Chapter Two, Part One
At nightfall, the group agrees to rest the horses and make camp. Each man has a view on how and where to camp safely and comfortably that differs from the opinions held by the others. They soon realize Orjulun is the only one to have packed food for the trip and he only has enough for himself. A vote to return to Dumas for supplies is called and fails.
“Damn, damn, damn, damn…” Melias mutters as he glances around for berries, nuts, or other possible food in the woods while sorting dry wood from rotten. He had intended on purchasing supplies in Dumas but was distracted by the opportunity to leave with Arturus. He looks off in the direction of the city pondering his vote for a moment, then whispers, “No, it is just too close to home.” Upon his return to camp, he tells Rastorn and Orjulun, “We can’t just sleep through the whole night and expect not to be eaten by wolves. So, should we set up a watch? If we do, does anyone have a preference? First watch? Last? I don’t really care which shift I take.”
Orjulun is glad he planned for this trip. He was going to offer some of his rations until he saw the Elves foraging for food and tracking game. Well, more power to them, he thinks as he bites into a wedge of cheese. “I need uninterrupted sleep to regain my spell-abilities,” he says, “But I am not opposed to taking the dawn watch if needed.”
“Hey, short Elf!” he hears Rastorn shout. As he turns, the Wizard inspects the berries held in his hand and chuckles. “Eat those if you insist, Elf, but you’ll swear a Black Dragon has taken up residence in your bowels and your piss will feel like its acid.” Rastorn gathers himself from the circle of equipment they had made in a clearing just off the road. “I suppose I’ll help you to scavenge berries and herbs to eat.” After a long pause, he adds, “I’ve heard many tales of Elves. I thought your kind were supposed to be spry, fleet-of-foot, and knowledgeable about everything in the forest. You know, excellent bow hunters, foragers, fishermen. What’s with all this? Oh yea, and about the night ‘watch,’ I heard tell that Elves needn’t sleep; that your damn-near immortality gives you the ability to press on with little or no sleep. Just as our young apprentice said before, sleep is a requirement for we masters of magic. I have no problem with taking a first watch, as long as I can get some rest thereafter.” Then he strides into the woods.
Though he isn’t an experienced hunter, Arturus knows how to track. Studying the ground with bow and arrow at the ready, he searches for tracks of rabbit, deer, boar, or anything remotely edible within the roadside forest.
Orjulun watches as the Elves continue their search for food in the forest. They aren’t having much luck, which surprises the young mage. Weren’t Elves supposed to be semi-magical beings who could survive in the forests indefinitely? He begins feeling a bit guilty. His food pack is stuffed full of dried meats, cheeses, and hard bread. It is enough for him to last an entire week, but significantly less if he shares. “Everyone,” he says loudly enough for all to hear, “I have food, and I will share with you. I haven’t much, only about two days’ worth for all of us, but perhaps the hunting will be better down the road a bit.”
Melias looks at his once-proud collection of berries and considers his options. He knows little of forest plant life, after all. Rastorn is obviously more educated on the subject. Shrugging, he tosses the berries away. “Why, thank you, kind sir,” he says to Rastorn, “I appreciate the help.” He waves to Orjulun and tells him, “Best keep a hold on that offer. Perhaps we should try to live off the land as best we can. There may be a time when we have no other option but accept your generosity.” He tries to laugh off the stereotypes he’s hearing from Rastorn. “Well, that might be true for many of our kind. But I was a politician by trade. Not much call to find berries or hunt game in a governmental committee. Another misconception: We tend to sleep lightly, but we need sleep, nonetheless. Perhaps you’re thinking of our deep wood’s relatives. I’ll take the second watch.”
“Perhaps I have been too hasty to listen to the babbling of an old man. Nevertheless, let’s see what we can find out here,” Rastorn says, as he crouches low near an oak. Mushrooms are growing at its base. He picks them, along with several mosses and lettuce-like plants growing wild in the forest.
