Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chapter 10: Disscussions and Telling Off's

They rode silently for an hour when they came to a stop. Trotes motioned for Salte to come up to the front. Salte rode up to see what Trotes had to say.
"They're in the clearing right in front of us," Trotes told him, "If you can keep some of them alive, we can get information from them, who they work for and little important stuff like that."
Salte nodded and rode quietly back to the main group. Shortly, Simon, Claude, and Price dismounted and walked up to Trotes.
"Alive?" Price wispered. Trotes nodded. They immediately scampered into the woods, and Trotes simply waited and listened, and it wasn't long before he heard the cries of bewilderment that he knew would momentarily resound in the night. Trotes smiled to himself and rode up to where a trail led into the woods. Salte and the rest followed him to the clearing that Trotes had mentioned, and there Simon, Price and Claude had taken three of the five men and the other two had run away leaving their companions to their fate. Trotes rode into he camp site rather triumphantly smiling at the thieves.
"Nice to have friends you can count on," he said to the theives, who were astonished at the strength of their three captors. Trotes looked at Simon. "Bring that one here," Trotes said to him. Simon brought the man over to Trotes, who jumped off of his horse and squinted some because he jarred his arm a little.
"Who are you?" Trotes asked him plainly.
The man did not answer. Trotes looked into the bandit's eyes intently.
"I chose you because I thought you might be smarter than the others," he said to him, "If you want to live another day, tell us what we want to know."
One of the others being held spoke up, "We are just a small group trying to make a living." Trotes scoffed.
"I thought as much," Trotes replied, "But there are so many ways to make a living. Why would you resort to theivery, espcially when the only travelers alowed on this road for now is for the army."
"We didn't know," he said.
"So what did you do for the past four weeks," Trotes asked. The men remained silent. "You're up to something," Trotes continued, "You're up to something that could affect us and So tell me what it is. There's no reason for you to be keeping an eye on the road right now because no one is traveling on it. And you do know because Surel closed it down until word comes back from me or someone else. It's posted all over the place and it's been carried by many messengers. And you've surely seen or heard of the two or three hundred men that have passed by and asked what was the matter." The men looked fearfully at Trotes. "You tried to divert us when we passed through the town," Trotes continued, "Why would a thief be diverting travelers to make a living? Unless someone was paying them to do it." The men could not conceal their guilt with their faces. "Who?" Trotes asked, "Elestor?"
The man who had spoke before shook his head slightly. "Elestor's dead," he said, "The second in command paid us to do it. He said he wanted you dead or out of the way, divert you so he can hurry up."
"To where?" Trotes asked. The man gulped.
"To meet up with that Alastor, guy," the man said.
"Where?" Trotes asked.
"In Clasea," he replied. Trotes turned his head away.
"Why are they meeting there?" Trotes asked.
"How would I know that?" the man said, "We're just quick help. We'd never join them. All I know now I heard in passing." Trotes eyed the man carefully weighing weather he should just go ahead and kill him or trust him and let him go. All three thieves watched in fear.
Just then Simon turned around to catch the other two thieves trying to sneak behind them.
"And what are you doing?" Simon asked them.
Trotes unsheathed his sword and Salte walked over to them.
"Stay where you are if you want to live," Trotes told them. The Trotes turned to the other three bandits. "Well, they came back after all," he said. Then he walked up to the one that spoke and put his sword to the man's neck. "Are you telling me the truth?" he said to him.
"Yes, sir," the man said.
"Then leave here," Trotes told him, "don't get yourself killed tonight." The three Outcastes let the men go and all five ran into the woods. Trotes turned and walked to his horse without saying a word.
Simon and Price walked over to the girls, while Claude, Salte and Samantha walked over to Trotes.
Samantha spoke first, "So it is Alastor." Trotes did not answer, he simply unsaddled his horse as best he could with one arm. Samantha walked over and helped him. Trotes let her help as he put it on the ground. Then he led his horse to a tree to tie it up.
"What's goin going on?" Claude asked Samantha.
Samantha answered, "The number of gangs has increased over the past six years. Trotes and my father gathered information on their movements and locations, all of which looked organized, so they figured the increase was because of a network infrastructure being built up in our own country." Trotes walked back up.
"It would be easy to do," Trotes said, "Not difficult to do in this country."
Samantha nodded. "My father is councerned about an inssurgency."
Salte looked at Trotes. "What's your concern?"
"Alastor," he replied, "When I looked at what was going on and the dissappearance of Alastor, I figured he must be up to something. He's a mercenary, Hardly law abiding citzens, and they have the ability to do this kind of organization."
Samantha added, "He's the only one with that kind of charisma."
Trotes walked away. "Surel is making a mistake," he said walking to his horse.
"We'll beat Surel to Calton Capital," Samantha said, "Maybe we can warn him."
"Let's get a fire started," Salte said. The men and Samantha gathered some wood and built a fire in the middle of the clearing. They sat for a while letting the quite thoughtfullness of the night seep into their minds. The night was slightly chilly, the first chilly night for a while. Hope and Charity soon fell asleep and the others waited in silence for someone to speak. The fire flickered when wind from the cool mountaintops rushed over it. Every once in a while one of them would get up to get more wood.
Finally, Samantha spoke. "So," she said to Claude and the rest, "You are all from the South."
They looked at each other then at her.
"Yes," Salte said.
"What did you have to do with the Great Light?" she asked.
Salte chuckled slightly.
"Complex question," he said, "But right now the answer you seek is nothing."
"What do you mean complex question?" she asked.
"It's a long story," Simon replied.
"Surel's little expedition is responsible for that," Price added. Samantha looked into the fire.
"What was it?" she asked. The Outcastes looked at each other. Trotes listened intently.
"Long story," Claude said repeating their desire not to talk about it.
"We've got time," Trotes replied. Salte sighed and stirred the fire for a moment.
"Our history is buried and hidden from yours," Salte told them, "before the North even thought to record history, we had made more than our fair share of it. That light, ironically, is a part of our past."
"Do tell," Trotes insisted.
"I just thought you were banished from our lands for some evil," Samantha.
"That's what most people believe," Trotes added, "I must admit I'm curious myself. You actually come from the South?"
"Yes," Salte replied, "But we haven't lived in the actual Southlands for some time." Then Salte gave them a brief overhaul of the story of Hirst and the wars in the South. Samantha, Trotes, Fareh and the girls, who had been talking to Seliah up to that point, now listened attentively to what Salte told them. He did not narrat in the normal way of the Southlander culture. The story was simply told to them. When he came to the part of Mica, Titus and Silas, Trotes became especially intersted. Salte told how they let them go even though they knew it could be disastrous, and how the great light came shortly after. He took the story all the way up until they met with the three hundred men.
When Salte finished the story, silence ensued. And then Salte spoke again. "And that's the main portion of it. This whole land is in danger," Salte said.
Simon spoke, "But Hirst said he wasn't going to do anything now."
"Nothing drastic," Salte replied, "But I'm sure he'll have his hand in as many things as he can to get things in order for himself."
"So even though you know he's strong," Trotes replied, "You're still going to try to do something." Salte nodded his head. "Not a good situation," Trotes said, "Mighty noble of you though. You're going to help the people who denied you."
"So you believe us?" Price said to Trotes.
"Why not?" Trotes replied, "I've seen you, and you don't seem like the kind to make things up. And everyone saw the light, even if it wasn't as visible as what you saw. I have no reason to doubt you."
"So that's your past," Fareh commented, "How sad. Some many people think you committed some crime against us."
"No," Salte replied, "Not directly anyway. We don't hold the discrimination against anyone. We came out partially to see if we could do anything. We have decided to spend our last years looking for Hirst. We decided that its better to die than to stand by let our atrocities turn the world into chaos."
"What can you do?" Trotes asked. Salte chuckled.
"Not sure," Salte said, "but I'd rather do something. Who knows."
"Hmph," Trotes said lying down, "You can always tell everyone to be nice." Everyone was silent again until Simon got up slowly and looked around at the woods around him. His eyes were black as they could possibly be.
"What is it?" Price asked. Trotes lifted himself up.
"Something's in the woods," Simon replied.
"What?" Salte asked. Price and Claude looked around while Fareh huddled the girls close to her.
"You come too," Fareh said to Seliah. Seliah moved over and got in with the girls.
"Simon?" Price asked said.
"I . . . don't know," Simon replied looking around, "It's been coming in and out for some time actually. But I never said anything because I didn't know." Salte grabbed his spear. Price and Claude got up with their pairs of daggar and looked around. Trotes was still seated, but waited for anything to happen. "It's not anything I've ever known," Simon.
"Could it be Hirst?" Price asked.
Trotes muttured under his breath, "Interesting." Simon had unsheathed his sword by now, but he then lowered it.
"It's gone," Simon said.
"You've known about it," Price said.
"I'm sorry," Simon replied, "I've never been outside of our valley. I though maybe it was just something in this land that I've never known. It wasn't until tonight . . . that I noticed malice in it."
Price looked at Salte. "You think he's keeping an eye on us?" he asked Salte. Salte shook his head. And looked at Trotes.
"Who do people think is responsible for the great light?" Salte asked.
"Right now? You." Trotes replied, "Things settled down when our star gazers offered explinations, but Surel had already sent the investigation anyway."
"Will Surel listen to us when we get into the Capital?" Salte asked.
Trotes chuckled looking at the fire. "Surel listens to no one except the people who agree with him," Trotes replied, "Except General Syrathis. Surel listens to him because he must."
Salte looked at Trotes for a moment. "You two are friends," he said to him. Trotes lifted just his eyes to look a Salte and then turned in his spot to lie back down. Trotes squirmed a little to get comfortable and then relaxed.
"Don't wake me if something happens," Trotes said. Samantha shook her head and then laid down herself.
"I'll stay up," Simon told Salte.
"You sure," Salte replied. Simon nodded his head. Salte then lied down and settled in his place. And everyone followed in suite, except Seliah, who waited for when she thought everyone else was asleep. She knew the sound well. She could hear the breathing of each person. Each breathing pattern became rythmic and more relaxed. She listened closer as each became softer and easier. She listened with her eyes facing upward, as the easiness of sleep slowly covered the party like a blanket under the moon, which was just above them. Seliah wondered what the sky looked like. She tried to imagine what it was to see and wondered what it ment to distinguish between a rock and a tree without having to feel or listen, to know without having to come into contact with something. She wondered what it was like to enjoy something from afar. Silence was unknown to her. Her hearing was so keen that even the smallest breath or change in the air pushed and pricked her ears allowing her to moniter her environment, an in that way, she knew more than people who see.
Eventually, she heard everything in its complete sleepy calm and then softly arose. Simon looked over to her. She simply sat facing toward the fire waiting for Simon to see her.
"Can't sleep?" Simon asked.
"Can you teach me to see?" she asked.
Simon did not know how to answer at first. But he decided to be honest.
"No," he said to her. Seliah bowed her head. She did not know what else to say that was all she wanted to know. "I can teach you other things though," Simon told her, "maybe."
"Like what?" Seliah asked.
"I can teach you . . .," Simon hesitated to find the right word. After some thought he completed the thought, " . . . to believe."
"But not to see," Seliah replied. Simon's heart sunk.
"I'm sorry," Simon replied.
"It's okay," Seliah said with tears now sparkling in the moonlight. When she felt the tears on her eyes she cried all the more, but she tried to hold it in. Simon did not know what else to do at this moment, so he let her alone and continued to be attentive for the rest of the night thinking about how he could help Seliah and how it is that he knew what was when he could neither see nor hear.
He got up and walked over to Seliah, who heard every footstep. He reached down and picked her up and brought her to his spot and set her on his knees.
"The first step is knowing your doubt," he said to her, "Do you doubt?"
She nodded her head.
"We all do," Simon replied, "What you have to do is learn to controll them. There are times to doubt and times not to. And you must learn the difference." Seliah nodded. "I can't teach you to see physically," Simon told her, "But I can teach you to know. And that's a different kind of sight, a spiritual sight. A better sight."
