LeGarde and L'Orange Meet a Wizard, Get New Clothing and L'Orange Notices a Woman
By Mark H. Aberdeen
“My dear Duc, you would be so kind as to knock upon the good wizard’s door?” LeGarde asked the Duc L’Orange and gracefully stood aside in a sweeping gesture.
The Duc looked at his friend puzzled before asking, “And, Marquis, why would you wish me to knock upon this very door?” suspecting that the good Marquis had some reason to not wish to knock.
“It only stands to reason that the honour of knocking upon a grand wizard’s door should befall the one who holds the greater authority and since, my dear Duc, you are likewise a Duc and I am merely, and pitifully, a Marquis, I could not, nay, shall not, presume to believe I had the notion of inflicting any false superiority upon you by not allowing you the honour of knocking on this surprisingly unadorned door.” LeGarde stroked his beard, while he eyed the door in puzzlement.
He expected to see magicked locks and devices so intricate that the greatest of thieves would have trouble negotiating them. The plain door held only an ordinary brass knob.
Duc L’Orange held up a hand and waved it in a passing gesture to LeGarde. “Bah! This is such a trivial matter that I do not feel that it even bares a moment’s thought and yet you insist that this famous honour you have spoken about at length hinges upon my knocking at this door!”
“Well, it…” Marquis LeGarde had a pointed finger in place indicating his willingness to discuss the matter in depth.
Duc L’Orange continued interrupting his explanation, “If I clearly recall matters, you had no such notions when you left that ill conceived note to the very men hunting us, whipping them into a frenzy at your description of their questionable parentage and hurled insults so vile that they not only doubled their efforts to find us, but have vowed to kill anyone who even utters your name!”
“Hardly a trifle, Your Grace,” LeGarde waved his hand dismissing the charge. “As you know I know have a sympathizer within the Chancellor’s spy network insuring that my name is clearly mentioned in each dispatch. My agent has reported that the Chancellor is running low on couriers.”
L’Orange ignored the comment and continued, “Nor, did you allow any other course of action, but to stand a fight some five dozen men, when you cut off our only possible escape route while in the Julienne Pass with no less than half of Godwit’s army on our trail!”
“We had the element of desperation on our side. You will notice—”
The Duc’s hand whipped up in a halting motion, “Allow me to finish.” Marquis LeGarde’s attention focused on his friend. “Very well, where was I?”
“Godwit’s army,” LeGarde stated helpfully.
“Ah, yes! I pray thank you for your guidance.” Duc L’Orange bowed and continued tearing into the Marquis, “Did you not also make another unilateral decision when you thought it best to release that hapless duck! I’m very positive that a reminder of that conclusion is hardly necessary.”
“Your Grace, these events can hardly be attributed to poor judgment on my account, as there were perfectly sound reasons for all of these actions.”
“Yes, yes, of course, and I’m sure there was a perfectly sound reason for Prince Harlond, second in line to King Theron’s throne, to allow himself to be trampled full on by a bull elephant, but no one is arguing that the outcome was not as predicted.”
“Your Grace, I’m sure that allowing you the honour of knocking upon this door shall not result in anything closely resembling being trampled to death by a bull or, in fact any member of the pachydermatous order. It is simply a door, with a kindly wizard on the other side who will no doubt come to our aid, once we let our intentions and story be told.”
The Duke sighed in resignation and walked up to the door. Both men straightened their clothing and made their appearance as presentable as possible given the toll of the journey and accumulation of road dust. LeGarde stood to the left and to the side of the Duke as was proper. Once situated Duc L’Orange gave a resounding rap to the door with his ornately carved walking stick, which had been engraved with the L’Orange coat of arms and ducal seal. He immediately followed that rap with two additional raps and stepped back a pace so he would allow enough room to present a flourishing and proper bow to his magic wielding audience.
Both men shot up their eyebrows in alarm when a very loud noise rang from behind the door accompanied by what could only be described as rushing water. Not just any rushing water, but the exact sound that water makes as it cascades down a thunderous waterfall. The two men looked at each other in bewilderment even as the door burst open and a torrent of water spewed from the base of the tower with force enough to sweep Duc L’Orange up helplessly and ushered him passed the astonished Marquis LeGarde with startling speed as if caught and carried by a herd of wild elephants.
Duc L’Orange shouted in surprise as the water carried him over the stone wall and sent him tumbling down a very steep embankment. The good Duc found great difficulty telling up from down during the unexpected journey. He struck hard against a tree branch. At that moment, he knew absolutely where down was. He tried to gasp for breath, but fortunately it had been knocked from him upon a large tree branch. He postulated that if he had tried to breathe, he would have only gotten a lung full of water.
A sudden and certain splash concluded his journey as he impacted a much larger, but ultimately much slower moving body of water, namely, the mountain lake. The very same lake they had the honour of resting near before climbing the steep and difficult trail that led them to the wizard’s tower.
