James Ward: The Paladins

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James Ward The Paladins
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James M. Ward, David Wise

The Paladins


If a castle gate slams shut, Tyr is pointing to another castle, farther down.

Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun labored amid the tall wooden book stands and the long chest of tiny drawers, crammed with exotic components, in his spellcasting chamber at the top of his tower. He turned from tome to tome on the stands, reading and reciting, while green and red sparks buzzed unnoticed around his body. He shook his head disapprovingly at one manual, turning to a fat grimoire on the next stand and moving its dragon-skin pages with a wave of his finger. Magical energy crackled around his hands. Masterfully controlled rage lent power to his incantations. The bride of Piergeiron Paladinson had been seized in the middle of her own wedding, and because she'd been stolen under Blackstaff s nose, he was taking it very personally!

"The Utter East is tied into this somehow," he grumbled. "The bloodforges that created Lady Eidola's kidnappers came from there, but when I scry the Utter East, the crystal ball goes dark." As Khelben glared at the lightless seeing crystal resting on its onyx pedestal, an ancient spell designed to pierce magical fog, crafted by the great Drawmij of Oerth, popped into his head, and he snapped his fingers at the thought. He crossed his laboratory to a chest of scrolls and thumbed through them until he found the one he wanted, unrolled it, and absorbed the words.

"Savretun, soenlovenom," he muttered, memorizing intently…

"Wake him up! He's sleeping and I can't wake him up!"

Sznapp! Red-fire sparks crackled and seared a huge human paw reaching out to touch the engrossed Blackstaff. Without shrinking from the pain of the wizard's personal shield, the massive hand shook Khelben roughly, breaking his concentration. He wheeled with a start and grimaced up at the eight-foot-tall Madieron Sunderstone. Piegeiron's personal bodyguard ignored the magical ward. The wizard made a mental note to increase the strength of his protection.

"What is it, Sunderstone?" he snapped.

"I can't wake my master! He told me to call Captain Rulathon, and when I brought him, my lord wouldn't wake up!" Madieron stammered, uttering more words than Blackstaff had ever heard him put together at one time. That meant real trouble.

With an arcane phrase, Khelben blinked to Pier-geiron's chamber, where Captain Rulathon, second-in-command of the city, stood over his lord, slapping him once, twice, thrice, without eliciting so much as a flutter of Piegeiron's eyelids. As the red and green glow of the High Mage's appearance faded, the soldier turned with an expression of panic on his face.

"Wizard, he won't wake up!"

"If you're finished assaulting him, Rulathon, stand aside."

Blackstaff s eyes turned crimson, then orange, as he mustered his power. Guards rushed in as word spread of the new curse that had befallen Waterdeep's finest, only to spin and crash into others behind them while purple streaks of magic blotted out the chamber. Captain Rulathon stood behind Khelben with his arm thrown over his eyes, clinging to one of the bed's canopy posts to keep his balance in the bewildering light storm.

"You men," Rulathon yelled in the magical gale, "keep everyone out!"

"Perhaps it's some effect from the shadow warriors who stole Eidola," muttered Khelben's voice within the glare. "Perhaps ifs something Eidola herself has done…"

Rulathon started. "What did you say, wizard?"

The blinding light of the High Mage's art faded. He stood over Piegeiron's prostrate form, grinding his teeth. Tve tried everything possible here," he admitted angrily. "Lord Paladinson feared further treachery in the city, and he seems to have been right." Khelben furrowed his bushy black and gray brows. "Perhaps, on the matter of those paladins I should heed his advice, after all."

The High Mage turned to face Rulathon and ordered, "Summon the paladins of Phlan, Miltiades and Kern!"

"As you wish High Mage. When do-" A hissing zap cut off the captain's question. The bed chamber door swung open and a throng of sleeping guards spilled into the chamber with it.

"No one-no one-tells me not to come into my father's chambers!" snarled Aleena Paladinstar, striding in with a swirl of wizard's robes. "Father!" she cried, rushing to the bed. "Is he dying?"

"I don't know, Aleena. We need to find the people who took Eidola. Only they know how he was put to sleep, and apparently only they'll know how to wake him."

Khelben reached down and drew a chain from around Piergeiron's neck. Upon it hung a sphere of clear crystal. I suspect this will come in very handy now," he said, removing the gem and slipping it into his robe.

The elder mage looked grimly into the eyes of the younger. "I'm sending you and the paladins of Tyr to the Utter East, to find Eidola and her kidnappers. I wanted to send Force Grey, but your father was adamant they protect Waterdeep. He was equally convinced Kern and Miltiades should lead the rescue. This time, I think we'll respect his wishes. Meet the Phlan delegation in my tower. Let it be you who requests their help."

A grim look of determination cleared the worry from the lovely spellcaster's face. "Gods and fiends won't help whomever's behind this," she swore. "I'll talk to the paladins, gather a few things, then meet you all in your chambers." With one last, lingering look upon her sleeping father, she left the room. Judging from her expression, Khelben wouldn't give two coppers for the lives of the kidnappers.

"Rulathon, forget my earlier orders. Madieron Sunderstone is probably running here from my tower as fast as his oafish feet can carry him. Until he gets here, stand guard over your lord, and let no one else near him. I've no doubt Sunderstone will take it from there."

After making his own last check of Piegeiron, Khelben found his way out of the palace and slowly walked toward his tower, too spent to cast another teleport spell.

"Mage Arunsun!" called Laskar Nesher, waddling to intercept the High Mage. "Mage Arunsun, is it true Lord Paladinson has been struck down? Word is all over the streets! You must tell me what is going on!"

"I don't have to tell you anything, Nesher."

The portly merchant clutched at Khelben's arm. "But you know the trade pact with Kara-Tur depends upon Piegeiron, so the interests of the Guild rest with him as well!"

Khelben frowned down at Nesher's hand, then up at his face; Nesher let go. "Yes, I know. Tell me, guilds-man, do you stand to make more money if the pact is ratified or not?"

Laskar started back. His chins waggled in distress. "Surely you must know the Merchant's Guild is loyal to the Nine Lords, and no member would dream of sub-verting_the will of the Open Lord himself!"

"Get out of my way, Nesher, or every gold piece you touch turns to lead…

Laskar blinked at Khelben, considered how serious the mage might be, then hastily moved aside.

Chapter 1

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

"Lords, you now know all Aleena and I know. I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter," said Khelben in his private council chamber, walled from its circular floor to its domed ceiling with overcrowded bookstacks. He sat at the apex of a large, triangular table of thick mahogany. The table's glossy surface swirled with curls of thick burgundy inlays flaring to crimson here and here and then dimming, as though fireflies crawled beneath the veneer. The inlays' enchantment rendered all languages into a tongue easily understood by those wound the table. To Khelben's trained ears, lies spoken ever the design resonated like tin.

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