"Teach me to know?" Seliah said.
"Yes," Simon replied, "And it starts with belief."
"Belief," Seliah repeated.
"It's a secret that all people know," Simon continued, "But only a Soul Knight has mastered."
"Know?" Seliah asked.
Simon picked her up and set her back in her place.
"Go to sleep now," he told her, "We've got a long day."
Simon kissed her on the head.
"Don't leave," Seliah said to him. Simon waited for a moment.
"Alright," Simon replied, "I'll sit right here."
Seliah smiled and then curled up to go to sleep.
Trotes was awake staring at the moon as it moved across the sky. He had heard the conversation in bits and pieces, but he was deep in his own thought and his own plans. The night passed swiftly for those who were asleep, and the days for them to travel were many. But on the front, the situation for Calton had grown critical very quickly, and the great General Syrathis was about to meet the new uncanny General of Coastshire in a vital battle.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Chapter 10: Discussions and Telling Off's

The next morning everyone woke up and got straight to work gathering what was left of the food and hunting down some more in the woods that lined the river where the village ended. At about midday, already a late start, they had finished getting people into the pub and were saying goodbye to the women left to care for the injured.
"Thankyou for all you have done," the oldest said to them.
"You are welcome. I'm sorry our journey is so urgent," Salte said to her, "We may be back this way one day. I hope you are doing much better by then."
"We'll recover the best we can," she said. As they spoke Delos stepped out from the group and addressed Salte and Simon.
"I'm feeling much better now," Delos said, "And I've been thinking." Salte nodded.
"You want to stay," Simon said to him.
"They don't have any one to look out for them," Delos said, "and believe it or not, I can be of help to them and protect them." Simon and Salte thought for a moment.
"He's not a bad fighter," Trotes added, "He can be of use to them here, and we can speed our pace since all of you wish to see Love again as soon as possible."
"Don't you have a family?" Price asked. Delos nodded.
"They live in Calton capital," Delos said, "I'll return to them and you as soon as this town recovers. If it does."
"Can't we just send them?" Price asked.
"Too dangerous on these roads," Delos replied.
Salte looked at the women to see what they would think.
"We would appreciate someone to help," the oldest said.
Salte smiled and looked back to Delos and nodded. "Let's go," he said to everyone else. They all turned on their horses and started on their journey. Faith turned as they left and smiled at Delos in approval. Delos knelt down with his head bowed as she rode away.
"A little over a month journey," Trotes said to the Outcastes, "Let's hope nothing goes wrong between now and then."
"Are you sure the men with her can take care of her?" Simon asked.
"I'm never sure of anything," Trotes replied. He sped up to the lead and the rest followed him.
Claude, Samantha, and Seliah had reached the town the night that Salte and the rest were tending to the villagers.
The morning came, and they avoided the villagers while Samantha gathered goods and needed things for the trip to the next town, which was about a three days journey on horse back through a long valley, a short cave and another ravine. Claude and Seliah sat underneath a tree just outside the north part of the village talking when two men walked up. Claude looked up at them, and saw they were dressed raggadly in brown cloaks and they had thick beards. The two men looked at the girl, and then at Claude.
"And where might you two be travel'in" the one man said. Claude nor Seliah answered the man.
"You might want to tell us," the man said, "Because we are unders orders to keep an eye out on this road for anyone suspicious." Claude simply looked at the men without saying a word waiting to see what they would actually do, or might do. One of the men scoffed and walked a little closer.
"Silent ones eh?" the first man said, "Well that's okay. That's suspicious enough for us."
"Yea," the other said, "You might want to find another way besides the way you're look'in to go."
"And why's that?" Samantha asked behind them. The two men turned around.
"Weeeell," the first said, "We've got a right pretty here."
"She is isn't she," the second said, "A sight for eyes sore."
"A lot more than your eyes are going to be sore if you cause problems for us," Samantha replied.
"Oh," the first said, "Fearless pretty."
"Unlike the man behind us," the other said turning around to look at Claude, who was still watching them.
"You two are lucky you aren't dead," Samantha replied.
They two men laughed hard and long. Samantha grew angry at their insolence, but Claude was just ready to get on and leave the men alone.
"Don't come the way you're coming," the first man said.
"And what way would you suggest?" Samantha asked.
"Go that way," the second said pointing to the road that went west.
"That leads into Sholom," Samantha said, "That's way to far out of our way. We'll go straight." She threw a bag to Claude, who took it in one hand and took Seliah's hand in the other and got up. The men back off and watched the three walk off. Claude turned around and stared at them and then smiled a very menacing smile.
"Come and get us," he said to them. He turned around and they continued on.
The two men watched furious.
"Oh, we'll come and get you," the first said, "And we won't kill you right away, we'll make sure you wish you'd never been born first."
Samantha turned to Claude.
"I wasn't looking to pick a fight," Samantha said to Claude.
"They were going to do something no matter what," he replied, "I just wanted to get under their skin."
"Well," Samantha replied, "I think it worked." Seliah tugged on Claude's hand.
"Yes," he said to her.
"Are more people going to get hurt?" she said.
"Unfortunatly, it seems so," Claude replied, "Samantha how many roads to Calton are there besides this one."
"This is the quickest besides the Six Day road," she replied, "The one to the west leads to that and into Solom. There is one to the east that leads to Uriza, one of our cities, but that would increase our journey by a month. It's long no matter which way, and if we keep running into trouble, then this journey is going to be a very long one indeed."
"Well, time to get going," Claude said.
"We can get horses at the next town," Samantha said, "But we have to get there first." Claude nodded.
All the travelers, Salte's group and Claude, Samantha and Seliah were now making their own way toward Calton Capital. Claude, with no idea that his friends were actually behind him, continued on vigorously, while the group behind made their way quickly on horse back. Valley's were abundant in Calton and were going to make the trip longer that it truly had to be, and because of the dangers along the Six Day road, the quickest route was not an option.
Naturally, this world is much bigger than just what's happining with Salte and Claude's groups. Calton at this time is having to face different challenges posed by Coast than when the war began. Solom and Shiit have denied Coast the privilage of taking an army through their lands to invade Calton, which would take every possible resorce in Coast's possession anyway. King Valiant, who was being kept alive by the nobles influence in case Surel could not deliver on the promise of riches from Coast, had established relations with a very large reclusive group of warriors that lived in an area up in and enclosed by mountains. These warriors were called Razel, and they did not like relations with people. King Valiant only, with the help of General Syrathis, had managed to establish a very loose and casual friendship with the Razel. Surel kept that relationship going only by decieving the Razel into thinking that the King was still too sickly to rule, and that he had to recover. The Razel, of course, are not so foolish, but they keep relations for other reasons and the fact that they know the king is still alive.
Such were some of the conditions of the two countries. Syrathis and the two generals under him have their hands full with a new general that has come to command the Military of Coastshire. Though Syrathis had yet to face off with him the general had out manuvered the other two generals of Calton easily heaping two massive defeats that nearly crippled Calton. Surel's once secure rule is not tetering again. Although, by now Calton had caused considerablt damage to the Coast army, Coastshire was still plenty strong, though their strenght to invade Calton was now waning, Calton would not be strong enough to take Coastshire if they continued as they were.
King Surel still had support from the nobles, though somewhat lessened, but Syrathis supported Surel only because King Valiant requested him to. To violate the law and order through anarchy would cause much unrest in Calton and greatly weaken, if not shatter, the fagile unity of the country. The former gerneral Trotes was hard for Surel to controll, and so Surel took measures to take Trotes out of command. But Syrathis threatened to remove his support if Surel ever did away with Trotes. Trotes was not entirely thankful, but he and Syrathis were life long friends, and Trotes understood.
All that being said, Claude, Samantha and Seliah were well into their journey now to the next town; they were two days in a large ravine that led north, a river ran just east of them, and by now Claude was well aware that they were now being tracked by more than two men. He had realized this at the beginning of the second day and said nothing right away because he was not interested in scaring Seliah. He simply listened and caught glances of them with his keen eyes. He could even smell them from time to time when cool breezes from the mountain tops trickled to the bottom bringing the stinch of sweat and blood mingled with sweet polen and fresh leaves to his nostrils. He figured they were waiting for night time when he and his two companions would fall into an unsespecting sleep. He thought constantly about how to get them in suprise, hopefully without any disturbance to Seliah.
They continued on the road all day, when midday came Claude would not let them stop to eat.
"Why aren't we stopping?" Samantha asked.
"Because I don't think it's safe to stop," Claude replied. The he sighed, "I don't want anyone to catch up with us."
"Are you worried about those men?" Samantha asked.
"Yes," Claude replied.
"I don't think they followed us," Samantha relied, "They would have done something by now."
"Still, I don't want to take any chances," Claude said.
"Well, Seliah needs to rest," Samantha added.
"We really shouldn't," Claude replied quickly picking Seliah up, "I'll just carry her." Samantha sighed and shook her head as she followed Claude. She gave Seliah some food, and Seliah ate it thankfully. Claude refused and carried Seliah with no signs of slowing. The day slowly faded and they came to the end of the valley where the road led up into the mountains.
"Great, Okay," Claude said, "We're not going to try to make it up that road today."
"Thank goodness," Samantha said, "We've covered a lot of ground because of your bad feelings. I'm suprised we haven't caught up with your friends by now."
"We probably won't," he said, "They're really far ahead."
"What were they after?" Samantha asked.
"The royal family," Claude replied.
"What!?" Samantha screamed.
"The royal family was hidden with us in the Southlands and your king sent a load of soldiers to flush us out because of the great light, so we had to send them out," Claude told her, "But they were caught anyway."
"You let them get caught!?" Samantha exclaimed stopping.
"No," Claude replied, "They got caught. The Mayor of Oak tried to get them into Solom, but a group of soldiers caught up with them, so my friends went after them."
"They're not in any real danger," Samantha said, "He just wants them in his sights."
"But what if something happens on the way," Claude said just off the road and setting Seliah down. Seliah sat down where she was and patiently listened to the conversation.
"You couldn't stop it before," Samantha replied.
Claude shook his head rather than reply with a full testimonial defense, save to say, "You don't know the situation."
"Do I need to?" Samantha said.
"Yes," Claude replied, "Before you start blaming others." Silence ensued as Claude went to gather some wood for fire. He was attentive to their new camp site and did not go too far yet. He had not heard or identified any trace of anyone for sometime. But he was still cautious. When he had gathered enough wood to start a fire, he walked back to where Samantha and Seliah were sitting. Claude listened intently the whole time and watched to see anyone. He put the sticks down and started the fire with some flint that Samantha had. As he watched it grow, he heard something in the dark. He got up in alarm and looked around.
"What?" Samantha asked.
Seliah replied, "Something's coming."
"You can hear something?" Samantha said, "What is it?"
Claude said, "It sounds like . . . horses."
Samantha put the fire out and scattered the ashes quickly while Claude got Seliah and their things furthur off of the the road. When everyone was settled, they waited in silence for the horses to pass bye them, hopefully. The night was fairly bright. After a few moments, Samantha heard the sounds too.
"They're not merchants," she said, "They're in full gallop."
"There are four or five," Claude said.
"Five," Seliah replied. Claude nodded and smiled looking at Seliah.
"Keen," he said.
"How long have you been speaking our language?" Samantha asked looking at Claude.
Claude ducked down all the way to the ground and brought Seliah down. Samantha followed and the five horses got closer and closer until they passed swiftly.
"Who was that!?"
The horses passed by swiftly and those were the only words heard. The the three waited untill they were sure the horses were gone, but just as they got back up, they got right back down.
"I hear more," Claude said.
"What!?" Samantha.
"How many, Seliah," Claude asked.
"They're too far away," she said, "hold on."
"How can you hear them?" Samantha wispered.
"Seven," Seliah replied.
"Those two must have been just part of a group," Samantha said.
