Magus Magnate (Chapter Three)
Chapter Three: Unexpected Visitors?
As the sun started to rise over the Kelcit Mountains, I started to wake my companions. Vandagar had been snoring so loud the last hour I had a hard time concentrating anyway! We had a meager meal of dried meat and fruit, with a slice of bread to top it off. Before an hour had passed we were loaded and on the road, traveling east on the road towards the distant mountains.
The day promised to be another beautiful one, the sun was bright and there were no clouds to be seen. While I was in the city, I had never thought that one could see for miles. However, the plains that surround Teranus to the south and east seemed to go on forever. As we rode I noticed dust clouds in the distance on the road.
“What is that?” I asked, nearly standing on the wagon for a better vantage, I was forced to shade my eyes from the sun with my hand as well.
“That cloud? It is probably a patrol returning to report.” Answered Vandagar, he did not seem to be frustrated with the question. He seemed a little more than tense, though. “I will find out what they know when we pass. Maybe they have seen the creature that made those tracks I found.”
“Maybe, but at least they will be able to tell us the condition of the road.” Arannia put in, still talking to Vandagar she asked. “Are there any villages this direction?”
“There are a couple small towns, logging and mining towns mainly. Not really hospitable but should be able to resupply if necessary.” As he answered he put his hand on the hilt of his sword, and deftly untied the peace knot. I looked over to Arannia and noticed her with hand on weapon, as well.
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The next half an hour seemed to take forever, as we moved nearer the dust cloud. The tension in the air could have been cut by Vandagar’s sword. As we got closer I could see that whoever was approaching was mounted. Arannia and Vandagar must have noticed as well, because they both relaxed some, though each still had a hand on their weapon.
We could now see that each of the approaching riders wore shining armor, at front of the group the rider carried a large banner. The three of us recognized the crest of King Teris, and we all relaxed. Within minutes we were able to see their faces, I could see that the soldiers were not quite so relaxed. Most had a hand on sword, others had bows drawn and arrows notched. Vandagar motioned for Arannia and me to stop, which we did. He rode forward hands held out, palms up, in the standard peaceful salutation. The riders stopped as well, the one with the banner and one other rode forward.
“Vandagar, is that you?” asked the rider without the banner. His face was hidden beneath a helm, but his voice was loud and commanding. I could see that he was tall, nearly seven feet tall, and he was muscularly built, his armor just barely able to hold in all his bulk. He motioned to the banner bearer to return to the group. The rider then brought his horse to a trot and headed toward Vandagar. I could see that Vandagar had relaxed completely.
“Hal? What in the hells are you doing out here?” Vandagar answered, swinging himself down from atop his horse. The man named Hal removed his helm to reveal his ebon colored skin and his close cut black hair and also jumped from his mount. The warriors embraced each other as brothers. “The last time I seen you, Hal, we were fighting with the dwarves in the north.”
“It has been a few years, hasn’t it?” replied Hal. He looked passed Vandagar and noticed Arannia and myself. “Traveling with a Priestess now? And a merchant too? Don’t tell me you have gone Merc on me!”
“Nothing like that.” answered Vandagar. “I’m on assignment for the church, the other one is a scholar. What did you do to get banished out here?” Vandagar smiled a little. The other man smiled wide at the comment and began to answer.
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“No, there have been rumors among some of the villages in this area. Some have said that an entire hamlet was destroyed in a single night. Men, women, children, even the livestock!” At the last remark, Hal’s face went pale and he looked as if one looking for answers but never finding them. I began to wonder what could affect a seasoned soldier like this.
“Van, it was horrible! Worse than the time we found that village burned to the ground by orcs.” The look on Vandagar’s face changed to one of horror. Hal’s voice was straining with emotions that threatened to erupt from within. “When we got there, it was as rumored. The whole town dead, bodies twisted and bloated…”
His voice trailed off. He cleared his throat and started again, in control of himself again, “I don’t know what happened, Van! We looked for three days for any evidence of whom or what did this, but we found none. We are currently on our way back to Teras, to report! Enough of that though, what business do the priests of Relon have out on the frontier?”
“That, sir knight, is no concern of yours,” Arannia answered just as Vandagar was opening his mouth to speak. I had almost forgotten how rude she could be. “Tell me though; is the road clear from here to the mountains? Have you had any other strange experiences?”
Hal’s face twisted into a grimace, I could see that he was angry, but he did not let it reflect in his voice as he spoke. “My lady, forgive me!” He bowed low. “It has been many years since I have seen my childhood friend. To answer your first question, the road is clear enough. We have been out here for a week and have found no enemies. Short of a clawed track every once in a while there has been no evidence to warrant a threat. As far as strange goes, this whole outing has been strange. What is going on out here?”
Arannia’s voice softened, “Brave soldier, I have no answers for you. All I can say at the present time is that the prelacy is looking into all of it.” She slid herself down off her horse and stepped next to Vandagar. I could not hear the words that passed her lips, but the blank look on Hal’s face made me believe she had cast some type of spell on him. “You will ride on with your companions, speaking nothing of our conversation. We are just merchants passing through.” Hal slowly nodded in response. Arannia walked back to stand next to her horse. Vandagar I could see was more than a little upset, but was doing well at keeping his wits.
Hal shook his head, and looked around at his surroundings, as if for the first time. “Well, if merc work is what you do now, Van, then so be it. Hahaha…” His laugh was deep and full of merriment, a stark contrast to what Hall had been just moments ago. “When your back in Teras, look me up, I would love to hear how you ended up in your current predicament.”
“And I would love to hear how you ended up out here, instead of fighting on the front!” Vandagar took a turn laughing now. They grasped the others forearm and held each other in a stare for several seconds and then embraced each other.
Hal turned to Arannia and bowed low again, “My lady, have a safe journey!” She only nodded in his direction. Hal spun on his heel, and marched back to his company. Arannia swung herself up on her horse again, while Vandagar stood for a few seconds watching his friend go. As Hal reached his horse and remounted, Vandagar did the same.
The company started towards us as we started moving. Soon we passed each other; each warrior saluted Vandagar and bowed as best as they could to Arannia. None paid more attention to me than a glance or an occasional nod. Even outside the walls of the city, I am no one, I thought to myself. One day they shall know who I am and shall show their respect.
After they had passed we moved on, riding in silence each of us lost in the forest of our own thoughts. After a short time Arannia broke the silence, “You know that man well, Vandagar?” Her voice was barely audible over the sounds of our horses.
Vandagar turned in his saddle to look Arannia in the eyes and said with a growl in his voice, “That ‘man’, as you say, was like a brother to me. We fought side by side against the dwarves and against the orcs. He is a brave soul and a good man!” His eyes burned with an anger I had never seen before. “He did not deserve that!”
“I am sure that he did not, however,” Arannia’s voice was still calm. “I have been instructed to allow no one outside of the city to know of our destination. I am just following orders, I’m sure you can understand that, Van!” She added with a smirk.
Vandagar straightened in his saddle, kicked his horse into a trot. “I will scout ahead!” Vandagar yelled as he rode off down the road.
I watched as he rode off, leaving a trail of dust behind. I took a quick look at Arannia and noticed that she wasn’t gloating as I had first thought, but I thought I seen a single tear roll down her soft cheek. Odd, I thought, why such a strong willed woman is shedding a tear over words is strange. What is it with this woman?
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© 2014 Jeremy Floyd