LeGarde sprinted to the edge of the stone wall and vaulted after his friend. Upon seeing the sear drop before him he quickly grabbed onto a nearby sapling and clung to it for his very life. The fall surely would have killed him. The sheer number of rocks and enormously limbed trees staggered the Marquis and he performed the only action available to him, without the possibility of bodily harm and he called after his friend.
“My dear Duc, have you been killed, or likewise injured?” LeGarde shouted at the top of his lungs and waited for an answer.
“So nothing close to a bull elephant?” Duc L’Orange shouted back as he coughed the water out of his lungs.
“My mistake.” LeGarde said as an offered apology.
“Oh, it will be, I assure you, LeGarde.” The Duc spat.
“All is well then!” LeGarde looked to the straining sapling from which he hung. “I suppose.”
After performing some acrobatics and deft leap or two, LeGarde found solid ground once again. He looked for the path they had used to climb the hill to the Wizard’s tower. He followed it down to help rescue his friend from the chilly mountain lake.
When LeGarde had reached the bottom he saw that Duc L’Orange had swum to the shore and fortunately, for LeGarde, not far from the path. The beach near the path was graveled and LeGarde was able to get enough of a foothold to fish Duc L’Orange from the water.
“Have you been injured your Grace?” LeGarde kept the irony out of his voice as he provided the Duc the salutation.
Duc L’Orange glared at LeGarde. “From this point forward and by official ducal decree, it is your job and only your job, to knock on any doors we wish to gain entry.” Duc L’Orange rolled onto his back and worked on breathing for a few moments, before attempting to stand. LeGarde waited patiently until his friend indicated that his ability to walk had returned. Once again, they worked the way up the path toward the wizard’s tower.
L’Orange moved rather stiffly as the knocks from the fall mixed with the bone chilling cold turned the otherwise, simple aches of deep bruising and possible bone fractures, into agonizing pain. LeGarde offered to help his friend, but it was not in the Duc’s nature to complain about such inconveniences. Water continued to slosh in the Duc’s boots until it had thankfully worked itself out before re-reaching the tower.
Marquis LeGarde once again straightened his clothing making his appearance as presentable as possible. Duc L’Orange attempted the same, but with his clothing completely soaked, his appearance looked somewhat haggard as water dripped from the bedraggled plume and drooping brim. His proud and curled mustache now took on a walrusy look as it lay limp. The ribbons and ruffles of his shirt looked matted and mud caked.
Duc L’Orange wishing to remain out of the way of another water trap stood upon a flagstone to the right of the door, well out of the way of the door’s opening. LeGarde looked to his friend, “Your Grace, you are already wet. I would see it as a personal favor if we were to trade places.”
L’Orange responded by pointing at the door with authority. Authority that the Marquis was bound to obey. LeGarde sighed and stepped up to the door and knocked much in the manner as his friend had moments before the Duc’s misfortune.
This time no sound of rushing water greeted the men. The Marquis simply stood before the door. No one answered even when he hard activity from inside. He knocked once again and again, nothing.
“Your Grace, it seems that no one is willing to answer—” LeGarde turned to face his friend, “Your Grace?”
LeGarde’s expression turned startled when he found the space where L’Orange stood, unoccupied. The Marquis suddenly startled by the disappearance of the Good Duc L’Orange scanned the area looking left and right, then finally up toward the alarmed shouts of the Duc L’Orange. To LeGarde’s chagrin L’Orange sailed through the air once again in the direction of the dreaded mountain side. LeGarde nearly tripped upon the culprit to the Duc’s apparent aerial state as the flagstone on which the Duc had once stood hid a taut spring.
This time Duc L’Orange let out a steady terrified shout, rather than the half drowned screams that signified his last journey. Like the first fall this one also ended in a satisfying “kerplump!” Duc L’Orange once again found himself in the chilled lake.
LeGarde did not attempt a fruitless vault this time and simply narrowed his eyes to the wizard’s tower. He let out a sigh and began wordlessly down the mountain pass to rescue his friend from the icy waters for a second time. The Marquis heard merry laughter coming from inside as he passed in front of the tower.
The Duc L’Orange waited for the Marquis when he reached the bottom of the pass. He could not help but see that LeGarde’s step had lost some if it’s spring. “Marquis, I can’t see why you are so tired, you have not been forced into these chill waters, yet you look as if you had fought the King’s army single handedly.”
“Alas, my dear Duc, you have had the fortune of being aided down the mountain by water and then again by air, while I have had to walk the length of this treacherous mountain pass upwards of four times now.”
Duc L’Orange cocked his head not believing his friend’s complaint. He shook his head, “I cannot believe my inconsideration for your misfortune! Marquis please accept my humble apologies.”