"It's going to get smaller if they keep persuing us," Claude replied. Soon Samantha could hear the clops of the horses too, and she got down to the ground.
"Are you going to attack?" Samantha asked.
"No way," Claude replied, "Only if they provoke it."
The gallops got closer and closer until Claude could see them. He jumped up as soon as they passed. He got out and yelled, "HEY!"
Just then, Price turned around to see his brother running to meet them. Price sped forward as fast as he could, very suprised to see his brother there. Soon the others came behind him led by Salte and Simon.
"What in the land are you doing?" Claude exclaimed, "You're supposed to be days ahead of me?"
"We are," Simon replied smiling.
"Well, well," Salte said grinning as well, "You have no fear, Claude. Coming all by yourself with no horse or anything?"
"No horse," he replied. "But I'm not by myself," he added turning to where Samantha and Seliah were hiding. They walked out suprised by the turn of events.
"Who is this?" Salte asked. Just then Samantha walked past them.
"Trotes!?" she said as he rode up to see what the news was.
"So that's Trotes," Claude said.
"Has she said something about me?" Trotes asked Claude.
"Just in passing," Claude replied.
Samantha looked up at Trotes, "What are you doing? You left Calton with 200 men."
"They're dead, gone, or traveling with Princess Lores(Love) to Calton," Trotes replied.
"Samantha!" Fareh(Faith) exclaimed coming upon the scene. Fareh(Faith) slipped off the horse, and Samantha ran to her.
"Queen Faith!" she exclaimed. They embraced as Hope and Charis(Charity) rode up and got off their horse as well.
"Samantha!" they exclaimed running to her. Fareh took a good look at her.
"My you've grown into a beautiful young woman," Fareh said, "How old are you?"
"20," Samantha replied. The two young girls ran to hug Samantha. "Wow, look at you." Samantha said to them, "You're both so beautiful."
Faith looked over at Claude who was watching the scene with his brother and friends.
"I see you've met Claude," Fareh said.
"Yes, he helped me save her," Samantha said pointing to Seliah, who listened carefully to each voice. Fareh walked over to Seliah and knelt down in front of her and saw she was blind. Seliah was aware that she was there.
"Hello," Seliah said to Fareh.
"Hello, there," Fareh said to her, "What's your name?"
"Seliah," she replied and then spoke again, "Are you a queen?" Fareh laughed.
"I used to be," she said, "I'm not much of one right now." Trotes was riding back by on his horse when Faith said this to Seliah.
"Well, Surel certainly isn't the king, " Trotes clipped on his way to the front of the group. Fareh watched Trotes for a moment with sympathetic eyes.
"Who was that?" Seliah asked.
"A sad man," Fareh replied. Seliah looked toward Trotes as if she could see him and pondered. Meanwhile, Claude walked up to Fareh, and she stood up to hug him and said, "I can't believe we ran into you."
"I can't believe you were behind me," Claude said, "How did that happen?"
"Long story," Simon said walking to his horse, "We'll tell you on the way."
Claude looked at all of them. Everyone looked ready to continue on.
"We were going to set up for the night here," he said. Salte walked up with his horse, which nudged him gently in affection.
"Trotes said he knows a safe place to rest not far from here," he said, "Though he says we may have to weed out some bandits."
"Those bandits have been tracking us for a day and a half now," Claude said.
"They were!?" Samantha exclaimed walking up.
"I didn't want to scare Seliah," Claude replied, "But she's safe with all of us now."
Simon walked up to Seliah who was now standing next to Samantha.
"Hello," he said kneeling, "You must be Seliah."
"Hello," she replied, "who are you?"
"I'm Simon," he said, "Did you know that you are a pretty girl?" Seliah smiled and turned red. There was plenty of light from Salte's spear heads to see everyone's face.
"Thankyou, I don't know what pretty looks like," Seliah, "But I know it's good."
"She's a strong girl," Claude said, "She does better than I would if I were blind." Simon looked at Claude and then compassionatly at Seliah.
"It's a shame you can't teach her what you can do, Simon," Price said. Simon bobbed his head up and down slightly in consideration.
"I might can," Simon replied. Seliah gasped.
"Can you teach me to see?" Seliah said.
"Well, no," he said, "Even better. But I don't know if it can really be taught."
"Well . . . I can try," Seliah replied.
"Hmmm, then give me sometime to think about how I can try to teach you, and I will," Simon replied. Simon picked her up and put her on his horse.
Salte looked at Samantha.
"So who is this?" he asked. Fareh introduced her.
"This is the daughter of General Syrathis," she said, "One of my husband's closest friends, along with Trotes."
"Trotes is friends with your husband?" Salte replied, "You never mentioned that."
"That's why he saved Charis," Fareh said, "Their relationship has not been as close ever since Trote's family was killed, but the core love is still there, though it is buried deep inside Trotes."
Faith sighed. "Our kingdom is the stuff of fairytales," Fareh said, "It is rich with the history and drama of a struggling country. And you may get to meet Syrathis himself if he's not at war. He is not bound by predjudice as we once were. You two would get along well." Salte nodded. Samantha looked at Claude who looked at her.
"Come'on Claude," Price said to him, "I've gotten better at riding." Claude followed his brother and got on a horse.
"Can I ride with you, Queen Fareh?" Samanth asked.
"Of course," Fareh replied. Simon got up with Seliah and everyone mounted. Trotes, whom nobody had really missed, rode back to address the group.
"The Place we'll stay is just up ahead," he said, "And there are thieves staying there." They all nodded.
Trotes surveyed the riding arrangements, which he approved of and started off. The group followed, and they all rode slowly to be as quiet as possible.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Chapter 10: Reunions, Discussions, and Telling Offs

The Outcastes, The Valiants and Trotes rode into the small hame village where Seliah was from. They had seen smoke from afar and wondered what was happening, and when they saw it, they hastened to get there. The smoke was from burning houses and such. The men from the forest had made their way back to the village and where searching for the girl, as well as other things of ill repute.
As they rode in Simon, Salte, and Price looked around to see what was happening.
"What in the world?" Price said hearing screams and yells in every direction. Trotes rode by.
"Someone made someone else mad," he said nonchelantly. They followed Trotes untill they saw a man beating a woman. She screamed for him to stop, and he threw her on the ground. Salte rode quickly to the two and lunged his spear into the back of the man. The man screamed in pain and fell down wounded, and Salte left him there to see what else was going on. The woman was too scared to even look to see what had just happened, while Faith quickly went to the woman to tend her wounds. Simon let Delos down near a large stone.
"I'll be back," Simon said to Delos. "Watch him," he told Hope and Charity, "Call us if anything happens. We'll hear you." Then Price and Simon rode off after Salte. As Faith tended the woman Trotes rode casually by, and Faith looked up at him.
"Trotes, can't you do something?" Faith asked. Trotes looked at her for a moment with very slight conviction in his eyes and then looked straight ahead and continued his slow progress into town.
"Tradgety is something we all must leave room for," he called back to her. After the initial stun, Faith scoffed and continued to calm and comfort the woman.
Simon came upon two men who were busy burning a house. They had wounded a man, and his wife and little girl stood by the man helpless. Simon wasted no time riding up to the two men and cutting both in the back. He then got down to see what he could do for the man. The mother and girl looked with fear at Simon because of his eyes. The mother threw herself on her husband.
She screamed, "Please don't hurt us." Simon stopped after staring and quickly turned away and got on his horse. He looked back at the woman and her girl as they watched him. And he rode off.
Salte was quickly surrounded by five men as he rounded a a hut, but as Price passed by, they were cut down to three. Simon rode up and helped Salte take care of the three that surrouned him, and Price found the core that had regrouped after the devistation in the town.
"What have we here?" he said. The men all looked at him. Price smiled and jumped off his horse. A group of three went to take care of Price, but when Price ceased to be visible the three attackers were baffled. Only for a second though because they did not live long enough to ponder the phenomenon. The other men reared back in fear at the sight and looked at each other. Price did not waste time. He found the best dressed man of the bunch and slit his throat with everyone watching.
They watched the man bleed to death and die. They looked around in panic while backing to get ready to run. Price released the light around him and he startled them. When they saw him they all ran in different directions. Salte and Simon came up just as they ran off.
"Are you alright?" Salte asked him.
"They won't be coming to this town anymore," Price said.
"Did you.."Simon asked him.
"Yea," Price said, "Who are they going to tell besides their thieving friends."
Salte smiled. "We might should catch one and get some information," he said.
"Why?" Price asked.
"Because it's just good to know," Salte replied.
"Are you going to help any?" Simon said to Salte.
Salte sighed deeply. "Only as much as a normal person can," he said, "Let's go. We're not done." The three went into town to see what needed to be done. They went through the town, which was not too big and did a thorough job of cleaning the place of any theives still lingering and causing havoc to people's homes. Faith and her daughters helped put out some fires and carry people away from the heat.
Trotes rode to the pub which was surrounded by Elestor's men. He looked at them intentely, and as he did, his anger rushed to his face. Some of the men recognized him and looked at each other somewhat fearfully. Even with one arm, Trotes was able to do damage to the group, and he had a fearsome look about his solid scared face anyway. They quickly dispatched and left, least they have to pay for their deceased leader's crime against the former gerneral of Calton. Trotes had no desire to follow. He simply sat and surveyed the situation waiting for those who traveled with him to complete their good deeds. He did want to grab one for questioning to see what the man who murdered his family was doing in that village. He figured the three boys with him would not kill everybody. He moved around town observing the situation. People were hurt around him groaning and delerious. Houses were burned or torn down or badly damaged. A few houses were left standing and intact, and some villagers were hurrying about trying to help those who had been seriously wounded. At last Trotes saw a man running from Price. Trotes quickly galloped his horse and got in front of the man. If Trotes's arm had not been injured, then he would have done something like jump off. Price came up.
"Stop," Trotes told Price. Price stopped suprised and somewhat annoyed that Trotes would bark an order to him. Trotes looked at the man.
"Don't try to run and your life will be spared," he said to the pillager.
"What?"Price responded. Trotes only glanced up at Price and then back at the man.
"Why did Elestor send you to pillage this little travel-through town?" he asked, "Or is it his trade now to murder innocent people in back-water villages." Price listened curiously. The man trembled and did not speak.
"Conquor your fear and speak if you want to live, coward," Trotes said.
"W-we're searching for...a girl," the man replied. Price glared. Salte and Simon came up to the situation. Trotes tilted his head slightly in curiosity.
"A girl?" Trotes said.
"Why in this land would he be searching for a little girl?" Price asked Simon.
"What makes you think I would know?" Simon replied.
"S,She's worth quite a bit of money by Elestor's account," the man replied.
"It that all?" Trotes said, "I thought it would be something as trifiling as that. Where is Elestor?"
"...Elestor is dead, sir," the man said finally getting himself under controll. Trotes started somewhat at this news.
"Dead?" Trotes said, "What do you mean dead?"
"We don't know," the man said, "He's no where to be found, and we saw blood in his room."
"Who ordered this raid then?" Trotes asked.
"Kall did," the man answered, "Alastor had sent word and Kall fears both Alastor and Elestor."
"Nothing to fear from Elestor if he's dead," Trotes said.
"Kall's not going to take that chance," the man said. Trotes looked away in deep thought.
"Where is the girl then?" Trotes asked.
"We don't know," the theif said, "We took her away from here and then she dissappeared when Elestor died."
Trotes narrowed his eyes and looked at the theif.
"What, may I ask, is so special about this little girl?" he asked.
"She fits the discription the blind child omen in the Cratle Scriptures," he says, "and I have to say, it seems to be true."
"Ahhhh," Trotes said now understanding, "That's how much she's worth."
"That's all I know," the man said.
"You're free to go," he told him.
"Getting some information?" Salte asked.
"So what's going on?" Price asked.
Trotes looked at Salte and then began to ride away.
"You might want to see to the wounded that you saved," Trotes said. Just then Faith called, "Salte, Simon, Price!" The three sped toward where she was now at the pub. She needed help moving the wounded to that one area.
