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The Amulet (Chapter 3)
“I have a mission for you.” The whispered words were barely audible above the ceaseless din of the rain.
His impulsive response would have been “finally,” though his years of service to the Tyrannax Empire had taught him to be extremely careful with his words. But he had to say something, for two pinpricks of red light in the darkness were staring intently at him. They were the eyes of the Dark Empress herself, ruler of the Tyrannax Empire. “I would be honored,” he responded.
“Good,” she whispered, her voice cutting through the air. “Your silver tongue will serve you well in the coming days.” The man, though blinded by darkness, pictured a cruel smile on the Empress’ face.
“Draco Avaricus!” the Dark Empress screeched. Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating her features. Her mouth was twisted in a terrible grimace as if saying the name induced pain.
“My target is Draco Avaricus?” the man inquired, a quiver of fear in his voice.
“You are to rescue him,” the Empress said, her voice returning to a hushed tone.
“You are an executioner. You will be called Lawrence Goodfellow and you will come from a small village to the east of Mythall.”
“An executioner named Goodfellow?” he asked. “How am I supposed to save Draco Avaricus if I’m an executioner?”
“Draco Avaricus is scheduled for execution, and you are to do the opposite of what an executioner should do.” There was a silence as this man, now identified as Lawrence Goodfellow, pondered these words.
“I have a question,” he asked nervously, breaking the tense silence.
“Yes?” the Dark Empress demanded with an edge of impatience in her voice.
“Tell me about Draco Avaricus.” With only the falling rain to be heard in response, he hastily added, “My lady.”
“Draco Avaricus is a snake,” she began, venom in her voice. “He is a greedy fool, but knows how to slither out of trouble. And don’t expect his loyalty just because you’re saving his life. If you stand between Draco and his goals, he will be more than happy to sink a blade into your heart.” Then, the Dark Empress laughed, a harshly tintinnabular sound. “Any more questions?”
Goodfellow swallowed nervously and breathed, “No, my lady.”
“Then be off with you. You will find the specific instructions for your mission written on a sheet of parchment in your cloak pocket.”
Taking his cloak, the executioner set off for Bailiwick. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
The incessant rain pounded on the guard’s steel helmet as he stood, shivering on the ramparts of a vast city wall. The night was moonless and his torch was saturated, making it impossible to light. In the suffocating darkness, he wanted nothing more than for his shift to end.
“Open the gates,” a hoarse voice called from below. The guard jumped in surprise. Who would be travelling on such a miserable night? He peered over the edge of the battlements to see a single, black-cloaked man standing before the gate. The man called again, “Open up!”
Finding his voice, the guard managed to say, “State your business!”
“I have business with the king,” the man proclaimed. “I am the executioner hired to kill Draco Avaricus.”
“Come on through. King Overrule will see you in the morning.”
The massive portcullis rose, welcoming death into Bailiwick.
“Do have a seat,” King Overrule said, gesturing to a plain wooden chair.
The executioner, clad in a black cloak, did so, a parchment falling out of his pocket. He hurriedly snatched it up, and Overrule did not seem to notice.
The room was in disarray. Parchments were strewn about the carpeted floor. Pots of ink were tipped over, their contents staining the rug. The king’s mahogany desk was piled with scrolls and documents to a height that nearly hid his face.
The king himself had thinning, unwashed hair and a scraggly beard. Beneath his eyes were dark, purple circles. He coughed and asked, “What is your name, executioner?” His weak voice could barely be heard.
“I am called Lawrence Goodfellow.” The man rattled off the name that would be his identity that fateful day.
“And, from where do you hail?”
The executioner immediately replied, “I’ve lived in a small village east of Mythall all my life.”
“Mythall?” The king asked absently, fumbling through his papers to find a specific document. “That’s quite a journey. Ah, here it is,” he pulled out a rumpled piece of parchment and handed it to the executioner, along with a quill. “Just sign here to affirm your loyalties.”
Taking the quill, the executioner very carefully inscribed Lawrence Goodfellow on the parchment.
“Very good, very good,” Overrule said vaguely, taking the signed paper from Lawrence and placing it in a drawer. “The execution is this afternoon. Now, my servant is waiting for you outside. If there’s anything you need, ask him. You are dismissed.”
Lawrence exited the cluttered room, and, as the king said, a servant was waiting outside for him. “How may I serve you, sir?” the servant asked with a small bow. He was dressed in a bright green tunic emblazoned with the Bailiwick symbol.
“Just a moment,” Goodfellow said. He pulled a scrap of parchment from his cloak and read it to himself:
Gain trust of King Overrule.
Obtain The Amulet
Free Draco Avaricus.
Bring Draco to the meeting point. A map can be found on the reverse of this paper.
