Chapter Two, Part Two
Two hundred yards from Orjulun and Melias, the wagon train slows to a walking pace and four horsemen gallop their steads forward, reining them in ten feet from the pair. One has his eyes fixed on Melias and Orjulun; the others scan the area. They seem not to notice Rastorn, Arturus, or their horses.
In the common tongue, the man looking at them asks, “Why have you stopped?” quickly adding “Be honest in your answers, for we have ways of knowing untruth when it be told and our mission is to defend this shipment with force of arms if there be even a chance of mishap.”
Orjulun takes one step forward, arms spread wide. “Of course, good sir, your intentions are clear and distinctly understood. I assure you,” he says, with a genuine smile, “I would expect nothing less from such obviously quality guardsmen as yourselves. We merely wish to inquire with your merchant employers about the possibility of buying provisions for our trip. Our supplies were lost in a most unfortunate accident a day past, and your caravan’s appearance offers us a chance to replenish without trudging back to the city. So, what say you, good sir? May we approach the caravan?”
Before Melias can comment, the guard interjects, “How long will the two of you be traveling and how much are you willing to spend? Our better foods are packed away, but we have sufficient supplies of other foods that are easily reached. Due to the delay this will cause, we are required to charge double the usual cost. We will take your coin – and coin only, we do not accept baubles – back to the food wagon and return with your supplies as soon as you have decided. Quickly now, we have a deadline to make!” He raises his hand and the wagons come to a complete stop. Each of the guards atop the wagons steadies himself and aims in a different direction from the other.
Both Melias and Orjulun note one of the four guards before them has begun staring at the area between the road and where Arturus and Rastorn are hiding. None of these men seem to have any facial expressions in their repertoire other than a scowl, so it is difficult to know whether he has spotted anything.
“Two weeks’ worth of meals for us should suffice,” Orjulun says, motioning to himself and Melias. Then he quickly continues talking with expressive gestures, hoping to keep the guards’ attention on him rather than the area where his companions are hiding. “Simple fare is fine, as we hope to hunt game along the way to supplement. And some wine would be a nice addition if it is available. I have some coin, but let’s not be too extravagant, if you please.”
The guard nods. “Then you’ll get two bottles of fine wine, a loaf of fresh bread, dry rations for four weeks, and a pound of imported rice. That’ll be eighty gold. Take it or leave it?”
The guard who was studying the grounds near the two in hiding dismounts and slowly leads his horse in their direction. Orjulun quickly counts out the gold, places it in a smaller pouch, and flips it to the caravan’s spokesman. “I think you’ll find that satisfactory,” he says, as a bead of sweat trickles from his temple to his chin. He silently urges himself to retain eye contact with the spokesman and ignore the curious one.
Maybe he noticed a beautiful flower he just had to get a closer look at, Arturus muses, as the guard approaches his hiding spot. If the guard found him it was best not to let loose, he decides. He could explain he was just doing the same thing the guard was getting paid for doing. But if things went south and they recognized him, well, then he’d have no choice but to start a fight. He hopes it won’t escalate to bloodshed.
The one who had been drifting in the direction of Rastorn and Arturus stops and studies the sandy ground a few yards from the road. The other two guards spread out in opposite directions but remain mounted. The guard dealing with Orjulun, covers his mouth with his palm as he spots the walking guard. He shouts, “Gar-ree, Son of Lar, take this back to the convoy and return with their purchase!” Then, in a much deeper tone, he exclaims, “Now!” The guard working his way toward the hiding group members halts, mounts his horse, and rides back to the apparent leader of their group. After retrieving the coin purse without comment, he rides back to the caravan.
Arturus looks down at his notched arrow and notes he had pulled his bowstring taunt. He slowly eases the string forward and thanks Kurosaw, god of Elves and Magic.
With a wheeze, Rastorn releases the breath he was holding, only then does he realize he held it too long and is now a bit light-headed. Remaining as still as he can muster; he continues to keep his hand hovering over his belt pouches. He is confident he can cast a spell as quickly as a warrior can draw his blade and believes he may still have opportunity to prove it. It’s a shame this encounter might end up that way, he thinks. We aren’t even attempting anything illegal or dishonest. And to think, we weren’t even going to. How can I explain things if I am caught hiding here? Oh, yea, the hideous Necromancer in charcoal, black, and velvet behind the bush? He’s just taking a leak. Don’t mind that freezing touch or the ball of flames heading for your head; that always happens when he takes a leak. When the leader of the caravan guards yelled out “Now!” Rastorn almost leaped from behind the bush, expecting an attack. Hells, I haven’t even had any wine this morning and I feel a bit tipsy already, he thinks.
