Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 15

Published: 11 Jan 16

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

A Time of Great Sorrow

The Serpent Colossus fell away from Turquinine and lay sprawled across the path, its body still twitching with muscular spasms. Kieren, Garreth and Romaric, having observed the entire engagement from a safe distance, were still shaken by the events they had just witnessed. They remained frozen in place, realizing there was still a chance the leviathan might not actually be dead.

Since they could see the serpent's twitching form, doubts about its demise lingered in the back of their minds. They feared the beast was merely stunned or unconscious and waiting to regain sensibility so it could renew its attack. After many minutes of standing transfixed and merely observing the behemoth from a distance, they eventually began to creep cautiously forward, as they joined the others. Even as they did this, however, they refused to let their gaze fall away from the mostly still form, as they attempted to see if they could be of any assistance to their defenders.

The remainder of the battered group now lay exhausted near the twitching form of their opponent, while trying to catch their breath. Using what little energy remained in their weary bodies, they attempted to calm one another's fears and strove to reassure themselves that the behemoth was undoubtedly dead.

When they found they had sufficiently recovered, the warriors strode over to the immense head and made an effort to sever it from the body. They soon discovered, however, that this task was, much as they had expected, impossible even for their best weapons. After Alairic retrieved Kieren's arrow and gave it back to him for safekeeping, the other warriors used Rhys' lance to penetrate both eye sockets and repeatedly jabbed it into the monster's brain. They felt they had to do this to make certain no resurrection of the beast would take place.

Once they were satisfied the behemoth was truly dead, Rhys and the dwarfs helped Hadwin rescue his pike from the creature's mouth. It took a great deal of effort on their part to extricate it, but fortunately for them the interior of the monster's mouth was easier to cut into than its hide. After hacking away at the soft tissue that surrounded the shaft, they finally retrieved Hadwin's weapon and returned it to him.

While this was going on, Turquinine strode over to where the lifeless remains of Selvaggio lay, still partially ensnared in the relaxed grip of the devil that had crushed him from existence. The large warrior let out a muffled cry as he dropped to his knees beside the motionless form of his countryman and wept openly. He then reached out to touch his friend once more, in an expression of his enormous grief and as his way of paying a final tribute to his fallen companion.

After regaining his composure, the sorrowful trooper struggled to pull the limp body of his fellow knight from the coils that still surrounded it. Seeing this, Alairic went over and helped him free Selvaggio's body, and then Turquinine lifted his friend's corpse in his arms and carried it to a place of honor in the midst of the company.

No one stirred or uttered a sound as they gazed at the unmoving hulk of their recently departed comrade. Numbly, they encircled the body and held a silent vigil of respect to this brave soul who had suffered such a violent, agonizing death. Words could not begin to explain the utter helplessness those who had witnessed this event felt as they watched the life squeezed from his body. Neither could they verbalize the grief they now endured. Unable to express themselves in any other way, they quietly saluted his bravery and supreme sacrifice by saying a silent prayer.

The youths fought hard to hold back the tears they felt welling up in their eyes, since they thought it was unmanly to cry, even at such a time. The battle-hardened warriors, however, having dealt with much loss of life before, stood stone-faced, but not unmoved. They could not even pretend to be callous, since they had grown quite close to Selvaggio during the brief time they had been together, but their years of training had helped them to control their emotions.

"I think it would be best if we moved away from here as quickly as possible," Doenilio interrupted in a soft voice, so he didn't disturb the moment too harshly.

The others, save for Turquinine, began to gather up their gear, but they stopped abruptly the second the giant Mitikuan's voice split the silence.

"Nay, I shalt not abandon Selvaggio even in death. I shalt also refuse to depart this place until he hath been honored with a proper burial."

Turquinine did not say this defiantly though. In fact, his manner was quite meek as he informed the others of his intentions, but his stance was adamant. He only glanced at Doenilio briefly as he spoke, before returning his gaze to his friend's lifeless hulk.

"We do not have time to do that," Doenilio countered, quite matter-of-factly.

"Then thou and the rest may go on, whilst I honor my comrade with a proper farewell," Turquinine countered. "I shalt rejoin thee later, once mine task hath been completed."

"No, we shall not leave anyone else behind," Rhys announced.

After making this comment, Rhys attempted to come up with a compromise solution. A few seconds later, an idea popped into his mind and he presented it to Turquinine.

