The Last Paladin: Chapter One by David Staiger

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SUMMARY: An Encounter By Chance

Baensrook sat upon a low hilltop with the high hills at its back and the forest surrounding it on three sides. In the saddle between the keep itself and the higher terrain there stretched a wide plateau where the farmers tilled their fields and the animals grazed over pastureland watered by a single stream that cascaded down through a narrow valley into the shallow basin of the millpond. One end of this pond had been shored up by earthenwork, and there stood the old stone mill, its huge twin wheels constantly spinning in rough unison as the trapped water spat outward and down a steep fall to the level of the forest below, where the stream continued merrily on its way completely incognizant of the brief delay it had been forced to endure. At the other end of the pond the little village which accompanied the keep began. A narrow dock reached out there from the water's edge where on any given day a cluster of gangly boys cast lines over the brown surface to catch a few small pond fish. Beyond them, the old granaries loomed like a trio of irritable sentries, their rusting tin helmets battered by age and fatigued faces cracked and crumbling into disregard. The pigeons nesting in the gaps of masonry flew out in regular fashion to pick straw from the thatched rooftops of the village homes, the low collection of buildings descending the gentle slope like a series of weary-backed supplicants gathered at the feet of the aged stronghold.

The keep itself could be reached by first crossing the small earthen bridge which spanned the mill stream as it circled the base of the hill, then by ascending the dirt lane which wove through the village along the gentle curving slope to where it switched back the other way past the last building. From there it rose only slightly more, briefly riding the narrow edge between the stronghold walls and the steep drop into the tangled wood below until it stepped abruptly at the tower gate. The main entrance of Baensrook consisted of two massive wooden doors set deep within the stone walls of the keep. Sentries watched the gate from the squat tower above, and could command its opening and closing by a series of stout ropes and heavy winches . Beyond the doors stood the broad square courtyard lined on three sides by tall stone walls and on the fourth by the towering bulk of the keep's core.

The central bulk of the stronghold consisted of a single main structure with a long, peaked roof cornered by four heavy, square towers, the two overlooking the courtyard standing three hundred feet tall, nearly twice as high as the building itself, the other two somewhat shorter. Several tall, thin windows graced the exterior walls like deep slits in the solid stonework, and a crenulated balcony encircled the entire edifice at mid-height, with the courtyard walls attached and accessible by a short flight of steps on either side. From the high towers this keep commanded a view of the forest and hilltops for several leagues in any direction, with the pennons of the kingdom flying nearly seven hundred feet above the forest floor.

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