Close to all day they worked bringing the wounded to the pub where they could be cared for. A few villagers, all women, were left to give the other villagers water and other nessecary aid. After much work, Salte, Simon and Faith walked over to the tree that Claude had rested under to get rest themselves.
"Not many are going to make it," Faith told Salte, "Isn't there something you can do?"
Salte shook his head.
"What do you mean? Yes, you can." she said shocked.
"No," Salte replied, "I can, but I'm not going to give that help."
Faith looked at him appaled. "How could you?" she said.
"Whether I'm right or wrong, I'm not going to give them anymore help than you or Simon could," he said, "To help them would result in other consequences that are not mine to bestow at every turn."
"Salte," Faith said, "That's the most self-righteous thing I've ever head you say. They had no controll over this."
Salte hung his head and walked toward a wounded person. "I know," Salte said.
"Know what?" Faith said getting even more angry.
"What you just said," he replied joining the others in bandaging and getting water to people who were hurting. Hope called to Faith, and Faith turned to go to her with a quick glance back at Salte.
Simon then came to an old man who was not terribly hurt, but he was bruised and could not hardly move. When Simon saw him, the man asked him, "Have you seen a little blind girl?"
"No," Simon replied stooping down to give him some water, "But I'll go look for her."
"She's not here then," the old man said taking a drink, "Those soldiers came looking for her..."
"...because she's a bad omen," Simon said. The man looked up a Simon.
"Bad omen?" the old man said getting upset, "She is no bad omen. *cough* Curse that superstition!" The old man hit the ground with his fist. Simon shook his head.
"That's just what I heard," he replied, "Whether or not it's true, I don't know."
"It's not," he said to him, "She is innocent." he took another drink. "She is innocence," the old man said after his sip. The man lay down in the grass near the front door of the pub.
"Innocence often suffers at the hands of greed," Simon said. The old man nodded and then looked at Simon from his resting position.
"You are a noble man," he said. Simon only returned the man's gaze with his green eyes. Price walked up behind Simon followed by Salte who had his hood off now. Price and Simon both took their hoods off. The old man looked at Salte in wonder.
"You have the hair and eyes of . . ." the old man said.
"A harcus," Salte finished.
Simon turned to look at Salte. Trotes now rode in close out of curiosity. "But I saw you helping and nurturing the people of this village," the old man continued, "You are not evil, if you are, then you have decieved me as you willed."
"I do not deceive," Salte replied. A young woman walked up to the conversation.
"Your speech and your looks are not from anywhere I have ever heard in my own travels," she said. Salte looked at her and then at the old man and then to the south.
"Decendants of the Southlanders," Salte replied, "the harcus of legend, though legend, is actually true in our distant past." The old man stared at each one. Simon's eyes turned their black color. And he looked down on at the ground.
"The violence brought to this village can only mean that the young girl escaped," the old man said, "If you find her, please care for her or take her to a safe place." "Please let her be well," he said praying. Simon, Salte and Price nodded. Trotes now rode away as they continued to talk, deep in thought. He came upon Delos who watched Trotes ride along the edge of the wounded. Trotes happened to glance down and see the soldier watching him, but Trotes looked forward and continued in his thoughts.
Eventually the wounded were set in order and the people who had survived the tradgety of the village were able to care more effectively for the injured, since quite a few had died from severe burns or open bleeding. There were about thirty survivors in all who would live.
Salte had left Simon and Price, who were talking to the old man still. He got up from a woman who had just died in his arms and left her with her eyes closed and her arms folded. He walked to the river to the place where the boys being watched by Claude had caught their fish along the rocky bank. After a little while, Faith walked up behind him.
"She didn't have to die," she said to him. Salte turned around.
"What do you want me to do?" he said.
"Save them!" she replied.
"From what?" Salte replied, "Tradgety? Injustice?"
"From needless sorrow and pain," Faith said, "They are hurting and all you can do is hold on to your stupid ideals, whatever they are. How can you be so cold?"
"Cold?" Salte said, "You think this has no affect on me? You have no idea what you are asking? Who knows what consequence would be later . . ."
"Later!?" she said louder, "These people are hurting . . ."
"How dare you talk to me of pain and hurt!" Salte said now angry, "How dare you come preaching to me of...of tradgety, when you yourself would have had nothing to do with us if your own lives were not in danger. You speak to me of loss, when not just my bloodline, but my race and the race of two other peoples is about to end at the hands of fear, unforgiveness and ignorance." Trotes heard this arguement from a distance in the moist air of the valley in the now waning sunlight. Price and Simon walked up on the conversation along with Hope and Charity. "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to sling the scales the other direction just because some other fools tipped it. What would happen? How would I know if I tipped it at the wrong time and the whole thing fell over? You of all people should know that things are not so simple in fixing, and that healing is more delicate than just righting the wrongs." Salte sighed heavily, and then walked past her. "Tradgic pain is a horrible thing, Faith," he said stopping and hesitating, ". . . To have to endure it is . . . beyond understanding."
Simon, Price and the girls walked over to Faith, who was now crying. Trotes watched Salte walk to people who were hurting stoop to help them. He rode his horse toward Salte looking at the people who were just escaping the pain of their injuries and sorrow through sleep.
"You probably don't care what I say," Trotes said to Salte, who looked up at him, "But we should stay here tonight in case anyone tries for revenge of the sort." Trotes dismounted.
"We were going to do that anyway," Salte said returning to his present task of cleaning a wound.
"I know," Trotes said walking away. Salte shook his head and dismissed any inclination to understand Trotes at the moment. Night came on, and they had finished the work they had to do for the most part. Everyone was now waiting in case any injured developed a need. Some of the towns folk came to Simon, Price and Salte as they sat with Faith and the others. Delos had moved over there where they were and Trotes walked around looking at the damage.
"We wish to thankyou for your aid," a middle aged woman said to them, "if not for you, Outsiders, our village would be destroyed and we would have all died in shame."
Salte shook his head. "Think nothing of it," he said, "I'm sorry this has happened." The middle age woman was accompanied by a four other younger women and a girl of about fourteen.
"You're speech and your appearance are not from here," she asked, "May we asked where you are from?"
"We are from the South," Salte said, "But we mean you no harm." The woman nodded.
"We are taught from an early age to be suspicious of all not from Calton, and to fear any with a strange appearance." The Outcastes smiled. "The teachings of our elders reach far back," she continued, "the south is supposed to be a land of evil."
"It is," Salte said, "But we do not succum to it."
"Then it is true? It is a land of death," she asked.
"It is," Salte said, "We live between that land and this one."
"How long?" she asked.
"A little under 4000 years," Salte said. The woman and those with her gasped.
"So long?" she said.
"Not for much longer," Salte replied, "Soon the world will be rid of us."
"Your people are dying." she said.
"Our people are dead," Salte replied, "We and a few others in our village are all that are left."
The woman fell silent and only the trickle of water was heard amidst camp fires and groans. Trotes had walked up in interest on this little bite of information. The women looked to the side somewhat ashamed to look at the Outcastes. After some time, she looked Salte in the eye.
"Thankyou for your aid, "she said with tears in her eyes, "When we left you to die, you did not leave us. Your race must be noble indeed." Salte smiled.
"No," he said, "Just chastened. But thankyou for your acceptance." The woman nodded. She was curious, but she did not wish to pry. She was simply thankful for what help she could get from Salte and his companions.
"If you need anything that we can provide," she said, "do not hasitate to ask," she said.
"Thankyou," Salte said smiling politely. She smiled and nodded at the Outcastes and walked away to attend the wounded. Faith stared at Salte for a moment and then spoke.
"Salte, I'm sorry for what I said," she said. Salte shook his head.
"You were already forgiven," he said. She nodded her head.
"I've been tempted myself," Salte said, "It would be so easy to just make it right. But itwould only be an illusion of right."
After a short silence, Price spoke, "So are we continuing after this?"
"I don't know," Salte replied, "Will the people who did this come back?"
"There's no telling," Simon said, "I'm not against the fact that we helped these people, but it's still a delima."
"Let's get some sleep now and consider this in the morning," Salte said, "We'll take turns helping the wounded. I'll go first."
Every one nodded in agreement and lied down to sleep, untill they heard a yell at the entrance of the village. The three jumped up to see what it was. They ran to the bridge that was just a few hundred feet away from where they were at the pub. Across the bridge in the moon light they could see a man on a horse, who they gathered to be Trotes, holding a man on foot. They ran to Trotes to see what was the situation. Trotes held the man firmly as he struggled.
"Stop struggling or I'll make you stop forever," Trotes told him. The three came up to the activity.
"What are you doing here," Trotes snarled, "And are there any others?"
"," the man replied, "They sent just me to tell any who were still here to come quickly."
"Why?" Trotes asked.
"Because Elestor is dead," he said, "Alastor has been summoned to Calton Capital."
"How did Elestor die?" Trotes asked.
"We don't know," he replied, "Whatever did it, it wasn't a man or woman."
"Oh?" Trotes said, "How did he die?"
"He was strangled in the vines around his room," the man said, "the blind girl and another girl dissappeared at the same time. The whole place is in an uproar and the second man has ordered us to get out of that forest and move base to somewhere else."
"Where?" Trotes said.
"I don't know?" the man said, "and even if I did, I'd never tell you."
Trotes threw the man down.
"Get back to your gang," Trotes told him, "the men you sent here are either dead or on their way back." The man stumbled up and scurried off. Trotes turned to the Outcastes.
"They won't be coming back," he said.
"We leave after we help these people get things in order tomorrow," Salte said, "Let's get some rest."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chapter 9: Claude's Path

The girl was about seven or eight years of age. She faced forward without turning. Claude understood, now, why Samantha wanted to help her. She did not look strong enough to handle riding on Claude's back while he jumped around on the roof.
"Maybe I can sneak her out late at night," he thought, "I may have to get Samantha's help after all."
Claude then dropped from the roof and landed quietly on the floor. The girl started when he landed. "Y..Yes?" she asked perking up in fear and listening intently for an answer. Claude paused suprised.
"You heard me?" he asked slowly walking to her.
She nodded. "You talk funny," she replied. Claude smiled.
"I know," he said, "I try not to talk if I can."
"I like it," she said.
"I've come to get you, and take you back to your family," he said.
"You're letting me go?" she asked.
"No," Claude replied, "They don't know I'm here. We have to be careful getting out of here." The girl began to tear up when Claude told her he was going to save her. "Don't worry," he said, "Nothing's going to happen to you."
Claude walked over to the girl, who was now trembling slightly, and gently took her hand, so she would stand up. "Are you ready to get out of here?" Claude said.
"Why...are you helping me?" she said following him meekly.
"You've never helped anyone?" Claude asked her.
"Yes," she said, "But they told me no one would help me. That I'm bad and going make bad things happen."
"Looks like they don't know everything," Claude said, "What's your name?"
"Seliah," she answered.
"Mine's Claude," Claude said slowly opening the door and looking out. No one was there so he opened it, and they walked out. As they did the door down the hall swung open. Claude tried to get back into the room with the Seliah, but it was too late. Samantha came through and spotted Claude and the girl. Claude took a deep breath of relief and lead Seliah down the hall to meet Samantha.
"What's going on?" Claude asked her.
"A messenger from his cousin Alastor is here and they are looking for him," Samantha replied, "When they entered his room and saw everything they immediately started looking. They started checking the roof, and when they finished checking that room I jumped down into it and got on the roof."
"So, we're going to have a hard time getting out of here," Claude said, "Was this part of your plan?"
"Actually, yes," Samantha said smiling, "But I calculated that patience and luck would get us out of here."
"Where would the danger be without a little improvisation?" Claude said. Samantha looked down at Seliah and then knelt down infront of her.
"Hello, little lady," She said to Seliah, "I'm Samantha. What's your name?"
"Seliah," she answered, "Are you here to help me?"
"Yes, I am," Samantha said, "We're going to get you out of here." The little girl teared up again.
