Kindly leave a review I do love hearing what you think Jon returns from the mysterious lands of Slyvania in high spirits, seeking to learn more of his coming to these lands he offers to accompany an expedition southward to Tilea, not knowing what awaits him on this journey.
The survivors of the expedition departed from the place all but Jon and Gunther knew as Hopsenburg two days later. Jon would have liked to have left sooner, but the others needed rest to recover and could not be hastened lest their wounds be reopened. Jon had not seen Carmilla again, and when Father Wiendenfeld asked about Sister Mircalla, Jon had replied that she was too occupied to speak with them, but she sent her regards and best wishes for their success. He supposed that it was true, in its way, and regardless, a lie was not necessarily a bad thing if it was kindly and, in this case, spared their lives. However, he was relieved when he did not have to go into greater detail with his deception, for something soon came along to distract Father Wiendenfeld and the other survivors.
True to her word, one of the townspeople came to them around sunset on the day after the battle and directed them down to the dungeons. Once they entered the spacious halls, Jon saw that Carmilla had been telling the truth about her sire's habit of collecting. There were chests of gold, silver and jewels which had been cast haphazardly about. It was as if the vampire had lost interest in the wealth, which was greater than that of many lords of Westeros; it appeared once he had acquired it and simply threw it about wherever there was room, and there was more than just gold and jewels.
There were statutes, most worn from the many years of neglect, lying beside the decaying remains of paintings and furniture which, while little more than rotten wood and cushions now, clearly had been crafted by masters. There were armour and weapons as well. Many of these were little more than rust, but some of them were still intact; though he knew little of such things, he suspected that the runes which adorned the weapons were the cause of it.
Haberkorn knelt beside one of the chests and eyed several sets of daggers with keen interest while the other sellswords were drawn instead to the vast mountains of gold lying about. They stuffed their packs and pockets with as many of the coins as they could. For a moment, Jon hesitated, yet Carmilla had told him they could take as much as they wanted, and while he did not know what the future held, he was sure he would need money. He remembered having to borrow from the Iron Bank of Braavos and how he had hated having to place himself under obligation to another. Moreover, he did not know if the generosity of the Colleges would last forever and owing wizards vast sums of gold seemed a foolish notion, especially as he had no way to pay it back.
Wiendenfeld paid no attention to either money or weapons. Instead, he went right to where the books were. He paused in front of them for a moment as if fearful that touching the old books would damage them. Then, at last, one seemed to catch his eye. It was a large book bound in mouldering brown leather. He began to reach for it, then stopped. He looked at it again and then drew his hand back. As he did so, he brought up his amulet, which Jon had returned to him and gently placed it against the book as he muttered a prayer too quiet for any save himself to hear. Whatever it was, it seemed to work because as soon as he had finished, he confidently removed the book from the shelf, though he did take the precaution of gently wrapping the book in a cloth before placing it carefully in his pack. After that, he repeated the process with several other books and scrolls, and they also went in his pack.
They left the town around noon, now only needing two wagons and some horses for those who remained; the rest of the horses were led along behind. Jon had made certain they were always vigilant and lit many fires whenever they stopped. In truth, he did not think they would be attacked again, but it was good to be cautious as Jon was not sure how far from the castle Carmilla's influence reached, but the ghouls did not attack them again, and the howling of the wolves grew ever more distant. Even Morrslieb's baleful glow seemed subdued. Jon mentioned this to Wiendenfeld, who nodded in agreement.
"You are correct, my friend. Geheimnisnacht has passed, and Morrslieb, as it ever does once the dread night has passed, yields prominence to Mannslieb."
"Geheimnisnacht has passed?" asked Jon after hearing his companions speak of this night with such dread, he had been expecting something…more. His thoughts must have been unmistakable, for Wiendendfeld continued.
"Indeed, it has. It was the night the necromancers attempted to perform their ritual, which was why they chose that night." He paused, clearly deep in thought.
"Though you are correct. While at times Geheimnisnacht does pass without incident, it is unusual, especially with what was going on at the castle. Though I wonder what caused it to pass so peacefully, beyond the necromancers' actions, of course."
Whatever the reason, it could not be denied that the journey back to Altdorf was blessedly uneventful. Being reduced in numbers as they were, they were able to make much better time, and they were not attacked once. After all that had occurred, this made Jon and the others more suspicious, convinced that something was going to go horribly wrong, but it did not. Even at night, Morrslieb seemed subdued, its sickly green glow no more than a glimmer among the stars. Not that the journey was entirely without difficulty. On the second day after their departure, snow began to fall. It was not as bad as it had been beyond the Wall, but it was steady all that day, and soon the road was little but a mire of mud. Fortunately, the sun gleamed out of ragged clouds again, and the snows lessened, and they pressed on, glimpsing the high walls of Altdorf in the morning light.
They entered the city around mid-morning and made their way through the streets to Wiendenfeld's temple. After the priest paid off the remaining mercenaries, he turned to Jon. He explained that he had indeed found the book that they had hoped to find, but it was badly damaged, and it would take some time to learn all its secrets. However, Wiendenfeld promised him that as soon as he found anything, he would send word to the College. He also offered to aid him with his newly acquired wealth, both in exchanging some of the more ancient coins for ones merchants would accept and in investing some of it. Jon hesitated for a moment but then agreed. He trusted the priest and, if he were being honest, knew little of the workings of sums. It had not been one of his favoured topics during lessons as he had always thought that he would never be a lord and therefore never have to manage money save not spending it foolishly. Not knowing what else to do, Jon decided to make his way back to the Colleges. To his surprise, he found Ingfried waiting for him as he exited the temple.
She was clad in the robes of her order, staff in hand. Without thinking, Jon looked down at her hands, surprised and pleased to see that her fingers appeared to have completely healed, with the splints and bandages having been removed. Once she saw him, she smiled and walked up to him, though she was careful to remain calm and keep a proper distance between them. For his part, Jon gave a slight bow while he returned her smile.
"It is good to see you again, but how did you know I was here?" even as he said it, he felt foolish, and his face reddened in embarrassment; Ingfried smiled, her eyes alight with mischief. Fortunately, she seemed to take pity on him and refrained from teasing him. Instead, she snapped her fingers, and several servants hurried forward to collect Jon's horse and belongings. As they had been travelling through the lands of Reikland, Jon had put aside his armour and wore a more fashionable attire as the servants busied themselves with his belongings; he began walking towards the College, but Ingfried stopped him.
"The day is early, and My master is too busy to speak with you at the moment, yet there is something that I want to show you." Jon was taken by surprise, but he did not hesitate. The day was indeed young, and he found the prospect of spending the day with Ingfried rather than being cooped in the College rather appealing.
"Very well." He said, she smiled and offered him her arm. Jon hesitated for a moment and then took it. The sensation of her arm on his was both pleasant and disconcerting as Ingfried led him to her carriage. He turned and told Gunther, who was smirking and giggling like a drunken jester, to go to the College and wait for him. Jon took a moment of vindictive pleasure to see the unease on the boy's face and then helped Ingfried into the carriage before entering himself. Once they were seated comfortably, the coachmen set off.
"So where are we going?" Jon asked.
"You will see," Ingfried replied, her eyes sparkling mirthfully.
They drove for some time till they came to the more affluent part of the city. As they did so, Ingfried wanted to know all about Jon and the expedition. He told her a fair bit but was reluctant to speak of Carmilla. Not only because of what she was but also because of her efforts to seduce him. He did not lie, but neither did he reveal everything. He simply said that she had called herself Sister Mircalla, which was true and left it at that. He still could not shake a slight feeling of guilt and was not eager to speak on the matter and often looked out the window to see if they had reached wherever it was that they were going. They rode up several more hills before the carriage halted, and they got out. Once he did so, Jon found himself gazing at a high stone wall and a sturdy-looking wooden gate. To Jon, it looked to be a prison, but he did not see any guards. He looked at Ingfried, who had come to stand beside him.
