Appendix A: Chapter 20

[Editor's note: Chapter 20 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland shuffled forward in line, absently drumming his fingers on the empty plate he held in his hands. It had occured to him as he left the lower dungeon, for what was technically the second time that day, that he wasn’t going to get very far in whatever he was going to do on an empty stomach. He had settled on eating at the knights’ mess hall on the ground floor of the keep, for no particular reason other than that it seemed like the most convenient option.

Roland took another half step as the line briefly lurched forward. As luck would have it, he apparently arrived near the end of the lunch rush, and despite having been in line for a good ten minutes still hadn’t received his food. Looking around, his impatience seemed to be shared by the knights in front of and behind him, though fortunately given Roland’s status as a paladin, they left a small gap immediately around Roland, preventing him from being jostled.

Roland felt full of nervous energy, wanting desperately to do something productive but having no idea what that something was. Dalton was certainly going to be of no help, and Roland couldn’t shake the suspicion that he’d gladly throw Roland in the cell next to Anna if given half a chance. Seeking further guidance from his superiors was also out; like with the priest he had spoken to the previous day, he’d probably just be told to let the whole thing go and resume his usual duties. And technically, they were probably right to say that; Roland was starting to overstay his welcome in Blackstone as it was.

The next half step forward finally brought Roland to the head of the line. He held out his plate and received a slab of what might’ve been halfway decent beef if it hadn’t been warmed over for the past hour and a scoop of green beans which stretched the definition of “green.” The empty pot suggested the cooks had run out of gravy already. Roland bitterly mused that even when it came to lunch, he couldn’t get a break from what was set in front of him.

Roland took his plate and walked over to one of the long tables where countless knights where finishing their meals and engaging in boisterous conversation with one another. He set his plate down in a relatively deserted section of one table, though he could still hear half a dozen people talking around him over the general din. Roland sat in front of it and began half-heartedly chewing his meal.

“… the old coot’s going to do if he gets to Doomhammer anyway,” he suddenly heard a voice somewhere nearby say. The mention of Doomhammer snapped his mind to attention, and he quickly looked around to see who was talking. The speaker appeared to be sitting on the opposite side of the table, two seats to Roland’s right, speaking to the person across from him.

“Pardon me, soldier,” Roland interrupted, leaning over to be heard over the noice. “What did you just say?”

“Sir!” the knight said, quickly straightening himself in his seat. “I said that I do not know what, um, Lord Arundel is planning on doing in Doomhammer, sir. If you thought I said something different, sir–”

“Don’t worry about it,” Roland tried to say reassuringly as he shifted to occupy the empty seat to his right. “Why do you say Lord Arundel is planning to go to Doomhammer?”

“That’s what we were talking about, sir,” replied the knight now next to Roland. “If you ask me, you’d have to crazy to — I mean, sir, one would be unwise to go there without a good reason these days. Not that it is my place to question the actions of the Vice Governor of Blackstone, of course, sir.”

“‘These days’?” Roland asked. “What’s happening in Doomhammer?”

The first knight looked at Roland quizzically. “You have not heard, sir?”

“I am afraid not. I have been traveling lately in areas where news does not reach quickly, and I have been occupied with… other matters since I have arrived here.”

“Well, sir,” the first knight began, leaning forward slightly as he spoke, “it began about six weeks or so ago.”

“After the fire?” Roland asked.

“Yes, sir, maybe a month or so after the fire. We started to hear stories that miners found a new vein of something in the mountains west of there. They were calling it something like Fracto… Fracti…”

“Fractilicite ore?” Roland guessed.

“That’s it!” the second knight said, snapping his fingers. “You’ve heard of it? If I may say so, sir, you don’t look much like the miner type.”

“I’m not,” Roland replied, “but part of our training requires us to be knowledgeable of many things.”

In particular, Roland knew, fractilicite was included in the alloy used to make the Order’s weapons, in particular the swords carried by paladins. Some of the Order’s scholars believed that pure fractilicite was somehow essential to channeling and harnessing the Lady Yssindria’s power to smite evil. Roland had no idea how that was supposed to work, but at the very least it didn’t seem to hurt.

“Anyway,” the first knight continued, “once the stories started making the rounds about the discovery, we started getting put through twice as many drills as normal. Pretty soon we started hearing what we all suspected by then: the Lanties were itching for a fight over it, and we’re going to give them one.”