Orjulun had stiffened at the look of concern on the guard leader’s face. Why did he send the walking guard back to the convoy, rather than another? It was almost as if he did not want this Gar-ree to find anything unusual…or was he sending him back for reinforcements? Continuing to smile and appear pleasant, he asks, “Have you traveled often along this road? Are there any areas of which we should be wary?” Orjulun knows they are severely outnumbered but pulls the incantation for the spell Magic Missile to the front of his mind.
“This’ll take a little while. While we’re waitin’, are ya up fer some small talk,” the leader asks, seemingly ignoring Orjulun’s questions. His voice is hushed and friendly and his wording less formal than before. “So, what trouble caused ya ta loose yer supplies? We aren’t ta be runnin’ inta any trouble ourselves further up, are we?” Not waiting for an answer, he turns toward Melias, “Oh, an’ I gotta ask ya, jus’ how much Elf-blood runs through yer veins fella? Yer jus’ about the purest lookin’ half-breed I ever seen.”
Melias had remained silent, smiling, and nodding a lot. He was not sure how he would be treated as an Elf in a Human community, but he was sure eighty gold was an outrageously ridiculous price for their purchase. These fat merchants deserve to be robbed at that price; he thinks. He pauses to glance at the guards bookending them just off the road, then answers, “I’m full-blooded Elf, thank you for noticing. See, that’s part of our problem. I overestimated my affinity with the woods and now have come to the horrible realization that I am not as much a woodland type as I would like to be. I couldn’t catch a deer if it ran into my galloping horse. I couldn’t pick right between a poison berry and a raspberry.”
“I thought yer type always took time ta learn all about the woods an’ stuff? Yer pullin’ my leg about the full-blooded thing, right? It don’t matter, anyhow. But, hey, this stretcha road is usually safe ‘cept the occasional bandit or Ogre attack. No real spots ta camp, though. We like ta stay outta the woods.”
Melias chuckles, “Yes, so do I now.”
Gar-Ree returns with two other horsemen each carrying small bundles. One rider is obviously Half-Elven. Gar-Ree is watching his expression and gets excited when the Half-Elf guard nods his head. On their approach, the guardsmen all rearranged their positions so once they have all arrived, they encircle Melias and Orjulun. They do this with practiced precision, but make it appear very random. The caravan starts moving again the moment they stop. As the caravan approaches, the riders surrounding Melias and Orjulun begin moving as one toward the ocean, essentially forcing Melias, Orjulun, and their horses to move with them to the ground east of the road. This, of course, will make room for the caravan to pass by, but it will also separate the two from Arturus and Rastorn, placing wagons between them.
Gar-ree and the other two overload Orjulun with all the bundles and never stop staring at Melias. The Half-Elf blurts out in Elvish, “I am from the family Fallenleaf – do you know how they fair in The Nation?!”
The leader returns to his authoritarian tone and shouts, “I speak! Only I speak! Tonight, you pull double watch duty!”
Eyes glistening, the Half-Elf shouts again in Elvish, “Please, it has been an Age – I must know!”
With that, the leader strikes him off his mount with a tangle of bags and water skins he pulled from his saddle. Orjulun checks to see the reaction from the other guards. Not one of the other men flinch. This trading company must have searched the entire city for years to have skimmed so many well-disciplined guardsmen out of the likes of what Dumas has to offer.
From the trees, Rastorn and Arturus can see the wagons approaching and the guard being struck down, but through the noise of the wagons, the distance, and the wind off the ocean, even Arturus is unable to hear exactly what is being said, and to whom. Arturus chuckled slightly as the guard got smacked off his horse. He had seen street theater groups perform physical comedy and it always left him laughing. The smile falls as he remembers this is no comedy and the guard obviously did something that was out of line. The situation was tense, but had it not been for his time spent working for and robbing caravans, Arturus wouldn’t have known this was somewhat of a normal occurrence. Block off and watch potential thieves while letting the caravan pass safely by. He is about done in the tree, so he decides to relax just a bit. He waits until the wagons all pass before rejoining with the group.
Melias’ reaction to the lead guard striking the Half-Elf was quite different from that of Arturus. He winced so hard he bit his tongue and had to force himself not to shout out against such brutality. It was a bad idea to get these fellows angry at the time since he and Orjulun were so cut off from their companions. He responds in Elvish, peering at the fallen guard through his horse’s legs, “I am sorry, cousin. I do not know any Fallenleafs, but I will tell them of the brave young caravan guard who chose family over subservience if I come across them in my travels.”
