Circle of Stone (reprieve)

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Thu Feb 07, 2013 1:43 pm

Im having fun reading- Azriel

Thats as much as I ever hoped for, that it would be entertaining to read, thats twice now you've my day! Very Happy

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A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldy.

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Post by azriel Thu Feb 07, 2013 7:26 pm

Kissing

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If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got

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Circle of Stone (reprieve) - Page 14 Jean-b11
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Thu Feb 07, 2013 9:53 pm

Chapter Two
Open Sea

Canthiss paced fretfully along the beach his heavy boots pounding the sand beneath his feet. He should have gone back. This young soldier, Frel, could have kept watch over the Prince. He was not needed here. He should have gone back.

He paced back the way he had come. He should not have let the Baron go off on his own either that was dangerous, especially with the Port soldiers with him. He had not helped keep the Ironfang family secret this long just to neglect his duty now and risk the Baron revealing it to all. He should have gone back.

He paced some more then stopped and gazed anxiously out over the dark and empty sea. They should have been here by now if all had gone well.

He looked upwards at the sky, it was rapidly growing lighter, the stars fading. On the other side of the island the sun must have risen. Where were they? Why this delay? He resumed his nervous pacing. Maybe he should still go back?

“A sail!” Frel shouted leaping up from his vantage point by the shores edge, “It’s them. Look here they come!”

The prow of Erwin’s ship was clear to see in the growing dawn light as it rounded the island; keeping relatively wide of the shore in fear of the many hidden rocks. Canthiss hailed them with a rousing cheer and a wave of his arm.

It was not long before a small boat was lowered over her side and began making strong strides through the currents towards them. It was slowed as it neared shore by the treacherousness of the bay and by the time it had navigated the hazards the sun had arisen high enough to bathe them in warm light. Canthiss and Frel patiently waited in the glittering, sunbathed shallows, the Prince borne between them.

Canthiss noted as the boat drew nearer that there were only three men in it, two oarsmen and the Sergeant, the ship could presumably spare no more. As soon as the Prince was safely, and with as much dignity as possible, stowed in the bottom Canthiss and Frel took the spare oars and they struck back out for their vessel.

“Why the delay? And is the Druid with you?” Canthiss asked Jarel as soon as chance allowed, having to shout above the waves and the stiffening wind.

Yes, she’s aboard,” Jarel said from the prow, not turning round to respond engaged as he was in the task of lookout, “And as to our delay we were attacked but I will let your Master tell that tale to you.”

“And my Master, he is well?” Canthiss asked with some concern, not so much for his masters’ life but more for how he might have reacted before the men.

“He is well,” Jarel called back over his shoulder.

There seemed to be no hint in this that the Baron had done anything untoward, but Canthiss continued to probe just in case there was anything more to be said on the matter, “By whom were you attacked?”

“Not by whom, by what. It was a monster of the deep. A thing from sailor’s tales not of the world. The Baron did great service against it remaining aboard alone to fight the beast whilst his companions fled, but that tale should be his to tell not mine.”

Canthiss considered this in silence for several oar strokes then said, “And is it then now dead, this monster?”

Jeral held Canthiss’ eye for a moment and replied in leaden tones, “I don’t think so, no.”



Tain was alternating anxious looks between the surrounding sea and the approaching boat. The beast could return at any moment and the small boat, heaving seemingly erratically to Tain's untrained eye, was making plodding progress towards them. Both they and the ship were sitting targets.

He wished they could move closer to speed their progress but the rocky waters prohibited it, besides with three men in the boat they barely had enough crew left on-board just to keep the ship at anchor.

He stared pessimistically down into the waters around the hull but saw nothing, the wind which was moving round to blow from the northward had strengthened and was whipping the sea into a froth of white flecks, obscuring what lay below.

The beast could be right beneath them and they would not even know, not until it was too late that was.

He comforted himself with the notion that the Druid seemed to have some sort of sense of when the thing was near and this thought in turn made him realize that he had not seen her since shortly after coming aboard. The last Tain had seen of her was when she had disappeared down a ladder below deck, perhaps to pray or maybe even sleep.

Sleep! Tain yawned with the mere thought of it. When had he last had a proper sleep? Well if the Druid had managed to find somewhere for a quick half hours nap then good for her. Tain wished he could but he knew the anxiousness of their situation would not allow him any rest. No matter how tired he was. He stared back out at the still distant boat, slowed further by the roughing of the waters by the wind, and willed it on.

The Druid was not in fact asleep; she was far beyond that state. Her mind and spirit were currently distant from her body which sat in a relaxed fashion, eyes closed in an empty cabin. The cabin had belonged to one of the ship’s former officers; nautical charts and maps adorned every wall.

Her current state of mind, if it still could be called such, was that of probing curiosity mixed with a touch of fear at the unknown. She was investigating an area of druid expertise not entered into for thousands of years. An area of study which had died off, along with those who had practised it, long ago.

It was not exactly a forbidden art, but it was frowned upon. In the pantheon of druid rituals it was like the uncle your mother never spoke about. It was not quite right somehow, not proper, though in what precise fashion was never made explicitly clear. She did know it was very dangerous. She was therefore acting without guidance and not without some trepidation.

What she was attempting to do was to probe the very earth beneath with her consciousness, much in the same way she would with a living thing. The main difference here was in scale and that she was probing a structure not a life. But it was the scale that was worrying her.

The world was immense and the greatest danger was losing her own identity within it, like pouring a flagon of beer in the ocean she risked being diffused into the multi-layered strata she was encountering. But she concentrated for all she was worth and persevered.

Somewhere down here there were answers. Astagoth was a God of this Underworld, a God of hidden places, dark places, places of fire and rock. The Druid sought some recognizable order amid the confusion of new impulses and senses she was encountering, unlike anything she had any experience of.
There was life here she was sure. but whether it was contained in the rock all around or whether it emanated from the rock itself was impossible for her to tell. It was all so alien.

Then suddenly she found something quite unexpected and extraordinary. It was a ribbon, a current of energy, of magic. Pure, natural magic. As her consciousness touched upon its outer form she was overwhelmed with a realization. The very world itself was alive!

What she had found was something akin to an artery, a conduit through which the world’s energy ran like blood. But as she probed it further she sensed there was something wrong, even though she had never encountered anything of its like before she was aware of a strangeness of mood that enveloped her like a dark vapour. Giving her the sense of a thing twisted.

This construct was natural, once, but no longer she guessed. Something had subverted it, taken control of it and contorted it to run in a chosen path. A path which went directly from the south to the north. She willed her presence onwards to investigate.

Her essence penetrated the outer surface and she found herself in a channel, like a tube of immeasurable length whose grooved walls turned slowly and glimmered in reflection. And what they reflected was a fire, broil and fume that flowed in a malignant writhing stream ever northwards. The furious intent of a twisted God.

The instant she beheld the broiling river she knew it was aware her. Something began manifesting in the current, a shape built of darkness and smoke that sparked flame as it rose up towards her. It grew and formed into a gaping mouth of fire, black like an abyss.

It engulfed her and spat her back out and she was expelled from the conduit, her spirit rejected by the far stronger will within. And the blackness that had engulfed her stripped her of all sense of being; who she was, where she was, why she was. All of it became vague, as if in the recollection of a dream. Her sense of individuality, of purpose was draining out into a haze, pouring away into the very rocks of the earth. Like a desperate diver she strove for the surface world and the light.

She shot from sitting to standing in one fluid motion and her eyes snapped open. She started blankly around taking in nothing.

She blinked.

Once, twice.

She struggled to recollect. Everything seemed blank then like writing appearing on parchment facts came in a steady stream; she was in a cabin on Erwin’s ship, they were sailing back to the Port, there was a sea creature pursuing them and, she turned cold at the memory, under all of them the will of Astagoth was flowing north seeking an outlet.

She sat back down and took out her pipe and flint, hands still shaking she lit it thoughtfully and methodically. She leaned back in the chair against the creaking wall and blew out a puff of smoke.

Her thoughts moved rapidly now and she began to catalogue everything she could recall about Astagoth and the means by which this God had appeared. The last place had been the island Circle. But that was destroyed now, He could not enter there. There was also the Circle beneath the mountain which Erwin had made use of, but how damaged it had been by the roof falling in she did not know. She doubted that it was still functioning.

Yet it did seem that the Circles served as entry points from one realm of existence to another. If they were the outlets Astagoth was using to infect the north then it begged the questions; just how many Circles were there? And who, other than the late Erwin, was using them?

_________________
Pure Publications, The Tower of Lore and the Former Admin's Office are Reasonably Proud to Present-



A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldy.

- get your copy here for a limited period- free*

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Warning may contain Wholesome Tales
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:27 pm

Tain reached out a helping hand and he and a soldier hauled the Prince up onto the deck.

“Welcome aboard,” Ironfang greeted with genuine warmth in his voice.

“I am glad to be aboard Baron,” Canthiss replied with a curt bowing of his head.

“There’ll be time for you two to hug later,” Tain said keen to get underway, “but right now we’ve got to get out of here.”

“The Sergeant has given me the general outline of what has happened,” Canthiss said, “Are we being pursued?”

“Let's just say that we’re acting on the assumption that yes, we are,” Tain informed him briskly, “Which is why we need less chat and more nautical things happening.”

The boat was stowed on-board deck and the Prince was safely secured in the captain’s cabin then as quick as all hands could muster they set sail once more.

The ship strove north, fighting the growing wind for the better part of an hour. During this time any man who found himself with a spare moment would find that his eyes would inexorably turn towards the sea in search of the beast, but of it there was no sign.

Soon however it was becoming clear even to Tain that the beast was not going to be their only concern. The wind had now turned fully and was blowing steadily from the north-west. Their ship, which had at first struggled onwards, was now faltering.

Looking for something that would take his mind off his returning nausea Tain made his way along to the helm where Jeral was struggling with the wheel and had finally resorted to lashing it in place. The sky overhead was darkening. It started to rain, in large drops which quickly turned to a downpour that the wind caught and began to hurl horizontally at them. The sea seemed to immediately respond to this and rose to greet the sky.

The sail creaked in protest above them as the men tried to tack the ship round far enough to keep their course northwards. Tain watched in growing concern. The horizon ahead of him was now not just going up and down but swinging from side to side as well. Very soon he was either going to have to disturb the Druid or lose his breakfast over the side. Though how his friend could sleep through this was beyond Tain.

Jeral cried out suddenly at the helm and fell backwards to the soaked decking clutching his hand. The lashes on the wheel had given and it was spinning madly in the rain. The ship reared at the prow and began swinging back round towards the south.

Ironfang and Canthiss came hurrying up the steps, clutching the railings to keep upright, alerted by the cry. They both had cloaks whose hoods were up and the rain ran from them in streams.

“Report,” Ironfang ordered at Jeral who stood clutching at his hand.

“It felt as if the tiller had struck something. She just gave way,” he shouted back above the drumming rain.

Ironfang stuck out a large hand to the whirring wheel and grasped it. It came to an immediate squealing halt. The Sergeant took it with his good hand and the look of concern on his face as he spun it was plain to see.

“What is it?” Ironfang demanded.

“She is not answering.”

“And how bad exactly is that?” Tain questioned displaying all his nautical knowledge but expecting the worst none-the-less.

“It means we cannot set a course,” Jeral explained, confirming Tain's fears, “We are adrift.”

The sail whumped full of wind above them and the deck tipped as the ship lurched round further to the right.

“And we are being driven back to the island,” Ironfang growled.

“So what can we do about it?” Tain yelled above the wind.

“First we must take in the sail,” Jeralresponded and barked the order down to the deck where the men hurried through the rain to the task.

“Can we anchor here? Wait for a rescue?” Tain asked.

“You cannot anchor in open sea, in a storm, the waves would eventually batter us into driftwood,” Jeral said in exasperated tones.

“Can we fix it then?” Tain went on determined to find something they could do.

“That depends upon what has happened to the tiller,” Jeral replied, “but to find that out someone would have to go down and look.”

“I thought the tiller was underneath the ship?” Tain shouted.

“It is,” Jeral responded bleakly.

“Ask for a volunteer from among the men,” Ironfang ordered the sergeant.

“Make sure it is a volunteer,” Tain put in as the Sergeant turned to call the men, “If nobody wants to go overboard nobody’ll be forced to go overboard.”

“Nonsense. They are soldiers of the Crown,” Ironfang said dismissively, “They are paid to follow orders. Ask for a volunteer Sergeant, but if none are forthcoming we still must know the extent of the damage below.”

“Understood Baron,” Jeral nodded.

The men were called to the deck below where they stood in a perfectly disciplined uncomplaining line while the rain lashed down upon them and the wind blew it in their faces. The ship, left unmanned was hopelessly adrift and at the mercy of the elements and the beast.

Jeral quickly explained the predicament to an increasingly worried row of faces and when he came to ask for a volunteer all eyes were suddenly downcast in an intense study of the gleaming wet decking, all but the eyes of one young man.

“I volunteer, Sir,” Frel said stepping forward and saluting sharply.

“Bring him aft,” Ironfang shouted down and Frel was led up to the rear of the ship where ropes were secured about him.

Tain watched the eyes of the men as they in turn watched Frel being roped up, from the looks on their faces it were as if the young man were stepping up to the gallows and the safety ropes were his noose.

Soon enough Frel was ready, standing by the outer railing. He was shaking but whether with the cold or fear Tain was not sure, he put a reassuring hand on the lads trembling shoulder and said, “No mucking about down there. You get in and back out as fast as you can and don’t forget, we’re here on the other end of these ropes, the first hint of trouble and we’ll have you out of there. And if you’ll take a bit of advice,” he added in lower tones then said in a voice and with a look that gave no hint of any humour to it, “take this advice, ‘Never volunteer’.”

Frel only managed to nod in response, perhaps not trusting that his voice would not crack if he dared to speak. Without another word he clambered over the railing and began climbing down the swinging hull of the ship.

Three soldiers took up the slack of the rope, which for added security was also tied around a wooden mooring bollard which was part of the decking. Tain peered over the side. Frel had clambered down to just above the level of the highest waves which seemed to be pounding the ship with increasing ferocity. If the beast was waiting down there for him there was no way to tell.

The same thought seemed to have occurred to Frel because he halted in his progress and seemed to freeze, the rain and spray contesting to lash against him. Tain thought for a moment the young soldier was going to change his mind and come climbing back up as several seconds passed in which Frel did not move, then turning up he looked Tain in the eye, took a deep breath and plunged on downwards beneath the heaving waves. Behind Tain the soldiers continued to let out the rope.

The Druid was enjoying a quiet moment. She had smoked her pipe, entered into a meditative state which, whilst not as good as actual sleep, certainly helped make up a bit for her lack of it recently. And now she was enjoying a second pipe and letting her overworked mind rest by giving it the pleasant task of doing and thinking of absolutely nothing.

It was this state of being which had helped her keep her mind off the way the ship seemed to be swinging about and the sounds of pouring rain from without. The ship swung violently again and a pile of rolled up charts shot out of a drawer and tumbled across the floor ending up striking against her left foot.

She cursed under her breath and standing put out her pipe, stowing it safely in its pouch. She was going to have to focus on the here and now again. She took in a deep breath and let her mind wander out over the ocean in search of the beast.

“It is here!” she muttered and stood to rush out to warn the others but then decided against it. She sat back down with a determined air.

Since her leap of faith from the cliff top she had felt Elhonna’s blessing with greater power, felt Her presence more personally than at any other time in her life. Something had changed in her relationship with her deity. This time she was stronger. This time she was going to find out what it was thinking.

_________________
Pure Publications, The Tower of Lore and the Former Admin's Office are Reasonably Proud to Present-



A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldy.