"Where are we?" He asked, his voice slightly wary. She smiled again.
"We are at the Imperial Zoological Garden of Altdorf, more commonly called the Imperial Zoo." They walked down a path walled in on either side until they came to a cottage; past the cottage, there were entrances to a multitude of enclosures. Within were a variety of beasts, some which Jon recognised, others which he did not.
There were giant snakes which could swallow an ox. There were Pegasus and Gryphons, creatures Jon recognised from the many sigils and crests of the Reikland knights. In addition to these, there were creatures that Jon had never seen before and seemed to be made of several beasts which were mixed together. Some had the heads and winged features of birds of prey, the forequarters of lions and the rear ends of horses. There were monstrous creatures which were amalgamations of creatures he could not even identify. He saw leathery winged reptiles, which at first he took for dragons but which Ingfried assured him were, in fact, wyverns, smaller and more vicious creatures which some said were debased cousins of dragons.
She also showed him the other creatures, and while some of them were bizarre, none were as fearsome as the wyverns. There were birds and animals from somewhere called the Southlands. There were beasts whom it seemed that not even Ingfried could name and were only known by such monikers as the Drakwald Gibberbeast, the Spawn of Hochland and the Abomination of Stirland. He was sure Sansa would have found many of the creatures terrifying, and Arya would have loved it. Jon, for his part, found that he was enjoying himself, although he was more than a little thankful for the heavy bars which separated them from him.
"I am, too, though they do not always work," said Ingfried with a smile.
Jon looked at her uneasily as if she knew what he was thinking. "What do you mean?"
Ingfried smiled. "Don't worry yourself; tis merely a joke," she said. "Now come, there is one more thing I wish to show you."
She led him further in until they came to the rear of the zoo. There Jon saw that there was a spot isolated from the rest. There was an iron fence about five feet in height surrounding a large area dominated by a pile of massive stone, which formed a large cave. Jon noticed that the temperature had become far warmer and was becoming more so as they drew closer to the fence. As they came closer to the fence, a feeling came over Jon that he was being watched by something. Something that was not mortal but older and crueller. Glancing at the cave entrance, Jon was startled to see a pair of cold glowing eyes staring back at him. He slowly turned to Ingfried, who he noted was keeping well away from the fence.
"What is that?" He asked, finding himself instinctively lowering his voice. She replied in a voice equally low.
"It is the rarest, and some say the most prized creature within the Zoo, the Imperial Dragon," said Ingfried.
Jon felt his breath catch in his throat.
"You caged a dragon?!" He asked as he struggled to keep the shock from his voice.
"Gods, no!" She hissed back. She gave a slightly nervous laugh.
"As if a fence could hold a dragon! No, it is to protect people too foolish to realise that they should not disturb a fire-breathing monster." This made sense to Jon, but before he could say or do anything else, the dragon emerged from its cave.
It was a massive creature, far bigger than the homes of many of the smallfolk of the North.
"By the Seven!" thought Jon. "Its head alone is larger than a wheelhouse!"
Its scales were a deep crimson red, its underbelly shone like beaten gold, great horns sprouted from its head like a crown. This dragon was wholly unlike the descriptions of dragons that Jon had seen in some of the books back in Winterfell; this dragon had four legs, its wings, which spread wide as it emerged, looked as if they could blot out the sun. The singers had said that Baelrion the Black Dread was so vast that whole towns were swallowed up in his shadow when he passed overhead; Jon was convinced that this creature was easily as large, if not larger. Its most terrible aspect, however, was its eyes.
They were as large as dinner plates, golden and slitted like a cat's. But the most startling thing was not their size nor their shape; it was the cleverness they held. From the stories, Jon had always thought that dragons had no more wits than a hound, loyal and able to tell friend from foe, but still a beast. Yet, looking into the beasts' eyes, Jon could see intelligence there, a cold and unfamiliar intelligence, but one he suspected far surpassed that of a man.
The hair on Ghost's neck stood up, and he bared his teeth. Ingfried gave a cry as the dragon approached the fence and stretched its neck over it. The few people who had been there fled screaming, and Jon might have joined them, but he found himself transfixed and unable to move. The massive head moved towards him until it stopped less than a yard from him. Ingfried seemed to recover somewhat, grasped her staff firmly, and began chanting. The dragon turned its head towards her, and a low, angry hiss emanated from its jaws. Then, almost as if acting of its own volition, Jon's hand came to rest on her arm.
"No." He said softly. He did not know how he knew, but he was certain that they were not in danger.
The dragon turned back to regard Jon, bringing its head so close, its eye staring at Jon, that he could have reached out and touched it had he wanted to. Instead, they stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity. It then turned its head fully towards him, its eyes regarding him keenly, and then it seemed to lose interest in him, pulling its head back over the fence before returning to its cave. For a moment, neither Jon nor Ingfried said anything, and then, as attendants came running, Jon turned to her.
"I think that I have had quite enough excitement."
"Yes," she said in a quavering voice; "I believe that I have as well." With that, they left the zoo. The attendants looked as if they might try to halt their progress, saw the expressions on their faces, looked at Ghost and thought better of it.
They rode back to the College in silence, neither in the mood to speak. The encounter with the dragon had left Jon shaken. Something had happened that he did not understand. Try as he might, he could not understand it. It was almost a relief to return to the College where other matters would distract him.
Once they arrived, a servant greeted them and informed Ingfried that her master wished to speak with her about an important matter. A second servant was there to escort Jon back to his rooms and bring him a late lunch. The mention of food reminded Jon that he had not eaten in some time, and the prospect of doing so was most welcome. The meal was simple: bread, dried fruit, cold meat and ale, but it was delicious. It also helped to chase away the last lingering feelings of uneasiness over the affair with the dragon. Gunther was there as well and looked quite relieved to see him return. It was clear that he harboured a small fear of wizards, and to be in a place full of them was a rather unpleasant experience for him. Jon had just finished eating when a knock came at the door. Gunther opened the door to reveal a servant standing there with a package in his hands. At a nod from Jon, the man entered and bowed.
"My Lord, Apprentice Wizard Ingfried Mensing has been invited to attend a ball hosted by Count Godfrey von Mannheim. I am here to formally extend her invitation to accompany her." Jon thought on this for a moment and then replied.
"Please inform her that I would be honoured to attend." He could hardly say no and found the idea of spending the evening with her appealing. Nothing in his vows forbade him from attending such events, and after all that he had been through, Jon found that he would enjoy a night of levity. The servant bowed in acknowledgement and handed the package to him.
"Her Ladyship will be pleased. In anticipation of your acceptance, she instructed this outfit to be prepared for you to wear. She will come for you at sundown." The man bowed again and departed. Once he had gone, Jon opened the package to examine its contents.
It consisted of a padded doublet with puffed sleeves, burgundy in colour. The trousers were also puffed and were dyed a matching shade of scarlet. There was also a wide-brimmed grey-blue hat with a long blue feather stuck in the band. For a moment, Jon was not sure that he should wear the garments; it went against the spirit of the Watch to wear finery, especially colours other than black. However, as Jon had been told several times, black had a very different meaning here and were he to be seen wearing all black, he would likely arouse suspicion. He wondered if that was the truth or if he was just telling himself that to justify his actions remembering the story of Mance Rayder and his cloak.
"I will not be like that!" He told himself fiercely. "I will not go down that road!"
At the appointed hour, Ingfried came to his room. When Gunther opened the door and allowed her in, Jon felt his jaw grow slack and his cheeks reddish and hot. Gone were her robes, and in their place was a long low-cut dress of a deep purple shot through with silver thread. Her hair was done up in a bewildering combination where half of it was done up in braids while the other half was piled high and held in place by a variety of pins which looked as if they could serve as stabbing weapons. At her throat was a golden necklace set with diamonds and sapphires, and she also had several rings on her fingers. Her cheeks had been powdered, and a red substance had been applied to her lips. The overall effect was to make her look both older and more beautiful. For a moment, Jon found that he could not speak, and Ingfried smiled, clearly holding back laughter.