"What if we prepare a litter and take Selvaggio's body with us?" the Akiktite mused. "That way we can bury him tomorrow, in the daylight."

For a few agonizing moments, everyone gazed from one face to another, as they waited for the knight to respond. After a lengthy delay, Alairic chose to break the silence instead.

"Turquinine, does that meet with your approval?" the elf wanted to know.

Hearing his name suddenly spoken snapped the knight out of his temporary stupor. He then lifted his head and let his sorrow filled eyes make contact with the elf.

"Aye. Methinks that would suffice," the Mitikuan reluctantly agreed.

Seeing the compromise was acceptable, the dwarfs immediately set out to fashion a litter from two young, slender trees they quickly felled for the purpose. Expertly, they crisscrossed ropes between the two poles and made a surface on which they could lay the corpse. Once the preparations were completed, all of the warriors gently helped to lift Selvaggio's body and moved it onto the makeshift stretcher, where it was then secured.

Doenilio then took this opportunity to inform the others that just before they were alerted by the shouts and raced back to assist in the battle, he and the other two dwarfs had discovered a flat parcel of land that would be suitable for a campsite. It was situated a short distance up the hillside and they would be able to spend the night there. Then, they could bury their fallen companion in the same area tomorrow.

Doenilio was selected to guide them, since he knew the way, and then the pallbearers followed. Sedain and Quintain went next, carrying the front grips of this hastily prepared transport, while Turquinine and Rhys lifted it from behind. They were then followed by the three youths, as Hadwin and Alairic protected the rear of the procession.

Prior to leaving the scene of the battle, however, the teens and Alairic hurriedly gathered up the wood Selvaggio and Turquinine had collected prior to the attack. They planned to carry it with them as they climbed the slope, because the boys felt it would be prudent to make use of Selvaggio's final effort. They thought Hadwin was going to help with this task, but instead he turned away abruptly, without any explanation, and left them to do this on their own.

Cautiously, the party proceeded to climb up the mountainside, while being careful not to lose their balance, due to the unsure footing. After arriving at their prospective campsite, they quickly began to perform their pre-assigned duties. The first thing they did was to dig a pit so they could light a very small fire. They would use the wood the knights had gathered before the attack for this purpose.

It was already too late to do much of anything beside grab a bite to eat, although they all agreed they didn't even feel like doing that either. Instead, they removed the skins from their packs and drank some of the liquid refreshment that was contained within. It did little to numb their pain and nothing to quiet the rumbling in their bellies, but no one felt like eating after what they'd just been through. As everyone huddled around the fire, they searched each other's faces and quickly realized none of them was in the mood to talk. Therefore, they sat quietly around the small blaze, until they individually began to prepare for sleep.

Even though the warriors were exhausted, because they had spent nearly all of their energy fighting the serpent, no one in the party slept very soundly that evening. They were worried there might be other, even worse dangers in the area, and this concern affected their slumber. Even though the guard was doubled for the remainder of the evening and continually changed at two-hour intervals, it wasn't enough to ease their concerns.

Contributing to the warriors' inability to sleep well was the fact that the guard schedule played havoc with their ability to fall into a deep sleep or enjoy an uninterrupted slumber. Except for the boys, the others only enjoyed whatever shuteye they were able to get before their sleep was disturbed and they were awakened to take their turn standing sentry.

Even when they were able to sleep, their slumber was often filled with guilt-ridden dreams and nightmares, as they continually recalled the events from earlier in the day. Time and again they tried to determine if they could have or should have done things differently. These questions began with their decision to keep going, but it also included their choice of a route. Maybe they had been foolhardy and reckless when deciding to continue on more quickly than was prudent,

Every warrior felt at least some share of responsibility for what had happened. Hadwin and the dwarfs felt guilty for convincing everyone to keep going, even though the others had wanted to make camp before they entered the swamp. Some of them felt badly about forcing a compromise in the route they took, since one of the other choices might have prevented this tragedy from happening.

Rhys and Alairic wondered if they should have gone along with any of the dwarfs' suggestions. They also wondered if they could have possibly reacted differently or more effectively to the situation after they were first alerted. Would that have somehow prevented the knight's death? Finally, there was Turquinine. He blamed himself for not having been ready for the danger and for not responding more quickly to his comrade's cry for help. It was a horrendous evening of soul-searching and self-doubts for each of them.