The Marquis presented Duc L’Orange a flourishing bow fit for a royal court.
“You do know that was sarcasm LeGarde?” L’Orange asked.
“I chose to ignore it and I gratefully accept your apology.” The Duc just looked as his friend helplessly. “There is no need to feel shame. It is a mere inconvenience and one that I am happy to bare the burden. For I have no doubt, that your Grace would do the same for me.”
L’Orange muttered a few choice phrases under his breath about his friend, mostly involving his lineage. He replaced the hat that had come loose during the second fall and retrieved his walking stick, thought lost from the first fall and both men walked once again up to the good Wizard’s tower. This time they were armed with a wedge shaped rock, a stout stick and a strategy.
The two men placed themselves much in the manner of the last time they stood before the door with LeGarde prepared to knock and Duc L’Orange standing off to the side. LeGarde knocked on the door and waited a moment. A very loud noise followed by the sound of rushing water once again shook the tower. LeGarde took the wedge shaped rock and shoved it under the bottom of the door and gave the rock a swift kick thus anchoring the door firmly in place.
Water continued to rush and while the door creaked and groaned with the onrushing water the stout door held. LeGarde allowed a smirk to befall his lips as water exploded from a window some fifteen feet up in a shower of glistening droplets. It didn’t stop there. The window above that one burst, and the next and the next all the way up the succession of windows until the top had been reached. A sickening groan reverberated though the tower and finally water erupted out of the top, presumably from a chimney.
Smiling broadly, Duc L’Orange stepped off the flagstone the moment before it spring from its position. He quickly shoved the stout stick under the stone. The stone unable to reset itself put enough tension on the spring to snap it. An audible “Fwap!” echoed under the base of the tower followed immediately by the clanking of metal. The clanking seemed to move under the tower’s base for some time. It went completely still until the mechanism gave way in a horrific crash.
The ground shook around the tower until a rush of water punched through the side of the mountain and down the very embankment the Duc L’Orange had fallen, twice. Water drained at a phenomenal rate into the tower’s base and out through the opening. Both men listened at the door and distinctly heard a dull thump of what could only be the tower’s occupant impacting the tower’s lowest level.
A cursing voice followed the impact and a continuous string of curse words allowed the friend to follow the cursor’s course from the base of the tower, under the ground and thrust out of the mountainside open into free fall. “Shit!” He shouted until his voice fell from earshot. LeGarde and L’Orange watched in satisfaction as a grey robed man with white hair impacted the mountain lake far below.
The two men gave each other a brief satisfying nod and leaned casually against the stone face of the tower. A crackling sound popped from inside and the sound of furious squishy footfalls got louder as the occupant stalked toward the entryway. The noise stopped just before the door burst open in what amounted to thousands upon thousands of splinters.
A very soggy wizard with the look of murder in his eyes stood in the framework of the ruined door. His robe clung to his thin body uncomfortably. His shoes looked like pontoons. His long gray hair and beard were a bedraggled mess. LeGarde looked intently upon the state of his fingernails while Duc L’Orange twirled at his mustache and looked vaguely at an interesting tree.
“How dare you disturb the Wizard Zetticus Gandolphini Pottidore Kenobey Belgradius? Wizard of the first though eighth orders, bringer of Earth, Wind and Fire! Wizard of Mountain Kings and terror of fearsome beast, I conjure demons, ride dragons and wield wild magic. I was first council to the Kings of Aquitaine, I am Wizard!”
“Now that was just pretentious don’t you think?” LeGarde’s expression was unimpressed.
“I couldn’t agree more, I believe a simple ‘hello’ would have sufficed.” L’Orange shrugged, the turned to the wizard, “Kind wizard, I am Corbel Corbeau, the Duc L’Orange, and my dear friend is, Alassadro LeGarde, Marquis of Seraphina and we have come to seek your aid in a matter most urgent.” Duc L’Orange.
“SILENCE!” The wizard commanded in capital letters.
“He obviously doesn’t know us,” LeGarde confided in L’Orange.
The wizard scowled.
L’Orange shrugged and gestured to the Marquis to address the wizard with a flick of his very expressive wrist, “Your, Wizard…ness, we have trekked many miles, fought armies, beasts, an army of undead just to have a word with you. I employ your patients as we tell you of our tale and if at the end of this famous tale, you do not wish to aid our endeavor, we will gladly turn around and never again darken your door with our presence and pray that you never hear of our names and deeds—”
The dampened wizard slapped his forehead in frustration then pointed a crooked finger at LeGarde. “You are giving me a migraine! One more word and I swear before the Gods and everyone here, I will turn you into a chicken and make soup out of you. Good thing too for the case of pneumonia I’m bound to get from you twits. Look at me. I’m friggin’ soaked. Get in here now!”