- get your copy here for a limited period- free*

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yjYiz8nuL3LqJ-yP9crpDKu_BH-1LwJU/view



*Pure Publications reserves the right to track your usage of this publication, snoop on your home address, go through your bins and sell personal information on to the highest bidder.
Warning may contain Wholesome Tales
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the crabbit will suffer neither sleight of hand nor half-truths. - Forest
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:47 pm

Tain stared worriedly down. There was still no sign of Frel resurfacing. The rain had lessened to a drizzle but the wind had not yielded any.

“He’s been under too long,” Tain shouted back to Ironfang, “We should bring him back up.”

But just then the dark hair of Frel broke the surface and he hauled himself, panting, up onto the side of the hull.

“He’s out,” Tain shouted, “Bring him up. Quickly. Bring him up. Pull.”

Frel partially climbed and was partially hauled up towards the deck until his hands appeared clasping the railings, quickly followed by his soaked, exhausted face. Before he could get any further Ironfang strode forward demanding, “How bad is it?”

“Very,” Frel replied, breathing heavily and clutching the railing, “The tiller is gone.”

“What do you mean gone?” barked Ironfang, winning Tains prize for stupidest question of the day so far.

“I mean there’s nothing there Baron. No tiller. It’s been ripped clean off.”

“Help him aboard,” the Baron dismissed turning away frowning in annoyance at this news.

“Abandon ship!” the Druids voice cried suddenly out above the howl of the wind and Tain spun round. The Druid was running along the wet deck towards them shouting, “Abandon ship! Abandon it now.” The men within ear shot stopped in their tasks and looked to the helm.

“No one is abandoning this ship,” Ironfang bellowed into the wind making sure the crew heard him.

Tain turned back to Frel and reached a hand out to assist him aboard but just then the young man's eyes bulged and his mouth opened in an 'o'. He seemed to freeze like that in Tain's mind for a moment and then he was gone.

Tain leapt forward but too late, he was just in time to see Frel in the grasp of a glistening silvery tentacle disappearing with a splash into the frothing sea. The rope attached to Frel went taut then with a screeching sound the mooring bollard to which it was attached tore up from the decking and shot whistling at speed straight passed Tain's head and over the side.

“We have no other choice,” the Druid snapped as she came running up, “I have glimpsed the creatures intent, it has,” she struggled for words the Baron would easily grasp, “it has orders, if you like, orders to destroy all the ships it comes across in these seas. We have to go.”

“Orders?” Ironfang queried, “From whom?”

“These are questions for another time and a safer place,” she replied impatiently, “It is futile to remain here. We must abandon this ship.”

“Surely we’ll be no safer, less so, in the small boats?” Tain protested.

“It does not care about survivors, survivors spread fear, which is what it wants, it wants to keep all others out of the sea,” she explained hurriedly in the tones of someone with too little time and even less patience, “Now we must go.”

There was a thump from the railing behind them and they all spun round. Two hands appeared at it, one grasping the railing the other holding a long dagger from which drops of black blood fell and hissed.

They stared as one, frozen. Then Tain came to his senses, stepped forward and hauled Frel over the side. His clothing was tattered and he was badly cut and bruised, his breathing heavy but otherwise he looked defiant and his young eyes now gleamed with a steely light.

“Petty officer Frel, reporting Baron,” he panted, swaying slightly with fatigue, his breathing seeming difficult and painful. He saluted the Baron and tried to stand to attention on the tilting deck, water pouring from him.

“I will improve that rank with you if we get back to shore alive,” the Baron replied.

Even dazed and shocked as Frel was Tain could feel the mental field of pride that radiated out from the young man at the Barons promise. Tain shook his head.

A cry from the deck below turned their attention in that direction. Several of the tentacles, long and coiling, had appeared over the port side and now began tearing at the railings.

“Defend the ship!” Ironfang roared and the men on the deck responded with sword and pike.

“No!” the Druid shouted in fury, “Abandon ship!” she shouted equally fiercely down at the crew.

Even as she cried out one of the men disappeared screaming over the side and another was taken aloft and then battered to a bloody pulp upon the deck, leaving the wood shattered, wrecked and red.

There was a tearing sound as the tentacles upon the hull ripped shards of planking from the side and the ship heaved.

The Baron had drawn his sword and Canthiss did likewise. Below them on the main deck tentacles writhed everywhere, two more men were being dragged over the side screaming, futilely hacking in terror at the sinuous limbs that held them fast. Two wet tentacles were coiling round the central mast whilst the crew who remained desperately tried to hack at the rubbery skin. Jarel charged down to aid them shouting orders in the confusion. There was a roar and a great splash as part of the port side gave way and two of the four small boats disappeared over the side.

“We must go now,” the Druid implored, “whilst we still can. Order those men to withdraw.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Tain shouted, “It’s time to leave Baron,” he clutched at the railing as the ship lurched again under the pull of the mammoth limbs, “It's ripping the ship out from under us! See sense man, get your men out of here whilst you still have men to order.”

The Baron paused a moment then turning to the railing overlooking the deck he roared, “Look to the Prince. Abandon ship! Man the boats.”

They hurried down the stairs in a ragged group to the main deck where the remaining boats were stored but no sooner had they descended than the deck began to tilt upwards.

“What’s happening?” Ironfang screamed as the sky became the horizon and he began to slide backwards down the decking.

“We’re too late; we’re going under," Tain moaned, “Up the deck. Climb up the deck.”

He leant out for the railing that ran around the decks edge and getting a grip he used it like a ladder to ascend up the ships length. He glanced behind himself; the Baron was following with the others behind. The ship seemed to be at about a forty five degree angle to the water now and tentacles now slithered all over the aft of her, toying with her, pulling her down.

He looked ahead, which was now nearly directly up, and saw the two remaining small boats slithering with growing momentum towards him. Their wooden hulls screeched along the deck. He barely had time to cry out in warning and raise one arm in a poor defence above his head before the first of the boats struck him, catching the side of his forehead and knocking him unconscious. He fell backwards and downwards.

He struck Ironfang who slowed him considerably but the Baron could not maintain his own grip and he too began falling backwards down the deck. They both shot passed the Druid and then Canthiss who managed to reach out a hand to grab at the Baron. He slowed his masters’ progress momentarily but he could not hold on and Ironfang slipped from his hands leaving Canthiss only with his cloak and a curse.

Tain awoke to consciousness. It was not a good moment to do so. The world seemed to be hurtling by him in a vertical blur. Which meant he suddenly realized that he must be falling! He panicked and instinctively tried to reach out a hand to slow his progress, his arm struck something, smacking off it, which caused a searing pain and he blacked out once more.

Falling several feet above him the Baron struck a mooring bollard with his stomach, coming to a halt upon it, legs and arms dangling over the sea. The wind was knocked from him but he managed to grasp on. Below him the rear of the ship was beginning to go under, the water white in wild foam as it overcame the rear deck. He spotted Tain; now seemingly unconscious again as he was loose limbed, spinning down through the air beneath. With a splash Tain hit the water amidst the thrashing tentacles and, as the Baron watched, went under.

A moment later the sea swelled and rushed up towards him with frightening speed and incredible noise. Dazzling foam swept over the Baron and engulfed him in a swirling white roar and an embrace of bitter coldness.

The rest of the ship and her remaining crew quickly followed.

_________________
Pure Publications, The Tower of Lore and the Former Admin's Office are Reasonably Proud to Present-



A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldy.

- get your copy here for a limited period- free*

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yjYiz8nuL3LqJ-yP9crpDKu_BH-1LwJU/view



*Pure Publications reserves the right to track your usage of this publication, snoop on your home address, go through your bins and sell personal information on to the highest bidder.
Warning may contain Wholesome Tales
[/b]

the crabbit will suffer neither sleight of hand nor half-truths. - Forest
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Post by azriel Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:53 pm

This is still exciting ! bounce

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"There are far, far, better things ahead than any we can leave behind"
If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got

Circle of Stone (reprieve) - Page 14 Th_cat%20blink_zpsesmrb2cl

Circle of Stone (reprieve) - Page 14 Jean-b11
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Post by azriel Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:58 pm

take that back... its STILL bloody exciting ! :carrot:

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Circle of Stone (reprieve) - Page 14 Th_cat%20blink_zpsesmrb2cl

Circle of Stone (reprieve) - Page 14 Jean-b11
azriel
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Feb 08, 2013 12:32 am

Thanks Azriel. Very Happy
This chapter is longer than I thought! Embarassed
I'll post more anyway but no obligation to read it all tonight of course.

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A Green And Pleasant Land

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Pettytyrant101
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Feb 08, 2013 12:44 am

Tain opened his eyes. He was cold, unbelievably cold, so cold in fact he was not even aware of his own extremities. He was also moving. Apparently without the aid of any of his own limbs. Which was odd.

He was going slowly forwards through the water leaving a v-shaped wake with the top of his head. Something he fuzzily realised was holding him up in the water and moving him forwards, which was puzzling as well as odd. His head and arm hurt and he sought desperately to focus. They had been sinking, the boat had hit him and he had fallen. Then nothing until this.

Whatever was bearing him squirmed a little under him and he realized it was something alive. He panicked and thrashed about, immediately slipping off and floundering into the sea. Something grey and shiny shot passed him and he lashed out at it, seeing the tentacle in its movements. The shape veered away and he realized that it was not anything like a tentacle save somewhat in colour and sheen.

It appeared to be some sort of very large fish or maybe a shark, Tain was not good on marine species and was therefore not sure wither to panic about this one or not. It swam round him in a half circle and drew closer again, slower this time. It had a long slender body with a fin on its back; it was sleek, about eight feet in length, nose to tail. And its nose was also long and when it broke the water seemed to contain a set of small white teeth that grinned at him. It also had a small hole on the back of its head which, when it surfaced, blew out air.

Tain stared at it in tired blankness, wondering briefly if he was hallucinating. Momentarily he blacked out as a sharp, burning pain shot through his right arm. His head bobbed beneath the water. When he came to again he was under the surface and he could hear a rapid clicking sound, then the fish thing pushed him upwards to the air and he gulped furiously before passing out again.

When next he was conscious the creature was shoving him with its nose. He was half out of the water and from the light it was late afternoon and overcast. It might have been raining or maybe it was just the spray of the sea Tain could feel falling against his face, he could not focus enough to decide. He grasped at the tilting wooden surface beneath himself and a shooting pain again went up his right arm making him cry out involuntarily.

With a final shove from his benefactor in the water he finally managed to scrabble up onto the square of decking that was now his raft.

It was depressingly bare, lacking in such amenities as dry clothes, food and fresh water. There was however another body lying upon it already. Tain's vision blurred as he sought to identify it and he collapsed onto his left side, his right arm still throbbing.

He felt something jabbing painfully against his hip as he lay there, a final niggling affront. He looked down, his own sword was gone, the binding which held it to his leg had not survived his shipwrecking but the more expensive workmanship of the Princes sword sheath had. It was the pommel of the sword that was jabbing into him. At least he thought, as the blackness came over him again, he would still be able to keep his word, if he survived. Although just who exactly he would be returning the sword to was another matter entirely. His head slumped back onto the decking with that thought spinning within it and his world went blank...

....He was home. He was standing in the corridor of his family ancestral house, the one which lead from the Banquet Hall, from which he could hear the sounds of revelry, to the huge kitchens.

He suddenly realised this was the night he had been newly promoted Officer in the Stenor army.

His father had gathered all the town dignitaries to celebrate it, and to show him off.

The sound of a dish clattering and spinning on the stone floor of the kitchens up ahead drew his attention that way. He grinned, “Gwendolyn,” he thought and hurried down the corridor.

The kitchen was in a state of - to Tain's eye at least - complete pandemonium. Apart from the two dining halls the kitchen was the biggest room in the house. It contained three open fires and several iron stoves of varying sizes and safety. At the far end was another door which led to the massive ovens. The heat in there could be astounding and people were known to have passed out from it.

There was a lot of shouting from the twenty or so cooks engaged in providing the feast and darting among them were the kitchen boys; fetching pans, bringing food in from storage and moping the spills on the floor. The cooks roared and bellowed orders and curses in an almost continuous stream, defying Tain thought, anyone’s ability to remember or carry them out.

Gwendolyn was here somewhere, amongst the chaos of people. He caught sight of some of the serving girls by some large barrels collecting trays of mugs filled with ale, she was among them. He pushed his way through and caught her by the arm just as she was turning to leave.

“Not now,” she said smiling at him, “I’m working.”

“This banquet is in my honour,” he smiled back, “So if I say you can have the night off, then you can have the night off.”

“You must be joking,” she laughed back, “Your fathers paying me three crowns for this.”

“You’re turning me down for money?” Tain replied incredulously but grinning.

“You’re good enough for one crown,” she teased, “two at a push maybe. But three?”

Tain took the tray from her hands and set it down on a table then grabbed her round the waist with his other hand. He pulled her in close and the other serving girls giggled behind them. “What if I promised you breakfast in bed?”

“Last time you promised that you fell asleep, drunk as a newt in the apple loft and in the morning I had to go and fetch breakfast for you.”

“And if I remember rightly what you actually brought me was a bucket of freezing cold water.”

“Served you right,” she smiled.

“Well this time,” Tain whispered, nuzzling her neck, “I’ll get someone else to make it for us.”

“Get off you silly fool,” she laughed pushing him away, “I’ll finish up here and meet you in an hour. All right?”

“The orchard?”

“I swear there's something wrong with you Tain, you've a thing for apples,” she giggled.

“That’s because their scent reminds me of you.”

“Go! Get off! The quicker you let me get on the quicker I can come to you.”

He let her go and she took up her tray, gave him a wink and disappeared out the door leading to the Hall.

Tain went out the kitchen side door into the quiet cool of the night air, the gravel of the road crunched under his feet........someone spun him round and smacked him hard across the face.
“What’d you do that for?” he began angrily but the hand struck him again, and again...

…The Druid was slapping his face. Tain's eyes snapped open. It was dark. The Druid hit him again. “Hey! Stop it! Why are you slapping me?” he finally managed.

She stopped, hand in mid-strike and fell backwards onto the undulating decking, panting heavily, “I thought you were dead,” she said.

“And that’s how you check is it?”

“Seemed the quickest way,” she grunted.

“Was that you? Earlier? The big fish?” Tain inquired, thought slowly resurfacing. He looked around but it was dark again and he could see nothing but endless black sea, his arm ached and throbbed.

“It is not a fish,” she explained, “They swim off the coasts of my homeland, in Motol.”

“Wouldn’t something with hands have been more useful?” Tain grumbled.

“Yes, until I froze to death. Those big fish as you call them can survive in very cold waters, and besides they have another advantage, they have a very unique way of looking at things. Thanks to which I can tell you that you have broken your right arm just above the wrist but amazingly, after that fall, you have no internal injuries.”

“How would a fish know that?”

“I told you, they are not fish,” she replied mysteriously.

Tain rolled painfully onto his left side, feeling the sharp shooting pain of the break in his other arm. There was another body lying beside him, on its side with a cloak wrapped around it. Whoever it was they were breathing irregularly as Tain could see one shoulder rise and fall. Unfortunately Tain's vision was blurry and he could not focus properly but he reckoned it was not broad enough for the Baron or even Canthiss.

“Who’s that?” he asked, trying to sit up.

“The Prince,” she replied.

“You rescued him before me?” Tain asked indignantly.

“Well, you were bobbing about on the surface on a barrel, he was inside the ship. Besides I have not expended this amount of energy upon curing Erwin’s poisoning just to have him drown now. And he is the only one who can prevent his brother seizing power. Without him our job of stopping whatever is happening will be much harder. If he survives that is, he does not look good.”

