As Queen Galfrey’s arrival in Kenabres neared, the group of heroes who had destroyed the Wardstone fragment did what they could to prepare for an audience with royalty. This was something with which none of them were familiar. Jiro had been in the presence of people of high social status before, but that had been in his native land, and he realized that social customs were different in Mendev. To learn more about how one should behave on meeting a Queen, he sought out Horgus Gwerm, the nobleman he and his friends had escorted out of the underground realm after the demonic assault on Kenabres.
He found that the nobleman, who had abandoned his manor after the armsman Garvin transformed into a demon and attacked him, had taken up residence in a local inn and was in the process of hiring servants. To Jiro it seemed that most of the people present waiting to be interviewed weren’t well suited to be servants and were only there because they were seeking any kind of employment. When Jiro explained to Gwerm’s secretary who he was, he was immediately invited to meet personally with the nobleman and Gwerm cancelled the interviews for the rest of the day. Gwerm told Jiro that Queen Galfrey was a warrior Queen who preferred to lead her troops into battle rather than wait for her generals to send reports to her. As such she would not be impressed by elaborate courtly apparel or manners. Jiro understood that the traditional methods of showing respect to superiors that he knew, such as kneeling and bowing deeply, would probably be offensive to the Queen. He thanked Gwerm for his advice and for the much-needed supplies he had sent to Defender’s Heart a few days earlier, and then made his way back to Defender’s Heart.
Zosta had meanwhile spent the day with her family, celebrating the memories of those who had fallen in battle. In their culture this type of celebration led to drinking and brawling. But to her surprise, when she woke the next day her bruises had vanished. She was then called to meet with her parents and Cennami. Cennami informed her that she believed Zosta had more to accomplish with her comrades and that it was all part of her destiny. Zosta had been eager to go back home when the mission to destroy the Wardstone fragment was completed, but now she accepted that she had more to do and that she would likely be away for some time. After talking with her parents and the priestess, it occurred to Zosta that perhaps the reason her parents and Cennami were so effective in battle was that they had acquired divine blessings similar to the ones she had received from Iomedae. As she was about to leave their tent, she heard a chuckle from outside and the sound of heavy footsteps departing and she realized that Rhino had probably been eavesdropping on their conversation.
Asami learned that her familiar Kirara had also experienced the same vision of the Ancient of the World Tree that Asami had seen, but the little white cat lacked the intellect to do more than be awed and a little frightened by what she had witnessed. After their talk, Asami spent some time learning new spells from the spellbook that had mysteriously appeared on her bed two days earlier. She also discovered that the wand she had been missing had reappeared, depleted of a few charges.
Later Quednys informed the group that the Queen had given them the choice of where to meet with her as a courtesy. Jiro initially suggested his garden, but after some discussion it was decided that the best place to meet a Queen would be to take Runa’s recommendation and see her in the chapel of Iomedae’s temple.
Queen Galfrey arrived the following day with an army of seasoned veterans of the Crusades. They camped just outside the northern wall of the city, but groups of soldiers began to enter the city to assist with rebuilding from the rubble. The five companions were told they would be given an audience with the Queen in the afternoon, after she met with the remaining city leaders and with Cennami and Zosta’s parents.
Zosta had bathed and put on some new clothes her parents had given her, but found it a challenge to make sure she kept herself clean and presentable while waiting to be summoned into the Queen’s presence. Asami and Jiro had both been fortunate to find a shop that carried some imported items from Tian-Xia and had acquired some new clothing of the style they were accustomed to wearing. Runa’s original gilded armor had been repaired and she wore it because it had the symbol of Iomedae on the breastplate. Darra had even managed to persuade a reluctant Aegronius to bathe and tidy himself up for the royal audience.
When at last they were summoned to the temple, they saw a crowd departing, including Horgus Gwerm and Aravashnial. The Queen had brought a scroll that had been used to restore the elven wizard’s sight, much to Asami’s relief. As they entered the chapel, they saw that Irabeth was with the Queen and that she appeared less fatigued than on the day before.
Asami had heard various rumors about Galfrey on the previous day: that she had ruled Mendev for over a century, that she was immortal, that she had met Iomedae personally, that she received prophetic visions from Iomedae, and even that she was keeping the Worldwound open to prolong the Crusades. Asami assumed that all of the rumors were the sort of gossip that humans were especially prone to repeating and gave them little credence. She did note that the Queen appeared youthful and attractive by human standards, but her hair was silvery gray, which usually indicated advanced age among humans.
A row of chairs had been set up in front of the altar, and Queen Galfrey invited them to sit while she spoke to them. She began by mentioning that there were some people who blamed the group for destroying the Wardstones, an opinion she clearly thought foolish, and she then added that the five companions would be their replacement, a statement that took them all by surprise! While they pondered what she meant, the Queen went on to ask them to tell her their story from the time that the demons attacked the city through the destruction of the Wardstone, as she wanted to hear the tale from them personally.