“Where is The Amulet?” Goodfellow asked suddenly.
“Sir?” the servant asked, taking a few steps back.
“You heard me, boy, The Amulet! Do you know where it is?” he demanded in a harsh hissing tone.
“Yes,” the servant squealed.
“Come with me,” the executioner growled, grabbing hold of the boy’s tunic and dragging him out of earshot of King Overrule’s chamber. He pushed him up against the wall and snarled, “Where is it?”
“They…they…” he sputtered.
“Well, sir, I’m really not supposed to say…” he said in a small voice.
Goodfellow drew a dagger from his boot and held it against the boy’s neck. “Tell me!”
“The vault, sir,” he gasped.
“What vault? Where is it?” The executioner pressed on the dagger, drawing a small bead of blood.
“Down the stairs at the end of the hall, then it’s at the end of a second hallway,” He said the words so quickly they were barely comprehensible, but Lawrence Goodfellow had the information he needed. He set the boy down, then fumbled through his pockets, finally pulling out a small vial.
“Open your mouth,” Goodfellow commanded. The boy, suspicious of the vial and its contents, did not obey. Impatient, the executioner forced the boy’s mouth open and, after opening the vial, poured its contents down the boy’s throat. “The previous five minutes never happened,” he muttered as the last drops of the potion were emptied.
“How may I serve you, sir?” the servant boy asked.
“I am in no need of service, thank you,” said the executioner with a small smile. “You’re free to go.”
“Thank you very much, sir,” the boy said, his face glowing with happiness as he dashed off.
Finally alone, Lawrence began to set about his work. He was a Tyrannax Agent – one of the best- and a cold calm came over him as he began his business. He quickly scanned the corridors for potential foes, and then darted down the hall, becoming a black blur.
He now stood atop a steeply descending staircase. His heart beat like a hummingbird, but he certainly wasn’t tired. A sentry will come at any moment, he thought, mustering his nerves and tensing his muscles in preparation.
Lawrence leapt down the stairs, taking up to three at a time but remaining careful not to let his footsteps echo on the stone steps.
“What was that?” a voice asked, coming from the bottom of the staircase. Lawrence froze, a bead of cold sweat trickled down the inside of his leather armor.
“It’s a trained agent from the Tyrannax Empire! He’s coming to steal The Amulet and kill us all!” a second voice said with a chuckle.
“Seriously, Alfred, I just heard something,” the first man said.
“You’ve been spending too much time in the tavern, Egbert,” Alfred said dismissively.
“I’m checking it out anyway.” Egbert announced, and the executioner could hear him beginning to climb the stairs.
Lawrence drew his dagger and steeled his nerves. The top of Egbert’s steel helmet came into view. He would see Lawrence in a few moments, and once he did, he would certainly call for help.
The guard’s eyes came into view, and they enlarged as he saw the executioner. The guard’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. An expertly thrown dagger had pierced him through the neck.
The executioner quickly caught the body before it hit the ground and made any noise. In a close imitation of the guard’s voice, Lawrence called, “Continue on your rounds, Alfred. You were right, there wasn’t any trouble. I’ll catch up in a minute.”
Then, especially careful not to let the metal click loudly, he removed the armor from the dead man and pulled it over his outfit of black leather. Tied around the man’s lifeless neck was a tarnished brass key. The executioner smiled to himself as he removed the key necklace and put it on. Egbert was the right man to kill.
Following the servant’s directions, he finished descending the staircase and started down a sloping corridor. Flickering torches illuminated the passageway. Their light revealed a guard approaching, and Goodfellow’s pulse quickened. He fervently hoped that he looked enough like Egbert to avoid detection. That man was a bit too pudgy…
The guard passed without incident, greeting the executioner with a friendly, “Hey, Egbert!” Goodfellow let out a huge sigh of relief.
At length, a great steel door could be seen at the end of the corridor. On each side was a guard dressed far more impressively than Egbert. Their helmets were decorated with silver and they held spears in their hands. In a fight with these men, an insignificant throwing dagger would be of no use. The deception needed to last until he held the Amulet in his hands.
As he approached the door, the executioner could almost hear the potent artifact calling for him from within the vault, and he quickened his pace until he was met by the two guardsmen at the entry.
With the entrance to the vault standing before him, he was removing the key from his neck when the two guards crossed their spears, blocking his way. “Your business?” one asked gruffly.
“The king himself sent me.” Lawrence lied. The words came easily, as though he spoke undeniable truth.
“What for?” the other guard asked, raising a bushy eyebrow in suspicion.
“He wanted me to inspect the vault.” It was a gamble of a statement, but it was the most likely one he had.
“The last inspection was three days ago,” a guard said slowly.
“And His Majesty decreed that there were to be weekly inspections,” the other guard stated.
