.  Martin navigated, using wind charts to plot the fastest course.

Tristan, Callan, and I studied an old floor plan for the Aerie which Garrett had found in his library.  I could see three areas in the old fortress where prisoners might be kept.  We'd have to hope for some sign to identify the right one, otherwise we'd have to scout for the king and queen.

When the three of us took a break, Callan said, "Milo's sister looked much better than when I saw her last.  Is she healing well?"

"That she is, lass!" Tristan said.  "Excuse me -- Your Highness."

"It's just the three of us, Tristan.  Don't be so formal," Callan said.

"As you command, lass!" Tristan said.  "Kim's wound is healing and her spirits are high because of all the attention she's been receiving."

"Milo's been taking good care of her?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Tristan said, "but I was speaking of Martin."

"Martin?  As in Bane?" I asked, astonished.

"He seems quite taken with her," Tristan said.

Conversation waxed and waned as the little airship sped toward the Aerie.  One of the men served dinner as the sun sank below the horizon.  We were lounging, struggling against boredom, when Martin called us up on deck.  The ship had descended to about fifty feet above tree level.  A full moon bathed the night in soft, silver light.

Martin motioned us to the port rail and pointed.  "Stubb's airship is over there, five or six miles off.  We've caught up with them!"

The race is on!  Will our heroes reach the Aerie ahead of Rupor, Raoul, and Windslow?  Will they find the king and queen?  Will there be enough time to rescue them if they are found?  Find out in Chapter 18, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 16

< Chapter 15                                                                                                   Chapter 17 >
Callan has announced she's going on the mission to rescue her parents!

"You're going to do what?" Martin asked.

"She says she's going with us," I said.

"And you don't have anything to say about that?" he asked.

"I admit I share Bane's curiosity," Garret said.

Callan crossed her arms, "Choose your words carefully, darling."

"Callan has a good point.  A familiar face will help with her parents," I said.  Turning to Callan, I added, "But you have got to follow orders or it could get someone killed.  Will you swear to do as you're told?"

"Swear, David?" Callan's voice went flat.

"Would you accept a man into your service if he said he'd guard you with his life but wouldn't swear an oath to that effect?"  I asked.

Callan shook her head and sighed.  "On my honor as the princess of Mordan, I swear to obey your orders on this rescue mission."

"Incredible!" Garrett said to Callan.  "Who are you and what have you done with my willful niece?"

"If she has enough close brushes with death, uncle, even a princess changes," Callan said.

I wrapped my arms around Callan and kissed her.  "Thank you, my dear. Now, let's gather supplies and get going."

It didn't take us long to get ready.  Garrett placed the five-man squad under my command and ensured the Pauline was well supplied.  Light-weight camouflage netting was spread over the little ship's envelope, making it more difficult to spot from above.

As the mooring lines were cast off, Garrett said, "Bring her back safely to us, David."

Then the Pauline was free and rising rapidly into the late morning sky.  We were on our way to rescue the king and queen!

Will our heroes reach the Aerie before Ruper, Raoul, and Windslow?  Find out in Chapter 17, coming Friday!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 15

< Chapter 14                                                                                                   Chapter 16 >
Garrett thinks he knows where the king and queen of Mordan are being held!

"Hold it," I said.  "Raoul and Windslow couldn't have kidnapped the king and queen.  Raoul was with us and Windslow was leading the trogs.  Why would they know where Callan's parents are being held?"

"Deductive reasoning, probably by Windslow," Martin said.  "Thinking isn't one of Raoul's strengths."

"But how could Windslow figure it out?" I asked.  "He's been living with the trogs."

"The Aerie was Windslow's first post," Garrett said.  "The fortress guarded the only mountain pass from Tarteg to Mordan.  When airships came along, the fortress became obsolete.  Who needs a mountain pass when you can fly over the mountains?  My father closed the place when I was quite young, but my personal guard told me about it."

"Windslow?" Callan asked.

Garrett nodded.  "The Aerie is abandoned, hard to reach without an airship, and well fortified.  Perfect for hiding royal hostages.  It's too bad Windslow will get there first."

"Maybe not," Martin said.  "They'll have to repair the port engine or limp along at half speed.  Either way, a small, fast ship like the Pauline might get there before them if it ran at full speed."

I explained the situation to Tristan and he agreed to let us borrow his airship again.  "But you must take me, too.  Their majesties may need medical care."

I agreed, adding Tristan to our team of Nist, Martin, five of Garrett's men, and me.  Garrett volunteered, also, but Callan refused.

"You must to go to Morda and assume the regency," she said.

"But the only person  in the rescue party who is known to your parents is your kidnapper!" he protested.  "They won't trust any of them."

"I know, uncle," Callan said.  "That's why I'm going with them!"

What will our hero have to say to Callan's announcement?  Find out in Chapter 16, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 14

< Chapter 13                                                                                                   Chapter 15 >
Windslow knocked Martin Bane over the airship railing!

"I was saved from a long fall by the Beloren flag Stubb flies from the stern," Martin said.  "Catching the flagpole, I swung around it and back to the balcony.  I crashed into Windslow, knocking him back into Raoul.  I would have finished them off except a bunch of airmen piled into the cabin.

