Several miles south of Oak Knoll, a lone traveler ran through the woods carrying a lantern. The glass bowl covering the wick was blackened at the top from the night before. His dress was black and on his back was a pouch full of short spears.
Moving swiftly, he made his way along a subtle trail, through thick woods at the base of a rocky hill. His gaunt face betrayed some of its youthfulness, but it spoke also of an unnatural strain. He followed the trail to the lowest point of the woods and there entered a cave. In the entrance he lit the lantern he’d been carrying with one that hung from the cave wall. Crouching slightly, he followed the cave into the heart of the hill.
At thirty yards, the tunnel gradually began to open up, heading into the earth. As he continued, the jagged walls began to grow moist and the air grew warmer. In sections there was a steady trickle of water along the floor at the base of the walls. Deeper and deeper he went, leaving the sun behind. Taking one last turn, he hung his lantern on a nail in the rock, the beginning of a long row of lanterns of all shapes and sizes. From there he followed the lights to a place where the cave opened up into a large chamber.
In the middle of the cave a long stone table was lined with men of a similar dress, feasting. It was an underground banquet hall lacking all of the fineries expected at a banquet. The square room was well lit by a massive candle chandelier that hung above the table and several lanterns that hung at each doorway and along the walls. The air was filled with the smell of meat, ale, and burning oil.
At each of four entrances, one on each side, a guard stood at attention. Above one of these doors, etched in stone, was the name “Casimir.” Ignoring the guards, the returning scout walked up to the table and joined the feasting.
Every man at the table wore a pouch of short spears on his back, black clothing, and had dark hair and eyes. The only things that set them apart were their facial features, length of hair, and height. They were all thin and haggard, like men near death, but there was an apparent ferocity about them all.
The scout took his place at an empty spot on one of the wooden benches and immediately tore into the first piece of meat within reach. All of the meat was in the form of whole carcasses, just cooked, but quite rare. Lining the table were pitchers of cold ale, earthen cups, and tin plates. The sounds of feasting permeated the atmosphere.
“Did you bring his lantern, Selcor?” a scout asked the new arrival in a guttural voice.
“Yes,” Selcor replied over a mouthful of meat.
They both focused on their food for a minute or so longer before Selcor added, “I made him bleed, but he escaped.”
His companion paused to contemplate the words then washed down his food with some ale. His bushy hair hung over his forehead in wavy strands. Wiping his face with his sleeve, he opened his mouth to speak again, but was cut off.
“Hail, your Mallith!” A voice cried from the other end of the table. The command echoed loudly through the chamber, ringing into the tunnels.
All in attendance rose to their feet on the outside of their benches and turned to face the entrance at the far end of the table, the one with the name “Casimir” carved above it. Some spit food out of their mouths onto their plates, or swallowed what was left to more quickly assume a position of attention. Once there was complete silence and every one of them was on their feet, a great gangly figure walked through the stone doorway and paused just under the light of the lanterns to his left and right.
A black robe covered the form of a man no less than eight feet tall. He stood slightly bent over but with square shoulders. In his right hand he carried a long club with a heavy metal sphere on the end, adorned with five large spikes. His long black hair was lined with thick strands of gray and his beard was kept short, appearing just as dark against his pale skin. There were scars on his cheeks running down from his eyes like tears, and his hands and forearms were scarred in a similar manner, as if burned. Like all of those present, he too carried a pouch of spears on his back.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. The giant slowly extended his right arm, holding the club out in front of him. In unison all of the men at the table pulled a spear from their pouches, saluting him with the point of their weapons.
“Casimir!” they all bellowed in one voice.
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