Tain managed to sit up, as well as the pain in his arm he was feeling simultaneously hungry and sea sick. The raft was bobbing quite violently. “What about the others?” he asked peering round at the tossing waves as if he expected to catch a sight of them in the night.

“I have no idea,” the Druid replied, “I spent all my time rescuing the two of you and fending off that creature. The last I saw of anyone else the Baron was dragging Canthiss towards some driftwood. I lost sight of them after that and I had other problems. That creature has taken a dislike to my mental intrusions and has been trying to probe my strengths and weaknesses,” she sighed and turned two exceptionally weary eyes on Tain, “In truth I am quite exhausted from fending off its assaults. And I have had to hold another form for hours to bring you both here; such rigours come at a price. My powers will be weaker now for some time and certainly I can do no more now but sleep. A search must wait for morning I am afraid,” she added wearily, “But first, I will attend to that broken arm.”

The Druids backpack and various herbs and potions seemed to always survive whatever circumstances were thrown at them, a trait Tain was very grateful for as she applied a soothing ointment that immediately cooled the pain and began reducing the swelling. With cautious hands she probed the extent of the damage, trying to feel for fragments, both by touch and with her mind.

She stood shakily on the raft and scanned about among the debris until she spotted a suitable splint. Retrieving a bandage from her pack she tied up Tain's arm in a sling, knotting it behind his neck.

“There you go,” she said standing up and putting her backpack back on, “That should do for now.”

Tain looked up ready to thank her and saw the look of fear that suddenly crossed her face.

A huge tentacle rose up in the darkness behind her followed by many more. Then beyond the writhing mass a great bulk heaved itself up out of the sea so that it sat above the water like a small island of craggy grey rock. Two black eyes, like great pools of black oil, sat either side of the monstrous head. It roared and the sea around it bubbled and frothed.

The Druid spun round to face it. Realizing its intent to late she tried to raise her mental defences, to draw on the last of her power. But weakened by her exertions she was no match for the psychic blast that struck and she fell helpless to the decking loose limbed. The beast sank silently back down beneath the waves.

Tain reeled. He felt sick. All of his limbs seemed to have gone cold. And he had been struck blind it seemed, for everything had become a fog. He felt paralysed, worse, he could not remember how to operate his own body, his mind could not conceive of having a body. He was shattered, fragmented, his consciousness torn outwards into mistiness. He tried to concentrate. Everywhere seemed dark.

Rain began to fall, lashing down. His vision shifted and suddenly he saw the Druid lying face down before him and she was not moving. He tried to drag himself along the soaked wooden planking to her but the effort was too much and he passed out.

Tain awoke, or at least he felt he had. Surroundings hummed into focus and he took in the room in which he found himself. It was very familiar. The ancient fire-place with its blackened stone around the chimney and the previous night’s ash still cooling in the grate was familiar. The huge oak wardrobe opposite him which he knew was filled with an expensive array of his own clothing (most of which he never wore) was familiar.

He got up from the bed upon he which he lay and went to the single tall window and drew back the heavy purple drapes, the sight that greeted him was hauntingly familiar.

Tain groaned as he took in the view. He was home, he was in Stenor. It was the day he had left to take up his new commission. One he had pushed for. The one he had used all his father's influence to gain Command of and that he would regret to the last of his days.

Today was the day he went to rescue Gwendolyn.

There was a knock at the door and Tain automatically said, “Enter.”

An old tall, thin retainer named Graypole did so, dressed in the sombre black attire of the household servants and moving in a way that gave the impression of a crow on stilts, “Your father wishes for you to attend upon him in the Library, Master Tain,” Graypole said as stiff as the clothing he wore.........

.........Then he was there, in the library and it seemed larger than Tain remembered, stretching off at the edges of his vision into impossible shadows, distances seemed off but he dismissed the notion when he saw the sombre figure of his father awaiting him; standing at the centre of the oval room behind a single large writing desk. He dominated the space he stood in like a storm cloud over a small hamlet.

Tain approached with an air of dread.

“I trust you’re prepared?” his father began bluntly as Tain stood respectfully before him, “When you take up command you represent your family’s honour, our name. Please don’t do your usual and disappoint me.”

“I’ll do my best father,” Tain replied.

“Your best?” his father roared, “If your best is all we have to hope for Tain then you’d be as well not taking a command at all. Your best!” he sneered, “I suppose you think you’ve done well enough to have come so far?”

“I am an Officer as you desired, am I not?” Tain responded sharply, defending himself.

“You’ve done nothing yet but the least of what I expect of you,” his father snapped back, “Don’t ruin this Tain with your usual inadequacies and your wondering thoughts. This is a serious matter. Men’s lives and our family reputation hang upon your actions. Do nothing to shame me. Remember you wanted this Commission.”

….and then there was hard shingle beneath his feet. He was on a beach looking out to a grey sea beneath dark clouds; he spun round, a sense of dread growing in his stomach. There was a village before him. Some of its houses were ablaze, women and children were crying out, men shouted. He did not want to be here, not here of all places, not this command.

It had seemed such a simple task, so simple. And so heroic- rush in and rescue the girl you love. But as he approached and saw those already dead and took in the stretched skeletal figures, elongated by starvation beyond all reasonable proportions, he knew it was all horribly wrong.

He had been expected to succeed, after all both his brothers had -which was a thought that settled on him like an unwanted burden- and everyone knew he was smarter than either of them. But worst of all he had simply expected he would succeed.

There was a large round hut that suddenly seemed to loom up right before him, taller than memory. There was a figure standing before it, just within the dark shadow of the doorway. It was a female robed all in black with the hood raised; concealing the face.

It seemed strangely solid as if this mysterious person were somehow more physical than everything around her. Tain found it difficult to turn his eye to anything else.

At that moment a corporal appeared beside him and he lost sight of the woman and almost immediately forgot all about her. The corporal waved him towards the doorway, but Tain did not wish to enter, the hut was filled with raw memories, with thoughts and deeds he had long since denied existence.
He found he was running, running away towards the beach. The sea was again before him.

He turned to look back at the village and their again was the mysterious women, seeming like a black hole in the unsubstantial backdrop of the world. Then suddenly the figure leapt forwards, straight up into the air, forty foot high, her trajectory forming a perfect arc.

The terrifying woman seemed to be propelling her impossible motion with a cycling of her legs; she loomed up large at incredible speed and landed right beside him.

She threw back her hood to reveal the face of a woman with eyes whose whites were flecked with green. “Tain,” the woman said urgently, “Do you know who I am?”

“What?” Tain responded in confusion, there was something about this woman’s presence that felt like an intrusion and her strange motion had caused a sick feeling to grow in his stomach and he doubled over onto the ground. A bald headed soldier with a surly disposition laughed at him.

“Do you know me?” the woman asked again slowly and clearly trying to catch Tain's eye. She succeeded and he felt that the meeting of eyes was more like a physical contact, he was sure something passed from the woman to him via that look and then a mist seemed to lift in his mind and he stood with ease.

“I do know you!” he said excitedly then he stopped suddenly and demanded, “What’s going on?”

“You are dreaming,” the Druid replied with a shrug of her shoulders, “This is a dream.”

Tain stared in shocked silence at his companion overwhelmed by this information and not entirely sure what to do with it. He looked around himself at the village, at the sea and at the sun and clouds in the sky. “This can’t be a dream,” he protested.

“Where were you before you came here?” she asked.

“I was...,” Tain paused, where had he been? He remembered being in the library talking with his father and then suddenly he was here, on the beach. What had happened in between?

“You were somewhere else, were you not?” she quizzed with a raised eyebrow, “And now you cannot recall anything between that event and this one? That is because this is a dream Tain. It is not real. There is no cause and effect here.”

Tain looked out over the village; he stamped the loose shingle under his feet feeling the hardness of the stones through his boots. He could smell the seaweed!

He looked to the village. A tremor ran through him.......The corporal was calling urgently to him, shouting that Gwendolyn needed him. He suddenly remembered in a blaze of realisation why he had come here, for her. He had to go to her now, he was about to do so when someone slapped him hard.

“Oh no you don't,” the Druid said spinning him round, “Focus on my eyes.”

Tain struggled to fix her gaze but the green sparkle seemed to draw him in, his senses seemed to suddenly clear and memory flooded back.

“What happened ?” Tain said, “I forgot all about you again. Why?”

“You are like a ship without an anchor. If you do not concentrate you drift, when that happens you get swallowed back into the dream and forget it even is one. I have leant you a little of what power I have left to me to keep you stabilized, for now,” she explained, going on, “Just try to remember at all times that you are dreaming, keep that thought at the front of your mind,” she wandered over towards the village talking as she went as if she were lecturing a student, “Living things dream because when they sleep their perception drifts freely, the further from waking perception it moves the more bizarre the content of the dream, which means you are not that far from normality, for you that is,” she said and flashed a rare grin at him then breathed in the phantom sea air deep into her lungs, “Not a very nice place,” she observed, “Is it somewhere real?”

“Yes, but this is somewhere I don’t talk about, this is my past, this place is why I left home” Tain said softly and reflectively.

She seemed to take in the heaps of dead bodies around the perimeter, the massive fires blazing all around, eventually saying, “Even given for the usual distorting of mood in dreams, this was not a good day for you, was it? The feeling here is not pleasant. I am sorry to have intruded on something so obviously private.”

“You know I don’t think about this place, not ever. Not once since I decided to leave home. But when I sleep, here it is! Every night just waiting for me to return, as if I could someone do it right this time, as if there ever was a right thing to do.”

“So what happened here, it actually took place?” she probed curiously.

“Yes,” Tain confirmed and his eyes seemed to glaze as if with an inner wall.

“What happened to you here Tain?” she asked genuinely concerned.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” he said turning away.

“How did you end up here?” she asked, probing further anyway.

He went over to one of the corpses upon the beach and rolled the dead man onto his back, his chest was holed by a sword thrust and was dark red with congealing blood. Tain turned a blank face to the Druid and replied levelly and unemotionally, “I volunteered.”

“I am sorry, for whatever happened to you here,” she said sympathetically.

“It’s all right, there’s nothing that can be done to change things now,” he began walking back towards her when something seemed to suddenly occur to him, “Hold on! If this is my dream how can you be in it?” he demanded suspiciously.

“I followed you,” she confessed with a shrug, “Do you remember where you really are? In the real world?”

“Well if this is a dream then I’m obviously asleep somewhere,” Tain reasoned.

“Unconscious actually,” she put in, drawing on her pipe and letting out a cloud of smoke.

“Yes!” Tain realized, “We were shipwrecked, on a raft, lost at sea and that thing attacked us,” he considered this a moment then looking around added, “I think I prefer it here after all,” another thought suddenly occurred to him, “You weren’t smoking. Where did you get that pipe from?” he demanded.

“This is your dream, remember, it does not have to make sense,” she replied blowing out the smoke, “You must picture me, when you do, with a pipe, so now I have a pipe. For which I thank you, I was just in need of one. On a related point I would like to point out that my breasts are not normally quite this big,” she added with a displeased look at Tain, “Is this how you see me?”

“Oh now this is too unfair,” Tain complained, “How would you like it if I came barging into your dreams?”

She just grinned mischievously at him in reply.

“ So what happened to me then? In the real world I mean. What happened to you for that matter?” he asked.

“When we were attacked you were knocked unconsciousness, but you were only collateral, I was the target. The truth is you will be fine but I am lost. It knocked my perception so far from my reality that I cannot find my own way back.”

“So how did you end up in my dream?” Tain asked barely able to believe he was in the position were he could ask such a question.

“I knew you also would be adrift, but you I guessed would not be knocked so far, you would recover as the body normally does when awaking from sleep, at least in time you would. I know your,” she struggled for a word that did not exist and settled rather lamely for “scent, I followed your scent, it led me here and when you awaken I will follow you back.”

“To my body?” Tain asked alarmed.

“No! Just into normal awareness. All sentient creatures share a very narrow vision of reality; it is why we all see the same world, more or less. Your normal awareness is close enough to mine and every other sentient beings that I shall be able to find my own way from there. The physical closeness of our bodies in the real word should also help,” she added.

“Aaah!” Tain exclaimed in sudden pain and clutched his right arm.

“I do not think we have long to wait now. You are waking up.”

“How do you know that?” Tain said.

“You have a broken arm remember? You are feeling the pain in your real body,” she glanced around, “Besides the sea is gone,” she added. And indeed it was, replaced by a seemingly endless shimmering of lights.

“Will I remember any of this?” Tain asked.

“Maybe,” she replied with another shrug, “Do you normally remember dreams? Well you will soon find out. See you on the other side.”

“The other side of what?”

“Of that,” she said grinning and pointed behind him with the stem of her pipe.

Tain spun round and something like a buzzing tunnel of light engulfed him and he accelerated through it.

_________________
Pure Publications, The Tower of Lore and the Former Admin's Office are Reasonably Proud to Present-



A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldy.

- get your copy here for a limited period- free*

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yjYiz8nuL3LqJ-yP9crpDKu_BH-1LwJU/view



*Pure Publications reserves the right to track your usage of this publication, snoop on your home address, go through your bins and sell personal information on to the highest bidder.
Warning may contain Wholesome Tales
[/b]

the crabbit will suffer neither sleight of hand nor half-truths. - Forest
Pettytyrant101
Pettytyrant101
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Feb 08, 2013 1:25 am

Tain tried to open his eyes but his lids seemed glued together and the small chink he did fitfully manage to open only let in an unnecessary harsh bright light that made him wince.

He had the nagging sensation that he had been talking to someone about something, something important. Was it someone from home? The memory seemed to smell of home, having its distinctive recollective scent. Who was it he had been talking to? A woman?

He tried to prise open just one eye and found that by squinting through it he could make out a patch of blue sky with high grey clouds thinly spread across it. The sun was at noon and beating directly down upon his face. His head throbbed and he groaned as he turned it to the side away from the intrusive day, the dream images fleeing in the light as rapidly as the sudden pain arose in his broken arm.

He eased himself carefully up onto his good elbow, the raft was bobbing on the swell and he did not fancy his chances of standing erect upon it. Instead he crawled to the closest body to his own which turned out to belong to the Prince.

The young royal was still not conscious though his mouth was silently forming strings of mumbled inaudible words. The man’s lips looked dry, cracked and this made Tain suddenly realize just how thirsty he was himself; his tongue seemed to be taking up an unfair proportion of his mouth. This thought was immediately followed by the disheartening one that he had lost his pack which held all his supplies.

He turned from the Prince and espied the body of the Druid, lying dangerously near the rafts edge with one arm dragging in the waves as they bobbed passed, but more importantly her pack was still on her back. Tain crawled on his hands and knees, still not feeling enough strength yet in his legs to risk standing, and hurried to assist her.

With his strong hand he succeeded in dragging her several feet back towards the rafts centre. She too it seemed was unconscious but her breathing was regular and deep. Tain gently nudged her onto her side and undid the straps which held the backpack on. He managed after some grunting effort in easing it from her shoulders and sat it down on the deck before himself.

He was very wary of opening it, apart from it being an invasion of the Druids privacy there was no way to tell what might be inside it. But he was very thirsty. He took a deep breath and undid the buckle pulling back the cloth flap and peered inside.

The interior was divided up into felt-lined compartments. The first one Tain looked into turned out to contain vials of liquid, deep purple in colour and he quickly put them back in their protective covering.

The next contained small individual felt bags of seeds; a few of the more common sort Tain recognized but most were foreign to him.

The third compartment held two wooden flasks which when he opened them turned out to contain a clear liquid. He sniffed very cautiously at the flask top. It was odourless. He poured a small amount onto the deck; it did not hiss or fume but simply ran away like spilt water over the planking. As satisfied as he felt he could be he steeled himself to take a sip and put the flask to his lips.