The two men quickly entered the wizard’s tower. The wizard gestured to his door and it quickly reassembled itself until it looked exactly as it had before the door’s unfortunate splintering. The men thus began to climb the stairs while water still trickled down. The two friends stopped briefly at one of the tower’s levels and took a moment to look up. They each took turns to look and saw that the tower had a circular staircase that seemed to stretch much further than was possible given the height of the tower.
The stone stairs and staircase was unadorned except for sconces about every twenty feet or so. The scones would have been lit with cheery little flames casting enough illumination to keep the stairs carefully lit, but now they just smoldered sadly due to their unexpected drenching.
After what seemed like an eternity of climbing, the staircase eventually led them to an open room at the very top. There were several rooms off the main room that contained living quarters, additional laboratories with devises and contraptions that LeGarde and L’Orange could never begin to guess at. LeGarde attempted to touch a particularly shiny and delicate object, when his hard was slapped away by the wizard. “Don’t touch anything!”
LeGarde complied until the Wizard’s back was turned and proceeded to touch the rest of the objects on the workbench. L’Orange gave him a hard look. LeGarde responded with a look of innocence and clasped his hands behind his back. The wizard left the room and return seconds later completely changed and dry. A moment later a young woman of incredibly beauty emerged from another room.
She dressed much in the same manner as the old wizard, but her robes clung to her body in a much different and more interesting ways. Her chestnut hair hung in ringlets much in the same style of the old wizards and while he wore a long and unkempt beard, her face was smooth, with a strong jaw line just shy of being masculine. Her nose was slightly upturned and sharp and her large sky blue eyes sparkled.
Both men bowed politely at the young woman. Duc L’Orange held the bow a moment longer than was necessary, “This is my granddaughter Elania, she is in training and quite talented. If you wish to be mutated into slugs then by all means try something inappropriately romantic on her.” The wizard warned.
“Good Wizard, you have nothing to fear from the Duc L’Orange or myself, the Marquis of Seraphim, my heart belongs firmly to another. As for Duc L’Orange, his heart—” LeGarde paused and looked at his friend who had taken an obvious shine to the young lady as his cheeks had flushed, his pupils had dilated, his breathing had become laboured and to him nothing, or no one else existing in the room except for Elania. LeGarde looked to the wizard, “How big of a slug exactly?”
Elania took Duc L’Orange’s hand and led him into a chamber. Much like the wizard, he returned moments later, wearing a complete new set of clothing. The clothing looked much like his old garments and still held the colors of cream and green. The doublet was made of soft, buttery leather and trimmed in silver brocades. He wore a clean white shirt and his breeches were much in the same pattern as the doublet.
His worn boots and gloves had been replaced with matching black leather boots and gloves that were adorned with a seemingly complex system of buckles and belts that seemed custom fit to his hands and legs providing a perfect balance of movement and allowing a maximum of defense. His bedraggled and sad chapeau had been replaced with a black leather hat very much in the same style as his old one with the upturned brim on the left and a plethora of green and white plumage that would make any gentleman envious.
Elania looked rather pleased with her handiwork and took an extra letting her eyes linger over his friend. LeGarde noticed that the appreciative glance lasted a hair’s breadth longer than necessary to appraise the fit of the Duc’s new ensemble. In turn the Duc L’Orange didn’t seem to object to her appraisal. LeGarde mused that the shared looks between the two might lead to the good Duc being the best dressed slug within the kingdom. LeGarde looked discretely to the wizard who seemed to be preoccupied with other matters. Elania gestured to LeGarde to follow her.
“I’m perfectly at ease with my current wardrobe milady.”
“Surely, you can’t be serious? Have you seen your wardrobe? I’ve run across better dressed trolls, better smelling as well.”
“Wags! I should say hardly!”
“Milord, you should say thank you and follow me! I have been working on some new transmogrification spells and I can make you look like something that belongs in those rags.” She said with a sweet smile.
LeGarde bowed his head and followed Elania into the room. A few moments later, he also emerged sporting new finery much in the same style as L’Orange’s, but with his traditional crimson and scant black accents trimmed in gold brocades. While his dress remained consistent with his station it was a shy less intricate as L’Orange’s. The ensemble was no less functional and magically comfortable. LeGarde flexed his hands and was amazed to see the gloves move around his hand as if they were alive.
“This is truly masterful work.” LeGarde said amazed and presented the lady with a polite bow.
“It’s the least we could do after grandpa tried to kill you both.” She gave her Grandfather a hard look and then turned to LeGarde and L’Orange and presented a dazzling smile that showed a bumper crop of dimples. LeGarde’s eyes remained fixed on her feet as was proper while Duc L’Orange took the opportunity to make the briefest of eye contact with the lovely young woman.