"We're not safe talking here. Let's go," Claude said. They ran down the hall to the door leading outside. Claude opened it slowly and looked forward and then down. He then crept out to see men with tourches wandering into the woods while others looked around. Samantha and Seliah followed behind, while Claude walked across the walkway and then turned to look at Samantha.
"Go on up," he wispered. Samantha quietly walked to the other side with Seliah to where Claude was and then jumped up on the rail. She then opened a section of the roof that covered the walk way.
"Smart," Claude said to her.
"Why?" Samantha said, "How did you do it?" Claude shook his head and motioned for her to get going.
"Hurry," he said. She jumped up and grabbed one beam with one hand and the roof with another. Claude was going to help her, but she pulled herself up with little trouble.
"Wow," Claude said. Then he turned and took Seliah by the hand as he knelt down. "I'm going to lift you up to Samantha," he said to her, "Has anyone ever held you up before?" She nodded her head.
"My grandpa has," she said.
"Okay good," Claude said, "Are you ready?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Hold up your hands," Claude told her, and he lifted her up. Samantha grabbed her hands and gently pulled her up onto the roof. Just as Samantha got Seliah on the roof the door infront of them swung open and hit Claude, but Claude quickly shoved the door back to close it. He then jumped up quickly and pulled himself up onto the roof. Moments later three men burst throught the door.
"Get him!" one said as they rushed across the walkway to the south wing.
Claude looked at Samantha and Seliah.
"That was close," he said.
"We're not done yet," she said taking Seliah by the hand and leading her to the place where the grapevines reached the roof. Claude looked up at the moon while walking over to where they were. It was just about to set behind mountains far in the west, which would hide its light.
"Thankyou," Claude prayed.
"Seliah," Samantha said, "You are going to have to hold on to Claude's back. Whatever you do, don't let go."
"Okay," Seliah said holding her arms out. Claude knelt down, and Samantha guided Seliah to his shoulders and placed her hands where she would not choke Claude. Claude stood up with Seliah holding tightly.
"I'll go first," Samantha said. She turned and began to climb down the vines, and Claude followed after her. They went down as quickly as they could without making too much noise. As they got lower they heard shouts that came from within.
"Did you find him?"
"No, but we have intruders."
"What? Where is the General's daughter?"
"We don't know that either."
"How could we have lost them?"
"Maybe he got mad and killed her?"
"Just find them. Anyone who is not familiar dies. And the general's daughter dies. I knew Elestor shouldn't have taken her."
"The girl is gone!"
"We ran into someone, and we ran into the south wing because we thought he ran in there, but no one was there not even the girl."
"Alastor and Elestor will have my head if we don't find that girl! Find them all, or I'll have your heads before they have mine."
"Yes sir."
"Check, everything. Check the roof again."
Finally, Samanth, Claude and Seliah made it to the bottom. They could see men in the vineyard just a little ways away, but the moon was no longer out and the night was dense.
"I can barely see," Samanth said to Claude.
"I can," he said, "follow me."
"What," she said taking his shirt, "How?" He led her through the dark into the forest. Men were in the forest with torches looking for whatever they could find. Claude avoided them and continued to head west.
"Slow down," Samantha wispered to Claude, "I can't walk as fast and as quietly as you."
"Sorry," Claude said. Every once in a while Claude spotted a torch in the forest.
"How many men were in that place?" Claude asked.
"A lot," Samantha replied, "Enough to make up section."
"Section?" Claude said puzzled.
"About 200 soldiers," Samantha replied, "You must be from one of the back water villages in Calton, or you're not from Calton, which would explain why you talk with such an accent."
"How do I talk?" Claude asked. They made their way through the forest around clumps of trees and around rocks. Claude didn't see any more torches, so he decided to slow down.
"It's like you pronounce your words completely or . . . I don't know. You just do," Samantha said.
"You kind of draw some of your sounds our and others you cut off," Seliah wispered.
"I see," Claude replied.
"I like it," Seliah said.
"I never said it sounded bad," Samantha added.
"If we find my friends, you'll have a whole group of us," Claude said.
"You were looking for your friends before you decided to do this. Where were they headed," Samantha asked.
"They were chasing a group of your soldiers who were traveling to Calton," Claude said.
"They could have passed while I was stuck in that place," Samantha replied.
"Why were you in there anyway?" Claude asked.
"I was picked up against my will," she said, "They kept me because they could."
"Did they try anything?" Claude asked.
"They wouldn't dare," Samantha replied, "They're too afraid of my father."
Claude climbed over a log and knelt down.
"Hop off for a second," Claude said. Seliah got off. "You can rest right here," Claude said to her. Seliah knelt down and felt the ground where she was standing and then sat down.
"Claude, can I talk to you for a moment," Samantha said.
"She'll be able to hear us," Claude said, "We might as well talk right here."
Seliah smiled. Her teeth were white and straight.
"Beautiful smile," Samantha said, "I see you take care of your teeth."
"My grandfather would always make us clean them with a potion that he makes," Seliah said.
"Well, it works," Samantha said, "I have to use a brush." Claude knew the solution Seliah talked about was made from string leaf, but he didn't say anything. Samantha turned to Claude. "We can't take her back to her village," she said, "They're going to go straight there in the morning, which isn't too far away." The night was still dark, but the time for it to brighten was fast approaching.
"I can't stop that many men," Claude said.
"Will grandpa be okay?" Seliah asked.
"I don't know," Samantha replied, "But you can't lose hope. You have to be strong."
"What do you suggest we do?" Claude asked.
"We're going to take him to my father's house in the Capital," Samantha said.
"I thought your father wouldn't have you back," Claude replied.
"That was a lie," Samantha said, "I'm on my way to take a message to the Mayor of Oak, remember."
"They didn't know that?" Claude said.
"No," Samantha replied, "I got rid of the message when I discovered I was being followed."
Seliah tightened up with a look of fear, and Claude looked up and around.
"What is it?" Samantha asked.
"Something's out there." Claude said, "I don't think it's human." He got up and looked around and then headed into the forest.
"Where are you going?" Samantha said.
"Stay here with Seliah," Claude said.
Samantha sat next to Seliah and they waited to see what Claude could find out. Moments later Claude came back.
"It's just a wild animal," Claude said, "But we do have company furthur down, we need to move." They got up and began moving through the forest. As they went the night sky started to lessen it's hold on the darkenss.
"How far is the road from here?" Claude asked.
"Just a little ways," Samantha replied, "We go north on it." In a few moments, they were on the road through the great forest valley. They headed north as soon as they were on it, looking back every so often to make sure no one was following them. Claude could see or hear no one in the woods. They had made it safely, but they did not feel safe yet.
"There's a small village along this road that will feed us," Samantha said, "I left our food and stuff at that place."
"I know," Claude said, "You didn't have anything valuable did you?"
"No," Samantha said looking at her sking tight dress skirt, which was torn from all of the activity.
"Nice outfit," Claude said. Samantha looked over to him and then at her dress again.
"I hate dresses," Samanta said.
"Is that what that is?" Claude replied. Samantha looked up in wonder at him.
"Where are you from?" she asked, "Be honest." Claude looked on. After a moment, he sighed and then spoke, "I'm not from any country you've heard of."
"I've heard of seven," she replied.
"I'm not from any of them," Claude said. Samantha thought for a second.
"You have to be," she said. Claude laughed.
"Are you sure you don't know of any more places?" he asked. Seliah piped up, "Are you from there?"
"What do you mean?" he said.
"From the bad place," Seliah said, "My grandfather used to tell me about a place that lead to a very bad place, to Heckros. He said an evil people lived there."
Samantha looked at Claude agast.
"You are from the south?" she said.
"My ansestors are from the South," Claude said, "No one lives there anymore." Samantha could not believe it. "Why so suprised?" Claude said, "You didn't think anyone could come from there?"
"We don't let anyone from the South into our lands," she said.
"Well, in case you haven't noticed," Claude said, "You haven't been guarding the entrance too well."
"What do you want here?" Samantha asked.
"I just want to find my friends," he said, "Nothing more . . . yet."
Samantha stopped and grabbed Seliah backing away from Claude.
"What are you doing?" Claude asked, "We've got to keep moving."
"What are you doing here?" She asked, "Tell me now!"
"I told you," he said.
"What do you mean by 'yet'," she said pulling her daggar from her boots. Claude sighed.
"You don't have to be afraid," he said, "The 'yet' is an important matter, but a long story. Just trust me."
"The South has been forbidden for thousands of years," Samantha said with her daggar still drawn, "Why? What evil did you do?"
"I'm not evil," Claude replied.
"No one has come from that place alive. It's sure not good," she said.
"I'm not that place. I didn't do anything. And if you want to prod someone for doing evil, prod the one who sent three men in there to their doom and the doom of the world," Claude said turning back toward the north, "Are we going or not?"
"Claude," Seliah said pulling from Samantha and taking steps toward him, "My father told me that the peolpe there are bad, but I know what bad people sound like. And you aren't one of them." Claude turned around and let Seliah get closer before picking her up.
"I know what bad people are too," Claude said, "And you're definately not one either."
Samantha watched confused, curious, and somewhat nervous.
"Let's get you somewhere safe," Claude said. Seliah smiled and Claude set her down and led her by the hand to travel to the next town. He looked back. "You coming?" he said. Samantha slowly walked behind the Southlander, watching him.
"Is the world in trouble?" Samantha called.
Claude turned around, "Yes."
"What kind of trouble?" she asked. Claude sighed.
"Grave trouble," he said, "Trouble that waits untill it's too late for anyone. As soon as I find my friends, we're going to figure out how to deal with it."
"You're going to stop the bad men," Seliah asked.
"Yes, but it's just one man," Claude said looking straight forward, "One very, very bad man."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Chapter 9: Claude's Path

Claude surveyed the situation he was about to get himself into. The house was huge. He saw the lights from windows from each wing. The south wing was closest to them and after that the main part. It went up as high as the maple trees, tulip trees, sycamore and chestnut trees that made up the forest. The buildings were all circular, but the colour was all brown with green roofs. But Claude only could see well enough to know the colour. These men had spent years building this place so far out of the way. Claude sighed.
"Question," Claude asked Samantha.
"Yes?" she answered.
"What if I can't find you?" he asked.
"I'll be in the middle wing," she said, "There are no ceilings. You can hide up there if you can find a way up there. Usually the halls empty when a new woman comes. Or an old favorite."
"How do you know all of this?" he asked.
"I have...friends in low places," she said, "Actually I just escaped."
"Escaped?" Claude asked.
"I might explain it after we do this," she said.
Claude just looked at her for a moment thinking she had to be a little off.
"You really want to save this little girl," Claude said, "Why didnt' you just supply the money?"
"Cause they can get more than their asking that's why. Remember?" she answered, "Are you going to do this or are you getting scared?"
Claude turned to face the mansion.
"You're the one who probably needs to be scared," Claude replied, "All I needed was to get here. I'm ready."
Samantha wondered at Claude for a second, but then shook her head and came out from her hidding place and began walking to the vinyard.
"This can't be a good plan," Claude said to himself, "But here we go."
Samantha walked up to the door of the vineyard. The vineyard was nothing more than a frame of the bottom floor of the huge mansion that was not finished. They allowed grape vines of all sorts to grow. Torches were lit all around inside the large vineyard, but many blind spots were available to hide in. That was good for Claude because he had no advantage anyway in this kind of lighting. When the men in vineyard saw Samantha through a window that they kept clean from vines, they immediately let her in. Claude could see clearly from the hundred or so yards he was hidden and waited untill they were all distracted. Then he immediately shot out from his place to the vine that went up the corner between the vineyard and the mainbuilding to the window way up on the third floor. He made it to the vines quickly and smoothly and didn't see any need to do anything special. The men never imagined that a stranger might know where they were, and Claude easily passed through the dark to his place.
