A SHADOW RETURNS TO LYNKEED
Returning to the city where I had spent my younger days, I was filled with the relief that comes only from great familiarity. I allowed myself to enjoy the feeling for a time. I watched the merchants enter the city. I watched children at play away from the buildings. I envisioned walking through the city, going from place to place, looking for bargains, looking for fun. I dreamed of how I wanted the city to be when I was younger. I tried to remember all of the plans I had for a time when the city was not under the control of the empire. No guards endlessly walking the streets at all times of the day. No threat of war from the forest hanging over the heads of the inhabitants. Rules based on our faith, not the faith of the empire and its ancient traditions.
I allowed my mind to wander as I do not often. The city was never a gem, never a shining example of anything. It was dull in color. In it lived merchants and crafters that worked hard and lived simple lives. It had at its heart a temple to my Lord which loomed over the city, bringing order and justice to the residents. They did not all share our faith, but they respected and sometimes feared the older brothers. At its heart, Lynkeed could function as well as any city in the world. I always believed that. Now I knew that to be fact. Having traveling for more than a decade, I knew that no other city could rival the simple, efficient, effective ways of my home city. That is, if the city could be allowed to exist without looming eyes around and a thunderous army nearby.
My revelry was ended. The visions and dreams that had for moments brought a smile and a peace faded. I opened my eyes to see before me once again the merchants entering the city. They were, as they had been when I had not reached twenty years of life, stopped by Orcish guards. The merchants, coming from the west and possibly the Halfling Forest, were afforded nothing. They were searched and questioned. Eventually, they were let into the city. They were mostly unharmed and it appeared nothing had been taken. My visions of the city never involved that kind of interrogation when entering.
I collected what items I carried, which were now few. Most of what I carried in food and supplies I had used in the walk from the battle north of the Halfling Forest. Planning had paid off, and my trip was made fast by the lack of weight I bore. It only meant that I now had to find lodging and food tonight in Lynkeed. I did not think that would be a problem. As the sun set in the afternoon I moved towards the city. I had two weeks at least before the return of the defeated Orcish army. Before their return, I had to accomplish much. I was blessed as I approached the city with a sense of purpose. Yet again I was entrusted with a task by my Lord. Tyrogatore had need of me. The city of Lynkeed, home to his high temple known as the Orphanage, was oppressed. His servant, aptly and reverently called The Shadow of Lynkeed, was home again to end that oppression.
Mt first few days in the city I spent learning. I discovered that the city of my youth was only slightly changed since I spent all of my time there two decades ago. Some buildings had been erected, and some had fallen into disrepair. The markets remained in the same places, as did all of the temples and shrines. Some shops, inns, and taverns had changed named, but they all appeared in the same places. What was once the less safe part of Lynkeed was at least for now safer, due to the presence of the Orcish military. I looked through every part of the city, going virtually unnoticed, except one. In the southeastern corner of the city sat an old collection of buildings, which included a temple. My home for most of my early life, the Orphanage, the temple of Tyrogatore was the last location I would visit.
I walked along the western wall, the only one that surrounded the city. It had been rebuilt by the orcs since there return. I went down to the road south of the city on which the Orcish army would be returning. I carefully plotted out the entirety of the Orcish barracks to the east of the city. I found every good hiding spot among the slopes and rocks to the south and among the farms of the Lamender family to the north. I found several abandoned buildings in the city that I could use as bases. The days spent doing this were long and each one I knew brought me closer to that inevitable hour when I would have to go into the Orphanage.
Delaying that moment, I visited the arena, which had been built by the orcs in one of the nobler acts long ago. It remained in a fine state. The city still used it, and by the looks possibly ever more often, while the orcs held sway. I passed the Morgue, where the cleric of Dedestroyt could be seen preparing for another service. I noted the Temple to the Old Orc, which I could not get near for all of the orcs at worship. I went to the southwestern corner of the city, to the estate of the merchant Lord Smaggler, a Halfling. It was only at his estate and the estate of Lord Lamender that the touch of the Orcish occupiers could not be felt. Removed just far enough, and with just enough power, the two merchant lords appeared to have been able to keep the orcs away.
