My editing endeavors have brought me, thanks to a day off work, to the reordering of event around the coming to Kanedon, the invasion of Carn (still in search of a new name there) and the death of Hayley (was Hasnove). Namely that the last now comes after the first, with Gail being in the school of the Geldrins when Craharn is invaded.
I’ve brought Gail from Soptrod across the bay, into Oomar, and subsequently through Greatwood and over the Dividing Range – nearly to Kanedon. This is thanks in part to having removed much of the unnecessary Khalad drama, and also in part to having dramatically shifted the geography so that the distance between Oomar and Kanedon is greatly decreased.
Here’s a quick update on the Fall of NaRasch.
I’m still working out of the previously “unnamed Bandet town” (now Soptrod or ‘The Swamp’), writing a touchy bit concerning a flight in the dark. I’ve swapped out racist Bandets for a ship from NaRasch hunting rumors after the capture of a Vessergen Hunter in the Legionair of Arme. I thought that a couple hundred soldiers led by a dozen Black Watch might make a better story than a surprise attack from hiding faceless nameless Bandets. But all this is more easily explained than executed. I’ll be adding the Der Anjet (previously Deloronge – this isn’t France after all) into this chapter as well. An escape by sea seamed more plausible when teaming up with Pirates.
In other matters I’m still hunting for a replacement name for the Duragon. My best canidate so far, taking into my added knowledge of their origins, and the history of the Boggle before them, is “Mortas Drokodon”. This would be the name given by Silence, translating to “Those who Hunt in the Battle” or more loosely “War Monsters”. For the Purposes of the Irithol and within The Fall of NaRasch I’d probably just go with “Drokod” or “Drokodon” when necessary (possibly plural).
Well there you have it – tentatively the new cover for the Fall of NaRasch. Input, as always, is welcome, though it should be noted that due to the wonderful amount of spam that arlenbresh.ca has been attracting I’ve disabled comments from non-members. Membership is free and only takes a moment. You can log in over this way –>>> somewhere, or on the front page.
In other news, I’ve just gotten my new printer. It’s an Okidata B411 laser printer and so far it’s phenomenal. It spits out 35 pages per minute and I can print at 1.7 cents per page with the stock 88 dollar cartridges. I won’t be able to calculate the rates when I start refilling my own cartridges, but it’ll be pennies on the dollar. I’ll have my cost per book under 5 dollars, as opposed to the 12.50 that I used to pay to my publisher per copy. Now all I need is a stack paper cutter capable of handling 300+ pages, and a finished manuscript to publish.
Here is a continuation from scene eight. For those of you still in posession of the original copy of ‘Garawain’ let me know how you think it compares to the original (p.161 Garawain)
Gail stumbled from her bed, finding as she did so that she already grasped Maroward in her hand. She pulled away the sheath, letting it fall by her bed, and ran to find Anne. The others were getting up and frantically searching for their weapons, and Gail could see the surprise on their faces and knew that they had no premonition of danger. Only Hayley seemed undisturbed by the sudden alarm. When Freyn and her guards moved to join with the Elemental he called them back.
“Stay, queen of Kanedon,” he commanded. “This enemy is beyond your weapons. Do not put yourself in danger tonight. Stand aside with me, but send your loose tongued warrior to assist them in my place.”
Freyn checked her pace, and along with Equin she went to join her grandfather. Alken, without need for further command, went to stand with Anne Gretnert and the Princess of Gaeline.
The Paladin was as of yet nowhere to be seen, but Gail could feel him; that was the closest she could come to explaining the throbbing sense in her mind. She knew about where he was, and felt certain that already he could see her, so she stood tall, defiantly.
“Kanedon,” Anne said, hardly glancing over her shoulder as Alken came up. “Run forward to the great tree just there,” she pointed. “Hide on this side of it, and when he passes by see if you cannot cut out the legs of his horse. Then run for your life.”
Alken ran forward. The tree Anne had indicated was about fifty meters forward of their position. He came to it and stood with his back to the trunk, his eyes locked on the Elemental. She meanwhile had turned to Gail.
