The Lady of Thorn Keep
The Lady of Thorn Keep sat on her throne glaring down at a single spot on the floor. It wasn’t so much that the spot itself was at fault, it happened to be located at the exact spot the Lady’s eyes fell when she sat thoughtfully; ruefully going over complex schemes and gambits in her mind. Still, though, any passerby who happened upon the scene might be impressed by the sheer fortitude of that particular space on the floor, as it hadn’t withered and crumbled into a dusty divot from the intensity of lady’s stare,
Like most thrones, this opulent, gem studded seat of ironwood, gold and fur sat on an alabaster dais centered on a raised white marble platform. It was approachable only via a short flight of pale stone stairs. Those approaching are constantly reminded of just how high the seated noble (if that’s what she could be referred to as) and how low they were. High above, a vaulted stained glass ceiling offered magically enhanced protection from the elements. Its gossamer appearance preserved pristine views of the sky at night but flooded the throne room with pastel hues that moved as the sun slid across its ecliptic.
Nobody came to call on the Lady though, not while she was in her unflinching trance, raining an avalanche of daggers at that one spot on the ground. To disturb her like this meant unimaginable peril; at least that is the tale told by all wait staff at Thorn Keep. When it came time to remind the Lady that dinner was ready, lots were drawn and oaths exchanged when all but one exhaled a sigh of relief; they didn’t draw the short straw.
The short straw drawer this night was a young goat named Lambert. Fate seemed particularly cruel as Lambert had only recently become old enough to join the staff. His father, the stable master had convinced the administrator that Lambert would be an valuable asset to the keep. Right now though, the young boy had wished that he had been sold to slavers along the coast; a fate preferable to his current task.
Lambert closed with fate, his steps cautious as though he were expecting a trap with every inch moved. At last, he padded into the throne room itself. Usually he’d take a few moments to bask in the sheer beauty of the room but a sense of grave self preservation overrode his desire to admire the glass ceiling. At last he stood at the top of the stairs, as far from the spot at which she stared as possible.
“Lady… Lady Sorcha”
She did not seem to respond.
“My Lady, the evening meal is ready.”
His second attempt also failed to get her attention. A cold despair began welling up from Lambert’s gut. Please please please, he pleaded with fate. Don’t let her turn me into something unnatural!
The Lady of Thorn Keep blinked, her eyes coming to focus on this small mousy boy in front of her. He was clearly in awe and terrified that he now had her full attention. Inwardly she smirked. Good. There was a sense of propriety that neither fear nor respect garnered on their own. It’s only through the careful cultivation of both that the Lady of Thorns kept her iron grip. She was glad to see that this pup was properly housebroken.
“Yes, what is it, boy?”
“The evening meal is ready, my Lady.”
Lady Sorcha’s eyes narrowed on the boy. She knew very well, the effect of such scrutiny would have, and savored the boy’s reaction. There was a certain rise that she got from watching the discomfort of those who stood before her throne and occasionally went to some lengths to exact just a little more. Beyond making her subjects and political adversaries squirm, Sorcha found backbone and unexpected courage to be delicious. This boy was new; the stable master’s son. Oh Yes. She had looked forward to this day since he was born some twelve years ago.
Lambert’s Father, a heavy set, powerful looking goat named Harrison, had been a cunning raubritter; a thug whose band of highwaymen grew large and organized enough to carve out a territory for themselves. These Robber Knights are one of the many scourges of vast tracks of unpatrolled wilderness. Harrison’s antics were particularly bold. He led raids far into “civilized” land for goods, supplies, and weapons. His undoing came when he attacked Thorn Keep’s grain stores. The Lady Sorcha herself intervened, raining fiery ruin upon the attacking ruffians. Routed and tumbling head over heels in utter defeat, the majority were easily picked off. Harrison and a few of his loyal soldiers either bravely or foolishly stood their ground against the magical onslaught. Ultimately that act of foolishness saved their lives. The Lady spared their lives with the promise that they would swear fealty to her and serve her household. Harrison became a stable hand. Eventually, he worked his way up to master of the stable, and unofficial administrator to all household affairs that involve outside labor.
Harrison eventually married the head maid and Lambert was born perhaps a year later. It was Sorcha’s hope that any child born of that union would inherit the sheer chutzpah of the father with the loyalty of the mother.