“The least we can do is share our evening meal with you! I’m sure Kato is somewhere about.” Duc L’Orange stated grandly and then turned toward the kitchen and opened the door. Both the wizard and his granddaughter were astonished at seeing a very unremarkable looking man in their kitchen hard at work and placing the final touches on several magnificent looking dishes.
“Ah, there you are! I think we’ll dine out here Kato.”
“Very good Milord,” Kato stated to L’Orange. The good Duc then turned back to the gaping wizard and granddaughter apprentice, “unless there is somewhere else you prefer?”
The wizard seemed to snap out of his astonishment long enough to shake his head before diving headlong into puzzlement. LeGarde saddled up to the wizard, “Good wizard, you look troubled.”
“How did he get into the kitchen?”
“I imagine through the door.” LeGarde responded simply.
“Does he always appear in strange kitchens like that?”
“Hardly!” It was L’Orange’s turn to answer and the wizard looked visibly relieved at the Duc’s response, “Sometimes, it’s a trail, or an encampment.”
“Or, there was that time in mountains!” LeGarde added as he strode passed pulling out a chair for Elania.
“Yes, I can still taste those sweetbreads. He used this plum sauce that…”
“Don’t you two ever stop? SHUT UP!” The wizard’s use of capital letters was truly impressive. The sound of a spoon dropping from the kitchen indicated that even Kato had not been insulated from the wizard’s vocal wrath. “So, let me get this straight, he just appears whenever you need a meal and has it prepared for you, wherever you go?”
The Duc rocked on his heels and considered the answer most thoroughly, “Yes.”
“How long has he been doing this?”
“LeGarde, when did we acquire Kato?”
“Sometime in the middle to late third century, in the time of King Ghedron, if I am not mistaken, your Grace.”
“LeGarde, I completely trust that your judgment on this matter and that your answer is true.”
“That would make him over five hundred years old!”
“Gads! Has it been that long?” It was L’Orange’s time to be astonished. “Perhaps, a raise in pay might be in order.”
“That isn’t right. The man shows up and has provided you family meals for five hundred years and you never thought to ask?”
Duc L’Orange’s eyebrows knit together, “No.”
The wizard shook his head in disgust and sat heavy in the chair. While Duc L’Orange made sure that Elania had everything she needed for the feast to come, “Thank you.”
“Not at all this simple task has given me no less than complete pleasure.”
“Do you two always talk like that?” Elania voice had a musical quality that L’Orange found most enjoyable.
“However do you mean?”
“Milady, as gentlemen it is our duty to precise in our wording, lest meanings get jumbled and wrongful insults occur. It is always regrettable to be forced to duel and sometime kill a man for a slip of the tongue.” The Duc turned to LeGarde who had seated himself at the end of the table facing the Wizard.
“That is how his Grace and I came to be friends. We each had a term of service within the King’s army as is proper for all noblemen. He and I were in separate classes, but I learned that he and I were countrymen. And, since we grew up not far from one another and had never met previously, I decided that it would be polite to introduce myself.
“It did not quite go according to plan and some of the other members of his class thought it would be amusing to have fun at my expense. Since I was of a junior class, hazing was not uncommon and in fact a time honoured tradition, it was always kept to the dark of night and in closed quarters. I never expected it in the middle of the midday’s repast. While such insults would not be tolerated outside of school, inside was a much different matter and I was forced to endure the insults and I then retreated after they had finished their amusements on my behest.
“While it is true that the Duc did not personally participate, he did little to stop it and in fact, found his compatriot’s insults amusing. I held him responsible, being the leader of these men.” L’Orange and LeGarde each had fond smiles on their faces. “After we each had graduated, I was forced by honour to seek him out and exact justice. Fortune came upon me one day and I noticed him one day walking in the village of Tymsic. I could scarce believe my eyes!
“After weaving through a crowd of townsfolk and entering an eatery I caught up to my insulter at long last! I wasted no time and challenged him to a dual of honour. His Grace appeared astonished at these events and hardly recognized me. After I explained the event, he then clearly recalled that day and offered an apology. However, in those days I was a little too headstrong.”
“Those days?” Duc L’Orange inquired.
“Obviously your Grace, as you can plainly see, I am hardly the brash young man that I had once been! It is plain to see that I hardly ever leap head first into action without giving the situation proper consideration.”
Duc L’Orange did his best to not laugh at his friend’s ridiculous boast. There were smiles around the table at LeGarde’s expense, but ignored them. LeGarde sensing that he held the minority opinion added. “Would your Grace, like to continue this famous tale?”
Duc L’Orange held up a hand gesturing that he would not. LeGarde held the story until Kato arrived bringing bowls of a thick soup made with lentils and savory cuts of beef that was just short of being a stew. Fresh and warm dark bread was served to sop up the soup. The Wizard and Elania looked at the soup skeptically, but soon the smell of the aromatics Kato used in the soup overcame the skepticism and they each took a spoonful of the heavenly soup and their skepticism ended there.