“Are you ready?” she asked. Gail nodded. “I will be just behind you,” said Anne. “You must hold his attention. Give me a chance to surprise him.” Then she backed up several paces, leaving Gail standing alone in the dark. “Look to your sword for the vision you require,” whispered Anne from somewhere near behind her.
Then all grew silent. Gail felt her heart pounding in hear ears like a noisy drum, and tried to calm herself. She thought of Maroward that had been with her for so long now over so many long journeys, and all of a sudden her mind flashed back to the day when she had gone with Avorier into the second chain gate, and a strange bald-headed boy had stared her down and repeated the question of the Lord Gretnert. It was not an encounter she had recalled in a long time. Indeed, she had not given much thought to it, and it had faded from memory. But now it came back, awoken from some dark corner to run free again over her mind. ‘Why have you got my sword?’ The boy had asked. Or had it been the boy? Had he merely been repeating the words of another as when he quoted Anne’s father? Why was she thinking of all this now, when she should be concentrating on the confrontation ahead of her?
“Anne?” Gail called softly.
“I’m here,” said the Elemental.
“What’s a Spektare?” asked the Princess without looking back.
There was a pause. “It means ‘expected one’ in the old language of Gaeline,” replied Anne. “But it fell into misuse long ago. A prophecy came to the Irithol of the one foretold whom they might expect to come and overcome the monsters; the Spektare.”
“So it’s you then?”
“Perhaps for tonight,” said Anne. “But I could only be called a Spektare, where they will still await the coming of the Spektare at the end of their order. Look to the sky, Queen; he is coming.”
Gail’s grip tightened on her sword, and the words of the spirit flowed over her mind, colliding and becoming mixed with the words of the Elemental. With an effort she cleared her head, bringing herself back to reality and the weapon in her outstretched hand. “What have I got here?” she asked herself.
The response was instantaneous. The sword sprung to life, the blue light from the stones in the blade flashing out and then growing to fill the entire length, transforming steel into a cold shimmering surface. In a moment in built to a peak, and rushed up the blade and shot into her arm, going straight to her head. It set fire to the inside of her body, burning out the cold and setting its forceful barrier within her skin. Then her senses reacted. She could feel the passing of the wind over her hands and face, and hear the crunch of snow under Anne’s boots behind her. She smelt the pine forest, and saw the darkness before her grow grey. The figure of Alken against the tree stood out like a bright flame in the night, as did the Elemental behind her. She could not see Anne, but yet she could perceive her. She could also perceive the Paladin, a little way off, dropping from the sky, through the trees into the forest.
His sword was already drawn, and as his mail clad steed hit the earth the world about him erupted in flame for ten meters or so. Rock, snow, or tree trunk; all burned in the sudden inferno. The cry of the horse came to Gail’s ears, but not so much as the malice extended to her from its rider. She saw him now as she had not before, and no darkness could hide him. Their eyes locked and she stepped out to meet him.
“Hello Leordon,” said Gail. It was with great effort that she spoke, for when she tried her voice nearly cracked for the fear she felt when she saw his eyes. “I did not expect to find you here.”
“I imagine you did not,” replied the Paladin. “You supposed you had outrun me? The foolish have often thought so.”
Gail let Maroward hand loose at her side, though every instinct told her to raise it. Her mind raised, looking for the words she needed to speak. “I don’t see any reason why there should be contention between you and me,” she said. “I see that we are not so different, you and I. What do you say, Leordon? Shall we cast away our sticks and forget our quarrel? Would you not rather live in peace?”
“Peace?” he asked, and there was a breaking in his voice. “I have not known peace in many years.” Then his face hardened, and the Paladin spoke. “Cheap words,” he hissed. “I am called Paladin! I bring fire and fear!” The sword came up, and a great explosion of flame came from it, lighting the trees above his head.
“I had not addressed you, talisman,” said Gail angrily. “Be silent and let your master speak.”
“Master?” it asked, the voice hard and full of hate. “I am master of all this world! The Irith I do not suffer to speak; neither should I suffer you!”
“I doubt that very much,” said Gail with the best sneer she could manage. “Leordon, my friend, these games grow old. Must I waste words with this cudgel more?”