The situation for the noncombatants wasn't much better either, especially for Kieren. Even though he was hesitant to admit it to any of the others, he was still fearful of another grisly attack from something even more indescribable and ferocious than the Serpent Colossus. The earlier, fierce confrontation had shaken his courage to the core, so now he was struggling to maintain his composure, not panic and keep from breaking down in front of his fellow travelers.

Kieren was also unable to shake the thought that just a few hours ago he had believed the Serpent Colossus to be merely a myth or the figment of someone's imagination. Yet now he was still reeling from the stark reality and tangible evidence of its existence. This made him wonder how Madumda compared to his legend and to which extreme the stories of his deeds and powers had been skewed. These thoughts planted even more doubts in his mind, which was something he didn't need to be encumbered with. While he continued pursuing these and other considerations, Kieren also battled his weariness and struggled to remain awake. Finally, he was forced to give in to the needs of his body and eventually collapsed from total exhaustion.

After several disquieting hours, the camp began to stir to life, as the first rays of dawn began to pierce the evening's gloom. With the light came the hope of a better day and this lifted the spirits of the tired little company. As they rose and prepared the meal with which they would break their evening's fast, they found they were now ravenous. Voraciously, each person attacked the portion set before him and many returned for a second or even third helping. That was everyone except Turquinine, who only picked at his food. Having been the closest to Selvaggio, he was also the one most deeply affected by his death, so he was busily trying to plan something appropriate as a final benediction to his friend.

As soon as the group had cleaned up from the morning meal, they set about repacking their gear. When this task had been completed, the inhabitants of the Amber Mountains went off to dig the final resting spot for the stricken knight. While the dwarfs were performing this duty, the youths and other warriors set about collecting rocks from about the hillside, which would then be placed over the earthen mound. This would help to protect Selvaggio's body from the animal scavengers that roamed the slopes.

When each group had finished its task, the body was lowered into its eternal bed and the gravesite was properly secured. After some discussion, it was determined this location was remote and obscure enough that the grave would probably not be discovered. Turquinine then took Selvaggio's broadsword and drove it firmly into the ground in front of the mound's head, yet partially hidden within a small shrub that was growing there. This would serve as a temporary marker until the grief stricken warrior could return to erect a more permanent monument or take the body back to his homeland for proper interment. In the meantime, this would have to do.

Now, the knight stood with his hands still frozen on the sword's hilt while trying to commence the eulogy he had been forming in his mind. Rigidly, he lifted up his head and addressed his companions.

"Mine brethren. I beseech thee to aid me in lessening mine melancholy and grief by giving me thine attention. It might be knownst to thee that Selvaggio and I have served together as comrades-in-arms for many years. We were kindred spirits and brethren of the soul. We were bound closer than by bonds of blood and our mutual affection was enormous. I wouldst never forsake mine beloved friend, even if death's icy fingers gripped mine soul. With Selvaggio's passing, I feeleth that part of me hath been ripped from its proper place and I canst only soothe my loss by extolling his virtues one final time.

"Thou seeth resting before thee the bravest fighting man who hath ever trodden upon this fair land. His distinguished service couldst only be surpassed by his loyalty as a friend. Selvaggio was unselfish and considerate, steadfast and trustworthy, honest and courageous, and as compassionate an individual as any warrior couldst permit himself to be."

At this point Turquinine paused, as his emotions got the better of him. After regaining his composure and calming the unevenness that had begun to creep into his speech, he continued his address.

"Although thou art unaware of this fact, Selvaggio was of noble birth, as our Liege Lord Kieren. Being born the youngest of his clan, he also received the least benefit from his birthright. His eldest sibling inherited the position and title which passeth from father to first-born son, while his other brethren secured titles or positions that could be purchased on their behalf. His sisters were provided with sizable dowries, which made them eligible to wed others of noble rank.

"When Selvaggio reached the age of majority and by custom was expected to procure a station in life, he discovered the family coffers depleted. Bereft of other opportunities, Selvaggio chose the honorable path as a professional warrior. Gradually, his accomplishments became recognized and through the ranks he didst ascend. It was his deeds, not family name or wealth, which catapulted this powerful knight to his eventual station as one of the champions of our troops."

Again, there was a brief pause in the service, as Turquinine felt his voice begin to tremble again. Therefore, he chose to wait for the lump in his throat to subside and the tightness in his chest to relax before he eventually resumed his simple oration.