LeGarde urged on by Elania continued with his story, “His Grace and I met on the field of battle, in this case, the back alley behind the Packard Inne, our swords ready for action. My heart burned for his blood at the insults I had been forced to endure. It burned at me for the eight long months and in that time I thought of little else.
“We stood before each other, but neither of us could be swayed. We each attempted to present our swords for the salute. However, mine stuck firmly in the scabbard and would not budge! His Grace while able to pull his free found much to his surprise his sword hilt had come free from the blade. We tried to fix our respective weapons, but neither of us could bare our blades. It was nothing short of embarrassing for us both.”
“What did you do?” Elania presented an amused dimpled smile.
“Elania,” L’Orange then took over the story, “We swapped blades to see if we could fix each other’s weapons.” Elania and the wizard let out a burst of merry laughter, “It was precisely at that moment that an old enemy of ours made an appearance with no less than a half a dozen men meaning do us both harm.”
“The Earl of Vassielle, Pietre Goussett presented himself. We each knew him to be a cad and lackey to Chancellor Burghar Godwit. It was at that moment that we were able to repair each other’s weapons and used them to fight the Earl and his men. With no great effort we were able to dwindle down their numbers until only Goussett remained.”
“LeGarde had suffered no less than three wounds requiring stitches and I had five. The Earl much to his nature had let his men fight and die on his behalf. All the while he remained out of the fight and fresh. Believing that he could enter the fray at the last moment and provide the killing strokes, he waited and jumped in after his last man had hit the dirt. But, at seeing the near perfect swordsmanship of Marquis LeGarde—” L’Orange noted.
LeGarde continued, “And, the inspired tactics of the Duc L’Orange, he thought better about it and ran off.” LeGarde paused as Kato removed the soup bowls and set down small plates that held a goose liver pate on a bed of mixed greens, served with crisp rye crackers seasoned gently with sea salt and cracked white pepper. Kato filled wine glasses with a wonderfully dry chardonnay. “Duc L’Orange and I turned to continue to resolve our dual of honour.”
“I can’t believe that you two would fight after coming together like that.”
“Milady, honour is honour and honour like any harsh mistress must be satisfied, or she gets upset and throws pigeons at you.” All eyes turned to LeGarde in puzzlement.
“Huh?” Elania was the first to say what all had been thinking.
“Pardon me, it must be the wine,” LeGarde hadn’t touched the wine, but quickly downed the glass to illustrate the point. “But, we both had realized at that point that we had fought with each other’s weapons. I had taken up his family’s sword and he had taken up mine and we both spilled blood in each other’s name. It bound us in blood and at that moment we became brothers in arms and I could no more raise a sword to him as I could to a brother, a parent or that strange uncle that no one talks about.”
LeGarde and L’Orange took that moment to rekindle their friendship by raising glasses to each other. Elania looked at both men with a certain amount of respect and the Wizard wiped away a tear, but when asked, he informed everyone that water still dripped from the chandelier.
Kato continued to bring course after course and just when everyone couldn’t eat a thing more, Kato returned with a bitter dark roasted coffee that he served with a frothy warm milk and honey and he retired to the kitchen as the four lingered over the coffee beverage too full to even attempt it.
“Earlier, you said that you were looking for help,”
“Indeed,” LeGarde answered as Duc L’Orange and Elania exchanged a significant glance.
“Okay, this isn’t part of a prophecy is it? Every swinging hero thinks he’s part of some god damn destiny over some petty ass warlord, who oppresses a bunch of peasants somewhere. If this has anything to do with something like that you can forget it!”
“No, there is no prophecy.” LeGarde assured him.
“Good! You’re not trying to destroy some asshole’s magic ring are you?”
“Good, jerks should hold on to their damn jewelry! You wouldn’t be looking for a magic sword by any chance?”
“Why? Do you have one?” LeGarde’s eyes widened.
“Then no,” LeGarde relaxed.
“Either of you isn’t named Rand by any chance?”
“I should say hardly” LeGarde said offended.
“Good! That’s never going to friggin’ end.” He eyed the two friends and as an afterthought demanded, “Let me see your swords?”
Both men showed their swept hilt rapiers. “Alright just making sure there were no cranes or any kind of goddamn birds on them. There isn’t a Princess involved is there?”
“No, but they always seem to be in some kind of trouble don’t they? You’d think they might take a self defense class or carry some mace, or something. I always found that to be quite tiresome.”
“I couldn’t agree more!” The wizard and LeGarde clinked glasses and took sips of the coffee, “Neither one of you is a stable boy, son of a blacksmith, farmer or whore? And, you can each confirm that either of you were an orphan, or were at any time in your lives street urchins?”
“Hardly!” L’Orange answered. “We are both noblemen and can trace our family histories back for dozens of generations! We are only just landless and can thank a schemer for that and not any divine providence.”