The Paladin let out a roar, and flames sprang from every part of him. Gail had struck a nerve. The horse broke into a gallop, coming on toward her. Then her heart froze and she could not make herself move.
The Kanedonian warrior behind his tree had been positioned about half way between Gail and her enemy. Now as the Paladin passed by, he leapt out at the signal of Anne Gretnert, bringing his long sword around in a mighty swing aimed at the steed’s legs. The timing was perfect. For all his speed the Paladin had no time to react. Though by all appearances the horse was not harmed, it lost its footing and fell headlong, throwing its rider. He however landed on his feet. His advance was not broken, but his grip on Gail was. She breathed again, and raised Maroward toward him in challenge.
But even as the gap between them closed, Anne Gretnert ran past the Gaelic Princess, and came between her and her enemy. Her eyes were bright, and from her dagger came a blinding light. The Paladin checked his advance, startled by the appearance of the Elemental, but even as he swung for her she dodged beneath his sword. Her empty hand wrapped about him beneath his arms, and she hit him in the gut with her shoulder. The force of the attack was many times more than might have been expected from her small figure. Leordon was thrown off his feet, and he landed flat on his back. Even as he fell, Anne raised her other hand with the dagger, and thrust it through his armor into his neck. It buried to the hilt, and the Paladin let out a hideous scream.
Thanks to the marvel of Mathematics I am pleased to announce that “The Fall of NaRasch” is approximately 18% complete.
Now, I know that doesn’t sound impressive at all, and when you consider how long I’ve been working on this it sounds downright depressing. But it’s not quite as bad as all that. Actually, for my part I’m about half way done editing, and a quarter of that has been accomplished in the past 2 months – that is to say, things are coming along faster. The remainder of my progress bar is for the different editing stages which, once begun, will be carried out by different people at the same time so that the remaining 50% will take much less time than the first 50.
I’m not sure if this is important to know
But reguardless I’m bothering telling you so
More snippets to follow soon
Unedited and full of flaws as always, but here’s the rough of a new chapter which I’ve accidentally added to the Fall of NaRasch, dealing with the demise of the Paladin (Dragon Breath, Mighty Dragon – depreciated). Incidentally, WordPress DOES have editorial positions within its infrastructure. Perhaps if you’re one of these people who cant stand a typo you’d care to fill a position…
But for the warmth and the good food Gail felt an uneasiness growing within her. She kept checking her memory of the day past, wondering if at any point they had come across tracks. She knew that they had not, and that no one had seen them, but for all the calming that her mind would do she could not shake the feeling that she was being watched, or followed or both. The great fire that they had lit made her nervous, but as none of the others appeared to share her concern she kept it to herself. It was only as they were getting ready for bed that Anne noticed her furtive glances into the darkness.
“What are you looking for, Princess?” asked the Elemental.
“I don’t know,” Gail replied. “Nothing I suppose. I’m nervous, but I suppose there’s no reason to be.”
“No, no reason,” replied Anne. Then after a moment’s thought she spoke. “Where is your sword?”
“It’s in my sled,” replied Gail.
“Go fetch it before you sleep,” said Anne.
Gail went to the sled. Maroward was fastened sheath and all just under the inside wall. She untied it and brought it back with her, pulling the sword a little out of the scabbard as she walked, just to see that it was the same as it had been, and of course it was.
“Good,” said Anne. “Now take it out. What do you feel.”
Gail drew the sword slowly, carefully. That one action drew the attention of the entire company, and she was painfully aware of this. At first she felt nothing, but she noticed that the woods seemed a little lighter. Then the feeling of foreboding came back, but stronger now. She turned a full circle, looking in every direction. But she did not know what she was looking for.
“I feel frightened,” said Gail after a moment.
“Put your sword away, Gail,” said the Elemental softly. “It’s nothing. Let no dark dream disturb your sleep tonight.”
The feeling of foreboding did not subside, but Gail did as Anne said, letting her reasoning come and dispel the fear. She got into bed then, but kept Maroward at her side, along with the knife she had been given by the Smithy in Vestrodge. The knowledge that they were there helped her feel a little more secure, but the rest that Anne had recommended eluded her.
