Knight's End by David Morgan by David Morgan - Read Online

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Summary

Prince Garreg-Wen of the Dark Elves proposes a treaty between the Elves and the Odassians, which would open the borders for the first time in a hundred years. On both sides there are strong feelings.
Ambassador Creighton, a former Dark Elves Knight and two Odassian Knights, Robert Treharne and Nobby Styles, as bodyguards, as they journey to Elven lands to discuss the possibility of a treaty with Prince Garreg-Wen. It seems they should have been guarding Creighton instead of Holbrooke as somebody is trying to speed the former Knight’s end.
Amidst strong opposition and political intrigue, a blind knight will need the vision to find a murderer and gain the trust of a nation, while a Knight of the Dead faces the darkest depths of the Beyond when the recently dead begin to return home.

Published: David Morgan on
ISBN: 1311779140
List price: $1.99
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Knight's End - David Morgan

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Chapter 1

The blazing midday sun splashed the walls of the room with dark shadows like a crazed artist throwing black paint on a canvas. The richly furnished room showed off Louis McCraw’s worth. Rare books, all unread, filled a bookshelf while several painting masterpieces covered the walls, their beauty and artistry unappreciated. Two handcrafted chairs from Mazila, inlaid with gold, faced a desk.

The chair behind the desk resembled a throne with its high back encrusted with jewels while hidden from view beneath the desk was a footstool covered in silk, for McCraw was of short stature and his legs did not reach the expensively carpeted floor.

Louis McCraw dressed to match the opulence of his surroundings, with rich fabrics for his clothes, sparkling gold and diamond rings adorning his chubby fingers.

To describe Louis McCraw, the owner of this office, was to describe excess. From his thick and wide frame from overindulgence of the rich foods he ate, to his ruddy complexioned face because of the vast amounts of wine he drank, everything about him said excess.

He sat at a handcrafted desk made of rare wood, reading some business papers, his piggy eyes small black dots looking out of a florid face. The chair creaked under the substantial weight of his body shifting, getting more comfortable, his heavy jowls quivering with the movement.

He owned the building this office was in and several other buildings throughout the city of Mordat. His business ventures were not restricted to owning property. Anything with a profit was good for business, legal or illegal. Where there was money to be made, McCraw was there, nowadays behind the scenes, conducting business through associates.

A greedy man, he was not stupid. He distanced himself from the illegal activities through these associates, for although the authorities knew of his activities, they had no proof and could not touch him.

He learned at an early age he had no conscience and felt no remorse. This made him a dangerous man. He took what he wanted, got rid of what he did not, and left a trail of broken bodies in his wake that he did not give a second's thought.

He had married young but it did not work out - he had mistaken lust for love - and, not needing the extra baggage, his wife of six months accidentally fell down some stairs. He feigned grief at the funeral and moved on. That was his first experience of taking a life; many followed. Now he had people to do his bidding, but he did miss the joy of the kill.

The shadows shifted across the room as the sun moved across the sky, and one of the shadows detached itself from the rest, materializing into a hooded figure, moving silently behind McCraw seated at his desk.

Although the hooded figure's strength was waning, the sharp, black bladed knife held in his hand cut easily through the skin of McCraw's thick neck. He pushed the steel further in and as it severed the artery, the knife began to pulse.

No blood was spilled and no scream escaped from McCraw’s lips. The steel blade acted as a conduit connecting victim to killer. The hooded figure shuddered, his chest aching from the inrush of warm blood as it seeped into him, flowing throughout his body, his chalky white skin turning pink. He felt his strength fully returned as the last drop of McCraw's blood entered him.

McCraw remained silent as his life blood drained away, his legs kicking the step stool away, his feet dangling. The color of his skin changed from its normal ruddy complexion to a chalky white and his bloodless body slumped forward, his head resting on his ornate desk. His dead, unseeing eyes stared at the paintings upon the wall, the first time he had looked in their direction since their purchase.