“Excellent!” The wizard stroked his beard for a moment clearly running low on questions, “Neither of you has any strange birthmarks?”
“Not that we’ve noticed. It does look as if his Grace is getting a melanoma upon his cheek.” L’Orange rubbed at his cheek. LeGarde indicated toward the other.
The wizard narrowed his eyes. “You’re not going after a dragon are you?”
“Dogs! Hardly! We’ve have had the honour of defeating a dragon prior to starting this journey, I should hardly think that we should cross paths with another.”
“You’ve killed a dragon?” The wizard’s eyebrows shot up, “How?”
LeGarde cocked his head thoughtfully, “A napkin, actually.”
The wizard pondered that for a moment, “I can see that.”
The wizard and LeGarde sat back and enjoyed the rest of their coffee, until the wizard noticed, “Where’s your friend?”
LeGarde looked around noticing that L’Orange had at some point disappeared. The wizard called after his granddaughter with no answer. LeGarde tapped a finger to his lips, “You did say slug right?”
Elania and L’Orange reappeared an hour or so later. The Great Wizard and Marquis LeGarde stood at the top of the stairs arms crossed, looking grim. The Duc’s and Elania’s facial expressions changed upon seeing the men and ran the course from merriment all the way over to sullenness.
“Where have you been?” The wizards asked of his granddaughter.
“Duc L’Orange and I went for a short walk. I showed him the way to the stables.”
“Indeed, Elania suggested that you had mounts that we could purchase, since ours have been lost to us. I do hope this has not caused any inconvenience?”
“Your Grace, I hope for your sake that was all that happened!”
“I assure you Marquis it was nothing more than an innocent walk to the stables. The kiss was completely accidental as I tripped over a loose stone and Elania kindly broke my fall with her lips. That it was my lips that met hers was completely happenstance and could have easily been a forehead, or perhaps an elbow. If that were the case this conversation would have taken a very different course and medical attention would certain be required.”
“Very well,” LeGarde’s voice showed a trace of skepticism, but tempered with the knowledge that his friend has always been honourable and sometime rather shy with the fairer sex, which turned to be quite a feat given that all of this had been expressed in a mere two words, “I have explained our situation to our new friend Zetticus and he has agreed to aid us in finding our friends.”
“Excellent! That is welcome news. When can he be ready?”
“Ah, yes about that Your Grace, I think it might be best if you were to come with me for a moment. Zetticus must explain the situation to Elania as I must explain it to you.”
“Let us depart to a more private place to have this famous explanation then.” Duc L’Orange gestured with a hand indicating toward the kitchen, “If you would be so kind as to lead the way, my dear Marquis?”
“It is hardly a kindness as I shall be most pleased if you follow me this way.”
LeGarde led the Duc into the kitchen. The kitchen looked completely functional. It contained a hearth for baking and a wood stove with a large cook top. There were basins for washing dishes and the wizards had devised a clever method to bring fresh water into the kitchen from a series of cisterns on the roof using a series of metal pipes and valves.
A pipe ran through the hearth and water collected there in a metal basin, a small pipe ran from the hearth over to a wash basin insuring a constant supply of hot water. The fires in the hearth appeared to be magically eternal as did the fire in the wood stove. The Duc and Marquis took a moment to revere the handiwork of this kitchen.
“This is the work of a keen mind. The shear amount of counter space is remarkable. All the pots and pans hung to dry, so that it staves off rust, this is completely brilliant!” LeGarde walked through the kitchen viewing the various marvels. L’Orange gave his friend a few moments before he wished to continue the conversation started in the other room.
“Marquis, I must insist that we talk about the wizard’s help.”
“Yes, yes.” LeGarde offered an annoyed tone as he played with a knob that dimmed and brightened the oil lamps, “to the matter at hand, the wizard has offered us aid on our journey.”
“This is hardly a new matter, you said as much not five minutes ago in the foyer. We shall depart in the morning with the Wizard. It is settled then! Good night Marquis.” The Duc bowed to his friend as was about to depart when LeGarde had to correct his friend.
“Your Grace, you are under a false assumption and I do apologize if I haven’t had the opportunity to explain to you the matter as it was agreed.”
Duc L’Orange spun on a heel and replaced his person in the company of Marquis LeGarde, “May I know the particulars of this aid Marquis.”
“Indeed and you don’t have to wait any long as I am about to tell you.”
“I have wanted nothing more in the last hour!” The Duc paused, “Make it the last half hour.”
“As Your Grace wishes, I have thus spoke to the Wizard Zetticus who now insists that I call him by his given name as we’ve reach a level of friendship where…”
The Duc’s face looked pained and felt the need to cut off LeGarde before he became too long winded, “Marquis, I beg that you spare me the details as I am tired and in pain and desperately could use a moment’s rest.”