“I would be very careful if I were you,” the Druid said suddenly in a weak voice but with utmost seriousness, “Drink that and you will never be thirsty again. I guarantee it.”

Tain's hand froze and very slowly he put the flask back down and then shoved the stopper back in as hard as he could manage. “Thanks for the warning,” he managed grey faced.

The Druid laughed which in turn made her cough and splutter.

“What’s so funny?” Tain demanded.

“The look on your face,” she replied getting a hold of herself, “It is just water. No really, it is.”

Tain warily picked the flask back up and opened it, sniffing the contents for reassurance. She laughed again. “It is perfectly safe,” she insisted again, “And if you keep staring at it instead of drinking it then I will snatch it off you. You are not the only one around here who is thirsty.”

Tain took a sip then a gulp, then another before passing it over to the Druid with a sigh of relieved satisfaction. She drank gratefully and then asked, “What about Prince Mekhal? Is he still alive?”

“Alive yes. Awake yet? No.”

“I am not surprised, I only just saved him from poisoning and since then he has been partially drowned, shipwrecked and mentally assaulted, it is remarkable he is alive at all.”

“It’s remarkable any of us are,” Tain replied dryly, “So now what?”

“We float, for now. How do you feel? I for one do not believe I could mange to even stand. I am weary in body and spirit in a fashion I have never encountered before. I feel as if I need to sleep for a month to recover and I may well do.”

“I’ve felt better,” Tain agreed ruefully, “But I think I’ll survive, if we ever see dry land again that is,” he added wistfully, “Do you reckon that beast will return to finish us?”

“No, I doubt it. It knows I am no longer any threat to it, we are not significant enough and there are bigger fish to be caught out here than us. It will sink ever ship along the coast; I sensed it in its mind.”

“Why?”

“It has been ordered to, by someone or something called the Watcher, it is as if this Watcher is there, in its mind, controlling it. Such a cruel thing to do, no wonder it is enraged. But for what purpose it is doing this I do not yet know. But for now we should do what little there is which we can do, which is to tend to the Prince and see he gets water. I will rest here a while longer I think. I must regain my strength,” she lay her head back down on the decking and her eyes closed, then she reopened them and lay a hand on Tain's arm, saying, “I was not entirely joking about sleeping for a month. If I fall asleep I may be out for quite some time, days I mean, long enough to worry you perhaps. If that happens, leave me if you can. Give me water but do not attempt to revive me. My body will take what rest it needs in the presence of Elhonna, for as long as it needs to.”

Tain nodded, even though he was not quite sure what the Druid meant by this. He was worried for her. Her face was beyond pale it was nearly pure white and her eyes seemed heavy, their green sheen dimmed. It was as if she were engaged in a moment to moment struggle just to keep them open. Indeed as soon as Tain turned to crawl away she closed her eyes and fell immediately into a very long sleep indeed.

The routine, for so it quickly became, of tending to the unconscious Prince and to the sleeping Druid became the totality of Tain's world for the next three empty days. Three days of rolling sea. And no matter how long Tain bobbed about upon it his stomach never seemed to get used to the idea. Not that there was much to be sick with. The little food he had came from the Druids backpack and consisted of a pitiful few strips of dried meat stuffs, tough and worse, salty. Tain had divided it up into enough to last him five days but looking at the quickly dwindling supplies now on the evening of the third day he feared he had overestimated. Not that it would really matter; the water would most likely run out before too long.

There had been no sign of either the beast or any other survivors in the last three days. Only sea. Tain looked out constantly but in vain for sight of land, the current was taking them back northwards but they were also he reckoned going east, slowing their return and lengthening their journey time.

Tain nibbled at the edge of a piece of tasteless dried meat. He had already given a share of the water to the Druid who was drifting now from fitful wakefulness to deep sleep without ever really seeming to properly come too.

As for the Prince, he had stopped mumbling to himself at last and now just seemed to be unconscious again. Tain had managed to force water down his throat but so far had been unable to get any food into the man. He was not sure how much longer the Prince would endure. The young royal was beginning to look unhealthily thin, his face pale and sunken. Even his fingers seemed thinner.

Tain was just pondering this when glancing up he saw on the horizon a sail. A white sail. It was coming towards him from the north! Tain dragged himself up onto his legs, which protested from under use, and staggered erratically towards the edge of the raft waving his good arm in the air.

The sail grew larger as it strove south, Tain could see the whites of the waves dashed and cut by the magnificence of the prow.

As the ship drew closer Tain fancied he could see figures scurrying about the rigging. They had spotted him! He waved vigorously putting what little strength he had left into it, but it was all in vain. For even as he watched the ship suddenly lurched over to one side and drifting over the water came the sound of cries and cracking wood.

Grey tentacles wrapped firmly around her mast and tore it away. The white sail which offered Tain so much hope floundered and went over into the sea.

Tain's heart sank as rapidly as his waving arm. In moments he was sitting in horrified silence on the rafts edge staring out over an empty sea on whose surface floated only miscellaneous flotsam and the occasional body that bobbed up to the surfaced, circled and sank back again into the cold black depths.

That had been day three. On day four, in the early hours of the morning he decided he had enough waiting about and with no more tools than his bare hands he set about tearing up one comer of the raft and fashioned himself a crude oar that was little more than a club of wood, nevertheless he put it in the water and strove to drive them northwards. At least the activity broke the monotony and it provided him with a renewed sense of purpose, however crazy and futile it might be.

He was often so tired or so hungry from paddling for hours that he would wander into daydreams of fabulous meals and plentiful drinks only to slowly come to again to find his stomach gnawing at him and his lips to painful and dry to eat.

For four more days he went on in this fashion, sleeping fitfully in the coldness of night under the slowly waxing moon, and striking on with his home-made oar before the sun had arisen again. On the eighth day since the wrecking the water ran out. A day later the food was gone, it mattered little as his throat was too parched and swollen to have swallowed any had there still been some.

It was on the ninth day since they he had been shipwrecked that he finally sighted land, or thought he had. A line of green on the horizon ahead, but his eyes were red and swollen and his mind so weary he could not be certain he was not just imagining it. He stared unthinkingly at it for some time and then half crazed tried to stagger towards it. He collapsed of exhaustion near the edge of the raft and everything went black.

The shore drew ever nearer and the raft bobbed unmanned, rising and falling upon the breakers, large here near the shallows. In the motion of it Tain rolled and slipped overboard.




End of Chapter 2! cheers

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Post by azriel Fri Feb 08, 2013 10:50 pm

I loved the dream sequence, & I actually felt I was in, & on, the water, on a cold wet piece of no good crappy wood. I could feel the bobbing up & down & the hopelessness of it all ! & then to see what should have been a warm dry rescue be "eaten" right before your eyes ! brilliant ! Very Happy

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Post by Mrs Figg Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:01 pm

he could have snogged the dolphin. Kissing
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:15 pm

A wet kiss! Very Happy

(I didnt know you were reading it Mrs Figg- hope you are enjoying it)

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Post by azriel Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:18 pm

Hes gotta snog something soon ! Hes been away from home long enough & that Druid is gonna seem very attractive before the story's done ! (unless he does a "George Michael") Rolling Eyes

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:28 pm

I refuse to offer speculation on the snogging possibilities.
Although I have some concerns someone might one day do one of those shipping thingmies with Tain and Ironfang!! Evil or Very Mad

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Post by Mrs Figg Fri Feb 08, 2013 11:34 pm

yeah I am reading it Very Happy , and I am still waiting for some romantical stuff. Suspect
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Feb 09, 2013 12:10 am

Chapter Three
Ballads and Children’s Rhymes

Tain opened his eyes and immediately threw up, spewing salty water onto the shingle beach he had unexpectedly awoken upon. The hardness of the stones pressed against his left side. His right arm ached, the bandage was gone the splint with it.

He groaned and turned himself over onto his back. The sky above was grey with cloud and a cold breeze blew over him from the north made colder still by the wetness of his clothing. He tried to remember what had happened but could recall nothing following his collapse upon the raft. After a few moments of quiet recuperation he tried sitting up, his head reeled with the movement and he threw up again, more salty water and bile.

Eventually he managed to gain some control over his stomach and staggered to his feet panting heavily with the effort. Ahead of him was a line of birch trees that pressed in along the shore line. There was no sign among the trees or along the length of the beach of their raft, or of the Druid, or the Prince. There was however a wisp of smoke, rising to his right; the beach there curved back in a cove but the eaves of the trees came right down to the water line on an overhang, preventing him seeing the source. But smoke usually meant people.

He staggered along the beach to where it met the trees and with some effort, having only the use of one arm, he managed to clamber up the steep grassy banking. He paused at the top, lying panting on the fallen leaves of autumn feeling drained already. Thirst and hunger were contending with each other for his attention.

The trees he was among seemed to form a dense wood to his left but ahead they were only a dozen or so deep before the beach continued on into the cove. Tain slowly crawled and dragged his way to the opposite bank and peered between the tall grass that grew there. The smoke was coming from a large fire far up upon the beach. Around it several wooden shacks had been erected, some of them very large. He could also hear, echoing through the wood, the distinctive sound of tree felling.

There were perhaps as many as a dozen men moving up and down the beach below him. They were going in pairs; those going towards the sea were carrying very long, thick poles of wood between them. Tain followed them with his gaze as they came down the shingle and strode out into the waves.

He could see that roughly a hundred yards out in the water there were many large flat pontoons, strapped together, several of the long poles of wood were already stacked on top of them. Men were standing chest high in the water around the pontoons manoeuvring the poles into position. More rafts were moored further out were Tain could tell from the darkness of the water that it was deeper. Those aboard the pontoons were hammering the poles down into the sea bed.

Tain could see they had been busy as there were three rows of ten poles already in place and enough poles stacked on the rafts for at least as many rows again.

He was not sure as to their purpose but there was an easy way to find out, he would go and ask them and maybe see if they had any water or food to spare for the very nearly drowned while he was at it.

He was trying to spot a way down the banking to the beach when he noticed a group exiting one of the closer huts and immediately he stopped moving.

What had stopped him was the glint of gold. He hunched down instantly, noting that the gold was a necklace, or torc, worn about the neck of one of the men. It was a man with long blonde hair and the dress and demeanour of the Barbarians he had seen with Erwin. He looked again at the men wading in the water, squinting at the closest of them, looking and finding the tell tale pouch around the neck. Whoever they were these men were not going to be his friends.

As quickly as his exhausted, strained limbs would bear him he crept back the way he had come. He was in no state to play games with these people now. Instead he made his way back to the shingle beach he had landed on and tried wearily going in the opposite direction this time. Eventually this led him back through a thick stretch of birch trees and out onto a well travelled road. It was broad, muddy from the recent rain and heavily rutted with cart tracks but it did at least give a sense that some sort of civilization was hiding around here somewhere.

The sky overhead was growing dimmer as afternoon wore into evening; he stared up at the horizon to fix his bearings and caught sight of a smoky haze above the tree lines. It was in the opposite direction to the smoke from the beach but he decided he would be just as cautious in approaching it. He staggered towards it along the road.



The Druid awoke and stared at the ceiling; it was low and wooden. The air smelt of dogs, people and soup in that order.

She yawned and sat up, swinging her legs off the low bed. A fire was crackling in the grate at the far end of the room and the grandmother of the household was bent over it stirring a pot that bubbled on a hook above the flames, a large rustic table sat between them. Two dogs lay by the closed front door gnawing bones.

The old woman did not seem to take much notice of her, merely glancing her way with a toothless grin and a wink before returning to the seemingly endless task of pot stirring-she had been like that, sitting stirring it when the Druid had been brought in nearly a day ago, the Druid wondered briefly what was in the pot and suspected more soup. She clasped her now somewhat distressed robe about herself and swung her pack across her back before opening the front door, stepping over the dogs, and out into the evening air.

The house backed onto a field of pasture land, at the front and ahead there was a low hedge beyond which ran a lane. She could see the twinkle of lights from other cottages half-hidden amongst the trees. She turned back in the direction of the field which was one of many that bled away into the flat eastern horizon.

The sky above was slowly clearing and the stars were peering out from between the retreating clouds in ever greater numbers. Somewhere in the distance she heard a door slam and a dog bark. They seemed overly loud and clear in the still country air. The nearer sound of footsteps in the lane caught her attention.

She heard a deep voice saying, “Well g’dnight, A’ll see ye at the square in’t morning,” then a tall broad shouldered man with long curly black hair and a thick bristling beard came through the gate in the hedge and strode up the garden path towards her. The man was named Gareth and his youngest son had been the one who had discovered the raft with the Druid and Prince still aboard. The boy of course had no idea who he had found but Gareth had spotted immediately the royal signet ring that the heir to the throne wore.

“Ye’re awake then,” Gareth said stating the obvious.

“Yes, and well rested, thank you Gareth once more for your hospitality, I will of course recompense you for any trouble,” the Druid offered, silently wondering how much further her financial situation would carry her but she need not have worried.

“Nay, hospitality should be freely given t’ a woman in need,” Gareth replied generously.

“Has it been decided what you will do with the Prince?” she enquired.

“He will go the ‘morrow wi’ the grain caravan t’ the Keep of Baron Verence, he has lordship o’er these lands, he will know what t’ do. You’ll go wi’ them.”

“And what of my friend?”

“I’m sorry, w’ve found nay trace o’ him. A’m afraid there’s a gud chance e’s drowned.”

“That is as maybe, but I will look for him none-the-less,” the Druid replied.

“Aye well, if it w’re a friend o’ mine I’d most likely no rest either, but mind, Prince Mekhal goes to Verences hall in’t mornin’, you’ll huve to be in the village square fer dawn. Nay later.”

The Druid thanked her host once more and took her leave of him, going through the gate out into the hedge lined lane.

The lane ran straight for some distance and she could see ahead the men Gareth had bid goodnight making their own ways home. But the Druid was not about to conduct her search on foot, and good as her eyes were in the dim light there were better eyes to be had.

She walked on a short distance to where there was a narrow gap in the hedges where an elm tree grew and squeezed through and out into the seclusion of the field beyond. The field had already yielded its crop for the year and had been ploughed, the soil resting now through the winter. The wind was noticeably chill here, in the lane she had not felt it, protected as she had been by the hedge; out here it seemed to cut through even her thick robe.

Her thoughts turned to Tain. She missed him, and this fact came as a bit of a shock to her. She had grown both accustomed and fond of him, and she had not even noticed, not until he was gone.

She struggled to think of the last person she had felt fond of in anyway. She could have listed other types of living creatures she had attachments to, but not people. She did not tend to bother with people. When you could talk to almost any living thing people faded into the background.

Yet here she was looking for a man she had only known a short time and who was probably dead anyway.

She suddenly realised she was crying. She put a hand to her face and felt the tears on her cheeks. Was she mourning him?

She shook her head to clear it of these thoughts and mood. She could not afford to be so self indulgent, if he was gone he was gone. Her duty anyway was to stopping Astagoth, to serving Elhonna. Her own needs were secondary, or at least they always had been before. But if that were still true why was she out here again preparing to go and search for him?

Just then she heard a distant voice calling, “’ere, are ye all right son? Had a few to many? Whooo, careful!”

It was coming from back out in the lane, curiosity got the better of her and she re-entered the lane at the elm tree, looking to see who had spoken.

The two men she had noticed on her way through were stooped over a third man in the road who seemed to have fallen.

The Druid hurried up, hope flaring in her chest she reached out with her thought to the man in the road and knew in an instant of joy who it was; it was Tain and he was alive!

She ran up to him at speed and she hoped to Elhonna he was unconcious and would not see the tears of happiness and relief that were flooding from her eyes.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Feb 09, 2013 1:20 am

Tain awoke. The Druid was sitting by his side.