She strayed into fitful dreams haunted by nondescript shadows, and came out again to sit up and stare into the darkest corners of the woods until she became too cold and hid under her blankets. It was perhaps the third or fourth time that she woke and found that Anne had moved from her bed. Sitting up, she found the Elemental a little way off, standing with her back to the camp. She was wrapped in a dark cloak, and Gail thought she saw the end of a dagger protruding from one of the sleeves. So silent and unmoving was she that at first glance she might pass for a rock or tree in the night. She did not stir when Gail got up.
“There is something out there, isn’t there,” said Gail in a whisper.
“Yes,” said Anne after a moment’s silence. “I have felt him since yesterday morning, at the time when he set his thought on you.”
“Him?” asked Gail, startled. “You know who it is?”
“Of course,” replied Anne. “Don’t you? I would have thought that by now you would recognize the feeling of the Paladin when it comes.”
At that Gail’s breath caught in her throat. It took her some time before she was able again to manage speech. The fear had come upon her again, but now it was many times stronger, nearly what she might call panic.
“What’s he doing here?” Gail asked, her voice catching even as she did.
“He’s looking for you,” said Anne. Her voice was steady and calm, hardly above a whisper. “He’s been looking now and then ever since you and Maroward gave him that start on the road outside Ossuar. After his first fright he fled for a while in fear of you. But it was not long before he found his courage again. Even so it’s taken him a while to find you. He’s been hunting around in the south for a long time, but this morning I sensed that he had learned news of our passing. Since then he has been coming swiftly. He is still afraid, but the wrath and hope of the Paladin are far stronger than any mortal fear that the man Leordon still possesses.”
“Why?” asked Gail. “Why would he be afraid? And of what?”
“I’ve already told you that,” replied Anne. “Don’t you ever listen when people talk? He’s afraid of you; of that sword you carry.”
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” said Gail. “I saw his reaction to Maroward at Ossuar. But what has he got to be afraid of? Can Maroward do him some harm?”
At this Anne let out a chuckle. “My dear girl,” she said. “The Prophetess who gave you the sword could have answered that question. Arlen Bresh could have answered it. Even your grandfather here could tell you a little about your sword if you’d only ask. And yet in all our company you still don’t know…”
“Know what?” demanded Gail, growing a little exasperated.
“That Maroward – the blade you treat as menial – is the only weapon that the Paladin fears. Indeed it’s one of the very few that can do him any harm at all. But like him you are blinded by your fear.”
“Why should Maroward be any more dangerous to him?”
“Because,” replied the Elemental. “That is its purpose. Before Leordon took up that hated weapon – indeed before it was even forged – Maroward was made by the hand of Silence to have dominion over such weapons as the Paladin. That’s why the Prophetess gave it to you. Because you are to be the queen of Gaeline, and it has always fallen to the crown in the north to guard against these monsters.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Many more,” Anne said. “But the others are of no concern at present. They are locked away as they ought to be; as he ought to be. For now our attention must be given to the Paladin.”
“I’m going to fight him?” Gail asked. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Oh girl, don’t be ridiculous,” the Elemental replied. “You don’t stand a chance against the Paladin; not yet. But I said Maroward is the only weapon he fears. I did not say that it was the only weapon that could harm him. It is one of the few. I still have my dagger. I told you they were forged by the same smith – by Silence himself. Yours has the greater purpose, but my blade is meant only for the Paladin. I have waited long for tonight. But I will need your help.”
“What can I do?” asked Gail.
“Challenge him,” was the reply. “Draw his attention; make him think that you are the chief danger.”
“And how should I do that?”
“By ignoring him,” said Anne. “The Paladin, I mean. Somewhere within that monster is a very real man, and I think he is still at war with the sword, though he has been losing for many years. Treat the Paladin as of no consequence. Address Leordon, and it will provoke the monster to fury. It may make my job easier as well. Can you do that, Queen?”
“I think I can,” said Gail. She wondered that the Elemental addressed her as queen where she had always before called her a princess.
“Good,” said Anne. “Go back to sleep if you can. He is still some way off. I will wake you when he draws near.”
Gail went back to bed, thinking that the very idea of sleep at a time like this was ludicrous. But she had not lain long when her eyelids began to sag, and rested peacefully until they were all woken by a shout from Anne.