"Being unable to formulate any grand soliloquy to this knight extraordinaire, I pray thou wilst accept a brief rendering of the 'Ode to the Legionnaire,' which hangeth in every barracks in Tarolia."

There was another momentary pause before he began to recite this poem of reverence.

"The soldier dons his armorAnd utters his final prayersHe's defender of his kingdomHaving shed his private cares

He knows he'll seldom profitHe's not seeking wealth or fameIt's his homeland that he'll die forAnd in this there is no shame

His life is mostly lonelyFar away from kith and kinOnly thinking of their safetyWhen amid the battle's din

His friends are often changingAs the battles take their tollWhen the bloodied swords are liftedYet to claim another soul

Whenever there's a battleAs a despot spreads his fearAnother warrior breathes his lastAnd leaves one less Legionnaire

So when it's truly overAnd we've laid him to his restWe can say with truth and honorThat he always did his best

As his body's lowered downwardTo the ground from whence it cameIt's only then he's rememberedFor he'd gained no lasting fame

As we cover him with soilThat will be his watch and wardAt last he'll have a chance to restWith heaven his just reward"

As the final verse of this moving tribute faded into the wind, the party turned and trudged back to their campsite. Once there, they retrieved their packs and prepared to depart this unhappy place. Soon, they were on their way again and heading along a little used, crude path northward, which would lead them toward Thorold.

Kieren noticed there were only a few scattered bushes along the hillside and quickly concluded there weren't enough of these small shrubs to conceal their passage. He was uneasy about being in this openness, but relieved to be away from the swamp. As they moved farther along this desolate and exposed byway, they came upon a fork in the trail. They all stopped, since they were unsure as to which path to take, so Doenilio stepped forward and took the opportunity to enlighten them about their choices.

"If we take the left fork, it will lead us back down to rejoin the lower road, which runs along the marsh. If we take the right fork, it will follow a ridge that runs about a quarter of the way up the mountain's side. Either path will take us where we want to go, so I'll leave the choice up to you."

Moving as one, they huddled in the open to discuss their options. It was a quicker conversation this time, because everyone was much more agreeable than before.

"Even though the travel is more difficult, I don't wish to go back along the marsh," Alairic advised them.

"Nor do I," Turquinine agreed.

"How difficult is the route which continues to run through the mountainside?" Rhys wanted to know.

"As you've discovered, it's only slightly more difficult than the route along the marsh, however it is more open and we will be more exposed," Doenilio explained.

"But it also means we will be able to see any potential attackers well before they are able to reach us. Therefore, I vote for the upper route," Hadwin interjected, as he cast the first vote.

"I concur," Turquinine quickly added, and the others soon followed suit.

The trail they took was not difficult to follow, but the footing was slightly treacherous. This was due to the fact that the soil was loose and gave way easily under their weight. There were also many small stones that unexpectedly either slid or rolled under the soles of their boots and occasionally caused one of them to stumble. If it were to rain, then the mountainside would become extremely slick as well, which would add to the problem.

In addition to the footing, the openness provided them with other concerns. At first, the lack of cover made them feel safe, because they would be able to discern the movement of anything that might try to approach them. Yet, on the other hand, it gave them a very uneasy feeling, because their own movements could be just as easily observed by anyone who might be looking for intruders. It was due to these conflicting emotions, plus the memory of the previous day's attack, that kept everyone at full alert. Painstakingly, they continued to make their way along this barren trail and gradually inched closer to their final destination.

Collectively, they voted against stopping for a noon meal and decided instead to eat as they walked. They felt this would be the most prudent course of action to follow and it wouldn't be difficult, since they were only going to eat dried meats and cheeses. It was also their hope that by not stopping they would be able to make up some of the time they had previously lost and they'd be able to get away from this dreadful location even more quickly.

Accordingly, they only paused long enough to retrieve the food from their packs and then the party continued on. As they ate, they also maintained their intensive surveillance of the surrounding area and searched for anything out of the ordinary. Even under this type of scrutiny, they didn't discover any other living creatures within range of their senses. For that reason, they began to feel slightly better, as they made their way toward the dwarven kingdom.

Their mood was a little less somber and more relaxed as the day slowly passed into evening. Now that they had moved farther away from the swamp, the companions began to feel as if the most dangerous part of the day's trek had been completed and they would soon be able to rest. As luck would have it, they also happened upon a fairly sheltered area where they would make camp and bed down.