“I hope you are feeling better,” she said between puffs on her pipe.

“Yes, I am,” Tain asked feeling more comfortable than he had in longer than he could remember; a nice long rest was just what he felt he needed.

“Good. Because in less than an hour we have to start a three week journey across country by wagon, we are taking the Prince home.”

Tain's heart sank and he groaned at this news.

“Do not worry,” she comforted as if reading his thoughts, or more likely just the miserable look on his face, “You can lie in the cart.”

“From seasickness to cart sickness. How blessed I feel,” Tain grumbled. He sniffed the air smelling amongst the assault of scents in Gareth’s home the distinctive aroma of soup. He was suddenly aware of just how hungry he was. “Any chance of something to eat first?” he asked.

“I will bring you up something,” she offered with a smile and disappeared down a ladder which Tain suddenly realized meant he was on an upper floor. It occurred to him that beyond this knowledge that he was in a bed on an upper floor he still did know where in the world he actually was. He tentatively eased himself from bed noticing as he did so that his arm was tightly bandaged. He cautiously moved it and then risked tensing the muscles around the bone. It ached dully, the pain of healing though not of trauma. In a week or so it should be just about back to normal, or so he hoped.

His freshly washed clothes had been laid out for him on top of a wooden chest that stood beneath the window. It was dark outside still. He was going to go to the window but his first two steps told him his body was not ready for the endeavour and he sat heavily back down on the edge of the bed. It seemed his exertions of the previous day had been the final straw; his body was now demanding rest whether he liked it or not.

The Druid reappeared through the floor hatch bearing a streaming bowl of broth and half a loaf of bread.

Tain wasted no time in small talk but ate in determined silence until there was nothing left. The Druid watched him with satisfaction.

“Where are we?” Tain asked wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and reaching for his clothing.

“On the fringes of nowhere I am afraid. Or to be more precise in a village called Gorners Field, well named as it is more or less one big field. We are in the south east corner of Futura, the border with Harquill is less than two miles from here.”

“And where are we going in an hour?”

“Less than an hour now,” she corrected, “We are going to the Keep of Baron Verence, they are sending the Prince to him.”

“Any news of Ironfang?”

“Nothing, in fact there is very little news of any kind. We are off the beaten path out here, the news tends to be of the ‘my chicken laid four eggs this morning’ variety, not very informative and eternally dull. But never mind the Baron, what happened to you? I thought I had, well I thought you had drowned.”

“Lucky I didn’t I guess. I don’t really know what happened myself. We were in sight of land I think, I must have passed out and next thing I woke up on a beach. If what you say about the border’s right then I guess it must’ve been in Harquill. But there’s a strange thing. I came across more of our friends with the pouch accessories.”

“Where?”

“In a cove. They’ve a full operation of some sort going on there, work sheds, tree felling.”

“What were they doing?” she asked leaning forwards curiously.

“Hammering wooden poles into the sea bed, in rows. I couldn’t tell what for.”

“They could be for mooring a ship?” she suggested.

“I never thought of that. But, no, there must have been a hundred of them,” Tain dismissed, his words hanging in the air as the implication sunk in. “No one has a fleet that big,” he added trying to reassure himself as much as persuade the Druid.

“No one that we know of,” she corrected him darkly.

“We should go straight back to the Port and warn Grande,” Tain said.

“The Port is at the other end of the country, Verence is in between here and there,” she pointed out, “And it will take us more than a month to reach Grande by cart. It is less than half that to Verence's. Which will be plenty of time for you and the Prince to recover from your experiences. You are lucky to be alive Tain, but you need proper rest.”

“And what if we have an invasion on our hands?”

“I do not think so, not so soon. I do not think they are ready yet.”

“Why not? If they have that many ships what are they waiting for?”

“For their God. For Astagoth to find another working Circle. He is here, under the earth, I have seen him. But He cannot get out. Not yet.”

Gareth's shaggy haired face appeared through the hole in the floor and said, “It’s time, we hav’ t’ go if ye want to be’t the square t’ meet the wagons.”

Gareth drove them to the square in one of his farm carts which he insisted he no longer used and was therefore happy to give to them for the journey to Verence. The Druid reasoned Gareth’s generosity to them was more to do with their arrival with the Prince than anything else but she graciously accepted the offer.

Tain spent the short journey lying in the back of the cart starring at the sky above as it paled from black to deep blue to light blue and the stars slowly melted away. He was trying very hard to ignore the swaying motion of the cart.

Soon enough they were drawing into the village square which was indeed square and had a large oak tree at its centre with a circle of fallen leaves around it. The village inn stood on one corner, its doors already open to the early rising country folk; the entire inhabitants of Gorners Field seemed to have come out to see them depart and were clustered, gawking enthusiastically, outside the inn and all around the squares edge. The covered wagon bearing the Prince drew up beside them. The grain caravan was winding up the road behind it. There were seven wagons in the caravan all laden with the produce of the fields that were being taken to the granaries of Verence for storage against the oncoming winter.

When all were assembled Tain and the Druid said their farewells to Gareth and then with a groan of wheels they rumbled off, the Druid driving their cart alongside the Princes wagon at the head of the procession.

For the first few days the way was slow as they passed along winding lanes, passing though two more villages; from each one more grain wagons came to join the caravan until it snaked for nearly a mile behind them.

By the end of the first week they had left the lanes behind and found themselves on a broad well used road that ran directly east-west. It seemed well maintained though rutted, they followed it for seven uneventful days.

It was on the eighth day, during a torrential downfall that they heard a horn blowing up ahead and shortly after a horseman went tearing passed at full gallop, a red ribbon streaming out in his wake.

“Something’s going on,” Tain observed to the Druid, “That was an errand rider like the one who bought news of the King's death to Ironfang.”

“I wonder where he is going?” she said and drawing their cart up alongside the Princes wagon she shouted over to driver who was named Hal, “Where does this road lead, back in that direction?” she indicated the way the errand rider had been going.

“Either into Harquill or if you take the turning to the north to Duke Ela-Gors lands, the rider will be for Ela-Gor most likely,” Hal shouted back knowledgeably.

“Thank you,” she called.

“If Kell sent him then I’d bet he’s going to Harquill,” Tain said emphatically, “To see how the work in the cove is progressing.”

“Maybe.”

“Something’s amiss, I can feel it.”


Tain's arm was all but healed by this time and he dispensed with the sling and even tempted fate by trying to pull on his bow string. He succeeded but there was a pressure in his lower arm he knew should not be there so he did not attempt it again for several more days, by which time his arm seemed as good as ever.

By the end of the seocnd week they were entering more populace lands, the villages here were more closely grouped together, and the houses were larger, better built. The roads became busy with wagons. A great stream of traffic was bearing all sorts of produce it seemed to Verence's court.

Rumours spreading amongst those on the roads spoke of the threat in the north, the word was that the Barbarians had amassed an army just across the border and it was expected to cross into Futura any day now. Some said it had already crossed.

It also seemed that an order had gone out from Verence for all the produce of the land to be brought to his granaries for safe storage, not just the grain from outlying regions such as Grovers Field which was routinely brought for storage, but all the goods in the kingdom.

This slowed their journey even further as roads in these more populace regions were thronged with farmers obeying the order.

By the middle of the third week a thick forest of pine shadowed the road on its northern side and small villages with houses with tall sloped roofs bordered it.

They were now entering the heart of Verence's pastoral lands. The road was edged with carefully cultivated rows of trees and groomed hedges snaked off into the southern distance, bordering fields and small streams.

Ducks honked from a lake hidden among a grove of trees as they drew near to a major crossroads. Here the road from the Port in the south joined the east-west way and a fourth road led north into the forest and Verence's Keep.

The junction was heavy with traffic and they had to wait almost two hours before their own caravan managed to squeeze its way out into the stream of carts and wagons going northwards. It was late afternoon and the air was clear and crisp.

Tain glanced over at the Princes cart, the young royal was still unconscious.

“Will he ever wake up?” he asked, “Not going to be much of a King if he is in a coma.”

“Do not worry about him,” she replied with a shake of her head, “He is perfectly all right. I have been drugging him daily since we left Gorners Field. There is nothing wrong with.”

“What?” Tain said surprised, “Why?”

“It seemed easier, and safer, to keep him like this,” she shrugged, “It’ll wear off in a day or two and he will be fully recovered and rested when it does.”

The north road initially took them between rows of tall firs trees that hemmed them in either side and darkened the road but quickly these gave way and on either side the land opened out into a circular space bordered by forest.

Statues and pools of sparkling water were dotted around the open ground and as they rattled further on a low hill, almost perfectly rounded and covered in short cropped grass, rose up ahead.

Hal pointed to it and called over to them, “That is the granary.”

“What, the hill?” Tain called back in wonder.

“Baron Verence designed it himself,” informed the driver, “It’s hollow. Marvellously dry an’ secure.”

A short distance ahead the road forked, with a very wide hard packed road leading towards the small hill, it was heavy with traffic. The grain caravan turned aside here leaving just their cart and that of the Prince to continue on the much quieter road to Verence's home.

The Keep was backed against the dark eaves of the forest, to its right was a circular building of pillars that as they drew nearer Tain realised was some sort of amphitheatre.

The Keep itself was surrounded by a moat that was not so much for defence as for ascetics. It was adorned with plants and some were even still in flower with large pink petals floating on the still surface of grey water. A small rowing boat was moored at a jetty if any would be attacker had wished a way in, though they would not need to have bothered with anything as strenuous as rowing since the drawbridge was down, the gates open and people seemed to be coming and going as they pleased.

The common attire of those of Verence's court seemed to be anything so long as it was bright and colourful. Purples and yellows seemed to be particularly in season. Tain and the Druid felt quite dowdy in their attire b y comparison.

Their cart rumbled over the wooden planks of the drawbridge and took them under the arch of the gate. On the other side there was an impressive courtyard dotted with the occasional statue of people or birds placed in an apparently random fashion. A tall oak tree of magnificent girth and age stood in the centre, a circular bench was built around its trunk. Various outhouses and stables bordered the courtyard and the Druid guided their cart into one of these.

Immediately a smiling stable lad appeared and took the bridle. If there were guards here then they were well hidden as they saw none as they stepped down from the cart.

The Prince, after a quick check-up from the Druid, they left where he was in the wagon with Hal whilst the stable boys ran excitedly to organize moving him. In short time officials of Verence's Court bustled into the stables and the Prince was carefully taken away upon a bier whilst Tain and the Druid were instructed to continue on to the Keep proper.

The Keep was a tall single central tower surrounded by an inner courtyard. But Verence had built onto the tower a wide and extremely tall wooden hall from which sounds of revelry were clear to hear. Drums, horns and pipes were all raised in a melodious cacophony and shouts and cheers floated out of the halls open doors. Tain looked at his companion, grinned and walked in, the Druid followed less keenly.

A roaring long fire took up the centre of the hall and the carcass of an entire cow was being spitted over it. A balcony ran along the halls right-hand side and it was from there that the music was issuing. Courtiers whirled by them in laughing dances as they entered and the tables lining either side of the dance space were full with people enjoying the abundant food and drink.

Presiding over all with a jolly disposition was Baron Verence. There was no two ways about it, Verence was fat. Very fat.

He was seated at a long table that formed a crosspiece at the halls head beneath two immense wooden pillars. The table before him was thick with grease from the food and a whole barrel of wine sat off to one side with a servant by it ready to refill the Barons glass should Verence be thirsty, or accidentally knock over or spill the one he had.

“Welcome guests,” Verence beamed at them as they approached, “I trust you found the journey here was not to troublesome. I apologise for the traffic on the roads but some urgency was required on my part.”

“Have you had news then?” Tain asked stepping forward.

“It is customary for a man to declare himself before addressing a noble,” Verence frowned back at him and then broke into a smile, “but I like the look of you, I have received some news, chief amongst which is conformation of who you and your companion are, Master Tain. Lady Druid.”

“Then Baron Ironfang is alive?” Tain asked.

“I have not heard that any ill had befallen him. Maybe you have more news to bring than I. Word of you came from Grande,” Verence informed them, "the kingdom is in turmoil, your safe returning of the Prince may yet save the day."

“What then is the state of the kingdom? Are you yet at war?” the Druid asked.

“War? No, not thus far. But two weeks ago I received advice from Duke Grande in which he felt it would be prudent to gather up our winter stores to a single secure location. This, as you have seen, I have undertaken. But I have heard nothing from the capital, all roads that way are closed and nothing moves on them now except the errand riders-and they do not ride to my hall. But news of impending doom can wait for we will not avert what will be with worry, instead join me now in what peace we have left and for as long as it lasts and sit at my table.”

They gratefully accepted this offer and were drawn up chairs at Verence's table. He introduced them to several of his court, all of whom seemed to be either a musician or a poet. When it came to the players in the balcony above he rose and introduced them as “The finest court musicians in this or any land,” and encouraged the men and women there to stand whilst the court riotously applauded them.

When the hall had settled down somewhat a Elvish man stepped before the table with a type of stringed instrument under one arm that Tain did not recognize. Verence rose to greet him, “My friend. I am honoured with your presence.”

“The honour is mine, my lord, as it is always to sing in your hall,” the musician replied with a bow.

“This is Gaern Selan,” Verence introduced, “Master Bard to the court of Duke Ela-Gor, he is my guest and has been kind enough to offer to recite for us this evening.”

Gaern took to the centre of the hall. The doors were closed and an expectant hush fell. Standing with the roaring fire at his back Gaern began to play. His instrument radiated out simple, clear notes and he began to sing in accompaniment to it. His voice was deep and spoke in an ancient language that neither Tain or the Druid knew, yet it evoked a constant stream of emotion in them so that at its saddest depths one found oneself weeping without knowing why and at its most joyous people would suddenly cry out in squeals of delight and be as surprised as their neighbours to have done so.

It was a voice that seemed at once both soft and yet strong enough to rise out to fill the wide wooden space so that from the serving lads sitting rapt upon the straw floor to the rooks charmed in their nests among the rafters, all were encapsulated.

There were moments where Tain seemed to become lost in the music to such a degree that it seemed often to be more akin to swimming in a sea, washed over by waves of colour, each one of which seemed to vibrate with an emotion all of their own. To call witnessing the Bards performance ‘listening’ was to Tain too slight a term, it engaged more than the ears it engaged the entire being.

When it ended it was impossible to judge how long it had been since the voice first began to sing and all Tain was left with was a sense of longing for something he knew not what. Gaern bowed in the centre of a hushed awe that spontaneously erupted into applause and cheers.

The moment was broken by the doors to the hall being noisily flung back and the entrance of a man in armour. Tain at first took him for an errand rider but then he noticed the standard the man bore had upon it the ship emblem of Duke Grande.

“What news from the Port?” Verence asked of the man as he appoached the Head Table.

“Grave news Baron Verence. The Barbarians have crossed the northern border and Duke Grande has declared Prince Kell an outlaw of the Realm. It is civil-war my Lord.”

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Feb 09, 2013 2:04 am

The Druid was up early the next morning. She left Tain still sleeping and went outdoors for a walk in the gardens. In fact garden was not the right word, to modest. Verence had landscaped for about two miles all around his Keep and she had to admire the skill with which he had blended his handiwork into the natural landscape. It was a peaceful corner, a place of soft cut grass and gentle streams. Tranquil. Just the sort of place that would fall first before the sword of war she thought grimly.

She wandered over to the bank of a small brook that bubbled passed a willow tree that was so stooped as to seem as if it were drinking. It was a nice spot to stop and pray.
She sat down beside the tree, briefly connecting with it to seek permission to use it as it a backrest. Trees in fact never seemed to mind if you leant against them or not but she always felt it was only polite to ask anyway. This tree was as indifferent as any other and she stretched out against it, slipping off her boots. She dangled her feet over the shallow banking into the sharply cold water.