LeGarde looked a little hurt but continued, “Our aid shall come in the form of Elania accompanying us on our journey until we have found our friends.”
“Splendid!” L’Orange’s enthusiasm verged on epic.
“Your Grace, I have given my word, pray strike that, I’ve given my oath that I will protect Elania with my very life. I am to be her protector and guardian from harm. The wizard also stipulated that I am to keep all would be suitors away from his Granddaughter until she reaches maturity.”
The Duc looked crestfallen as he knew that once his friend had given his oath there was no course left to him but to obey it. A glimmer of hope touched the Duc’s eye, “You did say until she reached maturity did you not?”
“I most certainly did! And, I congratulate your Grace for remembering my pitiful words.”
“When does she reach maturity exactly?”
“As your Grace knows that wizards are a strange breed, take for instance our lost friend Count Giovanni Ravelli, he comes from a family of wizards and he has no little magical ability in his own right.”
“I remember that most vividly LeGarde.”
“Do you remember how old he said he was; even though physically he looks as if he’s years younger than us both?”
“Indeed! He stated he was fifty four, when he hardly looks in his early twenties. That would make Elania?”
“Older than us both, combined. However, she is young for a wizard,” LeGarde placed his hand on his friend shoulder tried to steady him, “She won’t come to a full wizard’s maturity for another twenty two years I’m afraid.”
“Splendid,” there was little enthusiasm in the Duc’s voice now.
“I am sorry,” LeGarde spoke softly to his friend. “Look on the brighter side; we’ll most likely be dead within these next few weeks.” LeGarde let out a merry laugh and left Duc L’Orange in the kitchen as he went off to look for his bed.
The sun had not yet peeked above the mountain, but the sky had begun to lighten when they sat down to breakfast. Kato had prepared a hearty breakfast for them all. There were fresh strawberries covered in cream so thick it was nearly butter. He followed that with griddle cakes made with cornmeal, diced onions and hot peppers that he served with thick apple wood smoked bacon and honey butter.
Warm cider accompanied the meal along with lively coffee with earthy undertones and a winey finish. The meal was completed with a serving of warm oatmeal that contained slice apples, raisins, walnuts, dried cranberries and sprinkled liberally with brown cane sugar and a dollop of the same heavy cream used with the strawberries.
Kato presented the wizard a selection of delicate and delicious looking pastries as a parting gift and put some of the same pastries in the packs of the departing visitors and the wizard’s granddaughter.
“Before you both go I’d like to have a word with the two of you.”
“We are at your service.” Duc L’Orange tone was sober.
“I would come to your aid myself, but there are too many strange things that happen around the both of you and I don’t want to die.” The Wizard patted the Marquis on the shoulder.
LeGarde pulled his head back considering the wizard’s words and shrugged.
Ah, yes.” L’Orange spoke with a resigned tone.
The wizard continued, “There are also too many strange occurrences to believe that they are mere coincidence. I need to perform a little research. Perhaps, I can uncover what lies beneath your quests to restore your lands. I think it goes beyond the actions of Burghar Godwit.”
“Good wizard, will your searches lead you into the realm of prophecy by any chance?” LeGarde raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
“Who said anything about a prophecy? I’m just trying to figure if there’s more going on than suspected! If you mention prophecy one more time we’re going to have a very unpleasant talk Marquis and the result will be you turned into some amphibious. No prophecies damn it!”
LeGarde smiled at the old man, who gave him a warm smile in return. They clasped hands and LeGarde marched away toward the stables. L’Orange and the wizard stood before each other wordlessly.
“Your friend there, his mind just doesn’t work like anyone else’s.
“It has come to my attention on an occasion or two.” Both men turned to see LeGarde having a heated difference of opinions with his horse.
“I know a good shrink, he specializes in brain fevers. Your friend might need to talk with someone able to prescribe medication. Here’s his card.” The Duc took the card without hesitation.
“Let me say goodbye to my granddaughter, she’ll know how to get in touch with me if there’s something you need.”
Duc, L’Orange wandered off after LeGarde leaving Elania and her Grandfather alone.
“Elania dear, these two are going to need watching. Help them find their friends and be careful. Whatever you do, do not encourage the Duc! He seems to have taken a fancy to you and if LeGarde suspects something, there will be a matter of honour to settle between them.”
“Grandpa!” Fire flashed in Elania’s eyes, but the wizard just held up a hand.
“It was necessary! In spite of everything, I think these two might just have an honest to Gods destiny. I would also suspect that the friends they seek might just be as remarkable. I want you to keep an eye on them.”
“So I’m to spy on them?”
“You are absolutely not spying!” The wizard tapped his chin, “You’re observing and reporting your observations to me at regular intervals and in between if something significant happens.”
“In other words, I’m spying!”
“Just so, now give me a hug and be on your way.”