The Lady let Lambert’s words hang in silence; as though expecting him to deliver more information. The moment ripened with awkwardness since Lambert had no idea what else he should say. Clearing his throat, Lambert improvised “If it is the lady’s wish, I will arrange for the meal to be brought here.”
Yes. This boy will do. Sorcha thought to herself with satisfaction. “No, Boy. Have the meal sent to my study. I will be arriving there shortly.”
With the stableman’s son making a hasty retreat to the kitchen, Lady Sorcha was once again left to her thoughts. Her eyes returned to that spot on the floor. Sorcha had two main problems that she needed to solve. One involved increased hostilities between two principalities to the south and the other involved an incursion of Great Plague warriors. The two situations were close enough that one might be the solution to the other… These giant insectoid monsters were not driven by ego, lust or petty things like gold, and therefore were very difficult to manipulate.
For several minutes, Sorcha sat there, considering her options. The leader of one principality had intuition over insects might prove useful; an individual that the Lady Sorcha had been meaning to neutralize. He was a loathsome, but ruggedly handsome wolf lord who was schooled in arcane lore growing up. If rumors were to be believed, this wolf, as a pup had taken a particular interest in insects and spiders from before he stood upright. He routinely terrorizes villages and small towns near his borders with all manner of vermin. Lady Sorcha smirked to herself. He may not know it yet, but this Great Plague invasion may have just saved his life.
Sorcha stood and stretched as she always did when she’s spent long periods of thinking on her throne. Now that she had a course of action mapped out in her mind, she relaxed and realized just how hungry she was. It was off to her study, where her dinner awaited.
The Warlock, Dire Fang, was tired after a long day of campaigning. Today, he was pushing east into the foothills of Garig where he’d finally have direct access to the metal mines he needed to be independent of the iron and steel cartels of the Old Empire. The residents put up a nominal struggle; not out of the ordinary for a population fighting for their lives. Dire Fang was on a mission of Genocide, and the Garrig Horsekin were his target. Not long ago, the Horsekin dominated the western foothills and plains. Others, including his own Wolfborne clan were treated harshly and forced into a meager reservations in insect infested swamps. All of that changed when Dire Fang, then just a pup, discovered Waissif, an angry little spirit trapped in a stoppered bottle (perhaps from before the War of Three split the race of men asunder). Waissif agreed that should the pup set him free, he would grant the young wolf the power to set his clan free. Once the bottle was unplugged, arcane knowledge was painfully burned into into the pup’s mind. The knowledge would unlock itself slowly through dark dreams and alarming visions as the young wolf aged. Others began to notice changes in Fritz (his given name) and began referring to him as Fenris, the name of the great mage whose powers transformed men into wolves.
Over twenty years have passed since that day, and the young pup, once named Fritz Wolfbrourne exacted revenge, not only for his clan, but the other downtrodden remnants surviving the Horsekin’s rise to power. The wolf circle of elders praised young Fenris and bestowed up him the title of Dire Fang, a namesake the clan’s founder; he who forged a weak alliance of families into Wolfbourne thousands of years ago.
“Ah, Dire Fang! There you are. I had wondered if those hoofed monsters had their way with you this day.” came the greeting of a particularly old, graying wolf. “No, no old friend. Though I know it disappoints you, but I still draw breath.” The older wolf laughed and slapped the warlock on the back. The elder was Fenris’s most trusted adviser, Griever Bloodpaw. Bloodpaw had fought along side the younger wolf’s side since the very start of the Wolfbourne revolt. Despite his age, the adviser was an intimidating presence.
“Then how goes your bloody business of power mongering and exacting revenge?”
“Better than expected. Worse than hoped.”
“Then the mines will be secured on schedule?”
“Perhaps as early as the next New Moon.”
The two men paused their conversation as a particularly striking woman crossed the war camp. She turned to look at the two warriors and canted her head slightly, smiling as she noted their gaze. Turning to continue her walk, she swished her tail around and strutted out of sight behind a few tents.
Fenris and Griever caught each other staring then laughed. “Our talk can wait, young pup. Maybe you should go look into the nature of that… intruder in the camp.” Fenris eyed his adviser. “For an old man, Bloodpaw, you have a single tracked mind.” The older wolf shrugged mirthfully and gave Fenris a playful shove. “Old in the bones, young at heart. Go on. She won’t wait forever.”