It did take several days, but finally, my reconnoiter was at an end. The one place left was my home, the temple, the orphanage.
The path set out by Tyrogatore is one of physical tests. When a problem arises, it is to be conquered. Only the weak hesitate, that is what is taught. But the world teaches that there is a fine line between brave and foolish. Going into a temple of Tyrogatore, it is impossible to not be overcome with anger when it has been defiled. It is hard to not step out into the court yard proclaiming strength and demanding combat from the defilers. When I go into that place, I will not be able to suppress the impossible, but I must do what is hard.
I entered the compound by climbing over the wall on the eastern side and into the orchard. Having given myself a full day to complete this task, I moved slowly. I did not know how many orcs were stationed inside the walls of the Orphanage, or how many traps they may have laid. After an hour of mapping out the orchard in my mind, confident there were no traps or orcs inside it, I watched from the edge of the trees. I could see everything except the inn and the hall. Torches were burning at every station. The orcs had not destroyed anything, nor had they shut out everyone. I calmed greatly at both of those discoveries.
The closest buildings were those of the others, residents who were neither brothers nor children. I made my way there. No one saw me. As I rushed across the ground, I caught site of several orcs near the gate. They quietly stood guard. The buildings I had made it to housed servants and staff that needed to be close but did not warrant staying with the brother clerics. I remember nursemaids and tailors being here. As I went to climb into one building, I realized that they were occupied. The orcs had not evicted them. Perhaps they even performed the same tasks, only not under the guidance of Tyrogatore.
Next was the Arena, where we prayed and fought. Prepared for the worst, I was once again relieved to find nothing defiled or removed. It was clear that it had not been used for many months. From that, I now knew that no brother clerics remained in the orphanage, free to come and go. They could not and have let the arena go unused.
From here, I could see the Orcish guards again. It would be an easy victory to defeat those four. But easy is not a reason. I nodded to the wisdom and continued around the compound. I moved out of the arena and into the garden and farm. Making my way through it, I could see that the fields were tended to, crops were still being grown. The closet point to the center of the compound, where the training tower, reliquary, and principal’s home were, was in the garden. I moved slowly over the ground. I was as far as I could be from both gates where the guards were. Had they been watching more closely, they could have seen me in the moonlight inching across the hundred feet of ground.
I made it to the training tower, where I was able to stand and survey the area. Still, there were no other guards other than those at the gates. This told me he orcs did not anticipate any problems inside the compound. I climbed to a window on the second level of the tower. Inside, I could immediately tell that like the arena, it too had not seen much use in a year or more. I made my way back out. The next closest building was the reliquary. I had been told by Brother Haas, who I had met in my recent travels, and who had been in the Orphanage during the first Orcish raid several years ago, that the most sacred relics had been moved to Jaswap. While I was tempted to enter, and even though there were likely some relics inside, I was certain that there were no clerics. I made my way to the nearby principal’s house.
In my time as an orphan, the principal was a great cleric named Devin. He was a hero. He restored the temple to greatness. He fought in the Jumping War. He was as much of a father as I will ever need. His replacement was named Adrian. I wondered if there even was a principal now, or if the orcs had left no brother in the orphanage. To find out, I had to enter the principal’s house, which even now made me wince. Many lessons were taught inside those walls. A more humbling place I cannot imagine.
The main door to the house was the best shielded from view of the guards, so I choose it to use to enter. I approached and tested the handle. Locked. The first test of skill now presented itself to me. I could open locks, but not quietly. I went slowly, and looked over my shoulder constantly. Minutes passed until I was able to open the door. My confidence increased, because if the Orcish guards had not seen or heard me yet, it was unlikely they would for my entire stay in the compound.