Roland nodded. The only known deposit of fractilicite ore, as far as Roland was aware, at least, was near Castle Telerand itself. If Lantaria knew what the Order used it for, it would make sense that they would want their own supply to use for themselves. Of course, it would be useless since the Lady Yssindria was hardly going to lend her blessings to a bunch of heathens, but that wouldn’t stop them from trying. But given that Telerand categorically refused to trade fractilicite with Lantaria, even during the occasional period where relations between them had thawed, it wasn’t too surprising that Telerand wasn’t going to just let Lantaria seize it.

“Makes sense, I suppose,” Roland said, opting not to elaborate.

“I’d bet the Lanties don’t care about the mine at all; they just want an excuse to invade Doomhammer,” the second knight said. “They’ve been itching for an reason ever since the treaty.”

“Doesn’t matter to me either way,” the first knight added, pounding his fist into his empty hand. “I say, bring it on.”

“If you’re so eager to fight them, what are the two of you doing here?” Roland asked. “Shouldn’t you be out on the front lines?”

“No such luck,” the first knight replied. “They’ve ordered a regiment from here to fortify a couple towns near Doomhammer, but we’re stuck here on defense.”

“So, where does Lord Arundel come into all this?” Roland asked.

“Here’s where it gets a little weird,” the second knight said, lowering his voice and leaning in towards Roland. “A couple days ago I’m walking back from the Commander’s office, after having tried to convince him to send the two of us up the front. Anyway, I’m walking back, and a man in a hooded cloak stops me in the hall where there’s no one else around.”

“I’m telling you, there’s no way it was Lord Arundel,” the first knight interjected.

“And I’m telling you, I’d recognize that unibrow anywhere. Anyway, I pretend to not recognize who he is, because he’s obviously trying to hide his identity, and the last thing I need is for the Vice Governor to start coming down on me. Long story short, he tells me that he and a few of his associates are heading to Doomhammer, and asks if I ‘knew’ anyone who would be willing to ‘escort’ them there and back. Offered to pay pretty well for it, too.”

“And what did you tell him?” Roland asked.

“I told him no. I’m not an idiot. I’ve got my orders to stay here and guard the castle in case anything happens. Everyone knows it won’t, but orders are orders. Besides, even the groups that did get sent out are under strict orders not to cross into the DMZ around Doomhammer without explicit orders to do so. Believe me, the last thing I need is to get drummed out of here and go back to shoveling manure in the fields. No thank you.”

“So you think Lord Arundel has nothing better to do than to trick you into a dishonorable discharge?” the first knight jeered.

“Hey, I don’t pretend to know what nobles do with their time all day. Maybe he gets bored. I don’t know. But maybe he really wanted to go.”

“And like I was saying before you joined us, sir,” the first knight said, gesturing toward Roland, “what would he do if he got there anyway?”

“You’d have to ask him,” the second knight replied.

“Thank you for your time, both of you,” Roland said as he rose from the table, lifting his half-eaten lunch. “That does actually clear things up for me.”

“Yes, sir,” the two replied in unison.

Roland walked to the shelf near the kitchen door and carefully placed his plate on top of a teetering pile. He then turned and, nodding quickly to the two knights he had been speaking with, exited the mess hall.

It was a strange story, Roland thought, but it at least did shed a little light on why relations between Telerand and Lantaria had suddenly taken a turn for the worse, and why Dalton seemed convinced that the end was near if he didn’t do something first. Roland wondered whether he would be willing to let Lantaria get their own fractilicite mine without a fight, if the choice were up to him; even though he knew the material would be useless on its own, would he be willing to risk the kingdom on that belief? To be honest with himself, he was far from an expert in mineralogy and metallurgy; maybe the fractilicite alone would be enough.

He then immediately chided himself for so readily questioning the teachings of the Order. He couldn’t let what Dalton said the night before get to him.

Still, even though Roland had a little more information about what was going on, it wasn’t anything he could act on, and it certainly wasn’t going to help him find Derek or free Anna. But as he walked through the streets of Blackstone in the afternoon sun, an idea began formulating itself in the back of his mind.

Chapter word count: 1,719 (according to wc)
Total word count: 36,473 / 50,000 (72.946% complete)

Comments Off