"You are very beautiful," Jon said, now feeling foolish. It was true, but it was such a childish thing to say. He should have said something more gallant. Sansa had tried to teach him how to talk to women, but all the pretty words and gallant phrases seemed to vanish from his mind. Fortunately, Ingfried smiled warmly at him.
"I thank you, good sir," She said in a tone of playful seriousness; "And if I may say so, you look very handsome yourself." Jon looked down at himself, and while he did not think of himself as a particularly vain individual, looking at himself in the mirror, he felt he was rather dashing as the rich fabrics accentuated his features. He bowed low and offered Ingfried his arm, which she took gladly, and they went down to the courtyard where the carriage was waiting for them.
As the carriage made its way through the city, Jon asked Ingfried who their host was.
"The von Mannheim's are a family who have served the emperors since the time of Magnus the Pious. They served as diplomats and traders, both official and unofficial."
"The unofficial ones?" Jon asked.
"Yes, and it is possibly the more important of the two. As you might imagine, the Imperial Court has a number of factions that often conflict with one another. As a consequence, the Emperor must at times be harsh with those around him. This can cause hard feelings and peril if not handled properly. Therefore, one of the tasks of the von Mannheim's has been to play peace-maker among the various groups and soothe hurt feelings after a tongue-lashing from the Emperor."
"But what is their official title?" asked Jon.
Ingfried sat silent for a few moments, clearly considering her words. "You truthfully, I do not think they have one. Or if they do, it is one I have never heard of. They have simply been there for so long that no one seems to question their being there, nor the fact that they are known to have the ear of the Emperor." Jon considered this as they drove on. Another hour passed, and they arrived ahead of them loomed the walls of the estate. It dwarfed the stately townhouses around it. Even now, with its walls replastered and ornate statuary lining the approach, it looked far more like a fortress than a palace. The great arch of the gateway was huge, and the heavy oaken gates were shod with bronze and looked like they could resist a hundred battering rams.
Though the sun had gone down, a number of lamps had been set up to illuminate the gardens near the mansion. A large crowd of elaborately dressed people were gathered in front of the building drinking and eating while musicians played for them. Their own carriage came to a halt, and Jon exited and then helped Ingfried out as well. Back at the College, he had thought it odd that she had told him to bring his sword, but now that he was here, he saw that many of the men were also armed, though many of them seemed to favour blades similar to the one which had been carried by Sardus. A servant appeared almost immediately with a tray of drinks in crystal glasses.
After taking their drinks, Ingfried led him about, weaving in and out of the crowd, pausing at times to greet people she knew. As she did so, Jon noticed that many of the people subtly moved aside to get out of her way. It did not take him long to realise that it was not out of respect but a slight. There were slight looks of either fear or dislike on more than a few faces, though they were clearly trying not to be seen doing so. Ingfried either did not see this or chose to ignore it. While many were doing this, not all were.
Ingfried led Jon to an older man whose clothing was straining against his ample belly. The man was bald and clean-shaven except for a remarkably large moustache, the tips waxed into points. A large scare bisected his face, and a black patch covered his left eye. When he saw Ingfried, he gave her a friendly smile which seemed genuine. As they approached him, Ingfried curtsied, and the man clicked his heels together and offered a bow in return. As she stood up, Ingfried returned the man's smile with one of her own.
"Lady Mensing, it is good to see you again."
"You as well, General." She turned to Jon and indicated the man with her hand.
"May I introduce Conrad Schwartz, a general in the Reikland state troops." Schwartz smiled in a self-deprecating manner.
"You are too courteous, My Lady. I am retired now, as you well know. Just an old warhorse put out to pasture." from his tone, Jon guessed that the man was not entirely happy with the arrangement and that retirement had not been his idea. Then, as though his thoughts had drawn the man's attention, the older man turned to regard him.
"And who is your handsome companion?" Ingfried turned to Jon, a slightly consternated look on her face. Jon understood at once. His surname, if it could be called that, was Snow, something that would raise more than a few eyebrows. Fortunately, she was spared from having to answer by the blowing of a horn. All the people present turned to face the stairs leading up into the house where a man had emerged and stood looking down at them all from the top of the stairs.
He looked to be getting on in years. He was clean-shaven and with a full head of silvered hair. He was dressed in a costly black and red doublet with golden buttons. He was leaning on a cane of black wood topped by a silver eagle's head. Jon thought that he made rather a solemn figure, but then he smiled, and he looked both younger and far more friendly.
"Welcome all. I greet you and thank you for the honour of coming to my home. Enter and be welcome." with that, he extended his arm theatrically, welcoming them in. This was clearly a sign the guests had been waiting for as they all made their way inside, Jon and Ingfried among them.
They were led into a massive ballroom which could easily have held the great hall of Winterfell with room to spare. From a balcony high above them, a second orchestra played as the guests quickly took their positions and began to dance. Jon had feared that he would not know the steps to such fast music and embarrass himself. Fortunately, this proved not to be the case as the music he somewhat recognised and the dance steps were similar enough that he was able to pick it up quickly. He and Ingfried joined the other dancers as they spun and whirled about. His arm around her waist, he remembered times as a boy wishing he was not a bastard and that he could dance like this with a beautiful woman. However, that dream had died as he had grown older, and he had learned what precisely a bastard was and what would happen if he were to have children of his own. That thought threatened to spoil the pleasurable mood which had come over him since they had arrived at the von Mannheim estate. Thus, it was a relief when a pause came to the dancing; he needed the time to collect himself and force the unpleasant thoughts down.
As they partook of more refreshments, Jon heard a commotion to the left of them. Turning, he saw people moving about as someone or several someone's moving in their direction. As the crowd parted, Jon saw a couple moving through the crowd. To Jon's eyes, the couple seemed to be a somewhat mismatched pair. The man was of average height, and while thinly built, he had put on weight, giving him an unpleasant fleshy look. As he drew near, Jon saw that the man's hair was longer than many of the men around them. Upon closer look, Jon swore there was paint or something around his eyes. His clothing was equally outlandish. His doublet alternated stripes of gold and crimson thread with a cape of gold cloth and its collar trimmed with ermine. His trousers were a light purple, and his boots of black leather. Taken as a whole, the man looked somewhat demented, and Jon wondered if he was entirely sane. The woman could not be more different.
She stood two or three inches taller than her companion with a light olive complexion, reminding Jon of Dornish maidens. Her hair was long and black and braided into numerous plaits, all of which were held by a hair net of gold wire and gems. Her most startling feature, however, was her eyes, which were bright green in colour. If she were exotic, then her clothing was, in its own way, as shocking as those of her companion.
Her dress was a deep crimson, with a neckline which plunged even more than Ingfried's. There were also slits cut on the sides, which showed how her legs far more than seemed decent. It seemed that all the men were staring while many of the women gave disapproving looks, and Jon winced as Ingfried's grip tightened on his arm. The woman also wore several necklaces and rings, the value of which Jon guessed was nearly as great as the loan which he had negotiated from the Iron Bank. The couple saw them and began to head in their direction. It was then Jon heard Ingfried grumble.
"Ulric, preserve us." She said in such a lone tone that Jon was sure that he was the only one who heard her.
"Who are they?" He asked in a tone of voice equally low.
"That is Herman von Mannheim, our host's eldest son and heir. He can be somewhat…eccentric."
"And who is she?" asked Jon.
"His mistress." She replied simply. Before Jon could ask any more, the couple were upon them.
"I say, smashing good of you to come to this little party of Papa's," Herman said, after a perfunctory bow to Ingfried.