"I hope you know what your doing," he said softly to himself, and he got to climbing. Smoothly and carefully, so as not to make noise, he went up in the shadows. He climbed easily, and he picked a few grapes on the way up to see if they tasted as good as the ones that grew in their forest. They weren't bad. He made his way up and up looking down every once in a while to see how far he was from the ground. He passed the second floor and then finally got near the window. He heard someone in there, and he waited about ten feet below hoping his arms wouldn't give out. He carefully searched for a place to put his feet but he couldn't find any, so he just held on. Claude then heard someone enter the room.
"What? Why are you disturbing me?"
"We have someone for you."
Claude heard a shuffling and then one of the men mummbled something as the door shut. Claude, thankfull that worked out, carefully and slowly pulled himself up into the window seal and into the room. It was clean, with a desk next to the window and a bed on the middle left side of the room. The door was straight across from the window and a brown wooden dresser was beside it. Five sizable candles were lit around the room to illuminate it. Claude looked up and saw the beams that framed the roof. He decided it would be better to stay out of sight that way, just as Samantha suggested. He took one step, jumped and reached the eleven or so feet needed to grab the cross beam above him. He pulled himself up and began making his way quietly along the wood work. Very little light reached where he was, and so he was safe from visual. He crept along silently over the head man's room looking for clues as to where Samantha might be. When he walked over the wall that seperated the room from the hall he saw two men walk through a door at the end of a long hall. He figured that must be them, so he made his way through the jungle of wood as quickly as possible to keep up with them, knowing that stealth would be harder on the lower floors.
Claude could see well in the dark and had no trouble making his way around up top. The hall was fairly long and he could see a large dinning room to his right and a library to his left.
"An educated bunch huh?" Claude said to himself. He continued on untill he came to the door that they walked through. He went over it and looked down on a large room that had doors on each wall and stairs that went downwards. Where the men down there or did they go into the room? Claude decided it wouln't hurt to check down stairs for a brief time. If he was wrong, hopefully, Samantha could handle herself.
He slowly faded out as much as he could. The candles only provided so much light for him to work with, and so he could be seen a little. He looked like a walking shadow with facial features and clothes. He dropped down the eleven feet, silently landed on the floor and moved slowly down the stairs. He kept watch for places to move to and for people in the room who might be attentive to their surroundings. The second floor was well lit. The stairs widened as he went down and led into a large room. Men were scattered here and there talking and things of that sort, but many of them were looking over to the far left of the large room at the buisness that the head man was dealing with, namely Samantha. Claude saw a large stack of bags that ran along the wall to near where the ordeal was taking place. He quickly ran over to the stack and faded back into view now that he was out of sight and listened.
"Well, well," the man said, "Why in the land did you come back?"
"I didn't have anywhere to go," Samantha replied.
"You don't want to go back to your father?" he said.
"Father wouldn't have me back," she said.
"And so...?" the man said.
"I want to hang out here," she said trying to sound distraught.
"Ha!" he replied, "The great General Syrathis' daughter? Here? With us? That's rich!"
"Then you don't object." she said.
"No, I think it's funny," he said, "But my cousin might."
"Why would Alastor mind?" Samantha asked.
"Because he detests your father," the man said.
"I'm not my father," Samantha said. Claude slipped up and caught a quick view of the situation. The man was thinking now, walking back and forth. He stopped and gave Samantha a grim snide smile.
"I know one way to get me on your side," he said, "if you truly want to join us." Samantha fought hard not to gag, grimmace, or do anything that might give her away. Claude, however, did gag. Some of the men heard it and looked over that way, but he had quickly faded out and ducked down when he realized his mistake. But he couldn't help it. The leader was somewhat fat. He had a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows with a balding head. He wore a dark green over-coat, but at the present he had no undershirt on. He only had his pants made out of leather-like material. He had light, tan skin like all people in Calton.
"Take her to my room," the man said, "We don't let women into this organization, but if we are going to make an exception, it's going to be worth it."
Samantha could not help but slightly let the horror appear on her face. The head man laughed as he followed the men who came to lead her to his room. Claude was now trying to conceal his dry heaves. When he finally recovered, he faded as much as possible and dashed to the stairs. Two men happened to be looking at the stairs at that time, and they saw the slight discoloration that was Claude shoot up the stairs. One of the men squinted while the other remarked, "Did you just see that?"
"What the heck was it?" the other replied fearfully, "A ghost?"
"I don't know," the other said.
"You don't think the stories about the Forest Wisps are true do you?" the other remarked.
"Let's go," the other said, "I'm not going to find out right now."
Claude was already up the stairs and then back up in the roof before the men even got to the head man's door. He finessed himself, silently of course, through the frame so he could be ready to stop anything from happening to Samantha.
"She either had a plan for this, or she's willing to do anything to save that little girl," Claude thought to himself. He made his way until he was above the room right as the men entered with Samantha. The head man grabbed Samantha and threw her to the bed.
"Leave us," the man said. The men sighed with heavy protest, but they left the room regardless. Claude watched them walk down the hall and then proceed down the stairs. The man now grinned and Samantha could no longer conceal her disgust and she was beginning to gag. Claude chuckled to himself. "I'm glad I'm not the only one with a weak stomach," he thought.
"You're going to be incorporated our way," the man said approaching her. If you want to stay here with us, we have to be pleased with you.
"What if I don't really want to stay here with you," Samantha said standing her ground.
He wasn't phazed.
"You don't have a choice now," he said still approaching. When he walked close enough Samantha very quickly pulled a knife from the inside of one of her boots and sliced the fat man's throat before he knew what she was doing. He grabbed his throat looking at Samantha in suprise.
"That was for Trotes," she said before he lost conciousness and fell down dead. Claude could not believe his eyes. She began to go for the door when she looked up
"Oh yeah," Claude said jumping from his place in the roof. Samantha was startled and almost threw the daggar.
"So you did have a plan!" he said, "Impressive." Samantha looked at him and then at the roof.
"Have you been up there the whole time?" she said.
"No," Claude replied walking up to a belt the head man had laying on his desk, "I was down stairs when he gave the command to bring you up here."
"What?" she said.
"Don't worry," Claude said, "It's my little secret." He walked over and put the belt under the man's two arms and tightened it very tight and tied it.
"What are you doing?" Samantha asked.
"I don't feel right leaving him out in the open," Claude replied, "Call it instinct from my days of hunting and such. I learned that the best prey and predators hide their scent and their tracks."
"How are you going to hide that much prey?" she asked.
"Actually, he's predator," he replied, "We're prey. And I'm going to hide him there." He nodded to the vineyard that grew into the room as he drug the carcass to the window. Samantha watched Claude tie a rope that was in the room onto the belt. He jumped onto the vines and then climbed up. Soon the rope tightened and the carcass was pulled out of the window and then up. Moments later Claude came back down and immediately began to snatch the sheets off the bed and wipe the blood with them. Samantha just watched.
"There," Claude said, "Dropping the sheets right out the window. They won't find those or him untill daylight, if they ever find him."
"Not all of the blood is up," Samantha said. Claude was already walking to a rug that set in front of the door. He drug the multi-colored rug over the largest blood spot and looked up at the roof.
"You need to hide up there while I look for the girl," Claude said, "When we get her, we need to get out."
"I know," she said, "They'll be looking for us. And we can't take her back to her village." Claude nodded.
"That's right," he said, "That's the first place they'll go." "Alright," he said turning to her, "Let me toss you up there."
"Toss me?" she said. Claude walked behind her.
"Actually, it will be more of a lift. Jump and I'll get you the rest of the way," he said, "One...two...three!" Samantha jumped and found a grip on a beam. She began to pull herself up with much difficulty while Claude simply jumped back up and then helped her up the rest of the way.
"You can't be over this room," Claude said, "Once they figure out something happened then they'll be looking everywhere. Where is that girl located?"
"She's in the south wing," Samantha replied, "But I'm coming with you."
"That's alright," he said, "I've got it from here." Samantha's countenance dropped somewhat, but Claude reassured her.
"It's not that you can't do it," he said, "But I know I can do this with very little risk to all of us." Samantha reluctantly agreed.
"Wait somewhere in a corner where they can't see you and I'll be back," Claude said, "Do you have an escape plan?" Samantha nodded. Claude dropped down and walked to the window.
"Hey," she called in a loud wisper, "Her room has no light in it." Claude nodded and climbed up the vine to the roof. Samantha crawled over the hall to another room across from the former head man's room. There was no light in that room and she was completely hidden in the roof frame.
Claude carefully climbed past where he had hung the fat man and climbed on top of the roof. He looked up at the bright moon that was now a little past directly above. It lit everything up, and Claude could see almost as well now as in daylight. He was slightly annoyed that the moon should be so bright on this night of all nights. After looking at the moon he determinded from that which way was south and then chose the wing that was closest to that direction.
"Of course," he thought, "the vineyard is on the south side."
He carelfully walked toward that wing. Connecting the south wing to the main building was a covered walkway, since rain was regular in that forest. He approached the walkway and looked down at the three story fall that would ensue if he lost his balance. Each story was about eleven feet.
"Phew," he thought, "I climbed pretty high." He looked around to see that the building was just a little lower than the tops of the trees. He could see the blue tint of the green tops spread out in front of him. The stars domed over the scene tinging their white lights on the view. Claude shook his head to remember that he was here to save someone. He tested the cover of the walkway. It was not sturdy enough. Now he had to find another way. He looked at it from the side and saw that two support beams went out from the main building to the south wing underneath the walkway.
"There," he thought. He stooped down while looking down at the four or so men with tourches that were far below him. They were running around for something, but they looked more like over-sized fireflys than men. He looked at the walkway and jumped without hesitation from his angled spot and caught the rail with his hands and the deck boards with his feet. He made a slight sound when he landed that sounded like something between a tap and a scrape. He looked left and right. He decided to just walk along there unless someone opened a door. No sense going underneath if no one was coming. He edged along and came to the point where he needed to get back up. Here, he just grabbed a beam that held the walkway to the roof, and he climbed back on and sat down for a quick break, not because he was tired, but because he had to figure out what he was going to do when he got the girl.
"She's just going to have to hang on to me," he thought, "She's blind. She's just going to have to trust me in blind faith."
He got up and walked the paremeter of the roof, which was not that steep. He dipped his head down to look for windows. The south wing was large and circlular, and windows were not that many, and all of them had no lights. So Claude found a window and slipped off the roof hanging on by his strong fingers and then swung into the room. He looked around the room. It obviously wasn't used very much. It had weapons and junk covered with dust and most of it was piled in the corners. He just happened to look out side and see someone coming from the main building, since the window he entered through was facing the main building. He looked up and saw that the roof here was a similar build and so he jumped straight up into it again. He then made his way over the entrance and watched. The men walked in and walked straight down the hall past four or five rooms to a room far in the back. Claude moved through the roof to see what they were doing. He could here them talk before he even got there.
"What are we going to do with her?"
"Alastor is still going to use her."
"Is she really a prophet of doom?"
"Who knows? It's not going to be our doom."
"What are we going to get for her?"
"If Elestor and Alastor play their games right, we could all be rich."
"Alastor's got something up his sleeve. He's been gaining deserters from both armies and putting them all over."
"Oh yeah. Whatever he's got, it's big." Claude continued to move closer to see.
"I over heard the cousins talking. General Syrathis and the former General are going to be their biggest obstacles. But with General Syrathis's daughter, we might can get him out of the picture."
"And Trotes?"
"Alastor or his cousin Osis is supposed to be taking care of him."
"Eh? He may actually make this work?" Claude was now looking down on them. He could see in the dark that the girl was sitting in there with them, and she looked very afraid. She sat next to the window in the room, lit by the moon light with tears coming down her face. The men were across the room by the door talking about the grand plans of the mercenary, Alastor. Claude waited. He did not want to frighten the girl any more than she was already. So he just listened to them. They were just dressed in brown garb, not ready for any kind of action. Then Claude and the men down below him heard someone enter the South wing. He came into the room.
"Have you seen Elestor?" he asked.
"He's supposed to be with the General's daughter?"