They had found a large hole in the executioner’s story, and he struggled to find a response. “Well, the King is becoming forgetful in his old age and …” For the first time in his life, the executioner was at a loss for words – so actions had to suffice.
He grabbed the place where the spears crossed and pulled down on the wooden shafts, wrenching them out of the guards’ hands. The men scrambled to draw their swords, but in that time the executioner had unlocked the vault and was making a mad dash for The Amulet, which sat in a gold-embossed depression atop a pedestal in the center of an otherwise bare room.
The guards outside roared in outrage at the trickery and burst into the room, armed with swords and wanting nothing more than to use them. Yet the odds were tilted, and not in the guards’ favor, for in the executioner’s hand was the Amulet.
The executioner smiled a feral smile and watched in delight as the guards’ swords began to melt, puddles of molten steel pooling at their feet. The bravest men in Bailiwick’s legion screamed in terror and turned to run down the hallway.
“Stop!” the executioner shouted, and the guards instantly froze. Lawrence Goodfellow observed as their armor, too, began to melt until the men wore nothing but their tunics and breeches. The executioner waved his hand, and the men were incinerated in an instant, their ashes filling the air and slowly floating to the ground in a gruesome snowfall.
Goodfellow took off his stolen armor and made his way to the site of the execution to finish the rest of his task. He left nothing but ashes and melted bits of metal in his wake.
A massive orange sun, hanging low in the afternoon sky, looked on as a large crowd began to gather around a mighty oak. A black-clad man sat atop a dark horse next to the tree. An elderly man in robes stood next to him, wringing his hands anxiously. As a second man on horseback approached the gathering, the crowd began to jeer.
His horse was lead by a member of the Bailiwick Legion, dressed in his ceremonial armor with silver links. The man on the horse himself sat slouched, his hands tightly bound behind his back. He was dressed in prison clothing made from rough, grubby cloth. He had a bushy black beard and long, curly black hair. Beneath his large, black eyebrows, the man’s eyes were wide with terror.
The elderly man cleared his throat, and the crowd’s uproar died down to mutters. “Quiet, please,” he said mildly. “Before you is Draco Avaricus,” he began. The name roused a second burst of jeering, but it settled when the man in robes spoke again.
“During much of my reign as king here, Lord Avaricus had been at my side, first as part of my royal guard and then as a member of my ruling council. His crime was not entirely his own fault. It was the work of greed. Greed exists in all of us, but Draco allowed his greed to control him.” King Overrule paused, allowing the words to sink in.
“It totally corrupted this man – it made him do the terrible things he has done. Does it not astonish you what a small golden gemstone - the Amulet, as it is better known by - can do?”
“But you have not gathered here to listen to the lecturing of an old man, so we will get to business. Draco Avaricus is guilty of high treason against Bailiwick, as well as the assault of his youngest son, Lance. By the laws of this land, today he is to breathe his last!”
Draco’s horse was lead underneath the oak. The executioner, dressed in his black cloak, took out a rope and tied a noose around Draco’s neck. The other end was tied to a sturdy branch overhead. The crowd watched in solemn silence as the executioner set about his work. They all believed they were seeing the man who would kill Draco Avaricus.
However, Lawrence Goodfellow did what was least expected of an executioner that afternoon. He severed the rope used to hang Draco and smacked the criminal’s horse on the rear, sending the animal frantically galloping away. The executioner drove his heels into the sides of his horse as well and followed Draco, leaving a stunned crowd staring in silent bewilderment.
The two fugitives rode swiftly beneath the night sky in relative quiet until Goodfellow finally spoke.
“Lord Avaricus,” the executioner said, “I suggest we rest here. We’re too far off to be found by now.” He dismounted, and then cut Draco’s bonds so he could do the same.
There was no other way to keep the horses from straying, so the executioner took out the Amulet and commanded the horses to stay put for the evening.
“The Amulet!” Draco Avaricus gasped. “How? When? Why? ”
“I am not an executioner,” the man holding the Amulet began.
“No, really?” Draco said sarcastically.
Lawrence remained serious. “I am an agent sent by the Tyrannax Empire – commissioned by the Dark Empress herself. I was told to rescue you because you are no friend of Bailiwick, and you have information that we must know if we are to add it to our Empire. Give us that information, and this amulet is yours.”
“I must agree to serve the Dark Empress?” Draco asked with a hint of mistrust.
“I assure you, we only need the information you have.” The executioner said hastily.
Lord Avaricus pretended to ponder it for a moment before speaking. “We have a deal. Let’s shake on it.” He extended a hand for a handshake and the agent took it.
As soon as he got a hold of his hand, Draco pulled Lawrence to the ground and ripped The Amulet from his neck.
“I serve no master but myself,” Draco Avaricus sneered.