“Get up friends!” called the Elemental. “A foe is upon us!”
It has been just over a year since I (Carson) began what I would later dub The Cast Diaries. And now, a year later I am happy to announce the nearing completion of this novelette. At just over 16k words I’ve deemed it ready for editing and–with any luck–publishing. As a memento to the occasion I have chosen to release a small portion of the draft which at this point will not appear in the finished book. I’ve also included a short 3-minute promo HERE, so grab your popcorn, turn down the lights and get excited for The Cast Diaries.
She awoke; the piercing sunlight coming through the window intensified by her pounding headache. She rolled over. Where was she? This wasn’t her bed, it was too warm and comfortable—too welcoming. Nor was this her room. The light-coloured walls not her walls, the thick carpet far too clean to be hers. Her vision was foggy. She tried to think back; it hurt to think. She vaguely remembered something, or someone. Had she been at a party? How had she gotten here? It reminded her vaguely of some other time, but she couldn’t remember, not with the pounding in her head.
She floundered in the deep bed for a time, unused to the soft mattress, but finally found herself slouched on the edge, bare feet on the floor. She was in nothing but lingerie, her clothes neatly folded on a chair not far from the bed—her clean clothes? They were in fact still soft and warm from drying. She got up and staggered toward the chair—not more than two steps, but she felt as though she were on a ship in the midst of a storm; the floor kept pitching this way and that, and her sense of balance was muddled. She dressed with care, but also difficulty; the fog in her head was only beginning to roll away. There was a mirror on the nightstand next to the bed and she couldn’t help but look.
“Girl you are a mess,” she declared to herself. She ran her fingers through her knotted, dirty hair. This was all like a dream. Her face was pale and sported a bruise to her right temple. She had no memory of being hit. Finally somewhat satisfied, she turned away from the mirror and looked about the room. Save a dresser, a closet, and what else she had already seen, the room was bare. She now noticed the door across the room from her, standing ajar a space. She stumbled toward it, finally regaining her balance, and looked through. Opening the door fully, she found herself at the end of a short hallway, and it was now that she noticed the aromas drifting toward her. They easily overpowered the scent of alcohol in her hair that she had just begun to notice with growing disgust.
The hallway was dimmer than the bedroom had been, but it was not dark. Two doors on the left led first into a bathroom and then another bedroom. There were pictures hanging on the walls, she noticed. In fact the whole place had been arranged and furnished with a grand sense of décor, and the house seamed altogether inviting. Her bare feet sunk into the carpet, and made not a sound as she made her way down the hallway.
Coming to the end of the hallway she found herself looking into a small kitchen typical of an apartment of this size. The smell was originating from here and she found the source; a scrumptious dish of what looked like bacon and eggs set out on the island. She noticed this even before she noticed the girl tending to a frying pan on the stove, having not noticed the awakened visitor. For several moments the two remained this way, the first paused at the entrance from the hall, the second busily about breakfast. But finally the moment was broken and the second of the two turned from her work, pan in hand, and with little visible surprise, acknowledged her standing in the doorway with a cheery ‘Good morning.’ There is nothing like a ‘Good morning’ given with bacon and eggs.
The first was somewhat taken aback in surprise. “Come, sit down and eat, don’t just stand there looking hungry!” the cook invited her guest warmly into her realm. “I’m Amanda.”
If you’d like to stay up to date on the developments of this and other works by this author, follow me on twitter: @standamazed
I’ve just now started into what has become chapter 19 of 36 (previously 17 of 34). What’s happened? Well I’ve basically rewritten everything from the encounter in Hembrage with Arlen Bresh (actually before that) to the exit from Arme. As much fun as it was to travel for two weeks inside one paragraph and be in and out of Vestrodge within the space of twelve hours, I found that too many things needed shifting and changing. So many long weeks late here I am, safely out of the Armein wilderness, beyond Rejhant, and rapidly approaching 150k words. Oh yeah and I have yet to reapply the destruction of Mighty Dragon which I clipped out of the Arme chapters. There, that’s what I’ve been up to.