Arturus curses quietly as he misses a rabbit. His stomach is growling, and he knows the others are hungry as well. He had half an ear cocked to the others and smiled slightly at the myths of Elves. If only we didn’t sleep, that’d be fantastic, he thinks.
Once they are deep enough in the forest to be out of earshot, Melias stops and points his thumb back toward the camp, then shrugs. Rastorn nods his head. “Aye, I am suspicious of everyone. It’s one of my quirks. But yes, indeed it is a ‘convenient’ occurrence to come across these two. As I’m sure you will, I’ll be keeping an eye on both as the days progress.”
On his second attempt at tracking and hunting, Arturus’ prey does not scamper into the dense, concealing underbrush when his first shot misses, because the first shot is true, as is the second. They will sup on roasted rabbit tonight.
Later, as they sit around the campfire, Melias cleans a spot on which to sleep, tossing all the rocks and sticks aside. He says, “You know, we should probably keep the fire low after we’ve finished cooking the rabbit. That way the flames won’t attract a lot of attention.” He loosens the straps on his leathers to sleep more comfortably and draws his cloak over his body like a blanket. Laying on his side and watching the last rays of light hide behind the trees on the opposite side of the fire from him, he searches his mind for an appropriate topic for conversation. “Ok, so Arturus, tell me about yourself. What motivated you to get into this strange hobby of yours?”
Arturus’ eyes don’t leave the fire as he answers, “I come from a long line of thieves. Simply put, they’re not very honorable nor are they respectable. I wished not to have my name associated with them, so I left home. I traveled for a bit and came across a job guarding caravans. After a while, it dawned on me how corrupt and greedy those fat lazy merchants are, and I decided to take up the family trade after all. But here I am again, looking for a new profession.”
Melias nods, then asks Orjulun, “How about you? What made you decide to give up the plush life of a magistrate’s apprentice and hit the road of adventure? Can’t blame you for wanting to leave that cesspool known as Dumas, but still, that’s quite a career change.”
“Plush life?” Orjulun couldn’t hide the outrage in his voice. “Well, if you call being taken advantage of and stolen from ‘the plush life’ then, my friend, you have a skewed view of what life really is.” He wipes dirt from the sleeve of his robe, then continues, “I left my teacher because he was corrupt and the man he served… the ruler of Dumas… was also corrupt and a fool. There is more to life than lining the pockets of someone else at the common man’s expense, and it is my direction in life to find my own more honorable path in this world. I believe you will find my spells to be stronger than those of most other apprentices as well, so I am quite capable of survival. My god, Scorses, guides my path now, and wherever I go. I fear not, for I am guided well.” He is met with nods.
After turning the rabbit on the spit, Rastorn rations out the berries, wild mushrooms, and herbs he found. “This will suffice for the evening. We’re all thin, well mostly,” he says as he casts a glance toward the apprentice mage, “so we’ll probably not require a great deal of food.” When he sits back down, he bows his head to focus on patient listening.
Orjulun resisted looking at Rastorn until then, but all he sees when he looks up is the firelight reflecting off the older Wizard’s pale, bald head. He’s disappointed Rastorn cannot see him finally snarl at the comment about his weight. He switches focus to laying out a wheel of cheese and some dried fruits, then motions for everyone to help themselves. After he sits back down and stares at the fire a while, he realizes the fake smile that replaced his snarl was not fake at all. He’d endured far worse insults from Lickmer and right now he just feels happy. He is quite proud of himself for leaving Lickmer and Dumas. It is obviously Scorses’ will that he does this, and also the god’s will that he found these folks with which to travel.
After Arturus and Orjulun told their stories, Melias felt a little more at ease. He chuckles, “I’m starting to see a pattern here. I too left my life to get away from corruption. Like Arturus, the corrupters in my life are a bit closer than mere casual acquaintances.” He asks Arturus, “Why merchants? Orjulun’s magistrate seems to be a prime target for the forces of balance if you ask me. Why don’t we consider turning back to Dumas and trying to make a place worthy of living there?” Eyebrow raised, he asks Orjulun, “What do you think? Wouldn’t you like to see them pay for the atrocities they imposed upon the common man?”