Entering, I quietly closed the door behind me and made my way around the house. Reverently I looked for signs of it being inhabited. It was dark inside, so it was difficult. I made my way to the pantry. I felt inside and found plenty of foodstuffs. None of it was rotting or decaying. Now, to find out who was here. It could well be an orc, even a cleric of Tyrogatore. I had been told that the empire sent one of its best clerics of Tyrogatore to complete in Palumbton for control of the temple there. They could have done a similar thing here. I was not sure what orcs ate compared to humans, but I tried to distinguish foods nonetheless, hoping something would tell me who was here.
Sugar, beets, corn, flour, and more and more variety were in the pantry. More than I ever remember being fed. Seasonings abounded. There were several jars of honey. I saw no dried meats. That was odd. This type of investigation was not my best. I could not risk a more direct encounter with the current resident. Then my decision was made for me.
A high male vow from a low origin said to me from the entrance to the pantry, “Asking for food is better than stealing. My Lord will judge you poorly and your punishment will be painful.”
Insulted and disgusted mixed with relief. The greatest insult I had yet seen the orcs heap upon my faith. They had installed a cleric as principal who could defeat only the lowliest of fellow clerics.
“Barley. It is Shadow, I have come to help.”
“Praise the Judge”, came the reply from the shortest of my brothers. The halfling approached me and punched me solidly on the hip. I hammer-fisted his shoulder in appreciative reply.
“Do you know what has occurred here?” he continued.
“Enough. The orcs must be driven out again. I am here to do that.”
“Good. What is your plan?” he sat on the floor, but not before removing bread and honey from the pantry to eat while we spoke. He tossed me a piece of bread and some nuts. His memory for tastes was sharp, and I smiled at being back here.
“To take note of the orcs for as long as is needed. To eliminate their commanders until they are weak enough to be defeated by our brothers. How many are still he, imprisoned?”
“Five I believe.”
“Adrian, Colin, Jacob, Matthew, and Gnettin. The others have been moved out of the city.”
I nodded at the list. That few would mean I would have to eliminate a larger number of commanders than I had hoped.
“Can we expect help from the laity?”
The halfling thought about it, so much so that he stopped chewing. “I expect some, but not many. Those that do not like us will not help, and their influence has grown since the orcs came.”
“Then we will have to defeat them incrementally and hope that the empire does not send a larger force to occupy the city.”
“A good plan.” Barley said as he took a drink of water and passed it to me. I gladly drank.
“Tell me what you know of the orcs here now.”
“They are of lesser skill than most that went west. They are often unhappy with their role as caretaker and occupier. The rightly see little glory in it. But they do not slack, and discipline is tightly maintained. Their commander is Har Lowta Turius. He is a strong orc and a fair leader, but he has unwisely chosen to devout himself to following the lead of Riot, even after he has been defeated.”
“Is he honorable?”
“Enough to suffice. But he is bound not to accept challenges for control of the city or release of the prisoners.”
I had assumed it would not be so easy as to win a simple duel against the Orcish commander, but hearing that a simple honorable victory was not going to solve my problem is still an annoyance.
“I think it would be best if you waited to do anything until after the army has arrived. Any ground gained against Har Lowta Turius could be brushed away if a new commander takes control once they return to the city.”
Barley was wise in that. His wisdom saved him from many a beating when he and I were younger. Beatings he would have taken from nearly every brother. He was a rarity, a Halfling orphan. Their race, from what I had learned in my travels, consisted of close families that would never abandon a relative to strangers. It was only the killing of his closest fifty family members, every relation within one hundred miles, that left him with no one able to take him. Many of the teachers and brothers questioned taking in a Halfling. But Devin brushed aside their doubts and took the Halfling, whom he named Barley.
“Good thoughts.” I responded. “Until then have come and settled, I will only scout and plan.
We nodded and ate. After an hour, I left quietly and with more confidence than I had when I arrived.