“I have much history here,” said the Elemental, looking upon the walls to their left, “though I have not learned much of it. That is something we have in common.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked the Princess.
“I mean that sword you carry,” replied Anne. “It’s a lot like my dagger, you know. You must know, since you have carried both.”
“I thought they must be a little similar,” said Gail. “Do you know much about them?”
“I know a little,” Anne said, “but it’s a lot more than you, or your grandfather here know, though less than others, I think.”
“Arlen Bresh, for one,” said Anne. “I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and my conclusion is that he knew much about your sword long before he knew about you. I don’t know why he would have that kind of knowledge, but perhaps if you ever chance to meet him again you should press him further for answers. In the meantime it will surprise you to learn that you’ve brought Maroward home.”
“Home?” Gail asked, still too concentrated on memories of their brief meeting with Arlen Bresh.
“This here,” Anne gestured to the eastern wall. “This is where Maroward was forged.”
“You know about my sword?” Gail said, “And you’re only now mentioning it?”
“I know little enough,” Anne replied. “And you’ve never asked me about your sword. I know that it was made by the same smith as my weapon, and therefore I assume it was made for a similar purpose. I know the purpose of my dagger, but I don’t know what purpose your blade might have. It’s quite old, though I think it’s got something to do with Gaeline and the Irithol. You really should have had the presence of mind to ask the Prophetess who gave you the gift what it was for. It’s bad news accepting gifts with an unknown purpose. You might find you’ve unknowingly inherited some doom.”
“But you said it was made here?” Gail asked. “What sort of weapons were made here?”
“Mostly unpleasant ones,” Anne said, almost dismissively. “But a few good ones – I think yours was one of these, but you may not find out its true nature until you put it to the use it was intended. Perhaps its use has already passed away and it’s nothing more than an heirloom now. I wish I had learned more of such history when I had a chance. Of course, when I was learning I did not think that I’d be coming across a girl like you, or a sword like that.”
Here’s a bit of what I’m working on – unedited, so please, put down your pitchforks.
“I am glad to have you all here,” she began, “as I am sure you all know. But we five knew each other as friends before we met as queens and rulers, so I will speak plainly in this circle – not as the Muhdel of Vestrodge, but as Avorier. You cannot stay long in this country. It is not safe here for enemies of NaRasch; especially enemies of your profile. By all rights this evening should be a welcome dinner, but the world is changing quickly, and so we must turn your welcome into a meeting of council. Even as Yurod battles with his Royal Police in Ekron I too have certain factions among my officials that stand to lose money and power in this war. We have kept your names a secret as well as we could, but the city is beginning to whisper that there are strange new dignitaries in my court. Now every moment that you stay here becomes more perilous than the last. We must discuss plans for your departure.”
This statement caught Gail off guard. Up until now she had been feeling quite safe in Vestrodge and she was beginning to imagine that she might stay several weeks there in order to have rest. But Avorier’s words sent a cold sensation crawling up and down her spine and her dreams of rest faded away.
“Your advice is sound,” Hayley said when the Muhdel had finished speaking. “The same thought has been in my mind ever since I entered your country. I have kept my ear to the ground in many places where news may be heard and I have rumors of things that not even the Muhdel may easily learn. It makes itself evident to me that we must make our whereabouts unknown before this week is done.”
“Then a decision lies before you all,” Avorier said. “Is your intent to travel north toward your homes or to return to Ekron for harbor?”
Freyn, who had been lost in thought until now, joined into the conversation. “Could any haven be found for us there?” She asked. “If we are not safe here where your power is secure can we expect better in Ekron when the government is at unrest? My mind has been made up from the beginning. I must return to Kanedon as quickly as possible. I have come to Vestrodge only by the advice of Hayley for I have found in the past that his words are not wise to ignore. The question for me is not where I must go, but how I will get there.”
“And so we come to our true purpose,” Hayley said. “For on the very day that we left Ekron I heard news that not even the Muhdel had heard when she left behind us. While we sat in council there Groschen was not idle in NaRasch as we supposed. He has mustered his army and by now he will have occupied Coreson if he has not strayed from his intention. Coreson is not fortified to stand against such attack and for many years now they have been increasingly friendly to the Empire. They will not resist occupation – they may even fight against us when this comes to blows, if it seems to them that we will not win. Therefore the western ways have now become perilous and any journey by those roads would be ill advised.”