This location had several distinct advantages, beginning with the small rock arms that jutted out on either side and formed two natural walls, while the mountain shielded the rear. This meant nature would help to protect them on three sides and make the position fairly easy to defend. The only drawback was that the ground was a huge rock slab, which meant it was also what they'd be sleeping on. Despite this fact, they agreed it would be a good place to make camp for the evening.

Additional precautions were also taken, to ensure they did not draw attention to their presence here. The most important of these was their decision to forgo a fire. This was because they wouldn't be able to dig a pit to contain it and realized the light from the fire would be hard to keep from escaping. With the surrounding area being so open and since light travels great distances at night, they chose to do without one. They certainly didn't want to disclose their location to any others that might be close by, so any idea about having a fire was quickly dismissed.

Utilizing the dying rays of sunlight, they hurriedly set about their business. As they were laying out their bedrolls and performing their other duties, the soldiers took the precaution of keeping a close watch on the three teens. They wanted to make sure the trio didn't wander off, but they were even more concerned that something else might strike as quickly as the Serpent Colossus had done. Slowly, they began to settle in and quietly ate another cold meal from their quickly depleting rations.

After the meal was concluded, they aligned themselves in a circular formation and began to relax. Kieren realized they were all still thinking about Selvaggio and were becoming depressed. He suddenly felt he needed to do something to distract the others and refocus their attention on something less somber. After considering various ways he might be able to do this, he finally broke the lingering silence.

"Turquinine, earlier in the day you told us a little bit about Selvaggio, when you spoke at his funeral," he began. "Now, I wish for you to share a little about your own life with us?"

"My Lord, I have nothing of interest to tell thee," the knight replied. "Mine own life hath been dismal and I wouldst not wish to bore thee with its rendering."

"Regardless of how you see yourself, I'm sure it will be a fascinating tale," Kieren urged. "I would appreciate it if you would share a little about your past. Please?"

"If that be thy wish, then I shall obey and tell thee what I can," the knight agreed. "However, I must advise thee it will give me great discomfort in fulfilling thy behest."

At this point, the gentle giant paused and eyed Kieren for a few seconds, hoping the lad might relent concerning this request. When he didn't, Turquinine quickly glanced around at the others first, before beginning his story.

"Although I am not illegitimate, I never knew mine sire. Mine father deserted the precious woman who bore me shortly after my birth. For that reason, I was weaned on the childish taunts of 'bastard,' even though mine peers lacked justification for their slurs. When this harassment began, I wouldst pummel the boldest one first, which gaineth me a considerable reputation as a brawler and a bully.

"By this time I had also grown to considerable stature and mine reputation, although somewhat tarnished, was growing disproportionately with each retelling of these encounters. This brought me under the scrutiny of a bold and famous knight. Unbeknownst to me, he sought mine mother's permission to take me as his squire. Reluctantly, she agreed and I was plucked from my despair and thrust into a world of many wonders.

"Mine benefactor trained me in all the knightly traditions and eventually allowed me to enter the tournaments to test mine newly acquired skills. Immediately, I became one of the favorites in the local contests, so I entered as many as I could. Through good fortune, I was able to win many of these events, so from that time forward, I knew I was always meant to be a knight.

"Remembrances of mine childhood and discussions with mine benefactor led me to several decisions. First, I pledged to fight for the rights of those who could not defend themselves. I also promised to champion causes that seemed just and honorable.

"Upon attaining the required age, the knight whom I served supported my decision and helped me enlist in the Mitikuan Army. It was during the initial training period in group-tactics that I met and befriended another recruit. In time, we wouldst become inseparable. That enlistee was Selvaggio and I came to respect him, as thou hast also come to respect him in the short time we hath been together.

"When our training period ended, we volunteered for the elite guard. Although it was extremely difficult to survive the selection process, the training was even worse. It was both physically and emotionally difficult and broke many of those who opted to take the challenge. Selvaggio and I managed to successfully complete the demanding training and served together as members of the elite guard until we volunteered for this assignment.

"It is true that during the time we served together, we hath participated in numerous battles, fighting side by each. We would also take our leisure together upon the battle's demise. Whenever either of us was wounded, the healthy one wouldst tend to the needs of the other until recovery was complete. On numerous occasions we wouldst labor tending to each other's maladies and heal the scars of battle, often bringing the other back from the brink of death. Brothers we were, in the truest sense of the word, and the green god of jealousy never reared its ugly head between us.