"Sumaira!" He said, turning to his companion. "This is the wizard I was telling you about."
"A wizard," his companion said lustily; "How fascinating."
"Indeed," Herman said. He looked over and seemed to see Jon for the first time. Once he did so, his gaze flicked between Jon and Ingfried, a leering expression on his face.
"Ah, I see that you wizards are not all books and spells.
"Good! You know what they say about all work and no play." Jon saw Ingfried's face flush and felt his temper waking. Perhaps sensing this, Herman's companion imposed herself in the conversation.
"Herman, my love, perhaps you should allow them to make introductions." Herman smiled at her and nodded.
"Quite right, my darling." He turned back to Jon and Ingfried.
"This is, as you know, My Lady, is Sumaira, my greatest treasure. I know the Lady Mensing, of course, but I do not know you, Sir." Before Jon could respond, Ingfried interjected.
"This is Jon Jäger. A friend from Nordland."
"Ah," Herman said, "I do hope the Norscan side isn't to dominate."
Jon had no idea what he was talking about, but he could see that it made Ingfried furious. Sumaira seemed to sense it too. Fortunately, the music began again.
"Oh, come Herman. You know how I adore this one." with that, she dragged Herman back to the dance floor. Jon found himself also being pulled along by his friend.
It was a faster-pace dance, and they had no time to talk as they whirled and spun amongst the other dancers. It seemed to do Ingfried good, as the liveliness served to calm her down. The next song was a slower one, and Jon was going to ask why Herman's words had upset her and the strange name he called him, but before he could; however, Herman and Sumaira returned, a large grin on Herman's face.
"It is traditional not to hoard one's partner all to oneself the whole evening." with that, Herman took Ingfried's hand, and Sumaira offered hers to him. Ingfried did not look happy, but she did not refuse. She and Herman whirled one way while Sumaira allowed Jon to lead her the other way. While Jon felt uncomfortable at first, she proved to be a skilled dancer, even more so than Ingfried, and they gradually fell smoothly into the dance. As they did so, she smiled at him in a flirtatious manner.
"Are you enjoying the evening?" She asked. The dance was a slower one, so they were able to speak.
"It has been an…interesting event," Jon replied in an effort to be diplomatic. In truth, he was indeed enjoying the evening, the only unpleasant part being Herman. She seemed to see through his everts and let out an amused laugh.
"I know; Herman can be a bit much, but I assure you, he is quite harmless. Of course, he likes to push boundaries and shock people, and as a noble, he can get away with a great many things, but he knows how far he can go and never treads into unacceptable behaviour." Jon was unsure what to say to that, and before he could think of anything, she said something with drove, which drove all previous thoughts away.
"Tell me, Herr Jäger, will you be coming with us to Tilea?"
"I beg your pardon?" Jon asked, unsure what she was talking about.
"Herman has been promising me a holiday in Tilea, and since we both agree that we have no desire to endure a dreary Empire winter, going to the sunny south now is a wonderful idea. However, his father insists on a good escort. Herman told me that his father had gotten a wizard to accompany us to ensure our safety and that we would meet them tonight, and I believe your companion is the only wizard here." Jon, who had had no idea that any such thing was happening, could not think of anything to say and was relieved when the dance came to an end.
The evening passed, and Jon began to think that the event would never end, though at last, it did so as the sky was beginning to show the first hints of dawn. Jon was not used to such hours, and he was struggling to keep his eyes open and had to stifle several yawns. Ingfried, on the other hand, seemed to be wide awake and not in the least bit tired. Jon wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but he had not forgotten what Sumaira had said.
"You will be going to Tilea with Herman von Mannheim?" She looked startled for a moment and then nodded.
"I suppose she told you that?" Jon merely nodded.
"His family must indeed have a great deal of influence if they can have a wizard accompany him on a pleasure trip." for a moment, she looked at him, her countenance becoming cold as iron.
"I need to tell you something, but it must remain secret. You must swear to your gods that you will tell no one." Jon was shocked and slightly uneasy by this turn of events, but he trusted Ingfried and did not believe she would trick him into doing anything dishonourable.
"I shall tell no one of what you say to me if you do not wish me to this; I swear by the old gods and the new," he replied. This seemed to satisfy her, and she relaxed, and when she spoke again, her voice was much calmer.
"It is true that Herman von Mannheim is indeed travelling to Tilea, and I shall be accompanying him, but it is far from a pleasure trip. said Ingfried
"Despite his appearance and behaviour tonight, he is far cleverer than he appears. Personally, I am convinced that much of what he does is an act. Whatever the truth is, the Emperor himself has charged him with an important task." She paused again, gathered herself and pressed on.
"The signs and portents I spoke of earlier, of a great threat coming, have gotten worse and are now being supplemented by other sources. Reports have begun coming in from all the northern provinces of increased raids by the Norscans. As well as the frequency of their raids into Kislev." Jon was unsure who Norscans were, but she spoke of them in the same way his father's bannermen had spoken of Wildlings, leading him to suspect that they were not friends.
"The Emperor and his council have determined that a threat none seen since the days of Magnus is coming. Indeed, it may very well be greater. However, the situation is not the same as it was then." Ingfried continued
"The Empire is united, or at least as united as it ever is. Furthermore, the Emperor is not too proud to admit that we cannot face what is to come alone and that we are in need of allies. To that end, he is sending emissaries to the various kingdoms to raise support and coordinate our efforts. Herman von Mannheim has been ordered to travel to Tilea and attempt to gain their support. He has been there before, and his more… colourful personality has made him popular with some of those in power, making him the best choice. Despite what some may say, they can be a powerful asset."
"How so?" Jon interjected.
"Tilea is not a united land, instead, it is divided into various city-states, and they often fight with one another. This has resulted in an abundance of experienced soldiers who would be a great asset in bolstering the Empire state troops. Indeed, even if he fails to win the leaders over, he could still accomplish his mission; many of the soldiers in these conflicts are mercenaries, men who fight for gold. In addition to the Emperor's messages to the leaders of the city-states, von Mannheim will also be carrying letters of credit to the captains of the various mercenary companies in an effort to secure their allegiance. They make up the bulk of the various armies there anyway, and if he can secure their loyalty, he will have accomplished his mission, even if Tilea official does not become involved."
Jon nodded; he could understand why the Emperor would take such a course of action to bolster his forces for the conflict, which everyone seemed convinced was coming. He had been in the same situation when he had been trying to determine how to defend the Wall from the Others. It had, in fact, been that very need which had allowed him to convince his brothers to both allow the Wildlings through and permit them to aid the Watch in defending the Wall. However, he was not sure about the use of mercenaries. His father had said that, while they were necessary and could be useful, sellswords could be unreliable and could and would abandon their employer if it began to appear that they were on the losing side. Still, if the threat was as great as everyone believed, he could see how they could be needed to bolster the ranks of the Emperor's armies. He noticed that Ingfried had stopped speaking and looked as if she wanted to say something but was nervous about doing so.
"Is something the matter?" asked Jon warily.
"There is. As I said, I will be accompanying Von Mannheim to Tilea," said Ingfried, her face reddening. "I was hoping that you would accompany me there."
Jon considered this; while he did not desire to be away from the city in case Wiendenfeld made a breakthrough in translating the book, he could hardly refuse Ingfried. She had shown him a great deal of kindness since he had arrived, and it would be dishonourable to refuse her. Besides, she was his friend, and he wanted to make sure that she was safe. Also, if matters were as grave as she said, Wiendenfeld might soon see his attention drawn to other matters.
"I would be honoured to accompany you," replied Jon. She smiled in pleasure.
"Good, I am quite pleased to hear you say that." The rest of the journey back was spent going over the details of the voyage and what preparations needed to be made.
As they returned to the College, Jon remembered something. "Ingfried, where did the name Jäger come from, and why did you say that I came from Nordland?"