The sound of high-pitched laughter came to her ears and turning she saw five children ranged in age from about four to ten playing on the springy grass of the lawn. They seemed to be involved in a game in which one of them, as she watched it was a little girl of about seven, with dark hair and green eyes, stood with her back to the others who were arranged in a ragged line about six yards from her.

The girl, without turning round raised both her arms in the air and the other children chorused out, “Circle Builder! Circle Builder! What season is it now?” As they said this the line of children crept forward towards her as if stalking a dangerous beast.

“It’s not the season yet!” the girl shouted back shrilly without turning.

“Circle Builder! Circle Builder! What season is it now?” the children happily chorused again, once more creeping a few more yards closer to the girl.

“It’s not the season yet!” the girl repeated loudly.

The Druid watched with interest as this was repeated over until the row of children was only a yard or so away from the girl, again they chanted in unison, “Circle Builder! Circle Builder! What season is it now?”

The girl dropped her arms to her sides and spun round with a fierce snarling expression on her face and yelled, “It’s Circle Season!” and lunged at the others who scattered, screaming playfully.

The girl chased them over the grass finally catching one of the smaller boys who then seemed to be “it” and the whole game was repeated again with the boy as the “Circle Builder”.

The Druid felt once more the unseen hand of Divinity moving in her life. She stood and was about to go and awaken Tain when she noticed that the little girls green eyes were not just due to colouring but were the product of Elvish birth. She interrupted their game and asked, “Is your father Gaern, the Elvish Bard?”

The girl nodded affirmatively and somewhat shyly in response. The Druid changed her plan and decided instead to pay an early morning visit to the girl’s father.

Gaern was up and about early most mornings, with a lively young daughter to look after on his own he did not have much choice, so he was not disturbed by the arrival of the Druid. Instead he invited her into the palatial royal cottage with which Verence had honoured him and offered her a goblet of ale.

“What can I do for you?” Gaern asked, even when just speaking there was a thick melodious quality to his voice. He seemed almost to sing sentences at you but he was also studying her face closely, noting the green sheen of her eyes.

“I heard the children outside just now, playing on the lawn,” she began.

“I am sorry,” Gaern said misunderstanding, “they forget how loud they can be. I am sure they did not mean to disturb you.”

“No, it was not that. I was awake already and walking in the gardens. No, it is for your professional wisdom I have come. The children were playing a game, I do not know if you know it, there is a rhyme, in it one of them is the Circle Builder and the others ask for the season?”

Gaern laughed, “Know it? I played it myself, as did my parents before me and theirs before them no doubt. You could see children playing that game anywhere in Duke Ela-Gors lands. It is a very old Elvish tradition, a piece of whimsy from the past. I’m surprised you do not know it.”

There was a long pause before she replied, “I am an orphan. I was not raised Elvish.”

“Well, that explains it then,” Gaern said sympathetically.

“Is there anything more you can tell me about it? What is the Circle Season? Who is the Circle Builder?” she asked keenly, “Anything might prove useful in my studies.”

Gaern sat back in his chair and stroked his chin, “The Circle Builder appears in several children’s rhymes, usually he is a figure of fear, someone of great power, often too he is associated with time, as in this game the children play. But whether he was a real man or no, who knows? But in my professional opinion there is most likely some small grain of truth in it. There usually is. I know offhand of only one other song, besides children’s rhymes, that may be of some relevance to you, but it is not about the Builder himself, just a simple song about the Circles he built,” Gaern paused to reach up to a wooden box which he opened to reveal the stringed instrument he had played before Verence. He plucked it several times, adjusting the tuning before singing softly,

“I tarried after a little lamb, lost among the hills,
I searched the rocky gullies and into every rill.
I hunted till the sun went down and left me with no light
I called to it and struggled on but sleep I could not fight.

I lay my head on the green turf of hill,
And fell into a dream.
I dreamt I rode a boat down a glistening stream.
I saw there men filled with fear
And their screams I could plainly hear.

I woke and found that I was home
and the light of day had grown.
I saw the lamb, my little stray, standing in the Circle of Stone
I heard it bleat and then saw it leap
and with a simple bound
it disappeared from sight never to be found.

I tarried after a little lamb, lost among the hills.
But I will search no more the gullies and into every rill,
I dare not go again to that place alone
To that Hill with its Circle of Stone.”
The song ended and the Druid contemplated its possible meaning before asking, “Where does that come from?”

“Two hundred years ago it would have been heard, it is one of many such whimsical songs that were popular during that time. They are not so now but my mother was fond of that one and used to sing it to me as a young child, it was a Barbarian song, in origin, plain and simple as is their style,” Gaern replied, returning the instrument to its casing and closing the lid.

She thought about this, realizing that if this was indeed a Barbarian song then it showed a link between them, the Circles and Astagoth.

That in turn made her think of the Cleric, what was Cloewyn’s role really? And whose side was he on? He had said he was redeeming his people. Who then were his people? If they were the Circle Builders then did that not make Cloewyn a Barbarian? It was a question to which she did not yet have any answers.

She drained her glass and thanked Gaern for his time and took her leave of him, humming the ditty the Bard had sung as she left.

When Tain arose and eventually came wandering out into the cool morning sunshine it was to find his companion again sitting by the little brook, back against the thick willow trunk, smoking her pipe.

“That, was a good nights sleep,” Tain commented happily, stretching so that his bones cracked, “The first since, I don’t know when,” he sat down beside her, “Good to be on solid ground too and not rolling about in a ship or rocking around in a cart. I’m never going on another boat again in my entire life. I swear. See this little brook here? That’s as close to the water as I want to be.”

“Not all sea voyages end in being attacked by a giant sea creature and shipwreck you know,” she replied with a smile.

“Well, with my luck, they would if I was on-board,” Tain said leaning back against the willow tree, without bothering to ask it first, “The sea and I don’t mix. If you ever see me trying to board a ship again knock me out cold will you? So, what’s the state of play now? We stopped the bad God getting in the front door, now he seems to be sneaking in somewhere through the back.”

“So it seems, what I cannot see is with Erwin gone who is controlling things?”

“Maybe no-one is, maybe it’s just got out of control.”

“Maybe it is Prince Kell, though from Erwin’s words I had him down as a simple pawn, not a mover of deeds,” she mused, her thoughts yet dwelling on Cloewyn, but she could make no pattern out of the man's maddening actions so she said nothing.

“Either way, with Kell and presumably the troops in the capital allied with the Barbarians we’re in the middle of a civil war,” Tain pointed out, “Question is, do we stay or do we go?”

“I am staying,” she said firmly, “I have no interest in war but there is something more here. The war is not it. Every fibre in my being tells me none of this should be happening, the natural balance is out and it must be restored one way or another.”

“And you’re going to do it?” Tain said doubtfully.

“All I know is that I am involved. Of that I am certain. The question you have to ask yourself is, are you involved?”

Tain had a momentary flash of going back home to Stenor, to his father, to shame, it made him shudder. But more than that he did not want to leave the Druid.

“I guess I’m involved too,” he said eventually, “Looks like your stuck with me for now."

She smiled at that, then the moment went on a second to long with neither willing to add to it and it became awkward.

"So where now?” Tain standing up briskly.

“The Port," she repied quickly, relieved the conversation had moved on, "we need to get some current news, besides if the Barbarians are invading from the north then the Port is as far from the front line as we can be and that suits me fine.”

“What about Prince Mekhal? Do we take him with us?”

“No. He is as safe here I reckon as anywhere and there is nothing needs be done; his flesh is cured.”

“Well if we’re going to the Port, then sad as I’ll be saying farewell to this place we’re better going sooner rather than later. And we’ll need horses. But I don’t have enough money left to buy them, do you?”

“Finances are not high up the agenda in Druid schools; I could not afford an ass.”

“Then put on your best begging face. It’s time to go and see if the Baron Verence is awake yet.”

In the end Verence was quite willing to provide them with all they needed, word of some sort had it seemed come through from the Port and Duke Grande was keen for their return. Although Tain was puzzled as to how Grande knew anything about them.

They left Verence's Keep behind them as they rode back south down the road towards the crossroads. The traffic had not lessened any since the previous day, Verence was making good on his promise to secure the kingdoms stores against war and the heavily rutted road was a noisy bustle of baying animals, yelling humans and the creak of wooden wheels.

Tain's horse, named Arendale, was a little skittish in the face of this bustle and it took much of his concentration to keep her under control. The Druid by comparison had no such trouble, whether this was because her horse was better trained or because she was doing something mysterious to it Tain was not to sure, though he suspected the latter.

Eventually they fought their way through to the crossroads with its duck lake beneath the pine trees. Going for the most part against the flow of traffic they took the south road towards the Port.

Where they could they left the busy main route altogether and rode instead, and with much greater speed, on the flat lands either side. This was not always possible however as the land here was heavily farmed and often the side of the road was a drainage ditch bordering ploughed fields through which their steeds could not go.

They camped wherever they found themselves at dusk each day, usually under the shelter of a copse of trees. Verence's land was punctuated with these, mainly oak and ash but here and there as they travelled they passed through small woods of birch.

It was in the approach and passing through of the many small hamlets and farming villages that they saw the preparations for war that were under way. As well as the grain trains on the roads they were passed on several occasions by messengers from the Port going back and forth along the road and on one occasion a platoon of sixty men, in full armour and bearing the flag of Grande, marched by their evening camp without a word. It was clear to Tain that Grande was staking his claim early.

There were soldiers in the villages too. It seemed that in times of crisis there was a built in hierarchy to these communities, so that a man more used to tending to vegetables suddenly found himself changing hats and organizing his fellow farmers into a militia. They passed fields on the outskirts of communities in which whole teams of these part-time soldiers were viciously attacking bales of hale with everything from swords to farming implements and even sticks.

Of the war itself news was harder to come by and often exaggerated. Some said all the north had fallen, or that the Barons there had chosen to join Prince Kell rather than risk their own lands. None of it was reliable. But fear was growing daily among the populace.

They were a week and a half on the road, suffering chilly nights and more rainy days than dry ones. They were now sleeping under the light of the full moon when it appeared among the heavy cloud. Tain found himself wondering about the Baron, if he lived and if so what affect the silvery light was having upon him.

He hoped for the sake of anyone else who might be near Ironfang that Canthiss had survived along with him. There was always the possibility of course that they had drowned but it was hard to believe that anything would stop the Baron.

They were not much longer on their way when, before them, the sea came into view again. The road, which had being leading them through a wide wood of mixed ash and birch left the eaves of the trees behind and on the left as they emerged was a low rolling hilly land that fell away into the blue of the ocean.

Ahead, between the moving carts and people on the road was the gleam of the intricate spires on Grande’s home and beyond that the grimmer grey of the Port itself behind its thick walls.

The approach along this road, which previously had been open, was now barred with a heavily manned gate that halted their progress some half a mile from Grande’s palace. They had been given sealed papers by Verence when they had left and these they now produced for the scrutiny of the guards. Eventually they were waved through the gate and told to go directly to the Dukes residence. The guards made it quite clear that this was an order and not a suggestion.

The sun was struggling to be seen in a cloudy grey sky but as they drew near Grande’s outer gate it rose to noon and with it the Port bells rang out the hour as they rode in under the arch.


End of Chapter!

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Post by azriel Sun Feb 10, 2013 4:41 pm

Hiya Petty, I read it ! Im still here. bounce

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sun Feb 10, 2013 7:02 pm

Thanks Azriel- got another chapter to go up later tonight just working on it- and I keep meaning to ask Orwell to rewrite the song in that last chapter- not my strong point and I am more than happy to farm it out! (Also my friend who read and liked the book did however call that last chapter- 'the one where they travel for a bit!'- but hey, thats how it 'really' happened!)

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sun Feb 10, 2013 7:34 pm

Chapter Four
Some Bad News

Duke Grande was not at home. They gained this news from the stable boys who fussed around their horses and loitered nearby for a tip, which Tain duly provided. The Duke, the boys informed them, was across the river in the Port presiding over a parade of the military; a morale boosting presentation before the horror of actual war descended upon the realm.

They decided not to go immediately to the Keep but to stay in the stables where it was warm and await the Dukes return there.

In the meantime the stable lads provided them with a colourful update of current events. The talk of the Port it seemed, understandably, was the sea creature, or the Monster from the Depths as it had been dubbed. Although it was also known satirically in the poor quarters as Chester; nicknamed after a notorious local drunken letch famous for his groping hands.

The ships of the Port, the boys reported, right down to fishing vessels were all at anchor, no ship dared set sail. There had been a great loss of life among the fishing communities all along the coast in the first few days of the creature’s appearance and Dominian and Harquillian vessels had been sunk also.

Now the Port was cut off from any supplies from the sea, or help should they need it. Of the Barbarian army the stable boys had less to tell.

It had crossed the border and advanced on the capital but what had occurred since that time none seemed to know. Rumour it seemed was rife and between them the stable lads had heard that the capital had fallen, that it had allied itself with the Barbarians, that it had repelled the Barbarians, and that Prince Mekhal had returned with Duke Ela-Gor's army, all of which were contradictory.

They spent a pleasant hour or so listening to this excited babble until a chorus of trumpet and horn calls rang out from the gates. Grande was returning home and the stable boys scattered off to their appointed duties in quick response.

Tain and the Druid walked casually out from the square yard and found themselves at a broad arched entrance that gave an excellent view of the front gates as they swung open. Through it they could see, headed by the Duke himself upon horseback, a company of Port soldiers with the ship banner borne proudly aloft before them. They crossed the white bridge which looked dull grey under the overcast sky and passed in through the gate.

Grande rode right passed where Tain and the Druid stood without seeming to mark them and went on up the wide gravel avenue that led to the main door of his turreted Keep. He dismounted and his horse, a grey gelding, was led back towards the stables. He turned to the men and a sergeant barked an order and the platoon smartly saluted the Duke who saluted them back. Then he turned and went in to his fastidious Keep.

The sergeant shouted another order at the men who formed in response into a perfectly aligned unit standing six abreast an equal distance apart, all sharply at attention. With a final bark from the sergeant the whole polished platoon about turned and began marching back out through the front gate.

“At least they are taking matters seriously it seems,” Tain commented.

“It might beat the Barbarians, but it will not be enough to stop a God,” the Druid replied cynically.

“It’s not Gods or the north we should be worrying about. This Barbarian threat smacks of a diversion to me. It’s whoever is in the south on the her side of the ocean that we should be worrying about.”

“I think you are half right,” the Druid responded, “I think they meant to invade from the south as well as have the Barbarians come in from the north. If Erwin had succeeded Astagoth would be here. But Erwin did not succeed and so the southern fleet cannot or will not come, not yet. I do not think they really needed Erwin in a military sense, they think they will win anyway, but there is no point unless their God can be here too. And someone, somewhere here is still trying to find a way to let Him in. All we have to do is find out who and where.”

“All right them,” Tain said clapping his hands together, “Then let’s start with Duke Grande.”

They approached Grande’s elaborately engraved front door. It was guarded by two stern men in armour bearing short swords at their sides and pikes in their hands. They were curt and made them wait on the bottom step until word was brought from within to permit them entry. Once inside they were immediately invited to join the Duke in lunch.

Tain had been expecting a Grand Hall but the room they were shown into was no more than a large study with a dining table in it. There was a large fireplace with a mantle above it and four large comfortable chairs arranged in a semi-circle around it. A fire crackled in the grate. It was in fact the same room Baron Ironfang had dined in previously.

The Duke was sitting at the table when they were ushered in by the servants and he rose to greet them, a goblet of ale in his large hand.