Arturus interjects, “I picked the merchants mainly because after working for them I learned their routines. It was easy to rob them after that. But I must admit it lost it’s fun after a while. I was looking for a new challenge. Going back to Dumas might just be that challenge.”
Looking like a kicked puppy, Orjulun slowly shakes his head, as the others look to him for an answer.
The lengthy silence is broken by Rastorn. “Oh, by the way, it has just dawned on me that we may soon be at the outskirts of a city, it is said, with some of the finest, most exotic foods available in almost the entire world.”
Melias frowns and asks him, “So, what is your tale, sir mage? Why are you not sequestered in some safe, warm tower poring over historic spell tomes?”
“As for my origin,” Rastorn begins, his head bowed low, concealed within the now raised hood of his charcoal cloak, “I grew up in the dreaded Dumas.” He looks up to meet the eyes of his new companions. “No worries, I care not for the place as much as you. Call it a cesspool, call it whatever you will… It is still home. My father was a fat greedy merchant, not unlike the ones you enjoy robbing,” he motions toward Arturus, “who dealt in textiles and dyes for sale to the Elven nation. My mother was a scientist and herbalist… also a mage. Hence, why I know the things I know. Once I reached the age of accountability, instead of taking up the family trade,” he chuckles at his use of the word ‘trade’ as visions from his past flood his mind, “I decided to take up adventuring. I joined myself with a party; we traveled all over this part of our world in search of treasure and glory. We had it… for a while.” Not looking up, he abruptly completes the tale. “They all died dreadfully, I managed to survive and after ten years of imprisonment, escaped back to Dumas; this is where our own little tale had begun.”
The conversations by the fire continue through dinner, but no additional information is divulged, nor decisions made. Once the food is all eaten, three of the travelers settle down for some rest.
Early in the night no one seems to be resting extremely well in the company of strangers, but everyone not standing guard gets a little sleep by midnight. Arturus climbs down from the tree he had climbed to keep watch. He travels near the fire, walking slowly toward the sleeping Rastorn. Melias has one eye open and fixed on Arturus, but Orjulun is sleeping peacefully. Arturus stops and stares at Rastorn, his eyes squinting at the restlessly sleeping Wizard. Melias opens his other eye when Arturus draws his longsword and charges Rastorn. Quick as a cobra, Melias in on his feet, weapon in hand. His short sword is more poised to defend himself against an attack from Arturus than to protect Rastorn. “What the Hells!?!” he shouts in shock.
Woken by the sound, Orjulun quickly stands and grabs his quarterstaff, also assuming a defensive position.
Rastorn rolls to the left, toward Melias. “Bloody treachery!” he rasps. “You were right,” he tells Melias.
“Snake,” Arturus simply says in Elvish as he stabs his dagger into something near where Rastorn had slept. “If I wanted you dead Rastorn, I would’ve shot you from the tree with my bow. I was saving your life from this highly venomous snake.”
Rastorn hisses the Elvish word for snake as he glances down at it. Switching to the common language he says, “My apologies. You must know how this appears to a paranoid old man? To awaken with a stranger in his face bearing steel.” Slinking to his bedroll, Rastorn grasps the carcass of the snake. “It would have made a lovely Familiar. Now, I suppose, it’s breakfast.” Looking up at the man he thought, only seconds before, was murderous in his intentions; he shares one of his best smiles. It looks more like a grimace. In Elvish he says, “It is not hard for me to admit a mistake, or to say, ‘I thank you.’ Given the same situation in another time, another place, with different people, I would have reacted differently. We have some strange coincidences to discuss in the morning. But for now, I need rest, or my magic is forfeit.” Melias and Orjulun lay back down and close their eyes. Orjulun reopens his eyes moments later to peek around for snakes, then closes them again.