"Well, I could hardly tell him the truth now, could I?" Ingfried chortled. "Jäger means 'Hunter', and I thought that it suited you."
Jon thought of his and found that he rather liked it.
Gunther was not pleased to hear that they were travelling again.
"But we just returned," he complained; "And why are we going to some place full of silly foreigners?" Jon, of course, could not tell his squire the truth about why they were going.
"The von Mannheim's are an important family, and when they want a wizard for an escort, they get one," said Jon hoping the lie would do.
"First the blood-sucker and now the wizard. At this rate, Sir, you are going to start looking like some Araby sultan in his harem," said Gunther grinning like a madman. "You had best pray to Ranald that they never learn of each other. They may decide to settle their dispute by simply killing you."
"Be silent and pack our things," ordered Jon angrily, trying to ignore the images such a thing conjured up.
They left two days later. As he did not have to do much to prepare, Jon had time to visit Wiendenfeld before he left. The priest had not had much time to devote to the text, but he promised Jon that he would continue to work on the text and have a report ready for him when he returned. He also promised that he would invest the money that Jon had entrusted to him when they returned to the city. Jon was grateful for this and took comfort in having his affairs all in order.
On the morning they departed, Jon and Ingfried rode a pair of horses provided by von Mannheim, with Gunther riding behind in a wagon provided to carry their possessions. They rode to the von Mannheim estate, where they were to meet their charge. Once they arrived there, they saw an elaborate carriage and three wagons. Herman von Mannheim was helping Sumaira into the carriage, both dressed in travelling outfits of green and yellow, which Jon thought rather gaudy, but he held his tongue. In addition to the servants and drivers, there were three other people who were clearly guards.
One of them, sitting next to the carriage driver, was a Dwarf, standing no more than five feet tall but broad and muscular with a long blond beard elaborately braided. He wore a full suit of dwarven plate rune etched and glittering like glass. Slung on his back was a round shield, and a hammer hung from his broad belt. In his hands, he held a crossbow intricately carved with silvered runes. The second was a man with a long thin moustache mounted on a beast, which Jon could not decide if it was a large pony or a small horse. He wore a thick leather tunic that encased his torso. Coarse cloth trousers covered his lower body, except where high riding boots covered his legs. A longsword and a shortsword hung from his thick leather belt. The third was a man of middling stature and build mounted and a brown destrier. He had brown hair, greyish stubble on his face, as well as several scars.
He wore plate armour which looked to be both well-made and cared for. The most noticeable thing about him, however, was his sword. It was a massive two-handed blade taller than himself. He could not see how the man could wield it effectively. He also carried a large dagger on his belt. As Jon and Ingfried pulled up, von Mannheim observed them and turned to greet them.
"My Lady, how good to see you!" He then looked at Jon.
"My, it is a pleasure to see you again as…." He then saw Ghost.
"Sigmar's teeth!" At his words, the three guards moved swiftly into action.
The Dwarf raised his crossbow while the horse archer drew his bow and knocked an arrow so fast that it seemed nought but a blur to Jon, while the third man drew the smaller of his swords. Fortunately, they did not attack, merely waiting to see what would happen. As they all stared at one another, Ingfried took the initiative and spurred her horse forward to place herself between the two groups.
"There is no threat, My Lord; the wolf is Jon Jäger's companion. He is no threat to you," said Ingfried hoping to calm the warriors.
After a moment, von Mannheim seemed to regain control of himself and laughed.
"Well, this is quite a surprise, but a good one. Quite a handsome beast, too, I must say." He turned to Sumaira, who had been watching the whole affair from the carriage.
"See, My Love, with such guardians as these, we have nothing to fear!" He turned back to Jon and smiled.
"I am pleased to see you again as well. The times are perilous, and one cannot have too many companions, and we may be called upon to see off some unsavoury types. But fear not, should the need arise, I shall not stand idly by." He patted the sword at his belt.
"I know more than one type of dance." Jon doubted that.
The sword, which Jon had learned was called a rapier, had a gilded pommel and guard. It was also decorated with tiny rubies to Jon, it looked more like a decorative piece than an actual weapon. Still, he said nothing and merely nodded; soon after, they set off.
Though Ingfried had said that this was a mission of some urgency, one would not know that from how von Mannheim was acting. The party travelled leisurely and took their time when they stopped for meals, either eating at inns or on the grass beside the road. These were prepared by von Mannheim's personal chef, one of the short people whom Jon had learned were called Halflings. The Halfling in question was named William Brandyhill, a short and fat individual with hair as red as his face. In addition to being a good cook, he was also friendly and always seemed to have a kind word and a tasty morsel for any who asked. He even got along with Ghost.
It started when Ghost had been sniffing around the Halfling's camp kitchen while William had been preparing a fish. The little man had squealed in terror when he turned around and found the direwolf not three feet behind him. He had thrown the fish at Ghost and bolted. Jon had later apologised to the cook and assured him that Ghost would not have harmed him, and William had begrudgingly accepted the apology. There was, however, an unforeseen consequence of this first encounter. Jon was not sure if Ghost took some perverse pleasure in frightening the small cook or if he simply associated the man with food. Regardless, Ghost often wandered into the Halfling's kitchen whenever they set up camp in search of food. At first, William was both frightened and annoyed, but in time he seemed to actually enjoy the Direwolf's company. He became one of the few people would allow to pet him while William, for his part, always ensured that he had several tasty titbits about for the wolf. While this was going on, Jon was becoming acquainted with the other three guards.
The Dwarf was named Gudrin Rockcrusher, and though he spoke little, Jon did learn that he came from a Dwarf city, or Karak, as Gudrin called it, named Karak Azgaraz to the south-east of them in the Grey Mountains. He claimed to have fought goblins and their larger cousins, creatures called Orks, for several lifetimes of men until he had decided to travel to the lands of men to make his fortune as a sellsword. Though he had not seen him in battle, Jon could tell from his eyes that the Dwarf had seen much of combat and decided that if he fought half as well as he drank, then he would be a most formidable opponent indeed.
The horseman simply called himself Yuri, and he was from a land known as Kislev to the north, and in many ways, he was the exact opposite of Gudrin. Where the Dwarf was often silent and dour, Yuri always seemed to be in a good mood. He was always ready with a laugh or a joke. Jon had been keeping up with his lessons in Reikspiel and had at times taken to leaving off the magical necklace so that he would have to rely on what he had learned. This proved to be rather difficult when speaking with Yuri. The man's command of Reikspiel was far from complete, and he would often slip into his own tongue or a mixture of the two. Though, at times it amused Jon, especially when the Kislevite drunkenly sang songs of his homeland.
Jon did not always get all of them, but many of them involved acts which included either women or horses, and Jon was not sure that he wanted to know. Whatever else the man was, he was amusing, and he was more than willing to share his liquor with him, a drink he called Vodka, and while Jon had partaken in spirits before, nothing had prepared him for this. He had foolishly tossed back his cup in one swift gulp. It felt like he was swallowing molten metal. A cloud of something acidic seemed to burn the lining of his throat and make its way up to his nostrils, bringing tears to his eyes. He felt like he ought to be breathing fire, and it was all he could do to keep himself from spluttering. Yuri seemingly found this amusing and laughed himself hoarse long after he had stopped sputtering.
Sitting nearby smoking his pipe. Gudrin had simply spat. "Bah Umngi Bear piss."
The final guard was Sir Lambert Koehler from the southern province of Averland. What was somewhat surprising to Jon was that Sir Lambert was not of noble birth. Instead, he had joined the Averland state troops as a swordsman. This was apparently where he got the dagger and shield he still carried. In a battle with the Orks, Lambert had performed with such bravery that he had been granted a place amongst the Averland Greatswords.