“Welcome back,” Grande said warmly, “from the reports we thought you were dead.”

“Reports?” Tain queried, “Who made report of us?”

“Baron Ironfang initially, although he reported your deaths, but it is politic for me to keep informants throughout the kingdom,” Grande replied and waved them over to the table which was heavily burdened with roast chicken and roast potatoes, “Please, come, join me. Be seated and we shall speak as we eat.”

They sat opposite the Duke; Tain wasted no time in slipping some of the roast chicken onto his plate and cutting himself a slice of bread from the soft loaf upon the table.

“The Baron is well then?” the Druid asked, ignoring the food for now but taking a goblet of beer and pulling out her pipe, “We have had no news of him.”

“And what of Canthiss? And the rest of the crew?” Tain added between mouthfuls.

“Both the Baron and his servant are well; they and one other survivor managed to salvage a small boat from the wreckage and drifted back to shore.”

“Who was the other survivor?” Tain enquired curiously.

“One of my soldiers. A Lieutenant Frel,” Grande informed them.

Lieutenant Frel?” Tain asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Baron Ironfang commended him most highly for his actions,” Grande replied by way of explanation.

“He’s a brave lad,” Tain confirmed, “If a bit gullible. First rule of anything is don’t volunteer.”

“Perhaps that is the first rule of the timid,” Grande responded, sipping from his goblet.

Tain snorted in response to this.

“So where is Baron Ironfang now?” the Druid went on, “Is he still here in the Port?”

“No, when it became apparent the Barbarians were indeed going to dare to cross our border he went north to the defence of his own lands, some week ago.”

“So what’s the current state of play?” Tain asked, “No one we’ve spoken to seems to know exactly where the enemy are.”

“They are encamped around the capital but it is no siege. They are now in open allegiance with Prince Kell, that at least is now clear to all the nobility. Kell commands five thousand men within the capitals walls, if the army remains loyal to him, and there have been no indications that they are not. The Barbarians have twice that number. We are cut off from the sea as you know; no help will come that way so long as that beast prowls my harbours, and our scouts report that the mountain pass through which aid from Domina would have come -for we are allied in treaty with them against such a day as this- is also held against us. No aid can come.”

“The trap is sprung,” Tain mused half to himself, “And how many can you muster at need?”

“Less than I would like and less than I should be able to call upon. A little over a month ago I received an order to send a large contingency of men, a third of my total number, north to the capital, there they were to be deployed as part of the new border guard, but they never left the capital.”

“Why do I suddenly have a nasty vision of a whole city of people wearing pouches,” Tain groaned.

“Pouches?” Grande asked.

“How many civilians are there living in the capital?” Tain asked.

“About twelve thousand, maybe more. Why? Do you think he will harm them or hold them to ransom?”

“No, I think he might try to make an army out of them. Down to the last women and child if need be. If he has enough pouches of course.”

“What are these pouches you keep speaking of?” Grande demanded.

“They are some sort of pact, a means of control,” the Druid explained, “A cursed spell is on them. They are worn around the neck.”

“The worst bit is, if Kell does use them on the civilians there’s no way to save them,” Tain said grimly.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you can’t remove them, if you do the wearer just sort of burns to ash and bones. The only way we’ve found to stop someone wearing a pouch is to kill them.”

“We cannot slaughter the entire civilian population of Mendelhall,” Grande erupted, thumping his fist down upon the table so the chicken jumped on its platter.

“You might have to,” the Druid said softly.

“How many men will you send to the battle field,” Tain asked.

“I dare not send more than half of those I have left to me, the greatest strength of arms outside of the capital lies in Duke Ela-Gors lands, he commands the largest army among the nobility but the roads there have been severed. My scouts do not return from the eastern lands.”

“So there’s no way to coordinate an attack, even if we’d a plan to coordinate,” Tain mused, “What do you propose do to? Sit and wait until they strike at you?”

“I see little alternative. My main hope was with the Dominians. Two months ago when the Barbarians began amassing on our border I asked that the King of Domina to prepare his army in case we had the need, which I greatly impressed upon him I believed we would. He returned the message saying all would be made ready. But now with the sea routes and the mountain pass held against us there is no way through.”

“If I have my geography round here right the mountain keep belonged to Erwin, yes?” Tain asked.

“Yes,” Grande confirmed, “And before that to the Ironfangs.”

“And it’s right on Baron Ironfang’s border, yes?”

“Yes,” Grande confirmed again, “It borders Northolt.”

“Then I think it unlikely they can have moved a large amount of men there to hold it, the Barons men would have seen a large company on the march at their border I’m sure, more likely it is Erwin’s wife and a loyal garrison that are all that is left holding it.”

“What are you suggesting, that I attack the Keep? It is the most defensible in the country. A siege there would see out this year and maybe the next.”

“Not a siege, an infiltration,” Tain suggested, “A small number to try to gain access, maybe even find a way to open up the pass.”

“And do you have anyone in mind for this suicide mission?” Grande enquired, leaning across the table.

“I’ll lead it,” Tain replied and the Druid raised a quizzical eyebrow but said nothing, “How long’s the journey there by horse?”

“You could be there within ten days at a good pace, if you go straight along the plain and do not follow the road,” Grande said.

“And how long would it take an army to move from the capital to here?”

“I would estimate two weeks, with minimum opposition, longer if Verence moves to hinder them.”

“Then do nothing until those two weeks are up, if I succeed I’ll come east with the Dominians to meet you. My guess is that the Barbarians will not stay in the capital once you make your move but will come to meet you on the open plain.”

“Two weeks is a long time in which much may yet occur,” Grande said draining his goblet, “But we will need all the aid we can find. Now, I have a council meeting and you must excuse me. You will find accommodation in the townhouse of Baron Ironfang, he left word you were to do so if you returned alive.”

They thanked him for his hospitality and Grande left the room.

“I thought you said, ‘Never volunteer’,” the Druid queried with a frown.

“This isn’t volunteering, in fact it’s the opposite, it’s abstaining, I’ve abstained from the front line,” Tain replied picking at the chicken carcass.

“And instead we are going to the best defended Keep in the kingdom,” she said drawing on her pipe.

“So you’re coming along?” Tain asked with a raised brow.

“Infiltrating a Keep would not have been my instinctive choice, but I suppose it is at least a plan.”

“Just because a place can be well defended it does not necessarily mean it is well defended,” Tain retorted between mouthfuls, “Besides, if it’s too well defended we come straight back. Don’t forget my other motto; No heroics.”

“How many men are you planning to take with us on this escapade?”

“None.”

“Are you serious?” she remarked, raising one eyebrow.

“Look, unless we have a couple of thousand men with us we’re never going to storm the place or lay siege to it are we? Our best bet’s to find a way to sneak inside. For that, the fewer the better.”

“Then what? Once just the two of us are inside?”

“I’ll think of something once we’re inside. If we get inside,” Tain replied and drained his flagon, setting the empty mug down with a thump onto the table.

They made their way out of the heavily guarded front gate and crossed the white bridge which now had a garrison permanently stationed on its far bank. A large barracks had been erected there since last they had visited and Tain also noticed that the Ports outer wall, which had been under repair last he was here, was now completed and indeed Grande was it seemed trying to surpass the original designers by reinforcing it with new masonry in several places along its length.

Tain approved of Grande’s efficiency and this was extended to the change at the main gate when they entered it. Where before there had been little attention paid to who came and went and the gate duty had been given over to youths, it was now a model of efficiency with steely eyed guards that scrutinized each person who entered.

Tain and the Druid, being both armed and suspicious looking, where naturally stopped immediately. Fortunately their names and descriptions were already known to the guards and they were permitted entry by the officer present who gave them the impression he would be watching them closely anyway.

“At least they realize they’re at war,” Tain commented as they passed out onto the main street leading through to the market.

“There are a few things I want,” the Druid replied mysteriously, “You go on ahead and I will meet you later.”

“Why? Where you going?”

“You will see, later,” she replied and with that she headed off in the general direction of the docks.

Tain wandered through the market for a while looking at the stalls. He had lost almost everything save the Princes sword and his money pouch.

Tains next stop was at an armourers where they quickly took his measurements for a new shirt of padded leather armour before leading him through to a weapons store, from which he choose a sword from the thirty or so stacked there. It took him some time to find one whose balance complemented his own and he mourned the loss of his old sword more than once as he searched. But eventually he succeeded in getting something to his liking.

Finding a suitable bow was more difficult. The Port it seemed simply lacked those sufficiently skilled in the craft for Tain's high tastes. Bows in the Port were generally made either for sport or more commonly for defence; firing at short range down from the walls. This meant they were not particularly designed for accuracy or durability. In the end he took the best of a bad bunch and in his new jerkin went in search of some kit for his journey; flints and ropes and a new backpack.

He finished off his shopping by buying two new, full sets of clothing. Happy with his purchases he flagged down a passing carriage and headed for the townhouse.

Upon arrival he was permitted through the front door by Ironfangs servants only to find that the Druid had not yet returned.

He went upstairs to the guest room and bathed and changed, sighing with quiet pleasure at the simple sensations of clean flesh and clean cloth against it.

He considered whether or not he should wait for the Druid before ordering dinner and decided in the end just to go ahead himself.

He was in the middle of a rather delicious beef pie when he heard the knock at the front door and the servant welcoming someone over the threshold. The parlour door opened and the Druid entered.

Tain looking up from his meal to sat hello but instead he just stared.

She had her hair cut short, shorn close in to her head; her robes were gone and in their place she wore tight-fitting black leather trousers and jerkin. Two thick black belts were strapped across her chest forming an X that crossed between her breasts, making them seem more prominent, and there were little holders sewn into the belts and in some Tain noticed there were small stoppered vials.

Over this ensemble she wore a close fitting black cloak with a deep fur lined hood. A sword hung openly at her side and around her waist was a third, thick black belt from which several pouches hung. She looked oddly ominous in the flickering light of the fire and candles and for the first time to Tain's eye very feminine. It turned out that under her robe she curved in most of the right places. Tain was more than a little surprised, but pleasantly so.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“You, look different,” Tain managed, still a bit gobsmacked and thinking how strange it was that out of all the changes he had witnessed her make this simple one of clothing seemed the strangest, “I mean, its different, very, tight,” he stammered seeing the look in her eye, “And I hear blacks in this year,” he added with a weak smile.

“I was getting sick and tired of snagging my robe all the time,” she explained, taking off her cloak and sitting down at the table opposite Tain and picking at the pie, “See these,” she said pointing to the belts that criss-crossed between her breasts, Tain duly stared, “the belts Tain,” she admonished with a shake of her head, “no more preparing potions on the run, now I can have a few handy preparations ready and within hands reach in a crisis, of which we seem to be having a lot lately.”

Tain was still staring, “Hello!” she said, “I’m talking, up here.”

“Sorry,” Tain said breaking his gaze and smiling at her, “Still not quite got over the whole new look.”

“Well I was sick of attracting attention anyway, wild attire suits the wild but not a town,” she explained.

“And you think this will get you less attention?” Tain asked incredulously.

She rolled her eyes at him, “Are you always this smooth?” she mocked, “Well you can see what I bought, how about you, what did you get?”

“Just a few bits and bobs. I mainly bought fresh clothes; I lost just about everything in the shipwreck. Didn’t you notice that I no longer smell like a horse? Or that I no longer have a face full of hair?”

“Now that you mention it you do look less like a tramp,” she smiled, “A bath and an early night sounds very appealing.”

“It’s been a hectic few days, and the next few are unlikely to be any less so, best take the chance while you can” Tain said standing and stretching his back muscles and arms, “I’m for bed.”

“And I for prayer,” she replied, “Good night.”

“Good night,” Tain said and left the room. The Druid heard his footsteps going up the wooden staircase and the door of the guest room opening and closing.

She went over to the window and opened it. She had been hoping for a glimpse of the evening’s first stars but was disappointed twice in that the sky was grey with cloud and the burning lamps, which stood along the streets at regular intervals in the more expensive districts of the Port, blotted out any other more distant natural light. She drew a chair up and closed her eyes, letting the slight rippling breeze blow gently over her face.

It seemed a very long time now since that first night in the marsh when she had first encountered the sense of imbalance that she was now driven to correct. Yet, deliberately, she had not again sought out that sensation. There was a very simple reason for this; the sensation terrified her.

It was the sacred, horribly defiled. It was the pure, poisoned. It made her sick to her very spirit to be in the presence of that imbalance. It was everything a Druid inherently abhorred. But that had been before their success on the island, Astagoth had been stopped, it was time to see if they had improved things any.

She reached out as she had done sitting beside the marsh and went to the place where natural had its heart, where chance and intent became the same thing.
As before her mind reeled upon the imbalance. It was not better but worse, far worse. It was as if it had accelerated, the fever growing in tempo and now the darkness she had sensed before as a threatening presence was clear before her: a black choking fog that was eating up everything before it, broiling and growing even as she hung before its presence.

Then something new happened. She felt Her, she felt Elhonna moving through the fevered universe. She could not afterwards recall the words the Goddess used but their message was clear. Balance must be restored; Elhonna would be her strength. She would grant the ruthlessness of Her nature to aid their cause.
The Druid opened her eyes and they glowed. This was no longer the time for softness. Druids, like nature herself, had many aspects. This was the time of the hunter.

She wondered for a moment how Tain would react once he discovered the true nature of druid practices. She would like her him to understand, maybe even needed him to understand, that way at least he might be able to forgive her.

But it was of no matter in the end if Tain did not. She would do what she had to do regardless.

Two hours later following a lengthy and relaxing bath she crept into her bed, hearing the soft snores of Tain coming from across the room.

She wondered for a moment what would happen if she slipped into Tain's bed. Her body seemed to have a strong yearning to feel his physicality next to hers, to embrace and hold his nakedness. There might never be another chance.

But just then Tain muttered the name “Gwendolyn” in his sleep and rolled over and she instead climbed into her own bed.

It took her a long time to fall into sleep and she expected the snores of Tain to be the last thing she heard until morning, but three hours later the clatter of hooves on the cobbled street outside brought her abruptly back to wakefulness.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:55 pm

She got out of bed and went to the window, but was too late to see who the arrivals were as they had already dismounted. She heard the front door slam below them and Tain awoke with a start. He sat up, his hair ruffled upright by sleep, “What was that?” he asked sleepily.

“Someone just came in the front door,” she replied, she throw him his jerkin, “Come on, lets go see who it is.”

Tain yawned and pulled the jerkin over his head and then together they hurried downstairs. They nearly ran straight into Ironfang and Canthiss coming up the other way.

“Baron,” Tain greeted without much warmth but some surprise, “Canthiss!” he added with more enthusiasm, “We thought you were both in Northolt?”

“We were, until the New Moon,” Ironfang replied bluntly, “And if you would accompany me to the parlour,” he hesitated and seemed to take in the Druids altered appearance for the first time; he was suddenly lost for words.

It was amazing Tain thought how a pair of breasts popping up in an unexpected place could throw a man. Ironfang dragged his eyes away from her and tried to focus again on what he had been saying, “I will inform you as to why I am here downstairs,” he managed and retreated.

“As warm as ever,” Tain muttered to the Druid as they followed the Baron down the stairs.

Once they were all in the parlour sitting in comfortable chairs around the fire which a servant miraculously had gotten to flicker back into life, the Baron explained. “I have just come from speaking with Duke Grande,” he began, “Twelve days ago my scouts reported unusual activity around Erwin’s Keep, smokes rising, signs of growing numbers of men, although where they were coming from we could not discern; it is not possible so large a number could have passed by my border without being sighted and reported and yet these seem to have done so,” he paced the floor continuing, “We rode out to scout them and discovered a second Barbarian army, some six thousand strong and prepared with implements of siege. We rode south like the wind before it; they are marching on this Port. If they encircle us here then it is only a matter of time,” Ironfang said grimly.