The remainder of the night is uneventful and in the morning the group snacks on cooked snake and discuss where they should go next.
“I must say,” Rastorn began after they had finished their meal and decided to continue south to Darkuth, “I do not know any of you, therefore my trust is a weak bond. I wouldn’t expect any more from any of you. But we are in the wilds now. We must work together, no matter our differences, if we are to survive. We could be overthrown at any moment by a horde of Orcs or some other foul denizen of this area.” The old mage strokes his salt and pepper goatee as he considers his next question. “I still need to know something: How is it that you, Arturus, a thief, just happened to lose your companions to their neck-stretching on the same day that you, Orjulun, happened upon us with three saddled horses? You do agree that this is a very suspicious coincidence, yes?”
Orjulun nods. “I agree, it does seem a bit suspicious,” he replies. “I cannot speak for Arturus, as we never met before yesterday, but the three men who were hanged were supposed to accompany me as far as Darkuth. They had been paid and were supposed to meet me outside the gates. When I discovered they were killed, I fled alone. My path was lit before me and I met you three. Call it chance if you will, but I believe otherwise. I agree we must work as one team now. We are all outcasts, and I for one have absolutely no desire to return to Dumas currently. It pains me that so corrupt a leader will remain there, with little opposition, but we are not strong enough to challenge or implement change. Not yet anyway. To return there now would be to return to our deaths. I say we travel, gain power, prestige, and a sense of who we are. Then, we return and settle the score.” With that, Orjulun rises and walks to the horses, gathers the saddlebags, and secures the individual saddles and bits. “I am ready to leave when you all are.”
“So, my dead comrades were to take you to another city? Good thing they died, or else you’d have probably found yourself robbed blind. As for Dumas however, I had time to think about that some more and I don’t really think it’s such a good idea for me to go back. The merchants there that know me surely want me to swing from the neck as well. Honestly, I like my feet on the ground. So, I say we sally forth and see what other grand adventures we can get ourselves into. I’m sure there’s more out there than robbing merchants and killing snakes.” Arturus says.
With a chuckle that sounds more like two stones grating against one another, Rastorn adds, “Indeed there is, Arturus, indeed, there is.” He stands, his back creaking, and rerolls his bedding. He gathers a few other things he had stashed here and there and turns again to Orjulun. “So, you never answered me back before we made camp concerning that Alarm spell. Is it one in your knowledge? That might come in handy as we sleep during the eve if you have enough to cast at that time of day.”
“No, unfortunately I have no spell like the Alarm spell you speak of,” Orjulun answers. “Most of my training was in the Invocation arts, although the majority of my spells are more useful for information-gathering and detection.” He leads the saddled horses back to the party near the still glowing embers of the fire. “And what of you? Where lies your strengths in the arts?”
As they each climb onto their saddles, Rastorn replies, “Well, I practice a type of magic most people shun. They believe it to be ‘the dark art,’ or so they would have you believe. In fact, without Necromancy Clerics and Druids would be worthless in efforts to heal the wounded or raise the fallen. Many would die without this art. Of course, I am no healer, yet I do feel a sort of empathy toward them. One of my closest companions, the one who taught me the Elven and Dwarven tongues, was a healer. He and I were opposites of the sphere; a sort of White and Black, so to speak. My magics have helped in many battles alongside those old companions.”
“I’m an Invoker,” Orjulun says, excitedly, in case they missed his previous mention of his chosen school of magic.
They trot the horses for a full minute, then Rastorn coughs and spits and says, “Tossing Fireballs and such, eh?”
Orjulun purses his lips and says, less excitedly, “Someday, perhaps.”
Two hours later, the two Elves spot wagons to the north moving toward them, if they continue at their present pace, the wagons could overtake them before mid-day. With the warning that wagons are coming, Rastorn half-turns in his saddle and cranes his neck for a peek. “Maybe it’s a caravan of wealthy merchants,” he says jokingly to Arturus.
