The Chronicles of Castle Zierath are designed to expand our understanding of the Castle Zierath world and its inhabitants. It’s also fun to read and write about the other characters in the world.
This chapter takes place in between chapter 11 and 12 of Zierath: Lord of the Alliance.
Chapter 002 The Karland
The Karland absently stirred his hot chocolate. Even on this warm summer day, he liked his hot chocolate. He and his travelling companions had stopped at the Chocolate Moose, a small café near the west gate of Davez City. The café was an old fashioned, tastefully decorated little place. The tables and counters were stained a light brown, and the walls were white with paintings of pastoral scenes hung on them. The smell of the café was soothing. The mixture of freshly baked pastry and bread with the scent of coffee and chocolate was better than the incense recommended by the apothecaries.
“You made a good choice,” the Karland said, stretching his long legs out in front of him. He was wearing dark brown riding leathers, a light linen shirt, a leather vest, and his long multicolored scholars scarf. He had pulled off his riding gloves and placed them on the table next to his hot chocolate saucer. The Karland pushed his glasses up his nose and then touched his broad forehead. “I do like the ambience of the place.”
“Kuker and I discovered this place a score of years ago,” Bruno said. The Count of Dietz was short than the tall Karland, but he was much stockier, especially in his heavy platemail. He placed his large helmet with dragon wings flaring up over the ears on the table between them. Bruno turned deep-set grey-blue eyes onto the Karland. “We stop here on the way from Dietz or Kukeria to Castle Zierath.” He motioned to the door. “We usually stay over night at the Gentle Dragon Inn across the street.”
The Karland nodded, stretched again, and winced. He wasn’t used to traveling on horseback, and his backside was aching from their hasty travelling. “I don’t believe I am out here.” The Karland shook his head. “Some things don’t seem to change. We’ve been obeying Annie because of her ability to see flashes of the future for so long that we are galloping off the moment she gives orders.” The scholar steepled his fingers. “I really prefer thinking things through. I’ve had time to think on the trip, and I’m not thrilled at this.” He frowned. “I don’t think we should be chasing down Zierath.”
“So what makes her majesty so sure Zierath and his party will come to Davez City?” Bruno asked.
“Queen Annie has hints of the future,” The Karland said as he picked up his cup of hot chocolate
“Yes,” Bruno said. “The Boding Time Sense.”
The Karland nodded. “My guess is she’s trying to make sure all the elements of her next meeting with Zierath are set up right.” The tall Imrhys man sipped his hot chocolate and pushed his glasses up his nose. Putting the cup down on the table, he straightened his long scholars scarf and intertwined his long fingers on the table in front of him. “I’d guess that you, I, and Andr’u will all be present the next time she sees Zierath.”
“I see,” the count said. “It’s fairly obvious now that I think about it.”
“Ah, there’s Andr’u now,” the Karland said.
A golden skinned man came through the door. He, like Bruno, wore heavy platemail, although his surcoat was purple rather than teal. He had a long face and short black hair. His chin was covered by a short goatee. His brown eyes found the other two Imrhys and he clanked over to them. “No one at the Zierathan Cavalry barracks has heard anything. They have been obeying Annie’s order of searching for Zierath and Kuker in every merchant caravan, but it’s about the most lackadaisical search I’ve ever seen.”
Bruno snorted. “They don’t really want to find them. They’re really just humoring Annie.”
“The only ones looking seriously are the Annien Oracles,” the Karland said, again pushing his glasses back up his nose. “The Zierathan forces are actively not looking, while the other Special Forces are mixed.
Andr’u chuckled. “The Wangese Knights and Kuncian Ninjas are running interference.”
The Karland raised his eyebrows. “I did not just hear that.”
“Not from me,” the Paladin Prime of the Zierathan Alliance said. “They often are in the same places that the Oracles are, though.”
The Karland shook his head. “We should all be working together, not at odds with each other.”
“I agree,” Bruno said. “There’s more going on here than we can see.”
“I don’t think we’ve been given all the pieces,” Andr’u said. “Zierath didn’t tell us everything he knows, and Annie sees more than she lets on…”
“Or she tells us only what she thinks we need to know,” Bruno grumbled.
“It’s really hard to do a job when you don’t have all the information,” the Karland added.
Andr’u nodded. “Who’s supposed to bring Zierath in?”
“The Sybil of the Oracles,” Bruno said.
“What if he doesn’t want to come with them?” the paladin prime asked.
“Andr’u, have you ever known Zierath to use his powers on any of his people?” The Karland asked in return.
Andr’u chuckled. “I know that he wouldn’t. I was thinking of his travelling companion Countess Kuker.” He glanced quickly at Bruno. “No offense to your wife.”
“Don’t worry,” Bruno laughed softly. “I know my wife.”
“I don’t think we have to worry too much,” The Karland said.