The sun continued its movement across the sky and there was one less shadow in the room, as the assassin, Septus Agri, walked out of McCraw's office into the sunshine, satisfied that once again death had honored his ancestors.

The hooded 'cloak of darkness' that he wore, which allowed him to be invisible in the shadows, he turned inside out, hiding the darkness within. The garment now seeming ordinary allowed him to blend in with the bustling throng on the street, affording him a different kind of invisibility.

Skin is a coat of many colors, made to measure; it fits all shapes and sizes and lasts a lifetime. Skin is waterproof and flexible and, being durable, can take a lot of punishment, from cuts and scrapes to blazing sun and freezing cold. It can heal itself, most of the time, and actually renews itself every twenty-eight days.

Skin can be painted, like the people of Ashahi in the south, who paint their skin to enhance its beauty, or the Wasaki tribe of the east, who mark their bodies before a battle believing it strikes fear into their enemies.

Anyone caught thieving in the city of Zeffi have their faces branded as a warning to others; the Zeffian word for thief has twenty-two letters and so there is no piece of skin on the face that is not burnt.

The skin, if stretched out, covers two square feet, which, if the stories are true, some tribes of the far southeast do to their victims.

Skin can be as soft as silk or as hard as leather. A certain look or a certain touch of the skin can be sensual; a different kind of look or touch can make the skin crawl.

Skin covers a skeleton of bone and protects the internal organs against wind and rain, heat and cold. It is also the largest organ of the body and keeps the other organs where they belong, inside the body.

Skin is taken for granted, and although it is durable and strong, skin can be easily sliced open using the right implement.

Some people are trained to know where the vulnerable areas of the body lie, where the vital organs hide beneath the skin. The groin, the neck and the stomach are just a few. When the artery is severed in the neck or groin, the victim can bleed out in minutes.

Even more horrifying is when the skin of the stomach is slashed open and purple intestines uncoil and fall to the ground, hands feverishly trying to push the slippery tubes back into the body to no avail, they slip through the fingers like water.

As in all things, there are those who are good at this work, and then there are the Masters of the craft. Septus Agri is one such Master.

To Septus Agri this is his life's work.

Skin lasts a lifetime. McCraw's lifetime was forty-two years.

Chapter 2

Prince Garreg-Wen of the Dark Elves stood facing a blank wall in one of the seldom used corridors of the Palace. He passed his hand over a certain spot and a doorway materialized allowing him entry into a small room. One wall shimmered and crackled with magic. The wall was separated into six vertical segments, one for each Prince he was going to talk to. He sat in the center of the room, and waited, facing the wall.

Prince Garreg-Wen wore a uniform of gold, with a stiff collar, knee length tunic over trousers with knee high boots. This was the official dress code used when visiting the other Principalities. As this meeting was in all respects a state visit, it was fitting he dress for the occasion.

He had the long, thin face and sharp features associated with all Dark Elves, including the thin lips which always gave them a terse, stern look, as if their mood was always bad.

In his case, he had grown a beard, which matched the color of his long, straight white hair. This beard separated him from the others of his race; beards were rare for Elves. This hid his lips and softened the impression he gave, making people he dealt with often think less of him; this was a mistake they quickly regretted.

One by one, indistinct images began to appear, slowly materializing into the six Princes which ruled the other Principalities, dressed in their own official colors.

Welcome to you all, he greeted them.

They all acknowledged his greeting with nods, curiosity etched on their faces.

Chapter 3

The precedent had been set four hundred and fifty years before, when Prince Alwyn had addressed the Council before the Goblin wars. Then he had sought to close the borders to prevent the Goblins getting pockets of their army in the Elf lands before hostilities began.

Today, Prince Garreg-Wen would seek to form an Alliance once more with Odassy and open the borders. Garreg-Wen's family was one of the oldest families of the Elves, along with numerous others, and it was his ancestors over a thousand years before who had unknowingly set in motion the events which led the Qladwch to slaughter people in Odassyan lands.