After several years serving the Count of Averland, there was a battle with a marauding horde of Beastmen, like the monsters Jon had fought before. Lambert had seen a contingent of horsemen cut off and surrounded by the monsters. As his own sergeant had already been killed, Lambert had led his fellow Greatswords in a charge to rescue them. There had followed a fierce battle where he had behaved with great skill and valour, or as he said, "Bloody stupidity and some favour from Ranald." The outcome had been both the saving of the horsemen and breaking the line of the Beastmen, winning the battle.
Among the horsemen was the son of a local baron, and in gratitude for Lambert saving his son's life, the man had knighted Lambert right there on the battlefield. Now a knight, Sir Lambert had taken to wandering the Empire, taking service where he wished and enjoying the privileges of being a member of the nobility until he had taken service with von Mannheim, both for the generous coin and to see Tilea of which he had heard much of, but had never seen.
A final member of the party was, surprisingly, one known to Jon. It was retired General Conrad Schwartz, whom Jon had been introduced to at the party. It seemed he was an old friend of Herman's father, who had asked Schwartz to accompany his son on his journey to Tilea. Ingfried informed Jon that the talk amongst the Court was that the older man was being sent along at the request of Count von Mannheim to ensure his son stayed out of trouble. The actual reason, she informed Jon, was that the general had had many dealings with the various sellsword companies that called Tilea home and could advise Herman on dealing with them. He was also there to advise Herman on the overall strategic situation and the most advantageous alliances to seek with the various city-states.
The journey continued without incident, and they, at last, reached the coast where their ship, the Gilded Dancer, which was owned by Count von Mannheim. Jon was told that it was a galleon usually employed as a trader but now being used to transport Herman and the others. Herman's and Sumaira's quarters, from what little Jon saw of them, looked more like what one would see in a fine inn than what one usually saw aboard a ship with rugs and wall hangings. Ingfried and General Schwartz were also granted comfortable cabins, though smaller and less opulent than Herman's and Sumaira's, with Ingfried's having many books and candles and General Schwartz hosting a spacious table for reading maps. Jon and the others were also offered cabins, but they all declined.
Gudrin had stated that he needed no such comfort, and Yuri had declared that after riding the Troll Wastes, he no longer felt the cold. Sir Lambert claimed to have been hardened by years of campaigning. Jon, for his part, also paid little mind to the cold, and he found it both familiar and strangely comforting to remind himself that he was not becoming too comfortable. William had merely looked at them and muttered under his breath about Dwarfish stubbornness and mannish masochism.
Despite his words and a few flurries of snow, it had not been overly cold. A fact which seemed to perturb General Schwartz. They were sailing along the coast of the Empire; Jon had been told that they would pass Marienburg, sail south along the coast of a country called Bretonnia, and then sail south to Tilea. Jon had been at the rail one day, staring out at the water, when General Schwarz had joined him.
"Good sailing weather." He had said. Jon, having little knowledge of such things, had merely nodded.
"Too good, actually." This time it seemed that the older man was speaking more to himself than Jon. Still, his words had piqued Jon's interest.
"What do you mean?" The general started, apparently having half-forgotten that he was not alone.
"I mean that the weather is unusually warm for this time of year, and that is not a good thing."
"How could that be?" Jon asked. He thought of his time on the Wall; none there would complain about less cold weather.
"The threat of the North is terrible, but it is still bound by some rules. One of those rules is that they have difficulty moving through heavy snow and supplying their armies.
"If, however, the weather is too warm, then the snow will not prove to be a hindrance, and the threat could come before we have a chance to prepare for the invasion. The emperor is working heroically, but he needs time; we all do." after that, they lapsed into silence.
Other than that, the voyage was a pleasant one for all aboard. The one exception to this was Gunther, whose frequent bouts of seasickness were a source of great amusement to the crew. Jon spent his time practising his language lessons, though he had to endure the teasing from the others about the amount of time he spent in Ingfried's cabin. He also took advantage of the size of the deck to spare with Sir Lambert. While they did so, he soon found himself giving the older man advice on his fighting. It was not that the knight was a poor swordsman, far from it. However, the man had trained much of his life to fight as part of a company, and this left him at a disadvantage during their matches as he would act in a way that showed that he had forgotten there was no one there to guard his flank and back.
On the eighth day of the voyage, Jon was walking the deck wondering when the midday meal would be served when above in the rigging; the sailor acting as lookout cried out.
"Sails to starboard!" As they had not seen any other ships since setting out, Jon and several others rushed to the side to look out.
There were indeed two ships coming towards them. They made Jon think of the longships of the Ironborn. They were clearly heading towards them, and Jon found it odd that the lookout had not seen them earlier, as there was nothing but open water in all directions. Something about the ships made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Looking about it was clear that he was not the only one who felt that way. Their uneasiness seemed to be proved when the lookout cried again, fear clear in his voice.
"Manann, preserve us! NORSCANS!" This cry brought cries of alarm and prayers for deliverance from the crew.
"RIGHT, YOU LOT! TO BATTLE STATIONS!" The captain cried out. This seemed to have some calming off the crew as they rushed about. Some brought out weapons, mostly hooks, hatchets and short curved swords. While this was happening, Jon and the other guards readied themselves.
Gunther, all signs of sickness lost in his fear, helped Jon to done his armour while the others did the same. Once this was done, Jon returned to the deck and took in the situation. Yuri, who wore no armour other than his thick leathers, had taken his bow and climbed into the rigging. While this was happening, Ingfried moved to the ship's stern castle, the air around her seeming to crackle as she drew magic to her. Having already donned his armour, Sir Lambert had also returned to the deck, his Zweihänder over his shoulder. Gudrin had already had his armour on and so had remained on deck. He was now at the railing, waiting for them to draw within range. Two or three of the crew had pistols as well, but Jon was still uneasy. If these Norscans were like the Ironborn, they would have packed their ships with as many warriors as possible. Unfortunately, that meant that they would outnumber them.
As the ships drew near, a dozen figures soared into the air above one of the ships and began to fly towards the Gilded Hand. As they drew near, Jon was able to see them more clearly and what he saw confused him. At a distance, they looked to be winged, shapely women, but as they drew closer, he was filled with horror. While still shapely, they had cruel, feral looks to them. Their finger and toes sprouted claws, and their lips pulled back to reveal rows of dagger like teeth.
"Harpies!" Someone called out. Jon was not sure what a harpy was, but it was clear that their presence was not a good thing.
The creatures flew towards their ship, staying high. Jon expected them to swoop down and attack the crew, but they did not. Instead, the harpies began to tear at the sails and rigging. The crew cursed, and those who could fire their weapons at them. Some of the shots missed, but one of them struck one of the harpies, causing it to fall into the water with a shout of pain. Yuri and Gudrin both fired as well, both of them downing one. Even as they fell, Yuri knocked another arrow and hit another in the wing, forcing it to fly away. Despite all of this, however, the harpies were having success as well. Several of the rigging ropes tore, and the sails were sporting several large tears. As one of the harpies prepared to set upon another rope, Ingfried sent a bolt of lightning up to strike it, and the creature fell to the water, little more than charred bones. The last harpy shrieked and flew back towards the ship that it had come from. Before it got far, there was a loud crack, its head jerked to the side, and it too fell to the water below. Looking about, Jon was surprised to see William standing near Ingfried. In his hand was a leather sling, similar to those some Mountain Tribesmen used.
Despite killing or driving off the harpies, the damage had been done. The sails and rigging had been damaged, and Jon could swear that he felt the ship slowing down. He very much doubted they would be able to outrun the oncoming ships, which he supposed had been the reason for sending them in the first place. Ingfried was summoning wind to fill the sails but damaged as they were, it was not enough. Booms drew his attention back to the situation at hand. The ship had four large firearms called cannons. There were four of them, placed at the corners of the ship's bow and stern. Unfortunately, this meant that only two of the cannons could be fired at the oncoming raiders. Even as he thought this, one of the cannons fired. The shot flew through the air and crashed into the water near one of the ships. They responded by sailing in peculiar patterns in an effort to evade the cannon fire. At the same time, Ingfried sent a bolt of lightning towards one of the ships. Before it could strike true, a blast of greenish-black energy flew out from one of the ships; the two bolts of mystical energy collided with a thunderous boom and then faded, leaving no trace of the spells save for the smell of burnt air.