Orjulun accepted the parcels from the guardsman, but promptly put them on the ground by his feet. He couldn’t have his arms encumbered, especially while they are surrounded. The circle was probably just a precaution by the guards to ensure a Wizard and his companion didn’t make a hostile action against the caravan, but better to be safe. He kept the incantation for his spell close to his lips while waiting.
The wagons speed up and continue past, with the horsemen pulling in behind. The leader stays behind, just a moment longer, shouting over the rumble of the wagons, “Be sure ta pick up return trip supplies in Darkuth – Metava doesn’t sell rations ta strangers!” Noting the puzzled looks of Melias and Orjulun, the man turns his horse in a slow circle saying, “Metava is the only destination seven days from here.” He pauses, smiling. “Oh, yeah – you said two weeks!” he exclaims over his shoulder as he completes the turn and spurs his horse. As his horse reaches a full gallop, he shouts, still looking forward, “HONEST MISTAKE!” and can be heard laughing for some time.
Half a mile down the road the wagons slow slightly and a group of eight riders leave the forest and take up positions in front of the caravan. They are dressed like the other guards, except two who wear robes. The wagons then return to their earlier speed and continued south.
A quick survey of the parcels reveals everything which was offered was supplied. The wine is in bottles and carefully wrapped. The bread is still warm and has a pleasing aroma.
Orjulun watches as the wagons continue. When additional riders came out of the woods he was surprised. “Well, that was certainly strange,” he tells Melias.
“I’m glad they’re gone, to be honest,” Melias says as he carefully double checks the parcels, nodding when he verifies everything is there. “At least they were true to their word, and we have ample supplies for the four of us for the trip. Shall we rejoin our companions?”
Noting the caravan is out of sight, Rastorn glances up at Arturus and nods. While Arturus climbs down, Rastorn grabs the reins of his horse and heads to the roadway. “Those men were almost too cautious,” he began as the group converged. “It seemed as though they were baiting us to do something brash. I’m glad we didn’t; I don’t think my neck can stretch as far as an Elf’s.” He kneels when he reaches the packages and peeks inside.
“Anyone else think that was just a bit odd?” Arturus asks, as he slings his bow over his shoulder and gathers the parcels.
“There was definitely something odd about them,” Orjulun answers, “but, I can assure you they were of a quality higher than one usually finds in Dumas. Those merchants must have spent quite a lot of coin to get their services. But their actions and behaviors were strange as well. I noticed several of those men who emerged from the woods were robed. Perhaps they were in contact with the guards through some spell? Regardless, I’m glad they are gone, and don’t wish to encounter them again anytime soon.” He holds his arms out for Arturus to fill and says, “If no one objects, I’ll put these in my saddlebags. We can divide them tonight when we camp. I’d like to get some more road behind us while the day is still young.”
No one objects.
After half a day of uneventful travel, the group has almost caught up with the caravan from Dumas. To avoid the risk of having to converse with that weird and possibly dangerous lot once again, the four unanimously agree to stop for lunch. The food is good, but they decide the rice would have to wait until night when more time was available for preparation. The rice bag is indeed marked with Far Eastern symbols proving it was imported. The wine is certainly not of the fine quality the Elves or Orjulun were used to, but everyone felt it was more than adequate for use at average inns. The bread is very tasty and surely the work of a master baker.
Riding after lunch is even more monotonous than the morning stretch. The road is more-or-less straight as is the beach in this section of the coast. The forest seems to never change (to the Humans, at least). Near nightfall, the travelers once again close to within a mile of the caravan and it is again decided to stop before getting too close. Once camp is made, everyone is so busy with their preparations that it isn’t until their fire is burning bright and Arturus is returning from the woods with another dead rabbit that Melias notices the caravan has camped just over a mile south of them. Soon, the trade company’s campsite location is obvious to everyone, due to the pyrotechnic displays exploding from their large bon fire and their loud laughter. Their extreme daytime diligence and discipline apparently ends at nightfall. They now seem much more like Dumasses than at first.
Having a bit of wine and chatting, Rastorn decides it would probably be wise to find out what the neighboring caravan is planning. He eyes Orjulun for a few moments, then asks, “What say you and I scry a bit on our neighbors. I have Clairaudience in my spell book. What have you?” His intention is to cast the spell whether his companion has one of the scrying spells or not.