He felt guilt and remorse that his ancestors ignorantly unleashed this terrifying thing on innocent people. He felt he had to do something in memory of those thousands that had perished.

There would be opposition to his proposals, heavy opposition, and he could not order the Council to vote for an Alliance. All he could do was give them the facts and hopefully influence enough of them so it passed the Council vote.

Garreg-Wen missed the old days, when the word of the Prince became law without the interference of any Council. The Council had not existed then, only after Mad Prince Palajyk had the need for some restraint become necessary.

So, here he stood, looking around the vast Chamber. To accommodate all six hundred Councilors, tiered seats and desks circled the room. Carved into the stone walls circling the room where the tops of the walls met the vast ceiling, were the laws of the land, some changed now, some added to, but most stood as they were first carved, a testament to the first Dark Elf lawmakers.

The building itself was huge, for it housed this chamber and offices for the six hundred councilors. Along with the Palace, it was one of the oldest buildings in the capital, the center of the law, and lawmakers. It was separated from the Palace by a three mile tree-lined street, and was second in importance only to the Palace itself.

Garreg-Wen listened to the murmurings of six hundred councilors. All had puzzled expressions, wondering why, after four hundred and fifty years, another Prince was about to address them. This was their domain, no place for a Prince.

He had changed out of his ceremonial dress for a white uniform inlaid with gold. He raised his arms for silence and the Council Chamber of the Principality of Garreg-Wen came to order.

He waited for silence, and then he began.

Resolve, determination and courage, his voice reverberated around the Chamber. "Have the Odassyans not proved themselves worthy? We have become an insular society, stagnant, like still water. To move forward we need other cultures. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backward, to a time when there was no society, only wars between the principalities. What saved us then will save us now. I propose an Alliance with Odassy, and to open the borders once more.

Let them come, let us welcome them as friends. Use their resolve, determination and courage as a reason to invite them into our lands, into our houses. Bid them eat at our tables.

Someone shouted from the back benches, We are not child minders or gaolers. The last time we allowed them entry to our lands crime doubled.

To the ancient Dark Elves the Odassyans were viewed as children, yet to reach maturity.

The Prince ignored the outburst, but looked out into the sea of color that was his audience. There was no uniformity of color for Councilors, it was personal preference. He singled out the speaker, his eyes boring into him, making a mental note of Miramar's name.

Miramar regretted the outburst as soon as it left his lips, it was the Prince speaking not a Councilor, and one did not interrupt the Prince. He shrank into his seat.

Garreg-Wen continued without missing a beat.

"I do not even know if King Geraint wants an Alliance after seeing so many of his countrymen slaughtered at the hands of the Qladwch. Whole towns and villages were decimated because our ancestors meddled in something they did not understand.

"A trickle of our people and theirs have been going back and forth since the borders were closed - they are not guarded that closely - but to make it officially open is another matter.

"I come here not to beg, no Prince begs. I come here not to bargain, a Prince is not a storekeeper to barter his wares. I, Prince Garreg-Wen, come here as a voice for all those dead voices that are forever silent and I request your vote of affirmation to send a messenger to King Geraint, to seek out his feelings on the matter. You have two days to consider your answer."

Everyone in the Chamber knew a request by a Prince was a demand.

With that, he swiftly turned from the six hundred faces and left, his long tunic swishing in the silence. After he left, the silence erupted into fevered chattering.

Three hours after the Prince's address, Councilor Kavanagh assembled a meeting of his own.

As a member of the Council, he had listened in disbelief at the words of Garreg-Wen. Kavanagh thought him weak and sentimental, and he would bring ruin to the land of the Elves.

Kavanagh's family was outside the circle of higher dignitaries and he had always thought this irksome. In his mind it was a slight to his family name, the family should be closer to the center of power his self importance told him.

The Dark Elves were a proud people, tradition and family being treasured values. Honor went hand in hand with these values. To Kavanagh, Honor was an alien concept. Material worth and power were his watchwords - by any means possible. This made him a dangerous man.