When they had finished telling the tale of their adventures, the Queen informed them her scouts had reported that Aponavicius, the fiend who held the captured city of Drezen, had taken most of her forces away from that city, leaving an opening for a force of Crusaders to enter Drezen and reclaim the enchanted banner known as the Sword of Valor. As Quednys had predicted, Queen Galfrey wanted them to lead that force. The goal was not to retake the city, as she couldn’t spare enough troops to do that. Demons were massing all along the Worldwound and she expected most of her army would be required to defend against them in the South. She wanted the five young heroes to recover the banner and replace it in the location it had originally occupied, which would restore its magical protections to the city and the Queen hoped that would make it easier for her army to reclaim the city later on.
The five friends were prepared to enter Drezen and seek the Sword of Valor, but they all felt uncomfortable being asked to lead soldiers. None of them had any experience in leadership. They admitted this to the Queen. She reassured them by telling them that the force they would be leading would be made up of 100 seasoned warriors capable of commanding themselves, all of them devoted to Iomedae, and along with the soldiers she would send three specialists who would provide them with details about Drezen, maps, and other forms of assistance.
When this conversation was concluded, the Queen asked them to stand. She then approached them and one by one touched them on the shoulders with her sword blade, dubbing them Knights of the Fifth Crusade. When the knighting ceremony was over she presented them each with a circular medallion featuring two gray eyes on a blue background encircled by a lightning bolt. These medallions were magical and would grant them special abilities once each day, as well as continuous protection against effects designed to cause confusion or madness.
Kirara had become bored and wandered off to explore the nooks of the chapel while the Queen spoke, but Asami had observed that Bohgong remained with Jiro and even stood erect beside him during the knighting. For a moment she thought the Queen might knight the monkey as well, but she only looked at him for a moment.
The royal audience then concluded, and the comrades followed Queen Galfrey to the army camp outside the city to meet the three specialists who would accompany them to Drezen. These three were introduced as Sosiel Vaenic, a human priest of Shelyn; Aron Kir, a human expert in battlefield tactics and finding and disabling traps; and Nurah Dendiwhar, a halfling bard expert in the region and very knowledgeable about Drezen. They also met the group of warriors who would be sent with them, all of them well armed and armored humans equipped with divine magic. The Queen then left them. Just then Jiro noticed that Bohgong was missing. Runa caught a glimpse of Queen Galfrey bending over and appearing to shake hands with something that looked like a white monkey, but when she blinked the monkey disappeared.
When they were on their own again, the companions engaged in a deep discussion of who should be designated the commander of the soldiers. In the end it was decided that as a warrior priestess Runa was best suited to that role, though she was uncomfortable with taking that part and doubted her ability. The others encouraged her to remember what Iomedae had told her in her vision: she needed to trust herself more. She then decided to seek out Irabeth and ask if the paladin would be willing to accompany them and give her advice, as reports held that Staunton Vhane was last seen in Drezen and Runa knew that Irabeth would be eager to confront the betrayer.
Runa found Irabeth with Anevia, who also volunteered to come along as neither of them wanted to be parted from the other. Runa remained with them overnight. Zosta returned to spend a last night with her family, and to her surprise Darra asked to accompany her and at one point while sparring so impressed Rhino with an attack that the demon couldn’t stop laughing for a long while. Asami went to see Aravashnial again and learned that he intended to go along to Drezen whether he was invited or not. Asami couldn’t deny that she was pleased by this. She was glad to be able to spend more time with him now that he was able to see again, and his knowledge as a spellbreaker would no doubt be invaluable to their cause.
In the middle of the night Runa was awakened by something sitting on her chest. She opened her eyes to find Bohgong looming over her. Earlier she had asked Jiro if he could help her speak to the monkey, but every time she had tried to approach the monkey during the past two days he had run away. Runa presented Bohgong with a packet of tobacco blend from Tian-Xia that she had purchased in the same shop where Asami and Jiro had acquired their new clothes. She then thanked him for all the help he had provided. The white monkey inhaled deeply of the tobacco, looked surprised, said, “You’re a good kid,” and ran off leaving a startled Runa with confirmation that as she had suspected, he could speak.
Jiro spent the night in the army encampment, where he asked the soldiers’ assistance in learning to set up his newly-acquired tent. He also volunteered to assist with cooking the evening meal, which proved to be very pleasing to the men. The next morning he encountered the arrival of Aravashnial astride a magically-summoned mount, and told him that the plan was for them to leave on the following day once they had all acquired some additional supplies that Kimroth had suggested they might need.
That morning Runa asked the head priest of the temple of Iomedae to permit her to perform the service that day, and he agreed. Irabeth and Anevia arrived at the camp, Irabeth looking much healthier. The newly-knighted companions went out to purchase horses for the journey to Drezen. Aravashnial went back inside the city for more supplies, and reappeared accompanied by Horgus Gwerm, who had decided that he wanted to lend his skills to the effort to reclaim Drezen. It seemed that all of the group that had found their way out of the subterranean caverns beneath Kenabres would be joining forces again in the quest to retake Drezen.
Next: part 20, Crusaders of Kenabres
Next: part 20, Crusaders of Kenabres