"Even Boosted, I didn't like the odds.  I jumped from the balcony, pulling myself onto the main deck.  My ship had pulled away, but was circling, waiting for me.  The port ballista crew was watching the battle, waiting for a chance to fire.  I charged, knocking two of them overboard.  The remaining crewman ran.  I blew their port propeller away then jumped to my ship.

"Stubb's crew got off one good ballista shot, though.  Nearly destroyed our steam engine," Martin wrapped up.  "We limped here for repairs and received a fine welcome, indeed!"

"Martin!" Callan warned.

Martin raised his hands in acquiescence, then said, "There's a bit more.  I think Raoul and Windslow are looking for the king and queen, also.  And they're going somewhere in particular."

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Stubb had a chart laid out in his cabin," Martin replied.  "My implant recorded the image.  If Lord Garrett has charts for the mountains northwest of here, I can show you where they're going."

Moments later, Martin selected a chart from those Garrett had ordered brought to us.  Martin's finger pointed into the mountains.  "Here.  Stubb's chart had a mark right here."

Garrett leaned closer, "Of course!  I can't believe it didn't occur to me!"

"What didn't occur to you, uncle?" Callan asked.

"The Aerie, an abandoned mountain fortress," Garrett said.  "Your parents must be there!"

Could the king and queen be in the Aerie?  If so, who is responsible for holding them there?  Find out more in Chapter 15, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 13

< Chapter 12                                                                                                   Chapter 14 >
On board Martin's ship, Raoul attacks Milo!

"Who's Milo?" Garrett asked.

"A thirteen year-old boy who saved my life in Faroon," Callan answered.

"Not very noble of Raoul to attack such a young lad," Garrett growled.

"Tried to attack, is more like it," Martin said.  "His leg buckled before he could reach Milo.  Probably the stab wound you gave him, Highness."

"Milo darted below deck and Raoul hobbled after him.  With all the attention on Raoul, I elbowed Stubb in the stomach and ran after the prince," Martin said.  "Raoul chased Milo into the surgery.  When Tal and Sorn defended the boy, Raoul stabbed them both.  The prince was about to attack Tristan, who was shielding Milo, when I tackled Raoul from behind.

"I put a dagger at Raoul's throat just as Rupor reached the door.  He was backed by a couple of crossbowmen, so we had a bit of a stand off.  Raoul made a good bargaining chip," Martin continued.  "I had Stubb pull his men back to his ship.  Then I promised to release Raoul.  In return, Stubb promised to leave in peace once Raoul.  Stubb, encouraged by Raoul, broke his word and attacked after our airships separated.

"My men weren't prepared for battle, so I took a page from your playbook, David.  I Boosted and jumped across to Stubb's ship."  Martin smiled, "It's fun to be the dashing hero, even if there isn't a beautiful princess to rescue!  I ran Stubb through, slashed two crossbowmen, and then had a clear run at Raoul.

"I chased the coward to the captain's cabin, ready to kill him right there.  Only, I'd forgotten about Windslow.  He hit me in the head with a belaying pin and shoved me over the rail of the captain's balcony!"

How can Martin survive?  Find out in Chapter 14, coming Friday!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Scout's Oath - Chapter 12

< Chapter 11                                                                                                   Chapter 13 >
Martin Bane's airship was attacked by Prince Raoul and the renegade Ardhan Windslow!

"Remember the two airships I left in Faroon?" Bane asked.  "Windslow and Raoul subverted one of them."

"A raider who doesn't stay bought?" Garrett sneered.  "I'm Shocked!"

"Should they imitate your royal commanders?" Martin shot back.  "Like the western squadron captains, paid to watch while a Tartegian fleet attacked?  Or Windslow, himself -- former captain of the royal guard paid to kidnap Her Highness?"

"Stop it!" Callan commanded.  "Uncle, you will stifle your opinions and work with Martin.  If you can't, I'll replace you with someone who can."

Callan glared until Garrett nodded.

"Martin," she whirled to face him, "you were a raider for fifteen years.  It's going to take time to convince people you've changed.  Deal with it!"

"As you command, Highness," Martin said.

"Continue with your report, Martin."

"Captain Stubb's, of the Kestrel, and his crew had us at sword point before we could react," Martin said.  "That's when Windslow and Raoul showed themselves.  They wanted Rupor -- and all the loot we had onboard."

"Wait," Callan said, "how did they know you had Rupor?"

"They got it from the airship I left at the rendezvous south of Morda," Martin said.  "I had the captain pass along most of David's plan so the trailing ships.  In retrospect, that might not have been my best idea."

Garrett opened his mouth -- probably to offer some cutting remark -- but he glanced at Callan and reconsidered.

"I told Stubbs where to find Rupor, and it looked like we were going to get out of the situation without a fight," Martin continued.  "Then Milo came on deck, sent by Tristan to see what was happening.  When Raoul saw Milo, he went crazy!  Raoul drew his sword and attacked Milo!"

How does Milo manage to survive?  Find out in Chapter 13, coming Wednesday!