Leaving Griever behind, the warrior crossed purposely to the gap between tents that his target vanished into. As he passed into the maze of tents, he caught a glimpse of the lady’s tail entering a tent to the left. Fenris strode in after, pausing at the tent flap, letting his eyes adjust.
“I didn’t realize that I was being followed” Sorcha whispered coyly. She was already at the opposite side of the tent, laying on a cot in a particularly alluring, welcoming manner. “Well, I’ve got to be diligent about investigating strangers in camp.” Fenris retorted, approaching with casual steps. These kinds of encounters were common near war fronts; usually involving the exchange of a few coins afterwards. As Fenris sat on the cot next to the courtesan, he felt something amiss. Hairs on his neck and back stood on end and an instinctive low growl built in his throat. She was emanating power; strong power. The warlock hopped to his feet and glared across at the woman in front of him. “Who are you?”
The Lady of Thrown Keep came to her feet. She stood at even height with the Wolfbourne Warlock. She ignored his question, turning to pace a slow circle to his left, forcing him to turn to keep line of sight. “You’re lucky, Fenris Wolfborne, had this visit come a mere month earlier, your body would be char and ash on the floor right now. As it stands now, I have a use for you.” Fenris knew that he now had to buy time. That magically enhanced laughter earlier would have attracted the attention of both Griever and his staff of mystics and apprentices. “The Horsekin bought you, didn’t they. I will double their offer. If you know my name, then you know that I have the resources to back that offer.” Sorcha once again laughed at the warlock. “I am not some mercenary to be bought and traded for coin”
A commotion outside of the tent brought a smirk to Fenris’s mouth. His backup had arrived. “Regardless of who you are, or why you’re here. You are about to learn the price of trifling with me and my Clan.” The tent was suddenly ablaze with a bright light, burning away the fibrous canvas. Within seconds, the canopy was gone. Surrounding the remains of the tent, a contingent of warriors whose ranks were interspersed with wolves in robes, obviously spell casters. Sorcha glance around at the collected faces before focusing on Fenris once more. This time her voice had no mirth to it. “What I have to say to you is not meant for their ears.” she gestures around at the gathered forces. “So, you can either come with me willingly now, or you can come with me after I’ve depleted your forces. Your choice.”
There was a long awkward pause where Fenris stood there, eyes locked with his opponent. By himself, especially now with all of his magical reserves depleted from a full days worth of combat, the warlock knew that he stood no chance against this witch. She no doubt prepared for this very moment and had a sizable amount of energies stored not only in herself but other focus objects that she wore on her body. With the whole of his spellcasters here, though, maybe they stood a chance of overpowering and capturing her. There was also the fact that she was not here to kill him. Had this woman wanted Fenris dead, she could have carried that task out in any number of unpleasant but silent ways since he had entered the tent several minutes ago. Perhaps he should just hear her out.
“DIE You EVIL WITCH!” screamed one of the magical initiates behind Sorcha. There was an eruption of light and a massive arc of electricity. “Wait!” Fenris shouted, but the order was drowned out by the resulting thunderclap. Time seemed to slow for the Lady of Thorn Keep. The lightning had struck one of her magical shields and triggered an enchantment that she had placed upon herself, increasing the speed at which she processed the world around her. Two more bolts of lightning erupted from the circle of aggressors, but this time Sorcha was ready. The first bolt struck a shimmering octagonal shield and exploded outward in a fiery mass, knocked down two wolves and set nearby clothes on fire. Sorcha caught the second bolt with a bare paw, shaped it into what looked like a glowing spear and threw it, striking another wolf in the chest. He fell to the ground twitching uncontrollably. Individually, Sorcha had no doubt she could take on these novices, but she was depleting energy rapidly and felt the need to extract herself from the situation.
Fenris growled as he watched the conflict unfold. This intruder had far greater skill than he could have anticipated. Drawing his sword, the warlock endeavored to stop this magical fight the old fashioned way. The she-wolf sent a blast of wind knocking down the wall of men on her left flank. Fenris stepped forward as she turned and the two locked gazes again. “I’ll put an end to this right now.” he muttered then thrust his sword out at her. He knew that she’d have some fighting skill and would likely dodge the attack, but doubted she’d expect a follow up. As he suspected she dodged inward, pivoting on her left foot. He did not expect what happened next, though. He felt her grab the forearm of his sword hand, then the world seemed to blur and he felt a wrenching feeling in his gut as reality shifted and in the next moment he stood somewhere else.