"He's not in his room. There's someone here to see him, and there's blood on his floor. I think we're going to be in trouble."
The men looked at each other and then hurried out with the man and out of the South wing. Claude watched them untill they exited.
"Samantha, make sure you stay out of sight," Claude said to himself. Then he looked at the frightned girl who only looked straight ahead.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Chapter 9: Claude's Path

Trotes, and the group had a long journey to make back to the Capital of Calton. Faith and her daughters wanted to see the recently de-throned King of Calton and Love. They traveled slowly on, and that is where we will leave them. Because another character has been active during the detour of his friends and we should not ignore him.
Claude had told the Elder and everyone's family about the decision to go after the Valiants and help them. He also told the Elder of the death of his friend. Elder Sel was sad at this news and was determinded to go find The Mayor's body if Oak had not already picked it up. As far as the chase goes all gave their blessing and gave Claude supplies for getting to Price, Simon and Salte. Claude did not want to rest while he was there, thinking he could get his rest on the way. So he left the night of the day that he arrived. So while his three friends were taking their field trip under the thumb of Trotes, Claude had been traveling to Calton Capital for those nights that Trotes's group made their way into the ravine. Claude had reached the fork in the road at about the time Salte and the group were encamped under the waterfall, but Claude decided to go left because Delos told them the way to the capital was by following the Great Mountain Range. So he did so, not knowing that Trotes had some other idea.
And so he had made his way through the woods where the road was traveled freaquently and it was fairly wide because Rushor and the other city, Iroas, were, of course, major cities, especialy now that war was upon Calton. Claude hurried as best he could, eating only enough to keep himself going. The news of the roads opening back up for normal trade had not reached other towns yet, so the road was empty for now.
His march brought him to a vast ravine that was adjacent to the one Salte, Price and Simon were in at that time. This canyon here twisted and turned and the river in it actually emptied into the Rushor Canyon that his friends were in, hence the great waterfall there.Claude surveyed the big ravine which was a little rockier and less steep than Rushor Canyon. He sighed deeply, walked the winding road down into the canyon and reached the town at the bottom at the same time the others were camping in the first town in Rushor Canyon. The walk took a long time because the road turned this way and that in order to make the decent or acent as gradual as possible. But Claude finally saw a little town after three days and some nights of travel. The town, or village actually, was a small farming village with crops on the mountainsides. The houses looked hastily put together with thatched rooves. He observed the look of the people as he entered from the east side and walked to the west side of town. They were solemn and sad. They looked as if the did not work for better lives, but worked just to work. Their movements were not slow, but no cheerey comments and no hello's between towns folk. Claude wondered how a town that looked so oppressed could survive "What an awful life," he thought to himself. Claude hid his hand from view and walked about town looking for some place to rest briefly. The main road took him into and through town and then along their main water source, which was the main river of the canyon. It was a small river now, but several other rivers flowed into it from other mountains and created the massive waterfall and river of Rushor. The houses of the town were in no real order or configuration. They were just far enough away from each other to allow travel between. Claude saw where some of the houses looked burned. And he saw ashes that looked like they used to be houses before rapid oxidation collapsed them. The town was larger than what Claude was used to. He had to look for quite a while to find a good out-of-the-way place to doze for a few minutes. It was morning time, and the hidden sun left the village in the cool shadow of the mountains for now. Claude tried to avoid places where many people were gathered, like the market that ran perpendicular to the river. He finally found a place next to the town pub. Other travelers and merchants were resting around the establishment. One of them looked up noticing that Claude was not from around there and asked, "Where are you from, traveler?" Claude stopped and looked somewhat nervously at the man who addressed him. Claude did not know how to respond. He knew nothing of merchants or the roads being closed, and he talked funny.
The man spoke again, "Are the roads open for merchants and trade? Come to think of it. You don't seem like your from around here. So that means the roads are open." All of the merchants and travelers stopped and looked at Claude, who was very nervous now. He shook his head and the man snorted in dissappointment.
"Why would Surel close trade along this route of all places?" the merchant said gruffly, "If he wants weapons and taxes, then we've got to earn money and get goods. The good-for-nothing..." Claude slipped away while all the merchants joined in the man's complaint. He shook his head wondering just what the rest of the world was like. He had no desire to listen to such things and eventually found a place a little ways away on the north side of the pub a some ways from the river. An oak tree grew there and Claude took a seat under it and fell asleep almost immediately. No one payed much attention to him. He just looked like a weary traveler and he was left alone in peace and concern.
Claude slept a deep sleep until he was disturbed by something, arguing, going on near the pub. He woke up groggy and sleepy, but the sleep wore off quickly as he realized what was going on. A man dressed in a black sleeved, dark green cloak was talking, or arguing with an old man in front of the pub. Claude sat in his place a little ways away and listened to the arguement with his fine tuned ears.
"You've got five days to come up with the ransom money," the man in black and green said.
"But no one hear has that kind of money," the old man said, "We're already taxed to death by Surel. Why would you think we could afford such a sum?" the old man was dressed in grey garments. He had a white beard and a balding head with white hair on the back of his head. His nose was pointed and his eyes looked straight at the green cloaked man.
"I know you can afford it," the man said, "how much do you love your granddaughter? That's the question."
Everyone in town came to hear the conversation.
"Please," the old man pleaded, "We'll give you what we have, but please just give her back."
The man in black and green looked around at the people around and shouted, "If any of you care about you're own, you'll listen to this man's plea."
"Sir," one of them called, "We have no money! Everything goes to the war."
"Do not raise your voice to him," someone called out hitting the villager that spoke. Claude started at this, but he stopped for just a moment to see what would happen. He forgot momentarily about what he was doing, but then he remembered that he had to catch up with the others. This situation was not easy for him to ignore, though.
"You have the money," the cloaked man said, "Get it to me or that girl will be ours for our pleasure."
Just then the man looked over at Claude, who had a very angry look on his face.
The leader spoke, "You don't look like you're from around here. Who are you?"
Claude did not want to answer for fear of his speech giving him away.
"Yea, you carry yourself differently," he said, "You're too stern to be from this village. You look more like a fighter." Claude just looked at the man waiting for whatever came next. He hoped this would not escilate any furthur and that the man would loose interest and continue with his buisness, sort of. In his mind, Claude did not know whether to continue his journey or offer his help to the villigers when the men left.
"Where are you from?" the green cloaked man asked.
Claude still did not answer, so the man motioned, and two other men dressed in similar garb ran to grab him. Claude let them, and they walked him over to their leader.
"Tough guy huh?" the man said walking up to him with a knife, "You probably better answer me." Claude still did not answer.
The man punched Claude in the stomach.
"You answer me," the man said, "Before I gut you right here in front of all of these people. What are you doing here?" Claude was not expecting the punch and so it angered him a little. The crowd watched wondering what Claude was doing in that little town, and if he was military or a deserter. Claude still did not want to answer, but he decided to go ahead and give the man an answer.
"None of your buisness," he said. The man reared back for another punch, but Claude moved to his side knocking the man to his left down and pulling the other in the way of the punch. Then he then grabbed the leader and spun him around and threw him forward into the dirt. The old man whose granddaughter was kidnapped stepped in.
"Stop!" he said to Claude, "What are you doing? Stop, I beg you."
The two other men ran and tackled Claude while he was distracted and pinned him down. The other man got up, walked over and kicked Claude several times until Claude was coughing.
"I don't know who you think you are, but you are indangering this man's grandaughter," the leader said wipping dirt off of his face, "But I suggest you calm down before you get her killed."
"Don't throw you're guilt on me," Claude said, "I'm not responsible for what you leaf brains do to that innocent girl. Hurting her may be bitting off more than you can chew." The man looked at Claude curiously.
"You don't talk like you're from around this area," the leader said, "maybe I should just kill you. You could be a problem." The man pulled out a knife and went to plung it in Claude's heart, but Claude lifted his own legs as the leader went to stick him and flipped the leader over. Then he flipped over himself out of the grab of the two other men and on top of the leader. The leader tried to stab Claude just as Claude landed, but Claude caught the man's hand. The other two men tackled Claude again and Claude wrestled away since he was obviously stronger and more agile than they were. He went after the main man again who was not ready for the speed and tackled him and sent the green cloaked man down on his face. When Claude got him down Claude took the arm with the knife and bent it backwards until it broke. Just as Claude grabbed the knife, he felt a hard wack to the back of his head that nearly knocked him out, but he was not done.
The people around looked on, anxious and angry, at Claude for risking the old man's grandaughter, but it was too late. Claude pulled his larger dagger from its hold after he managed to get away. The three men were shortly incapacitated either by death or wound, without Claude doing anything special. Claude was always the more athletic of him and his brother. He killed the two underlings and cut the leader in three times in the legs. The man fell down screeming and Claude looked at him breathing hard from the great burst of energy.
"That was pretty hard," Claude said to himself. The people around and the old man looked at him and the men in horror.
"What have you done, stranger?" the old man said. Claude looked up and then realized that the town certainly did not approve of what he had just done. "How are we to answer for this?" the old man continued, "The leader of these men will surely punish us for this." He growled in hatred. Just then it dawned on Claude that maybe he was a little too anxious to put these men in their place, but then again, the man was going to kill Claude. Claude was sorry.
"What are we supposed to do now?" another man said, "What are they going to do to his grandaughter when they find out about this? What are they going to do to us?" Everyone was afraid of Claude after seeing what he could do. The old man's eyes began to tear and some of the towns folk began to weep, and Claude began to feel very, very bad.
"She was do dear to us," the old man said, "How could you just come in and cause such trouble? Are you harcus? Come to destroy our village starting with the most innocent?" Claude stood stunned and guilty for a moment and then spoke, "I . . . can get her," he said. Some looked at him in scorn and others simply turned away.
"Do not try to absolve your guilt with pathetic claims," he said, "you can't and you know it. Turn and leave this town. We will deal with it." Claude knew he could not let it stand. How could they fault him for defending himself?
"I will get her," he said a little more boldly. The old man shook his head.
"You don't even know where to look," he said walking away.
"Do you?" Claude said stepping toward him. Just about everyone had gone back to their huts except a few who looked on.
"What does it matter?" the old man said turning around, "What are you going to do when you get there?"
"Sneak her out," Claude said. The old man turned and walked away.
"We'll find a way to save her," he said, "we don't need you're rash help."
"What do you mean rash help?" Claude said getting irritated.
"What did you think you were doing refusing to answer and trying retain the pride of some warrior? Why didn't you just listen to me and run away. Or sneak away when something that's none of your buisness comes along," the old man said, "Just leave us, traveler. We'll do it somehow." Claude stared at the old man and then looked around at the villagers that were left. Some of them shook their heads with looks of hatred while others just stared. Then everyone began to leave and go back to their buisness. He stood there wondering what he could do next. Soon Claude was standing there by himself, and he began to despair about the situation when he heard a voice behind him.
"Fella," she said, "You look'in for something."
He turned to see a pretty woman with a grey hood and soft brown eyes and black hair studying him.
"Yes," Claude said.
"I can help you find it," she said.
"Do you know what I'm looking for?" Claude asked. She nodded. "And you'll help me?" Claude said. She walked up and put her hand on Claude's chest to stroke it, but Claude grabbed it firmly and gently pushed her back.
"What are you doing?" Claude asked.
"I'm just seeing what you're made of," she said, "if you're going to do what you're saying you want to do, there must be something to you. You sure you're up to this?"
"Yes," he said.
He looked at her suspiciously.
"Why are you wanting to help me?" Claude asked.
"Personall reasons," she said, "But you need my help." Claude thought it through, but he did not have to think for long because she was right. He had no idea where to look and no one in the small village was going to tell him.
Claude said, "How far is it?"
"Pretty far," she said, "It's not on the road."
"I didn't figure so," he said, "When's the best time to get there." The sun was just peaking over over the mountain tops.
"At night, "she said, "If we leave now we should reach it by night time if we use horses."