“So your plan is to sail north into NaRasch and passing through under Groschen’s nose,” Avorier summarized.
“It is,” Hayley replied. “Or rather it was until I heard the rumors echoing throughout the docks. The sailors are saying that a twenty-ship vanguard has put in at Kemlane ahead of the Emperor’s fleet. The sea is closed to us.”
“That news should be taken to Ekron,” Freyn said. “We had not discussed the possibility of the emperor’s fleet coming this far south.”
“Let them come,” Avorier replied. “They have not the strength or the skill to take any of our coastal cities. The best they can hope for is a desolate landing for a land invasion – in which case we will have caught them with their pants down. But Hayley is correct. The entire course of travel north from here is through Kemlane. The sea is not safe.”
“Is there no way to sneak a fast ship through?” Gail asked.
“Perhaps before now,” Hayley said, “I would have advised such a thing, but for another rumor that reaches my ears. I heard from an old man who listens that there came recently to Kemlane a lady of high standing who commands nothing, but whom all the men whisper about. I have heard it said that she goes about in the dark, and that she is beautiful – but that all men, soldiers and sailors alike, fear her. They believe that she comes from NaRasch; that she carries the scepter of the emperor himself. Some of them call her the ‘Red Lady’ others call her the ‘New Queen’ but no one who has seen her knows her true name.”
“Sailors say many things,” Avorier said, “and as useful as rumors may be, it would not be the first strange tale of a lady to come from Kemlane.”
“If only I could write this off as the imaginations of drunken sailors,” Hayley replied. “But too many of the details are the same from too many mouths, and if even half the stories were lies they would not be the first tales I have heard of a red-eyed lady who stands at the side of the king of NaRasch. When men make myths they give them names.”
From the moment Hayley began talking about this lady in Kemlane Gail began to grow uncomfortable. She could not understand why this was until he added the detail about her eyes being red. Then it all came back to her. “It’s not a myth,” she said, abruptly. “I’ve seen her. Back in NaRasch on the night when Groschen called me a rebel and threw me in jail a red eyed woman whom I had never seen before stood in the shadows behind him. She said nothing while I was there, but I thought that I had never seen a person so filled with hate.”
“I do not see that we should grant this woman so much fear,” Freyn said. “Has she eyes and ears that see and hear everywhere? Why should we treat her differently than any other commander among our enemy? Can’t we slip by her as easily as another?”
“It may be,” Hayley replied. “It is possible that there is no cause for concern. But my heart tells me different. It is my feeling that we may have not yet met our true enemy, and while this woman who says nothing and sees much is in Kemlane I am unwilling to set our company within the confines of a ship. The sea can be a treacherous place at the best of times.”
“Then, if you will not return west, and you will not sail, what option is left to you?” Avorier asked.
“The obvious option,” Hayley replied. “To go where no one will expect us to go – north into Arme.”
“Into Arme?” Avorier seemed intrigued. “The wilderness of Arme is not a friendly place. It will prove every bit as treacherous as the sea, and we have never been able to guess what we might run into there. The weather is always sour in those mountains.”
“It is true,” Hayley said. “But my point still stands. We might take three times as long wandering into the lands north of Vestrodge, but it is far better to arrive late then to never arrive at all. Should the entire empire march south on us tomorrow we would still not meet a single man there.”
“I do not have the means to send a troop into Arme,” Avorier said. “If your choice were some other road I could put two hundred stout warriors beneath your command, but in the wilderness I cannot offer much protection.”
“Nor shall we ask it,” Hayley replied. “For on this road our advantage should not be in strength but rather in speed. In traveled lands our passing will be the cause of whispers and rumors, but in the wilderness why should we leave any trail more than those of the wild animals? You must send with us one of your Hunters who know the layout of that land. I have passed there only a few times and am liable to get lost. We will take with us what animals may survive such terrain, and leave in secret. They will still be whispering of us here in Vestrodge when we have passed into Greatwood.”
“What do the rest of you say to this plan?” Avorier asked.