Bruno chuckled. “Don’t be too sure, your honor,” the muscular count said. “Kuker hides it well, but she has a nasty temper. Just a couple of days ago, she hit Pouli and me with lightning.”
The Karland tucked his head and looked at Bruno over the top of his glasses. “I’m sure you deserved it.”
“Absolutely,” the Count of Dietz said, “but she still shot at us with lightning.”
“I had her mad at me once, too,” Andr’u said. “I don’t really want that to happen again.”
“I’m sure she wouldn’t have hurt you,” The Karland stated blandly. “Much.”
Andr’u did a double take and then started to laugh.
Bruno looked distractedly through the window. “What’s going on outside?” the count asked. The Karland looked up and saw a crowd gathering outside the Zierathan Cavalry barracks.
A centaur cavalry officer peeked in the doorway. He wore the dark blue jacket and cape of the Zierathan Cavalry, and his captain insignia showed brightly against his dark blue cap. His hair was worn long, and at this moment, he also wore a broad smile. “My lords, you have to come and see this,” he said with barely concealed mirth.
“What is it, Captain Fist?”
“Trust me on this.”
The three Imrhys men followed the captain out of the café and down the street towards the Zierathan Cavalry stables.
The crowd parted for them as they approached the ranch-style barracks. On the front steps, a powerfully built jhogobleen in a blue cavalry uniform with his hands clasped behind his back. The jhogobleen had olive green skin and coarse black hair that started in a widow’s peak. His ivory tusks jutted slightly from his mouth. Of the different goblin races, the jhogobleen were the ones most upright and barrel chested; the others were shaped much more like pears with their powerful legs and ample midsections.
In front of the steps there were three figures in red-and-blue Zierathan Regular uniforms kneeling and five people in white robes were tied together.
“Oh, no,” the Karland said, shutting his eyes.
“Those are the Zierathan Three, aren’t they,” Bruno said.
“Mozaire, Tonka, and Zawn. Natural born trouble-makers,” the Karland confirmed, “and Zierath encourages them.
The center Zierathan regular wore a captain’s uniform. He was a dark-skinned elf with pale white hair. Mozaire was groveling in front of Klorath. “Oh, please, Colonel Klorath, punish us!” the Zierathan Regular Captain Mozaire cried out as he groveled in front of the olive green skinned jhogobleen. “We are wicked; we are evil.”
To his left, a large brown-furred bear man Sergeant Tonka roared a melancholy roar, and the small gray and black furred raccoon man Corporal Zawn was sobbing.
The six light-blue robed Oracles were bound and gagged behind the Zierathan Three. They were men of various races, but the Karland barely noticed the wood elf, the ogre, the human, the dwarf, and the jhogobleen. He was focused in on the Sybil of the Oracles. Solnak was a tall thin light elf man with coppery skin. His pointed ears sloped up along the side of his head, and his hair was cut short. His brown eyes were locked straight ahead.
“This has got to be a bit of a blow to the Oracles’ pride,” Bruno murmured.
“Indeed,” the Karland whispered back. “The Oracles do have a reputation for infallibility.”
“Look at the expressions on everyone else’s faces,” Andr’u said softly. “They are enjoying it. Everyone likes to the ‘superior’ knocked down a peg.” He turned quickly to the other two Imrhys lords. “I am not delivering that message to Annie!”
“Don’t want a repeat of the last message?” the Karland asked archly.
“Most certainly not,” Andr’u said emphatically.
“But I missed you flying through the air the first time,” Bruno said. An incongruently impish grin spread across his broad face, and his deep set eyes twinkled. “I’d love to see that.”
Andr’u glared at him. “You were in hiding at that time,” he muttered.
“Of course I was,” Bruno said as he stifled his grin. “I knew what was coming.”
The three Imrhys lords started to work their way through the crowd.
Then Mozaire saw The Karland. “Oh, please, your excellency,” he cried, leaping down the steps and landing at The Karland’s feet. The black-skinned captain clutched the Karland’s scarf. “We have attacked these soldiers. We were ordered to turn ourselves in to the barracks here.” He looked up at the Karland imploringly.
The Karland made eye contact with the Sybil Solnak and saw past the mask of coldness. Beneath it was embarrassed pain. The Karland sighed and turned to the centaur cavalry captain. “Captain Fist, take Captain Mozaire his men to the barracks. Colonel Klorath, we’ll need your largest room. Please set it up for a formal hearing.” He glanced at the nearest cavalry officer – a goblin woman. “Lieutenant, release the Oracles and the escort them to the room as well.” The cavalry officers moved forward to release the captives. The Oracles glared after the three Zierathan Regulars, but quietly filed into the barracks after the goblin lieutenant.