“So much for our plan,” Tain said, “I don’t fancy meeting an entire army in the wild. We’ll have to think of something else to do.”

“No,” the Druid said shaking her head, “We still go.”

“I suppose we could try to avoid them. At least we aught to see six thousand men coming,” Tain replied.

“No, we go and we meet them,” she insisted, “This has gone far enough.”

“With what army?” Ironfang demanded.

“There are other ways than fighting,” she responded darkly.

“Well,” Tain sighed, not at all sure what his companion was thinking but deciding to back her for now, “as it was my plan in the first place I guess I aught to stick by it. Besides I’m not waiting here to be starved out. And there will be no escape by sea with that creature out there waiting.”

“Duke Grande informed us of your bold plan,” Ironfang said, “Erwin’s Keep was once known as South-holt and were lands belonging to my family. I know it well; therefore Canthiss and I will also be joining you.”

“Joining us or just giving us orders?” Tain queried sourly.

“Both. I am the only Baron present, am I not?” Ironfang replied by way of an answer.

Tain shook his head, “That's it! I’m going back to bed,” he said wearily.


End of chapter!

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A Green And Pleasant Land

Compiled and annotated by Eldy.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:41 pm

Chapter Five
War Crimes and Half a Plan

In Tain's view the Baron took a perverse double pleasure in having a servant wake them at the ungodly hour of fifth bell and at being up, fully dressed, an hour before them.

Tain peered sleepily out of the window; it was dark outside and would remain so for at least another three hours.

They ate breakfast in the downstairs parlour and at sixth bell they heard the Ironfang carriage being prepared on the gravel path outside.

Tain double checked his backpack, which was a habit of his when starting out on any new expedition, and reassured he had everything he needed he swung it onto his back, adjusted his new sword in its new belt and went outside into the chill morning air.

They left the Port by the nobles gate in the north wall and there swapped the Ironfang carriage for horses of the Northolt breed. The Baron as always rode Marquiss; Tain was given a grey mare named Fera, whilst the Druid had a young gelding which as usual seemed to be docile and friendly beneath her touch.

They did not expect to meet any enemy, at least not for the first few days. It was even possible the enemy army would have to take the long way round by road especially if, as reported, they had great store of siege weapons with them. But whichever way they approached it was reasonable to assume that such a large army would have scouts running before it, these would be their chief concern.

To this end, from the third day out from the Port, Canthiss rode alone some way ahead spying out the land before them.

As to the land; it showed the signs of the end of the season. Fields they passed were long since harvested and lay barren, already ploughed. The copses of oak and ash were losing their leaves in golden rains and the green of the open plain was fading into the brown of winter. The wind was from the north and brought with it both cold and rain, which fell in intermittent patches of thin drizzle.

On the fourth day the weather improved somewhat, staying grey but at least turning dry. They were now leaving the last outliers of the inhabited parts behind them and were passing into the wilds that lay before the marsh to the west. Their way however was not towards the marsh but northwards where they would briefly rejoin the north-south road at the point where it crossed the Norath River by ford.

Tain stared that way straining to see some sign, a haze of smoke or a cloud of dust that might mark their foe, but he saw nothing.

By the end of the week the ground immediately before them became flat and open, the mountains were ahead and to the left of them as they rode northward.

Up front, keeping just within their sight, Canthiss rode with vigilant eyes. He knew the land here well. Soon the flats would begin to rise into low hills as they passed towards the ford. He hoped the enemy had already made their crossing but secretly dreaded that they would find the ford held against them. But that day he saw nothing but birds in the air and rabbits in the grass.

That night they did not light a fire, wishing to remain as secret as they could. The Druid volunteered to take the first watch and no sooner had her three companions fallen into fitful sleep than she arose and awoke Tain; placing a hand across his mouth to keep him silent.

Tain sat up, his eyes questioning. She beckoned for him to move some distance from the others into the darkness of the surrounding bushes and whispered in his ear, “I want you to take my watch.”

“Why?” Tain whispered back.

“So I can go ahead in secret to scout our enemy,” she hissed back.

“All right,” Tain agreed nodding, “but if you’re going to transform do it somewhere where I can’t see you.”

She grinned in the dark and quietly melted away into the surrounding shrub. A few moments later a small bird darted up from the bushes, circled above Tain's head and shot away north towards the ford.

Tain sat down and drew his new sword from its still shiny leather sheath, reaching for his pack he drew out his oil and cleaning cloth and made himself busy whilst he awaited her return.

Four hours of the night passed slowly by and the Druid did not return. Tain waited and yawned in the darkness. Canthiss- who should have had the next watch after the Druid- stirred, his internal clock telling him he should be awake by now. Suddenly he sat upright and looked about himself. Spotting the shape of Tain in the gloom he got up softly and came over saying, “It is not your watch Master Tain. I was to follow.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” Tain said rather lamely, deciding that as the Druid put great store on keeping her abilities secret he would not betray them now to Canthiss, if he could avoid it.

“I will take the watch,” Canthiss said, indicating with a nod that Tain could go now.

“Really, I’m not tired,” Tain insisted, “Why don’t I just stay here until I begin to nod? No point in us both being up, is there?”

Canthiss looked doubtfully at him but eventually said, “Very well,” and went back to lie down near his master.

Tain let out a sigh of relief and went back to worrying about where the Druid had gotten herself to.

He worried for another three hours without relief. In another hours time he would have to wake the others and he had not slept at all himself.

He stood and stretched, peering out into the darkness but seeing nothing.

The dampness of the early morning dew clung about him. Every time something rustled in the undergrowth, scampered through the grass or flew by overhead he thought it was her returning but it never was.

He paced anxiously for a while then sat back down and waited some more.

A faint light was growing in the east, dawn was fast approaching. He was going to have to wake the others, if he did not they would awaken themselves soon enough. Indeed the Baron was rolling in his blanket as if consciousness was nearing. Tain cursed realizing that if, as seemed likely, the Druid had gotten herself into trouble then he would have no choice but to break her trust. He cursed again and called out, “Rise and shine.”

Ironfang grunted, but Canthiss leapt immediately to his feet, demanding, “Why did you not wake me?”

“It’s like this..,” Tain began.

“Have you been on watch all night?” Canthiss pressed not giving Tain time to speak.

“Yes, but there is a reason,” Tain insisted.
Ironfang glanced around at the withered grass and fading gorse bushes and interrupted, “Where is the Druid?”

“That’s what I am trying to tell you, if you’d give me half a chance,” Tain managed to say, “She is gone. She went..,”

“To pray,” the Druid interrupted emerging from behind a gorse bush, “But I have concluded my affairs, for now. Are we ready to go on?”

Tain stared at her with a quizzical expression but said nothing.

“Praying does not explain why I was not woken,” Canthiss persisted.

“Ahh, that would be my fault,” Tain hastily put in, “Sorry, I dozed off. Slept the whole night away,” he lied apologetically.

“Well no harm done,” the Baron said clapping his hands together, “Let us begin.”

Canthiss eyed them suspiciously but said nothing more.

Tain tried throughout that day to get a chance to question the Druid but it was difficult with Ironfang riding alongside them and at the few stops they made Tain got the distinct impression she was trying to avoid the subject by keeping deliberately close to the Baron.

The afternoon wore away; the mountains now loomed large ahead as they passed between the first of the hills that would lead them down onto the north-south road and the ford. Canthiss, who as usual had been riding ahead, suddenly came galloping back towards them. “Rising smoke,” he cautioned as he approached, “Just beyond the ford.”

“Then the enemy is camped across the river,” Ironfang replied, “As we feared. Most likely the ford will be guarded.”

“We should go ahead to spy out the land,” Tain offered, “Try to get a head count if the ford is garrisoned.”

“Very well,” Ironfang agreed, “You and I will go.”

“No thanks,” Tain responded, “The Druid and I’ll go. At least she’s the good sense not to wear shiny armour everywhere she goes.”

“I am the senior officer here,” the Baron retorted drawing himself up to his full impressive height.

“I think Canthiss should go,” the Druid put in without catching Tain in the eye, “He knows these lands.”

“This isn’t a military expedition,” Tain angrily replied, “I’d rather have you with me.”

“But I do not want to go,” the Druid said softly.

Tain turned to her and this time she met his gaze and Tain could see she was adamant; he shrugged his shoulders, “Fine. Canthiss can go in your stead.”

Tain did not give the Baron time to say anything to this but spurned his horse into a gentle trot along the hillside. Canthiss followed.

The Baron waited until they were just out of sight round the first hill and then followed behind with the Druid trailing silently along beside him.

Tain and Canthiss dismounted one hill before the ford. They tethered their horses to an ash tree that grow stunted from the hillside and crept up to the brow.

Below them the hill fell away in a gentle slope of brown heather to where it met the grey ribbon of the road. The Norath was slow and wide here, it was swift but never more than a foot or so deep as it passed over a bed of loose rocks. The water was running a little shallower than when Tain had previously crossed on his way south.

But where he had expected to see guards marching to and fro on patrol there was instead one loose horse chewing on some bushes and four men lying unmoving on the ground. One on the near bank, the others on the far.

Tain and Canthiss exchanged puzzled glances and then crept down the banking, keeping keen eyes for anything else that moved but seeing nothing but crows circling high above.

Behind them the Baron and the Druid tethered their horses with the others and crept towards the hilltop.

Tain approached the riverbank and the closest body, the air was still and the rushing of the water filled the air. He nudged the body with one booted foot and when there was no response he rolled the man over.

He stepped back in revulsion. The dead man's bloody eyes were bulging from his sockets, veins were standing out all over his face and his mouth was twisted in a frozen anguished snarl. His skin was a nasty mottled purple, swollen and raw.
Quickly Tain and Canthiss crossed the ford, clambering up the other bank just as the Druid and Ironfang came down to the roadside behind them.

There were three bodies on the far side as well as the horse. Tain examined the first two corpses, finding the same pained death throes etched on both faces. He turned and saw Ironfang and the Druid entering the river. The Baron looked shocked and perplexed, as indeed did Canthiss, and Tain was sure his own face betrayed the exact same emotions. But he noticed the Druids face was a blank mask and her eyes were a steely green.

One of the men on the ground suddenly groaned and twisted sharply round onto his back. He vomited a violent shower of blood in a great spurt straight up into the air that fell back splattering the stony ground all around. He slumped screaming to the ground. His mouth was foaming, blood began running copiously from one nostril. His eyes bulged, pleading towards them and he threw out a grasping hand, emitting a squeaking shriek that froze them all to the spot.

All except for the Druid, who before anyone else could react drew a dagger and taking the man by the hair with one hand she stabbed him in the heart with the other. She let the man go and the body slumped, still jerking to the ground, thick dark blood pooled out from under him and swirled in the shallows of the ford.

“What’re you doing?” Tain said shocked.

“Putting him out of his misery,” she replied without taking her eyes from the dead man, “He is poisoned. There is no cure.”

“And you’re sure of that?” Tain demanded, never having seen her in this mood before and wondering what it meant.

“Very,” she replied grimly.

“We should not linger here,” Ironfang said, “We should go back for the horses and cross whilst we can and thank our good fortune for whatever evil has befallen these men.”

Again Tain tried and failed to get the Druid alone as they went back to retrieve their steeds. This time there was absolutely no doubt - she was ignoring him, or at least doing everything to avoid him. He wondered as they mounted just where she had been last night and as they cantered out between the hills, following the road, he had the suspicion he was going to find out very soon and an equal feeling that he was not going to like it.

They crossed unimpeded save that Canthiss horse started mid-stream and reared, pawning the air, its nostrils flaring. It took several minutes for the Druid to calm it enough for them to proceed.

With evening falling everyone could clearly see the smoke Canthiss had sighted. It was not a thick smoke, more a thin haze, spread out, that appeared and disappeared depending on the changing light. It was clearer now, standing out against the paler sky of the north. Behind them grey rain clouds were rolling up.

There was a low hill beyond the ford. To the left of it the river and road bent north but before them was a plateau that ran flat for many miles. It was from there that the smoke was arising.

They again dismounted and crept, hunched low, up the slope, the Druid at the rear and seemingly reluctantly. When they approached the crest Tain, Ironfang and Canthiss went flat on their stomachs and crawled forward until they could see out safely onto the flats beyond. A thin pale drizzle began to fall.

There were maybe as many as twenty field tents erected before them, the brown and white of their hide sides flapping in the wind which blew stiffly across the exposed plateau. It was the only sound above the cawing of crows.

The smoke was rising from a massive outdoor kitchen, though its fire had burnt down to a pile of glowing embers. It seemed unattended as a large area of grass all around it was blackened and smouldering. Numerous wagons and carts stood idly around and here and there, parked in rows ready to be moved were catapults and battering rams.

But mainly what lay before them were corpses.

Tain stared out in disbelief; there were hundreds, no thousands, of dead. And every now and again a stifled scream or fatal cry drifted to their shocked ears.

They walked slowly out onto the field of carnage as if in a dream, or nightmare. Having to drag there reluctant horses with them whose nostrils were flaring at the stench of the dead. Everywhere they looked were bodies in wretched poses. Faces skewed by agony, limbs thrown by spasms into grotesque dying gestures; mocking dances of death. The grass was coated with vomited blood and it hung and glistened from bracken and heather alike as stunned they staggered forwards through a field of red.

Behind them the Druid followed, her step was steady and controlled.

Tain’s face was ashen. He had never seen, never dreamt he ever would see, not in his worst nightmare, so many men dead in one place at one time. He did not ponder on the fact they were clearly Barbarian, nor that they did not wear pouches, not even that they were the enemy defeated, his mind was consumed simply on the fact that everywhere his eye fell it was upon death. Painful death at that. Overhead the carrion birds were calling to one another and circling for the feast.

Suddenly Tain spun round, “What did you do?” he shouted at the Druid, then charging right up to her, face red with anger he yelled, “What the hell did you do to these people?”

“I poisoned them,” she replied simply. Tain stared at her in incomprehension and she stared back her eyes unflinching and unrepentant.

“You?” Ironfang said disbelievingly.

“I came here last night whilst Tain took my watch. All good hunters stalk their prey through their routines,” she went on her voice steady, “I discovered that they had one large meal, evening and morning. It lasts two hours, two hours to feed five thousand men. This morning those five thousand men ate poison which takes three hours to act. AN army marches on its stomach. By the time those who had first eaten displayed any symptoms it was already to late for the rest.”

“You killed them all!” Tain insisted furiously, “Five thousand men.”

“Five thousand of the enemy,” Ironfang pointed out, “This is war and what is done is done.”

This isn’t war, they’d no chance to defend themselves,” Tain argued angrily.

“Balance must be restored Tain, that is what I am here to do. I thought you understood that,” she said righteously.

“I guess I don’t, not like this,” Tain replied, “Because this,” he gestured at the corpses all around, “This can’t be right. Not even in war,” he said and stalked away between the bodies.

It took them an hour to pass through all the corpses. But the worst was saved for last, for as they left the tents behind they came upon the baggage train.

Twelve covered wagons. There were at least a dozen Barbarian boys there. Children. Their faces contorted in the same hideous death throes of their elders. Empty food bowls lay on the ground beside them.

Tain turned to the Druid but could not find the words to express his anger, he turned and stalked away in disgust.

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A Green And Pleasant Land

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Pettytyrant101
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Post by azriel Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:50 pm

A bit of cleavage should make Mrs figg happy in the thought some snogging might be on the cards ! Im still enjoying reading this Petty ! Nod
I havnt read Chap.5 yet, but I will after a tea break ! Very Happy
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