Ingfried cursed. "So, you have a shaman with you. Well, I am a wizard of the Colleges, and by Ulric, I will not be undone by some hex-dabbler." with that, it was clear that her duel with the mage would draw her away from the battle.
As the two ships closed with the galleon, the captain ordered that the cannons be loaded with something called grapeshot. Then, with a crash, the two ships came alongside them. Hooks were thrown, lashing the vessels together. As the longships were lower than the galleon, the Norscans began to clamber up the sides of the ship. As they did so, two of the crew clamoured from below deck carrying what seemed to be a cauldron of scalding hot soup. Reaching the side, they upended it onto the borders. A chorus of screams heralded its success, but it was not enough to stop them as the rest continued their efforts to climb the ship. This proved to be the undoing of many of them.
As the Norscans grabbed the railings to pull themselves up, Jon and the others hacked and chopped at fingers and hands, severing many and causing the climbers to fall back to their own ship. When heads appeared, they, too were chopped, stabbed, bludgeoned and even punched. Above them, Yuri continued to fire arrows down onto the Norscans still crowded on their ships. The crack of a pistol drew Jon's attention. At the prow castle General Schwartz, clad in a breastplate, a longsword belted at his waist, was firing a pistol down into the gathering of Norscans. After he had fired one pistol, he would hand it to his servant, a man who looked to be as old as himself. Despite his age, the man had remarkably dexterous and nimble fingers, and as soon as he was handed one pistol, he swiftly loaded it, gave it to Schwarz, and took the empty pistol to continue the cycle. Despite all their efforts, it was not enough.
The enemy was too numerous, and there were not enough crew to prevent them all from getting onto the deck, and once they were there, they swiftly began to change the tide of battle. Though few wore armour, indeed, many wore little more than hides, they were almost all taller, stronger and more vicious than the crew, and they were also clearly better fighters. They laid in with swords, axe, mace and other weapons. They stabbed, bashed, hacked and slashed at the crew with abandon. One, swelling with unnaturally large muscles and with skin that looked disturbingly like bluish scales, forbore weapons and simply grabbed crewmen and tore them to pieces with his bare hands. The crew were rapidly losing heart and falling back, except there was nowhere to fall back to. There were only a few exceptions.
Gudrin had placed himself against the mast, preventing anyone from coming up behind him and had put away his crossbow and had brought out his shield and hammer. Though he was alone and the Norscans towered over him, this was actually working to his advantage. As they rushed him, they ended up getting in one another's way and even when they got to him, the height difference forced them to lower themselves to awkward angles to strike at the Dwarf. Many of the blows Gudrin deflected, and the few which got through failed to penetrate his armour. Gudrin, for his part, lashed out at the exposed knees and legs of the men around him. Once they were on the deck, he would stomp and crush any skulls which came within reach.
Equally impressive was Sir Lambert. He, too, was alone, the crew having been forced away from him. Earlier Jon had wondered about the effectiveness of the giant sword. He now saw how wrong he had been. The older man wielded the blade with a grace Jon could scarcely believe. The broad deck gave Sir Lambert ample room to work. He spun his sword in great blistering arcs as the Norscans rushed to meet him. At one moment, he had one hand on the pommel and was thrusting his blade like a spear. Another he was striking with such force that a man was cut in half. Jon would have wished to continue to observe the knight, but he was set upon himself.
The misshapen man charged at Jon with a roar, his massive fists raised high, preparing to smash him into a bloody pulp. Knowing that he could not match the man's strength, Jon rushed in under the descending fists. As he closed, he thrust his sword into the man's belly. Despite him putting all of his strength into the blow, the blade barely seemed to break the skin. The man glared down at him and began bringing his arms together to crush Jon in a bear hug. Before that could happen, Jon dropped down and rolled away. Coming up, he slashed down on the man's arm, again barely drawing a trickle of blood. The man grinned evilly at Jon's lack of success and lowered his head to rush Jon like some crazed bull. Despite seeing it coming, he was surprised by the man's speed, and his considerable bulk crashed into Jon, knocking him from his feet. The man raised a foot to stomp on him. Before it could come down, a bolt of lightning took him full in the chest. The man went rigid as the lightning danced over him. He screamed in pain as his eyes burst, and he fell to the ground, clearly dead. Looking up, Jon saw Ingfried looking down at him, a concerned look on her face, having clearly won her duel.
She could not see his face with his helmet on, so he quickly climbed to his feet to show her he was alright.
That done, he looked around and what he saw made him cautiously hopeful. While many of the crew had died, so had many of the Norscans. Gudrin was still standing, and the Norscans now seemed reluctant to go near him. Yuri, having apparently expended all of his arrows, had returned to the deck and was now guarding the Dwarf's flank with his sword. Sir Lambert was still holding his own and was making his way towards Yuri and Gudrin. Near Jon, Ghost was surrounded by bodies and limbs, his fur now as red as his eyes. General Schwartz and William continued to pick off any foe which presented themselves. Gunther was standing on the stairs leading to where Ingfried stood, throwing knives at any who drew near and with her victory Ingfried was now free to use her magic on those who had made it onto the ship.
Just one more push. Jon thought. Just one more push, and they will break. Even as he thought this, it seemed that one came.
"FIRE", The captain bellowed. While the battle had been fought the crew manning the two cannons in the stern had wrestled them into positions that allowed them to be fired down into mass below them.
While Jon did not know what grapeshot was, but seven hells, he could see the results. Whole knots of Norscans simply…dissolved to be replaced by little more than piles of shredded meat. The enemy had clearly had enough and was beginning to break. Jon was rushing forward to join the others in pushing them off the ship when a cry rose.
More Norscan were swarming up the side of the ship. There were not as many as in the first wave, but these were different from the ones who had come before.
These were just as large and, in many cases, even larger. Many resemble giant insects, crabs, or scorpions, emphasised by their elaborate headdresses and insect-shaped helmets, glittering axes or rune-encrusted swords. Their eyes glimmered; many were tattooed with strange runes and writings that seemed to swirl on their flesh. They screamed out words Jon did not understand, but he could guess. They also kept shouting one word over and over again.
"BLESSED IS THE CHANGER OF WAYS!" They chanted as they crashed into the defenders, bowling them over with sheer size and ferocity, even some of their own from the first wave who appeared to be running from the fight. The crew, exhausted from battling the wave, were pushed back by the new attackers.
Two of the men rushed at Jon, their axes writhing with magical energy, who moved to meet them. As they closed, one of them drew ahead of the other and swung at Jon with one of his axes. As the blow came down, Jon raised his shield. As the blow landed, it partially split his shield and lodged in it. Before he could pull his axe free, Jon twisted to the side, pulling the shield along with him. This, combined with the man's own forward momentum, caused the man to stumble past him. As he passed him, Jon lunged forward with his sword and thrust up and under the man's ribs. The man went rigid and fell to the ground, quite dead. Unfortunately, as he fell, he ripped the shield from Jon from his weight. He did not have time to get it back and free the axe from it, so he simply took his sword in both hands and faced the second attacker.
He parried the first attack and took the second blow on his armour. The plate held, but he could feel himself bruising under the steel and was knocked back. As he did so, he tripped over the body of the first man he had killed and fell to the deck. The man took advantage of this and lunged forward. As he loomed over Jon, a blade appeared, seemingly from nowhere and thrust through the side of the man's neck. As the man, too, dropped dead to the deck and Jon rapidly scrambled to his feet, he was surprised to see Herman standing there, bloody rapier in hand. The man smiled at him.