"If either received a special honor, the other gloried in the euphoria of his achievement. We never let resentment erect an impenetrable wall between us. When one laughed, the other partook of his joy. When one cried, the other shared his sorrow. We existed as two parts of the same whole and a piece of my soul died yesterday, when Selvaggio was ambushed and his life's flame snuffed out."

Finally, Turquinine surrendered to his emotions and turned away from the others to hide his grief. The three young men looked at him with a great deal of admiration, as this mighty knight struggled anew to cope with his loss. After a respectful period of quiet, Kieren broke the uneasy silence.

"You were wrong, my powerful friend. Your tale was extremely interesting and I thank you for sharing it with us."

The knight merely nodded in response, but that slight signal was enough to cause the rest of the entourage to slowly disperse, as each individual went to his bedroll, emotionally spent.

Alairic volunteered for the first two-hour guard duty. He was followed by Doenilio and then Rhys. Rhys' watch turned out to be absolutely peaceful and it was so quiet during his duty that he felt strangely serene when his shift ended. With his time now over, Rhys awakened Sedain to replace him and then went to his bedding, ready for slumber.

Sedain, on the other hand, was still somewhat groggy from having been disturbed in the middle of his rest. As he stood near the perimeter of the camp, he thought he spied what might be the glow from a fire. He studied it for some time and judged it to be originating at a spot about a kilometer north of their current position. He concluded that even if the source of the light was from a campsite, it didn't necessarily signal danger. Considering his options quickly, the dwarf decided it would be best if he went off to investigate the source.

Before he did that, Sedain quickly roused Quintain to replace him and hurriedly explained the situation to his brother. Then, he advised his sibling about what he was planning to do. Even though Quintain wasn't convinced this was a wise thing for his brother to do, Sedain slipped out of camp and headed in the direction of the light. He was hoping to discover the secret behind this mysterious glimmer and determine if it was something they needed to be concerned about.

After much time had elapsed since the dwarf had left camp to probe this enigma, Quintain began to worry. He had not only covered the remainder of his brother's watch, but he'd also remained on duty during the two turns that followed it as well. He was growing extremely worried about his sibling's safety and was pondering his next move when the first light of morning began to brighten the camp. This prompted Quintain to give in to his anxiety and awaken the others, so he could explain his concerns.

First, he shook Turquinine, who thought it was his turn to stand guard. As the Mitikuan lumbered to his feet, the dwarf went over to awaken Hadwin, Alairic, Rhys and Doenilio. Quintain, however, did not bother to rouse the boys, since he felt they'd only complicate matters.

After hearing Quintain's account, they all began to discuss the idea of organizing a search party. They also debated the best way to go about trying to find their wayward companion.

"No matter what else is decided, I will be a member of the group that goes to find my brother," Quintain volunteered, forcefully.

"Of course you will," Rhys assured him, "and I will go with you. I suggest we leave Turquinine behind to guard the boys."

"Thou needeth not take pity on mine circumstance and grief by assigning me the safer duty," Turquinine began to protest. "Though I still suffer from the loss of mine friend, I shall not shirk mine responsibility."

"That was not what I had in mind when I volunteered your service," Rhys replied, apologetically. "My thought was that you would free up at least three others for the rescue operation, since you are the most capable of defending the boys alone. It was due to your abilities and skills as a warrior, not your loss, that prompted me to make the suggestion."

This explanation seemed to placate Turquinine and soothe his bruised ego, so he was now willing to go along with Rhys' recommendation.

"I think the dwarf's foolishness will cost us dearly," Hadwin muttered to no one in particular.

He was convinced Sedain had acted unwisely, but the others either hadn't heard him or elected to ignore his comment, since none of them responded. Those going to find Sedain eventually left camp, and as they moved away from the area, Turquinine woke the three teens. He did this so they would be ready to help defend themselves, if the need arose.

"What's the matter, Turquinine, and where is everyone else?" Kieren immediately wanted to know.

"They have sallied forth to look for Sedain," the knight explained. "He ventured off earlier, in an attempt to discover the source of a glow he believeth to be from a fire. When he did not return, the others set out to determine his fate. Thou and thy companions needeth to take up thine arms, so thou whilst be able to defend thyself, lest we be attacked."