“I think I’ll let someone else rob this one,” Arturus says, “I say we slow down a bit and check out the caravan. Not to rob it, but to see if there’s anything interesting about it. If it turns out to be a bad move, we’re on horses pulling nothing so we’d be faster if we need to make a hasty escape.”
Orjulun glances back, then says, “I think we should let the caravan pass as well…I hate the feeling of being followed.”
“Well, now I’m not going to object to that,” Rastorn adds. Turning back toward Arturus he says, “If you haven’t noticed, there are quite a few things ‘wrong’ with my face.”
As the steeds are slowed, Melias says, “Maybe we should all compare notes in case we ever need to know compatible languages. So, Rastorn, you know Elvish, Dwarven, the common tongue of Humans, and anything else?”
Arturus interrupts in Elvish, “Yes, I can easily see there’s a lot wrong with your face. Were you burned by acid or something? You could wear a mask; I hear they’re becoming quite fashionable this year.”
Melias shrugs. “Yes, I figured you were part Gelatinous Cube.” He smiles and winks, “Just kidding. You’re beautiful.”
“Acid! Gelatinous! Why I…!” Rastorn seethes until he realizes the good humor of the Elves. He checks his anger and decides not to let it get the best of him. Short tempers are for fools, he thinks. “Is it really that bad to look upon? It’s from a horrid sickness as a youth; possibly a plague.”
“No, your face isn’t that hideous. I’m sorry to hear about your sickness,” Arturus says.
“Well, I don’t think we have much to fear from this caravan,” Orjulun says, squinting in the sun as he looks at the wagons’ banners. “They are a merchant company from Dumas, and one of the better-known ones. Perhaps this could be an opportunity to purchase some provisions for the road?” He turns to face the others to see their reactions to his question, having not even attempted to follow their ongoing conversation.
Arturus answers, “Sounds good to me. I don’t know if I can keep supplying rabbits. I should probably hide in the woods while you make the purchases. It could get ugly if they recognize me.” He flips two coins to Melias. “If you would, here’s two gold. I think that should be enough for a week of rations for me. I’d appreciate it greatly.”
Melias catches the coins, turns to face Orjulun, then says, “Good eye, Orjulun. Of course, they could be right upon me and I’d not know what they were doing, or where they were from. Hopefully, they’ll be kind enough to pause their travels to meet our needs. Perhaps they will have some dry rations.”
“Thank you, brother,” Arturus says to Melias in Elvish, before switching to Common to tell them all, “I’ll be in a tree with my bow at the ready should anything happen.” He rides about eighty yards closer to the edge of the forest, tethers his horse behind a large bush, and climbs a tree he judges will have a the clearest view of the road.
“This may be a mistake,” Rastorn says, “but since the two of you,” he motions to Orjulun and Melias, “are accustomed to dealing with these folks, I’ll hide myself in the forest as well. Don’t want this face,” he scowls at Melias, but smiles as he continues, “to scare off any chance of a full belly. If they bite, I’ll purchase a week’s worth of food for everyone. Just tell me the cost once the deal is over and they’ve left, and I’ll settle coin.” There is just enough time for Rastorn to hide, although no one can be certain Arturus and Rastorn weren’t spotted leaving the road. Rastorn pulls his horse behind the same large bush that Arturus’ horse is concealed by, then ducks down.
While Orjulun and Melias await the trade company they can ascertain the make-up of the people aboard the wagons. It looks to be entirely Human men, most with the same puffed red faces so common in Dumas. A populous so fond of hard drink and debauchery is bound to show the physical signs of overindulgence and these men are no different. They wear studded leather armor and seem to be very focused on the job at – which must very well differentiate them from most of the trade companies in Dumas. Five men are clearly visible on each wagon, most with crossbows at the ready. One of the many wagons is a carriage.
Orjulun and Melias turn their horses to face the approaching caravan of heavily armed men.
To be continued . . .
Follow The Realms: A World Apart
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.