"I told you; I know many dances." with that, he rushed to join the battle. Jon quickly followed after him. To his surprise, Herman was actually proving to be a skilled fighter; he could not match the Norscans strength for strength, so he outthought them. He demonstrated this when a large raider with a two-handed axe came at him. He aimed a blow at Herman, who ducked and allowed the blow to pass over him.
"Come, come, my good sir. I was always told that you Norscans are the fiercest warriors ever born! But, by Sigmar's holy backside, I have seen Hung, who fight better than you!" Jon didn't know who the Hung were or if the Norscan understood the words.
The man did, however, clearly know that he was being insulted if nothing else. With a roar, the man brought his axe down with all his strength. The axe came down, but before it could strike, Herman leapt back, and the axe buried itself in the deck. Before the man could pull his weapon, free Herman darted forward and thrust his blade into the man's eye. As he pulled his weapon free, another Norscan came at him from the side. Jon rushed in and brought his sword down, knocking the blade aside. Jon struck the man hard in the face, his mailed fist shattering teeth and breaking bone. As the man stumbled back, Jon thrust his sword into the man's belly.
As he freed his blade, he saw several of the raiders making their way to the door which led to Herman and Sumaira's cabin. As no one else was close enough to render aid, Jon took off in pursuit. But, before he could reach them, the door burst open, and Sumaira herself emerged. Her dress was gone, and she wore nothing but her undergarments. Despite his shock, Jon's gaze was drawn to the weapons in her hands. They were curved knives, at least he thought they were. They were longer than most knives he had seen but shorter than the short swords of his homeland.
She dashed towards her attackers, who also seemed shocked by the sudden change in the situation; Sumaira took advantage of this and sprang forward. With the agility of an acrobat, she leapt from the deck and landed on one of the men's shoulders, wrapping her legs around his neck. Before he could react. She thrust her blades into his ears. As he fell, she placed her feet on his shoulders and used them to spring backwards towards another of her attackers. Her dive carried her over him, and she twisted to land behind him and thrust her blades into his back. The third man stabbed at her with his sword. She slid to the side and then launched a kick that took him in the side of the leg. As he stumbled, she darted in and slashed him across the belly, causing his entrails to fall to the deck. After that, the battle devolved into a swirling melee as foes swarmed around Jon, and he lost sight of those around him.
He cut, slashed, punched, kicked and more. The foes seemed endless, and he began to think that all his allies were dead, and he was all alone. Just then, the raider that he was fighting was cut down from behind. Standing before Jon, bloody sword in hand, was General Schwartz. The man had rallied the crew and was leading them in a counterattack. He pointed his sword to where Jon had last seen Yuri and Gudrin.
"Come on, men!" He called out. He surged forward, the crew and Jon following behind him.
They pushed forward, felling any who got in their way. They were joined by Ghost and Sumaira as they cut their way through the attackers. Many of these were focused on Herman and the others, and many were cut down before they even realised that they were being attacked. They linked up with Herman and the others and killed many of the Norscans and were pushing the remainder towards the side of the ship. Jon had just cut down another raider when a roar and several screams were heard behind him. Turning, he beheld something that caused his breath to catch in his throat. A new figure had climbed onto the ship.
The man was massive, standing at least seven feet tall and as broad and thick as Gudrin. He was clad in a suit of silvery blue plate and golden mail; over this was a robe of white cloth. The armour was studded with many gems and runes that seemed to unnaturally swirl, spiral, and shift around if watched too long, and it hurt Jon's eyes to look too closely or too long at them. The man's face was covered by a great horned helm; nought could be seen of his face save his eyes which seemed to be a luminous shade of blue. In his hands, he held a massive two-handed axe that radiated a dark and malevolent power. All eyes turned to him as his head turned left and right, regarding them with keen interest. Then he spoke, the words seeming to slither through Jon's mind.
"I am Khyrir, the Bestower of Blessings. Your souls belong to Tzeentch and your flesh to me." With that, he lunged forward, moving with the swiftness of a viper, seemingly unperturbed by the bulk of his armour. Three of the crew were cut down before they could even react. Schwartz fired his pistol at Khyrir, only to have the bullet bounce off his armour. Two more of the crew rushed Khyrir from the side, but before they could reach him,
Khyrir turned to face them. "Receive my blessings."
From the slit in his forehead, a golden mist flowed out to engulf the two men. As the mist touched them, the men screamed as their skin flowed like wax and their bodies bent and twisted. One's fingers merged into claws while spikes burst from his back. The second man grew fur and a tail with a hooked barb. With wails of pain and madness, they fell on the rest of the crew and killed several before they were cut down themselves. All the while, Khyrir laughed.
While he was distracted, Yuri and Sumaira launched their attack on him, with Yuri attempting to distract him while Sumaira came at him from behind. Yuri slashed at Khyrir, hoping to draw the warrior's attention to him. Instead, Khyrir batted Yuri's blade aside and seized the Kislevite by the head. Before Yuri had a chance to scream, Khyrir engulfed him in bluish flames reducing the Kislevite to dust. While this was going on, Sumaira leapt onto his back. He responded by shaking himself in an effort to dislodge her, forcing her to drop one of her blades to free her hand to grab onto his armour. With her remaining blade, she thrust it into one of the eye slits, working it back and forth Khyrir roared in pain and rage and finally managed to grab Sumaira by one of her legs and pull her off. Even at a distance, Jon could hear her leg snap and her shriek in pain as she fell to the deck with a thud. It seemed, however, that her attack had not been entirely ineffective. Bluish blood leaked from the helmet, and Khyrir was forced to remove it, revealing a horrific face.
It was edged with a fringe of blue feathers, and his skin was scaley, almost like a lizard. It was the eyes, however, which were the worst. Including the missing one from Sumaira's blade; there were five. Four completely blue ones, one pair was where they should be and a second pair above it. In the centre of his forehead was the fifth eye, golden in colour and the size of a child's fist. Before he could do anything else, Ingfried launched another bolt of lightning directly at his chest. With an almost contemptuous gesture, he raised his left hand and caught the bolt. It seemed to absorb Ingfried's magic, and when he closed his fist, her magic seemed to dissipate. Jon felt a moment of despair. Was there no way to harm him?
But even as he asked, it was answered! From the press, Sir Lambert emerged, sword held high. He brought it down with all his strength on Khyrir's outstretched arm with a great boom and terrible shriek, the Greatsword struck true, and the hand severed hand fell on the deck. Khyrir gave a cry and held up the stump of his hand. Broken metal, bluish blood and bone all merged together to form a hook to replace the lost hand. Khyrir immediately used the hook to rip into Sir Lambert. It failed to pierce the breastplate, but the blow lifted him from the deck and sent him flying into the mainsail, where he lay stunned. Khyrir looked down at him, hatred in his eyes. A horribly familiar mist began to gather in the large eye, and in his mind's eye, Jon could see what was about to happen to Sir Lambert. Before it happened, however, Khyrir screamed in pain as the eye exploded like a dropped fruit as a stone from William's sling struck it.
All while this had been happening, Jon had been forcing his way towards Khyrir, Ghost running at his side. The two sprang as one and crashed into their foe, who was still reeling from the loss of his eye. He was also hampered by the fact that his axe needed both hands to wield properly, and the hook was not a proper replacement, making his weapon useless and even a hindrance. Pain shot through Jon as the two armoured figures crashed into each other. Jon might not have been able to knock Khyrir down, but with Ghost adding his weight, they tackled the warrior to the deck, with Jon on top of him. He kept his sword with him and swiftly scrambled atop Khyrir; before the chaos sorcerer could utter another spell, Jon thrust the blade down into Khyrir's open mouth, severing his jaw from top to bottom.