As the crowd dispersed, Bruno and Andr’u joined the Karland at the top of the stairs. “Talk about your no-win situation,” the Karland murmured. “No matter what I do, I’m going to look like a bad guy. The Zierath Three are modern day folk heroes, and everyone likes seeing the infallible fail.”
“It could be worse,” Andr’u whispered.
“How?” the tall Imrhys man asked.
“You could be going against Zierath’s wishes as well as Annie’s.” Andr’u’s brown eyes were wide and innocent.
The Karland gave him a long look as they turned and walked through the barracks door.
The meeting hall of the barracks was quickly outfitted with a long oaken table that the three Imrhys lords sat behind. To their left, the six Oracles sat, still rubbing their wrists where the ropes had chafed them. On the far right, the three Zierathan Regulars stood chatting and laughing with the centaur captain Fist and a few other cavalry members. Colonel Klorath stationed himself in between the Oracles and the Regulars. As ranking officer, the jhogobleen colonel called the meeting to order.
The Sybil of the Annien Oracles was composed, contrite, and dignified as he explained the attack on him and the Oracles. Solnak’s voice was steady, and the only sign of his true feelings were in his flushed cheeks. The Karland listened closely to the Sybil, ignoring the snickers from the other two nobles and the military men to his right.
Captain Mozaire was then called forward. The darhys man composed a mournful look on his face as he approached the table. The tiny bandit man and the huge ursan man stepped in behind him.
The Karland looked first at the Zierathan Three and then at the six Annien Oracles. The Karland’s scholarly face hardened.
“Enough of this,” The Karland said, standing suddenly. The Zierathan soldiers jerked back a little, and the two noblemen looked up at him questioningly. “We are on the verge of a war. A time when we have to depend upon one another.” The Karland looked squarely at the Zierathan Regulars. “Instead, I find elements of the army bickering with each other.” The Karland banged his staff solidly on the oaken floor. “Enough of this. Captain, you and your men will accompany me back to the castle.” He narrowed his eyes. “Zierath gives you a lot of leeway and autonomy, captain. He is now out of the country, and it is I you will have to deal with. Do not push me. Is that understood?”
Mozaire’s eyes were wide and his mouth was slack. Zawn’s and Tonka’s darted to each other for a beat.”
“I said, is that understood?” the Karland barked.
The three Zierathan Regulars snapped to attention. “Sir, yes, sir.”
“Good.” The tall Imrhys man then turned to the Oracles. “Sybil Solnak, you will return to Abode and muster your troops. I want a quarter of them left in Abode, a quarter of them in Castle Zierath, and half of them outside of Maz City by the end of the week.”
“But my orders…” Solnak began.
“Are null and void by decree of the Speaker of the Noble Council and witnessed by these two noble lords.” the Karland said with the tone of complete authority. His voice echoed in the suddenly quiet barracks. He looked at the shandrhys down the bridge of his nose. “Return to Abode. Do not continue to chase Zierath and his party.” He turned to Captain Fist. “Give them whatever supplies they need, and put them up in the nearest inn. They leave at first light tomorrow.”
The centaur captain saluted.
The Sybil studied the Karland’s impassive face. Finally, Solnak nodded, and he and his Oracles followed Captain Fist out.
The Karland adjusted his leather armor and the colorful scholar’s scarf that reached the floor. “Colonel Klorath, escort Captain Mozaire, Corporal Zawn and Sergeant Tonka to the barracks and confine them to quarters until we leave tomorrow. Understood?”
The jhogobleen officer saluted and led the three cowed regulars out of the room. The rest of the soldiers followed them out, leaving the three Imrhys alone.
The Karland sat back and shut his eyes.
“Does the Speaker of the Council really have that kind of power?” Bruno asked. His deep-set eyes were observing the Karland carefully. The count was obviously reassessing the Scholar of Kilian.
“Technically, yes,” The Karland said, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes. “It’s in the constitution, but I’ve never exercised the right before.”
“I didn’t know you had that much fire in you, your Excellency,” Andr’u said. The golden-skinned paladin stood, his silvery platemail rattling noisily.
“Neither did I,” The Karland said ruefully as he sank back into his chair. He put his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands. He sat still for a moment and then started to laugh.
“Something amusing, your excellency?” Bruno asked.
“I have to admit I took a certain amount of satisfaction in this encounter.” The Karland smiled. “In one fell swoop, I took the wind out of Mozaire’s sails, got the all-knowing Solnak under control, instilled a sense of urgency in all of the military, and as a bonus, got to surprise you two. Not bad for a day’s work.”
Andr’u chuckled. The deep sound echoed in his armor.
Bruno glanced over at him. “What do you find amusing?”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the Karland talk to Queen Annie.” The Paladin Prime grinned widely. “It should be a lot of fun to watch.”
The Karland placed his glasses on the desk before him and leaned back. “Thanks for the encouragement, Andr’u,” he said sourly. “I am trying not to think about that now.”