(Simultaneous with the end of the previous scene.)
Three figures were gathered in the gloom of the derelict building, two men and a woman. Only the faint glow of a single lit candle risked revealing their presence there, in an empty, ruined barn on the southeastern outskirts of the small town.
“When doth that fool plan on coming?” Henry of New Magincia, out of work peddler turned conspirator, asked for what must have been the dozenth time.
“We must be patient,” the other man replied. “Remember, he is risking more than any of us in this venture.”
“I do not trust him, Anton. He is an admitted thief and liar.”
“He -was-,” Anton agreed. “And I -was- apprentice to the great sage Alagner. And thou -wert- a simple village peddler. We cannot afford to pick and choose our friends with such lofty expectations of their character.”
“Lofty? The man’s a scoundrel!”
“When thou dost find us a hero, tell me. Mayhaps then we shall have no more need of a scoundrel, but until then he is all we do have.”
Katrina the shepherdess, least famous companion of the Avatar, started at the word “hero”. Up until then, she had been staring out a window, lost in thought, and disregarding the bickering of her fellow conspirators.
-A hero indeed-. With communication from the mainland cut off by the blockading pirate fleet, it was near impossible to discern what the remaining forces of virtue intended, but in this case it was plainly obvious that they had arrived at the same conclusion Anton had mockingly suggested.
What could British be thinking? Now was not the time to be making new Avatars, and this new stranger, Jhykron, was utterly hopeless. Far to cynical to believe in the Virtues, far too pragmatic to follow them, and far too lazy to live by them- it was almost as if the Guardian himself had hand picked Britannia’s new would-be savior just to mock them. If Katrina had her way, the man would never be anything more than a second rate shepherd. Sure, it was cruel and he’d hate it, but at least that way he wouldn’t cause any damage.
And what of the real Avatar? Surely the king could not have already given up on him or her (this is one detail nobody, not even the Avatar’s former lovers, could ever keep straight). After all, although the true paragon of the eight virtues could be a real trial (How many weeks can a person spend baking bread in Britain before getting on with the quest? Humility is a wonderful thing, but there really is a time and a place for it. ), at least he or she always came through for Britannia.
“So when is he going to be here?” Henry demanded again.
“I’m here, thou ass,” a new voice replied.
“Sullivan,” Katrina nodded. “We were beginning to worry.”
“Wert thou followed?” Henry asked.
“Don’t be insulting.” Sullivan the trickster, master of disguise, former Fellowship member, and one time imitator of the Avatar, removed his false eye patch and started rubbing blackening dye off his teeth. “Did anybody think to bring water? No?”
“Never mind that,” said Anton. “Didst thou learn anything?”
“Plenty,” Sullivan replied. “I learned that I am never going out there again, for one. Thou wilt have to find another patsy.”
“I knew it was a mistake to depend on this rodent!” Henry exclaimed. “Lost thy nerve, hast thou?”
Sullivan bit back a sarcastic retort, then just shrugged. “Yes I have. Mayhap thou shouldst ask Anton what it means to be captured by these people. I just came as close to it again as I ever want to, thank thee.”
“What happened?” Anton asked.
“What didn’t?” Sullivan laughed bitterly. “The long and the short of it is I came face to face with our old friend Danag, and be damned if he didn’t nearly recognize me.”
“Danag is here?” Anton was clearly surprised.
“Didst thou find out why?” Katrina pressed.
“Oh, yes. Quite a little project Danag has going here. I must say, poor Lord British had better enjoy his last day on the throne tomorrow.”
“Explain.” Katrina somehow managed to put a whole paragraph worth of demand in that one word.
“Oh, it’s quite simple. As thou knowest, Klog of Trinsic hath managed to arouse the people of Paws and Britain into open riot against the crown. Unfortunately for him, riot and demonstration is all he can accomplish, as the citizens have not the courage to openly challenge the Royal Guard. As long as Lord British sits strong in his castle, the power struggle between the crown and the Fellowship remains a stalemate.
”Danag, hath his own army of pirates, trolls, and mercenaries that could be landed in Britain to assault the castle. Fortunately, Klog hath refused to hear of this. As he hath quite correctly pointed out, a foreign army, especially an uncouth force of such ruffians, would quickly sway the people back into the crown’s camp.
“So with an open assault out of the question, the Fellowship hath devised a more treacherous means of bringing down the royal fortress. Upon the third hour after nightfall tomorrow, a traitor in the Royal Guard will open the drawbridge and portcullis to Lord British’s Castle. A large wagon, overflowing with lit powder kegs, will then be driven through the gate, right into the heart of the palace. In the confusion of the inevitable explosion, Klog’s most fanatical followers will then break into the castle, starting fires and slitting throats. The king, even if he survives, will be seen by his townsmen, already on the verge of revolt, to suffer a devastating and humiliating defeat.”
“Impossible,” said Henry. “How do they expect a large wagon full of powder kegs to get all the way to the castle unnoticed?”
“Oh, the wagon will be empty until very shortly before the planned attack, so it should attract no particular notice. The powder kegs will be hauled by hand, through a nearby moongate, and into the wagon just before the castle gate is opened. They have been practicing the loading process for the last few days, and can accomplish it very rapidly now. The powder, of course, hath been mixed in Alagner’s old laboratory for weeks now. Danag needst only bury his moonstone for them to succeed tomorrow.”
“They must be stopped,” Anton declared.
“By what?” Sullivan sneered. “A pack of peasants with pitchforks and scythes?”
“If necessary,” Henry agreed. “This could be a disaster beyond reckoning. We must gather every able bodied farmer, shepherd, goatherd, swineherd, or other able bodied person in the village to stop them.”
“Anyway, powder kegs need not be difficult to destroy. A little accidental fire...” Anton trailed off.
“Yes! We must gather the people to attack before they open that infernal moongate,” Henry concluded.
“No,” said Katrina. “Henry, my oldest friend, do you realize what will happen when we do this? The Fellowship will no longer ignore us here, not after this. We could be sacrificing our entire village in this attack. Someone must get through to the king and warn him. Therefore, we must attack -after- they open the moongate. We must try to get as many people as possible through.”
“Fight thy way to the moongate?” Sullivan was incredulous. “Thou dost seriously intend to try to beat down trained soldiers with thy farming utensils!”
“Yes I do,” Katrina said simply. “Anton, Henry, warn the people. Except for you-know-who, I will take care of him. Sullivan, thou hast been of great help to us. Do as thou wilt.”
Without waiting for a reply, Katrina walked out. She moved hurriedly to her destination, looking back to make sure nobody had followed her.
Her heart almost stopped when she arrived at the tool shed, and saw the footprints disturbing the place. Someone had been here. She quickly looked around, but the only thing missing was the old rusty plowshare that had been hanging between two pegs by the door. Relieved, she picked up a shovel, and walked several counted paces out of the shed, to an unremarkable dirt patch in a field.
Several minutes of quick digging uncovered a long, narrow cabinet, buried lengthwise in the ground. With a small key, worn on a string around her neck, she unlocked the padlock and opened the cabinet. She reached in and grasped what was inside.
Katrina went home that night carrying what had long been the property of the hapless chicken farmer Mack of Britain, and was possibly the most powerful weapon remaining in Britannia.