Garreth and Romaric eagerly grasped their weapons after hearing the Mitikuan's explanation. They didn't do this so much out of concern about their own safety, but they did it so they would be ready to protect their friend. Kieren also grabbed a hold of his sword and knife, and then they jointly scanned the surrounding area for signs of danger.

Once the others had moved away from the campsite, they readily let Quintain become the unofficial leader of the group. After all, it was his brother that was missing, but he was also the last to see him and observe the course he'd followed. In an effort to let the others know he could use their support, Quintain asked Hadwin to assist him in searching for traces of Sedain's passing. He felt the Nardinian was the best choice for this duty, since he was an experienced tracker, but he didn't leave the others out completely. Quintain directed them to keep their eyes open for signs of danger, as well as to continue searching for any clues about what happened to his sibling.

Using great stealth, the retinue followed their temporary leader along the trail he had seen his brother take. Once they moved away from the rocky floor on which they had camped, Hadwin was the first to spot the impressions created by the dwarf's boots. Quintain then directed Hadwin to follow the footprints forward, as the rest of them tag along behind.

Acknowledging the fact that Sedain might have veered off the trail, Quintain and Hadwin remained alert for the occasional broken twig or disturbed patch of sod that might indicate his course. As they moved closer to the area where Quintain suspected the fire might have been the evening before, the more prudent they became.

Just as they were about to maneuver around a huge, upright boulder that stood in their path, Alairic alerted Quintain that his keen sense of hearing had picked up voices somewhere in the distance. Quintain signaled the party to stop and remain behind the large rock, while he and Hadwin climbed a little way up the mountainside to look around. The pair slithered forward, to a vantage point where they could see the entire area and possibly discover what dangers awaited them.

After about twenty minutes, Hadwin and Quintain returned and informed the others about what they had seen. They had spotted a party of five, consisting of three Merropites and two Gnomes, just ahead on the path and around another slight bend. They also reported seeing Sedain with them and stated he was tied up like a sack of potatoes, but otherwise appeared to be unharmed. Quintain suspected Sedain's captors were currently debating what to do with their unexpected visitor, so he wanted to rescue his brother before those holding him made their final decision.

Even though the enemy warriors did not appear to be in any hurry to leave the area, nor did they seem concerned that Sedain might have colleagues nearby, the situation could change with little notice. For that reason, the companions attempted to think up a plan to retrieve their captured comrade, unharmed. Hadwin was the first to come up with an idea and informed the others about a scheme he had hastily devised. Quintain readily agreed it sounded like a viable option, so once he had everyone else's approval, Hadwin assigned each individual a role in the rescue operation. Then, they moved to their designated locations.

Quintain was the first to get in position and took up his spot about five meters past the boulder, which was where Hadwin told him he needed to be. He laid down on the trail, in plain sight of anyone coming from the other direction, yet still within the protective reach of the others. Once there, the dwarf took up his role as the bait in this trap by pretending to lie hurt and unconscious upon the ground.

The others then put themselves in the best possible position to protect and defend him. Hadwin and Rhys hid behind the large, upraised boulder that stood in the middle of the path. They intended to use this vertical crag to shield themselves from view. It would keep them hidden from of any of Sedain's captors that might possibly wander down the path in their direction.

The others quickly took up positions on the mountainside. First, Alairic climbed the slope to a vantage point that overlooked their opponent's campsite. From this lofty perch, the elf assumed his role as lookout, but he would also help to orchestrate each phase of their scheme.

At the same time, Doenilio climbed the mountain as well, but he did not go as far up the slope as Alairic had done. The dwarf positioned himself beside a slab of rock that jutted outward and used it to conceal his body from view. The rock was definitely large enough to obscure his presence from anyone meandering along the trail below, but it was also conveniently in line with the spot where Quintain lay sprawled out on the road. From this location, he would perform his part in this charade.

Once everyone was in his assigned place, it was time for Doenilio to initiate the next phase of the plan. Carefully, he set the wheels of fate into motion when he energetically dislodged some of the small rocks that lay on the ground around him and casually sent them cascading down the slope. As they tumbled down the incline, the stones picked up speed until they landed on the pathway below. The rocks also made a slight noise as they tumbled down the hillside, which was loud enough for Sedain's captors to hear and, hopefully, enough to attract their attention.

Previous ChapterNext Chapter