“I like it,” Anne said abruptly. “Mind you, there are about a thousand ways it could fail, but I think this is the best plan I have heard in a long time. People tend to be rather too predictable for my taste, but this… this is right out of the water.”
“What about Freyn of Kanedon?” Avorier asked. “What do you think?”
Freyn took some time in replying. “It’s not nearly what I had in mind when I agreed to come here with Hayley,” she replied at length. “But if there is really no better alternative than this, and as I have already stated that I have found Hayley’s advice to be valid and his advice unwise to ignore, it would be a rather poor time to go back on my word. I have need for a means to travel north, and it seems that at least we have found one, though I am not pleased with the form it has taken. I will commit to this plan.”
“And what about you, Gail,” Avorier asked.
“I don’t believe I have a choice here,” Gail ventured in reply; “at least, nothing beyond choosing between coming along or staying behind. Still, I don’t see that the second option will benefit anyone, so I might as well come along.”
“You choose well,” Hayley said kindly. “And I promised you this morning that I would give you some answers here. My plans and intentions I have kept to myself, saying to those who needed to know only that I needed to return to NaRasch. But it has been in my heart for a while now that our enemy is yet too strong for us. I am on my way to Gaeline to see if she cannot be turned against the empire. I will go with you and do whatever I may to see you succeed. That was my express purpose in coming here. All I needed was your consent, and you have given it.”
Gail didn’t have anything to say to this. She was overjoyed by the news, but she had no way of articulating her feelings. At last she had some sort of plan and purpose, or at least someone to turn to with questions. But it was Avorier who spoke next.
“This is a good plan, I believe,” the Muhdel of Vestrodge said. “Gail, you will be in the very best of hands. If anyone may help you succeed it is this man, and in return you may yet return the favors done you. Have we settled this matter then? When should you be departing?”
“Tonight,” Hayley said. “We have just had our first audience. We will be expected to have at least a second and third to prepare for a departure, but thanks to the foresight of your Prime Minister, we are ready to leave now.”
“Are you indeed?” Avorier said. “It appears this plan has been in the works for a while without my knowledge?” She turned her attention on Morgan.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Morgan said defensively. “It is true, Mister Hayley had a few things in mind that he wanted made up for the girls, and I did not see it particularly damaging for his wishes to be complied with. No decisions had yet been made. We were keeping options open to them.”
“And why shouldn’t you?” Avorier said with a laugh. “It is well planned. I suppose this Elemental will be accompanying you then as well.”
“Certainly,” Anne said. “Or else you can lock me in your best dungeon and see how long it lasts before I break free and follow. I too have my own discrete purposes, but for the time my interest is best served in seeing to it that the queen of Gaeline stays alive. If she is traveling into danger then my resolve to go is strengthened.”
“Then if none of you are opposed let this be your intent,” said the Muhdel. “We will order transportation for you when darkness has fallen, and you will leave the city by the east road. I will order a commission of Hunters to make a strike into the western wood as I have done on some occasions in the past, but they will turn before the wood and go north to meet you with supplies at the old standing stone. Then you will be beyond my land unlooked for.”
“Your plan is good,” Hayley said. “We are grateful for your help.”
“Perhaps you would be wise to wait another day and prepare yourselves better,” Avorier suggested. “The wilderness can be an unforgiving place.”
“So can the courts of mighty rulers,” Hayley said, “and doubly so now that we have eaten with you. No, I believe we have made all the necessary preparations. We will leave our final packing in the capable hands of your hunters, and be off as soon as we may. The safest place is always where we are least expected.”
“Your group finds itself in the best of hands,” Avorier said to the rest. “I think I will not detain you much longer. We must have a round of drink to celebrate our parting, and then you must all prepare to leave.”
At this point Gail very nearly interjected. It had not until now occurred to her that this plan would indicate immediate departure. She was now keenly aware of the fact that she had spent only one night in their house, which was much less than she wanted under any circumstance. But the more she thought about it, the more she thought it made sense, until by the time their drinks were poured she had come to terms with the plan.
“I wish you all good health and success in your ventures!” the Muhdel said. “One day we all will meet upon the ruin of NaRasch, and that will be a brighter day.”