In the passing of time, the Ethereal Legion drew near the skies over His Lordship Charles Lewis’s barony. Only a wide grassland and a few ranges of low, cloud-hills were yet to be traversed, when the captain of the guard called for the celestial riders to canter to a halt. 

“What-ho, the riders!” hailed two lone Legionnaires to the approaching squad, as they waited by the roadside on their panting coursers. “What-ho, our brethren!” replied the captain of the guard.

The pair of riders were two of the trackers dispatched by the Sky King to find Duke Northstorm. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” said King Cirrus, as he took stock, “that you’ve tracked Duke Northstorm to the vicinity of the same knave we are riding to see.” 

“The duke is not alone,” said one of the trackers, who had a lean, foxy aspect. “Judging from their trail, the duke is accompanied by a goodly sized band of his usual hooligans, bully boys, and scoundrels.”

The other tracker, who had a patch over his right eye, said, “And I spied lookouts—a rear guard, methinks—hiding in the hills yonder before they scuttered away.” The Legionnaire had lost half his sight many years ago while valiantly defending the life and fortune of an enfeebled sorceress. The grateful sorceress could not restore the soldier’s shattered eye, but she did give the vision that remained supernaturally enhanced acuity.

“Do you think they saw us approach?” asked the captain.

“I’m sure of it,” replied the one-eye, in a low, rumbling voice. “I recognized one of them, too. He was one of Duke Northstorm’s headmen—Dwyer Illwind, I think his name is—and we can be sure he’ll tell His Grace that you’re coming.” Reflexively, the one-eye tugged at the sword in his scabbard and warned, “They’ll be waiting for you.”

“Then fall in and ride with us,” said the Sky King, as he grasped the pommel of his own sword, “and we’ll give as good as we get.”

Kevin listened without comment to the Sky King discussing strategy with his Legionnaires, but wished more of them were part of this mission. Kevin knew that King Cirrus had good reason to lead a small, agile squad of Ethereal Legionnaires now, instead of waiting to assemble a slow, lumbering contingent of men-at-arms later. Time was of the essence, and little resistance had been anticipated at Lord Lewis’s manor before Duke Northstorm and his men became involved. Besides, most of the Ethereal Legion was already scattered throughout the kingdom searching for the duke in all the wrong places.

Kevin had to agree, although not enthusiastically, that he had to accompany the celestial riders because his knowledge of Lord Lewis was necessary. But it sounded as if Duke Northstorm’s men outnumbered the Ethereal Legion, and Galwynn knew that if there was a fight, he would be of little use. As the celestial riders got back underway, Kevin could not help but think to himself, “We’re going to a place where hooligans, bully boys, and scoundrels are most likely lying in wait. So how did a simple visit to a foreign king turn into a perilous adventure? Damnation, I hate adventures!”

A wide grassland and a few ranges of low, cloud-hills later, the celestial riders approached the windstorm stalled over Lord Lewis’s manor. The Sky King turned to Aaron Nimbus and Kevin Galwynn, and said, “There’s likely to be trouble ahead. Lieutenant, I think it would be best if you escorted Master Galwynn to safety.”

It did not take a Master of Enlightenment to read the conflict clouding Aaron’s face. Nimbus knew he had a duty to protect Galwynn, but he also felt a competing duty to join and help his comrades in battle. It was painful for Nimbus to know he would be safe from battle, even for good reason, when his comrades would be facing mortal danger.

Galwynn felt sympathy for his bodyguard, especially since his protection was part of the reason for the lieutenant’s dilemma. “Your Majesty, if I may suggest,” said Kevin, “the greater danger lies hidden in the cloud-hills yonder, not in the home of an academic. I agree it would be prudent for Lt. Nimbus to accompany me to Lord Lewis’s residence. But if all appears safe, the lieutenant could return to your ranks and bolster your forces.”

“Master Galwynn, I cannot leave your side!” declared Aaron. “If anything untoward should happen to you—” King Cirrus cut off the young lieutenant, and said, “Master Galwynn, the lieutenant is right. I promised your king that we would protect you on your mission. Anything could happen to you once you enter that house alone.” 

Galwynn answered, with a twinkle in his eye, “If the threat of battle becomes fact, Your Majesty, then I suspect I will be safer with an academic like Lord Lewis, than I will be with you.” Then he spoke more seriously, “In all truth, Your Majesty, each of us must do the task for which he is most aptly suited: You to combat your countryman, and I to confront mine.”

The Sky King, the Doubting Wizard, and Aaron Nimbus all had uneasy expressions on their faces. And a disgruntled rumble like rolling thunder echoed in the Sky King’s throat, but none voiced a better alternative. Shortly thereafter, Lt. Aaron Nimbus and the King’s Master of Enlightenment rode down from the higher altitudes, and then raced low over the fields of the Lewis estate. Meanwhile, high overhead, the King Cirrus and the Ethereal Legion checked their weapons and armor, and then grimly galloped across the last remaining cloud-hill.

Previous page | Next page