Arturus sat and stoked the fire thinking about the Dumasses and how it was irking the hell out of him. “Any of you guys still stewing about that caravan from Dumas and the Dumasses controlling it? Those Dumas guys really are dumb asses!”
Rastorn nods frowning, then looks to Orjulun who felt like Rastorn was reading his mind. Orjulun had been wondering about the caravan and if he should cast his Clairvoyance spell and look in on them. There was just something strange about how the caravan treated them and his natural curiosity was getting the better of him. “I say let’s risk it. I have Clairvoyance which lets me visually spy, so that will be the perfect complement to your listening spell. My only hesitation is they have Wizards or some other spell-caster who might detect our scrying. We must be ready to end the spell quickly and at any time. Agree?” Orjulun nods as he looks at each party member’s face. It must be a unanimous decision, since they are all involved.
“End the spell immediately, no problem,” Rastorn replies. He wonders why Orjulun sought approval from the Elves.
Melias through a mouthful of bread says, “Go right ahead.” He is, after all, too busy eating to worry about keeping these Wizards entertained.
Melias looks to Arturus and in Elvish says, “Let the spell-slingers play with themselves. We’ll keep watch.” He stands and stretches his legs and back, then walks a small circle around the fire, observing the outskirts of the camp carefully as he continued talking to Arturus. “Yes, it’s people like those Dumasses that really make me miss The Nation. But even home isn’t free of those who would impose their will upon everyone they could.” He frowns. The look is not becoming on the Elf; he doesn’t look used to frowning at all. “I imagine, what with you and your long-necked friends robbing every merchant in the countryside, we were bound to meet up with some resistance. I suppose we could thank you for our high prices too, because they have to pay extra for such well-trained guards.” He stops and looks at Arturus, considering something which had so far escaped his attention. “By the way, your share was a bit more than two gold. I do hope you plan on settling the bill.”
Arturus looks down and holds his fist under his chin, closing his eyes at the mention of gold. Slowly standing, he digs deep into his pocket and pulls out thirteen more pieces. “It’s all I’ve got in the world,” he says, handing it to Melias. Gathering his bow and slinging it over his shoulder, he walks to the closest tree. Before climbing it, he calls over his shoulder, “If you two want to spy on the caravan, be my guest. Just give fair warning if they detect you.” Once he is perched high in the tree, he starts looking for branches that would make good arrow shafts.
Rastorn notices the Elves talking in their tongue. He supposes they forget he is skilled in that language. Melias’ comment about them “playing with themselves” sticks with him. He steps near the fire where he can be seen clearly and turns his back on the Elf. “How’s this for playing with myself,” he says as he lifts the back of his cloak and robe to reveal his hairy, pallid backside.
Melias fell backward, shading his eyes from the horror and exclaiming, “Put it away! Ahh! I’m blind!”
Laughing, Rastorn returns to Orjulun and the two of them prepare their spells.
Arturus nearly falls out of the tree from laughing so hard. He is sure the caravan group can hear him, but he doesn’t care. It was one of the funniest things he had seen in a long time. Although he didn’t want to see the mage’s ass ever again.
The two Wizards sit down in the dirt a little further from the fire and pull forth spell components. They both choose to sit with their legs folded beneath them. To conjure the spell effect, Orjulun chants in a voice slightly deeper and more resonant than his normal speaking voice. This catches the attention of the two Elves, who seem startled to hear a new voice in the camp. Once Orjulun is waving his arms rhythmically and reaches for the little bag of powder balanced on his leg, Rastorn begins his chant as well. Rastorn’s voice has changed too, but it is somehow more appealing than the grating sound of his everyday vocals. He sounds as though he is dragging words out slightly too long and deepening his voice beyond what would seem possible and – most unnerving of all – the final syllable of each magic pronouncement seems to waver slightly as if it doesn’t quite come from this plane of existence. Rastorn sounds as if he is calling to someone far away, while Orjulun seems to be bluntly stating the magical words as if he expects a reply. Shortly into it Orjulun dumps powder into his open eyes. He shakes his head and closes his eyes tight. At the same time, Rastorn is holding a shiny, gold-trimmed horn to his forehead and bobbing his body side to side, still chanting, but in hushed tones. Both their eyes are shut. Simultaneously, both their eyes open wide! Arturus and Melias, both transfixed by the strange rituals, are startled by what they see. Both Wizards have suddenly lost their pupils! They sit calmly staring into nothingness, the campfire reflecting eerily off their clear white eyeballs. If they reflect on this later, neither of the Elves will realize all this happened in less than a minute. It will have seemed too unreal to them to have taken such a small amount of time.
Arturus jumps out of the tree and strides to Melias. “Umm, do we do something? Is that normal? I heard them say they could be detected; is that what being detected looks like?”
Melias used to watch in their forest village as his sister cast spells, somewhat in awe… but always too scared to ask questions. She had such a nasty disposition. He continues to speak in Elvish, not out of disrespect or disregard for the humans, but because it was more familiar. “Keep your voice down. They need to concentrate. It’s like their bodies are here, but their minds are elsewhere. You don’t want to mess up their spell.” He shrugs and adds, “I don’t really know what it will look like if they’re caught though. I suppose they’ll snap out of it, or the other camp will come running our way. Whichever comes first.” He makes a face like he just tasted something sour and says more quietly, “As if Rastorn wasn’t ugly enough… now he’s got cotton-eyes as well… eyes as white as his arse,”
Arturus laughs into his hand to muffle the sound. He didn’t know what magic really looked like and never had any interest in it. He knew he could rely on steel; magic was for other people. Still standing next to Melias, Arturus reaches past his Elven brother and quietly snaps a thin branch off the tree and starts whittling a new arrow shaft.
Orjulun can see the other camp in his mind’s eye. So, the others (especially Rastorn) can get an idea of what he is seeing, he describes the scene aloud. It is difficult to interact in both places at once, so he must limit his conversation at his camp, but he can give them basic information easily and understand simple questions from them.
Rastorn can hear everything happening at the other camp. He, too, can only relate some of what he hears and answer only simple questions, but he says he will do what he can, especially if it is related to what Orjulun is seeing. Rastorn decides that, until he is given a better idea of where to focus his attention, he will begin with the voice scolding the “half-breed.” The person with the sniffles intrigues him as well. He waits for Orjulun to give more visual descriptions.
There were two men in robes, Orjulun recalls. I need to find the other unless he’s sleeping in one of the wagons. He focuses his mind to pan back and up, trying to get an overview of the entire camp, looking around wagons, behind trees for the other spellcaster. Rastorn and Orjulun begin making a coordinated check of the trade company’s camp and are unable to find very much of interest. At first. Some of what they relate: There are two guardsmen arguing, but it is over the number of bandits in the area. One says three major groups, the other says four. They agree that the bandits strung up before they left were independents. A Wizard is creating fireworks out of the over-sized campfire. Two guards are comically reenacting the Half-Elf getting knocked off his horse and scolded. The other robed man is not anywhere he can be seen. Outside of camp and just within sight, a dozen men can be seen laying on their bellies with crossbows aimed toward the woods. Two guards can be seen (because of their small lanterns) sitting on the road.
Orjulun and Rastorn have about two minutes each left on their spells when something attracts their focus. The guards on top of the wagons closest to the road are looking intently in the direction of the road. Rastorn hears the one on the left ask, “What is that – a bridge?” and the other says, “It’s . . . a cabin.” A second later, Orjulun sees both the men stand quickly and have a full-body shudder. They turn and look at each other with looks of absolute shock and horror on their faces and (according to Rastorn) shout in unison, “Did you see that!?”, before turning to the rest of the camp and yelling, “Cys-kel and Ebburt are gone! They just disappeared!” Some of the men at the edge of the camp nearest the road are also looking in the direction of the road. Many grab their weapons. Others stand and gawk, frozen in terror. Someone yells, “It’s a damned wall! Shoot it!”
An extremely long and thick, wooden pole slams through one of the wagons, poking a hole clear through and shaking the vehicle violently! Another pole swings through the air and takes both the guards atop the wagon with it, flinging them out into the darkness. Men are pouring out of or off the wagons, including the other man in robes. A Wizard cast Magic Missiles in the direction of the road, then steps backward. In the flickering fire light, Orjulun makes out a look of desperation on the Wizard’s face, as he takes a shaking step back. Many men are shooting crossbow bolts in the same direction. A huge “wall” made of logs strapped together whirls through the air like a saucer and lands flat over the bonfire. The fire goes out but burning hot coals shoot from beneath the wall – forced out by the impact of its landing. The hot coals catch several guards on fire and embed themselves into the legs of many more. The rush of air created by the impact of the wall knocks everyone within ten feet of the fire off their feet.
It is then dark.
Rastorn hears rending and thumping noises and a lot of shouting and screaming. Orjulun can now only see within a ten-foot radius. All he can make out is a shower of body parts, as the men are torn apart and their legs and arms tossed about the camp.
Then their magical scrying spells end.
To be continued . . .
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