"You can tell me where it is and I'll find it," Claude said, "You don't have to go with me you know."
"Very funny," she said, "I'll show you. You can't give directions in the forest."
They were now well into the morning. Claude did not want her to go because he did not want to give himself away, and he thought she might slow him down. But, then again, so would getting lost.
"What do you say?" she asked impatiently, "We're burning daylight." Claude remembered his mission now and felt more urgency return, but he did not want to abandon a little girl, especially since he had a part in her danger now. He sighed heavily and said, "Let's go."
The lady smiled and held out her hand.
"I'm Samantha," she said, "I'll take you straight to them."
"You better not betray me," Claude said, "Or you'll regret it....Trust me."
"I saw you take those henchmen down," Samantha replied taking back her hand offended, "I know better." She sighed and shook her head at Claude and turned and walked toward the pub. "Let me get some things first," she said, "Come on in." Claude shook his head.
"No thanks," he said, "I'll just wait here."
"The pub owner here has been all over," she said, "I bet he can identify your dialect."
"Impressive," Claude replied, "But I'll just wait here. I want to get going as soon as we can." Samantha scrunched her face a little in disgust as she walked away.
"Have it your way," she said. She walked into the pub and Claude turned around to look at the town. People were mostly trading foods and animals. Everyonce in a while someone would cast a glance at Claude and then continue with their buisness. The stream on the north side of the village was slow moving at this point and some people were fishing along the banks on the docks near where he was standing. He watched one of the little boys hook a fish and pull it onto shore. The little boy's friends and he gathered around while an older boy helped unhook the fish from the pole. Claude did not have to fish; he was quick enough and stealthy enough to just reach in and grab a fish. He did not understand the excitement, but he watched and was charmed by the joy it brought to the four children who all ran off with their new prize. The older boy watched them, shook his head and then went back to his fishing. Claude shook his head thinking the outsiders a little strange. Samantha called to him as he was pondering.
"Hey, are you ready?" she said.
"Of course," Claude replied not turning around. Samantha watched Claude for a moment.
"What's wrong?" she asked him. Claude shook his head and turned around.
"Nothing," he said, "I'm ready if you are." He fervently hoped that his friends were going to be all right and that they did not need him. But he did feel sorry for the town, and he wanted to rescue the girl. He couldn't just leave knowing that the situation had gotten worse because of him.
Samantha took up a bag on a stick and handed it to Claude.
"Here," she said, "You're the stronger of us. You take this."
"What is this?" Claude said taking it reluctantly.
"Different things that we'll need to get inside the hideout and move around," she replied.
"I see," Claude said, "Whatever you feel we need." Samantha was bewildered at that comment. She looked at him somewhat shocked and annoyed at his arrogance.
"Are we ready?" Claude asked her impatiently.
"Do you want me to help you?" she asked.
"Sorry, yes," he said, "I'm just in a hurry."
"Let's go. We've got to go to the stable and get our horses," she said.
"Horses huh?" Claude said.
"Yea, is that a problem?" Samantha asked.
"You just might need to teach me that's all," Claude said.
"These horses are trained to know the roads," she said, "They won't be difficult." Claude nodded and then said, "Lead on."
She picked up another bag she had brought out and lead the way to the stable in the middle of the village and then to a bridge just a little ways away from the river. Claude followed looking back halfway across the bridge not far from the pub.
The road led straight on through damp woods. Then it lead up the other side of the ravine and up further into where the Great Mountains connected with a mountain range called Backbrace. The road would have been difficult for someone not accustommed to the constant up and down travel. But the people of Calton could travel the roads just fine. These two walked the road for almost the whole day stopping only once for food.
Along the way Samantha could not help trying to get to know her assitant a little better.
"Where did you learn to fight?" she asked him.
"I never learned," he said.
"You must have learned somewhere," she said, "No one takes out three men just out of pure ability."
"No one?" Claude replied. Samantha looked at him briefly.
"Okay, what do you do for a living?" she asked.
"I hunt," Claude replied.
"Is that all?" she said patting her hourse on the neck.
"Yea, so what?" he said.
"You just live on the nessesities huh?" she said.
"Is there anything else you can live on?" Claude asked her. The he asked, "What can you tell me about Calton, aside from the obvious."
Samantha thought this question curious, but she answered it anyway thinking Claude was definatly an outsider.
"We're ruled by a false king right now," she replied, "Almost all of the country is either ravines, forests, or swamp. We're at war with Coastshire and winning for now."
"For now?" Claude said.
"Coast was making blunder after blunder in their battles with us, but as of late their doing better. They are still no match for General Syrathis though."
"Your top man?" Claude asked.
"Actually," she said hanging her head and then looking forward again, "he's my father."
Claude nodded a big nod and replied, "You're father is the top dog."
"Under Surel, yes, but he's nothing like Surel," she replied.
"So tell me," Claude said, "What's the top dog under the top dog's daughter doint this far away from Calton Capital?"
"I told you it's personal," she said, "Perhaps you can tell me why you're so anxious to help a little girl."
"That's not personal," Claude replied, "Because I feel bad for making matters worse." Samantha laughed. "What's so funny?" Claude asked.
"Matters can't get anyworse," she answered, "There's no way they could make the payment in five days, or anydays, not in animals, not in money or land. The sum is outrageous."
"Jerks," Claude said, "I wonder why such an outrageous sum."
"Because they don't plan on giving her back," Samantha told him.
"Do what?" Claude responded.
Samantha then recited some verse,
"'When the sightless recieve what cannot be seen
because the castles of culture refuse their need
then shall the doom of a people be
such is a people who refuse to see."
"Okay," Claude said, "Did you make that up just now?"
"It's a prophecy," Samantha replied, "When doom is upon a people, a child is born blind so that he or she may see the impending doom more clearly." Claude continued to listen.
"The girl we are saving..."
"Was born blind," Claude finished. Samantha nodded. "So she is a potential messenger of doom," Claude asked.
"I don't think she is," Samantha replied, "She can't help it. But most authorities will richly reward anyone who brings them a child born blind. Especially Surel, since he userped the throne."
"Would King Valiant?" Claude said.
"No," Samantha said, "He wouldn't. Children are just born different sometimes. It doesn't mean they are special messengers or anything else. What a stupid prophecy."
"Her grandfather wouldn't turn her in," Claude said.
"I don't know her grandfather or those people that well," Samantha said, "I met the girl while at the village."
"She doesn't seem like a prophet of doom huh?" Claude asked.
"Of course not," Samantha replied.
"So the top dog's top dog is going to save her," Claude stated.
"And you're going to help. Also you can call me Samantha," she said shooting him a look of annoyance.
"What's the fun in that?" Claude said. They kept on moving through the mountains making good time.
Up higher the air was dryer and vegetation was not nearly as prominant. No trees or forest, just shrubs growing out of the multi-shades of grey rock faces on each side of the road. The air was cooler and travel was nice. The scenery was limited though. When the sun began to set wherever it was setting; they couldn't tell, untill they came to a forest that was fairly vast.
The forest was below them and Claude could see where the mountains opened up and ran east and west to escape into the horizon. The sky was pink where the sun began to set and a sheet of trees that spread out to fill in the gap between the mountain sides was a dark green. Stars slowly started coming out. The continued on.
"Are you from Calton?" Samantha asked Claude as they started their way down.
"No," Claude replied.
"Where are you from?" she asked.
"Why do you want to know?" he asked her.
"Touchy," she said riding around some rocks in the road.
"It's not important where I came from," he said.
"It's always important to know where you came from," Samanth replied, "You should cherish your roots."
"Is that so," Claude said chuckling.
"Yea that's so," Samantha said looking at him.
"No matter what?" Claude said. Samantha remained silent looking Claude in the eye. Claude smiled slightly and Samantha turned and kept going. After a moment she spoke again.
"Do you have . . . shady roots?" she said.
"Nothing shady about them," Claude said, "But there are things I'm not proud of, even worried about."
"Well, sometimes we have to face our past," she said.
"If we can find it, we will," Claude replied, "I don't know how much success we'll have." Samantha still could not figure out how to take Claude.
"So I guess you're not going to tell me where you get your dialect," She said.
"Don't worry about it," Claude replied.
"I was just curious," she said.
"I'm curious. What would posses you to help or get help from a perfect stranger?" Claude asked.
"The fact that you're not a threat and the fact that you're strong," Samantha replied.
"So then what is Top Man Syrathis's daughter doing all the way down here," Claude asked, "It wasn't to save a little girl."
Samantha sighed. "I was sent to take a message and get some advice from an older friend of my father. He's the Mayor of Oakshire, a village that boarders Calton and Sholom."
Claude choked a little at the mention of the Mayor. He thought a little on how tell her about his demise. He couldn't think of a way so he just told her.
"Samantha, the Mayor is....dead," Claude said solemly. Samantha turned quickly to Claude.
"Dead!?" she exclaimed, "When? How?"
"He died trying to help the Valiant family escape into Sholom," Claude replied.
"What? The Valiants?" Samantha said very suprised. Claude told her the story of how the Valiants were hiding in that area and how the Mayor tried to help them get out of the way of the soldiers that were coming that way, and how the Mayor and three other men were killed and his friends were in persuite. Samantha began to tear up.
"No one got his body." she said.
"I don't know where he fell. My friends were trying to catch up with the soldiers that took the Valiants, and I'm trying to catch up with them." Samantha thought for a moment.
"Surel wants them alive," Samantha said, "If you want to go help your friends, I don't blame you."
"It's okay," Claude said, "I'll help this girl. My friends can take care of themselves. I hope. I'm sorry about your father's friend. Samantha nodded, and they road furthur in silence.
Claude admired the scene as the sun finished setting. They kept moving down the road. They reached the forest a little later.
"You can find your way at night?" Claude asked her.
"Yes," Samantha said, "It just takes longer." She led the way into the forest which was well lit by moonlight. The trees let patches of light in, but Samantha still had to feel her way through. Claude could see just fine, but he followed silently. As Samantha lead on, she turned around to see if Claude was still behind her. Claude just waited for her to lead on.
"How are you moving so quietly?" she asked.
"Family traits," he said, "It's in our roots." She turned around shaking her head and continued. The trip through the woods was slow and tedious. The patches of light that squeezed into the forest seemed to be what Samantha was using, Claude did not know how she knew the way in the dark. But he followed perfectly quiet hoping to get this over with quickly without any problems. Every once in a while Samantha would look back to see if Claude was actually still there, and he was. And each time he would flash her a slightly mischevious smile as if to say, "wouldn't you like to know."
Then Claude heard something. He silently ran in front of Samantha who started at the sudden movement of Claude. She followed him for a moment wondering what he was doing. When she could hear the noise, she knew they were close. Claude and Samantha stopped in front of a tourch lit house, a huge, tourch-lit house, with many huts and such behind it. The house had walkways going from the middle to four different wings, north, south, east and west. The whole thing was three stories high. Claude was in awe, but Samantha was simply calculating her plan. She looked at Claude.
"Give me your bag," she said. Claude gave her the bag.
"Now what's your plan?" he said.
"Stay here for a second," she said, "I'll be back."
Claude watched her confused as she dissappeared into the forest. Moments later she came dressed in a colourful red, purple and pink skin tight dress.
"Whoa," Claude said.
"You like it?" she asked.
"What excatly are you planning?" Claude asked her.
"There are six entrances to the place. Come with me," she said moving on, "They keep them locked at all times unless someone calls to them. One entrance is a vineyard on the backside where we will go. There I will walk out as a high priced woman and distract the men in the vineyard. There is a vine that goes out of the light and up to the head man's room."
"Right up to his room huh?" Claude said.
"He likes his own grapes I suppose," she replied, "You have to climb up that vine before they take me in and go back to their posts. They'll probably take me to his room."
"What makes you think that?" Claude asked. Samantha was appalled. "So you're sending me straight into the wolves den?"
"No, the head man reviews all the women. He'll leave," she said, "just climb up vines while the men are talking to me and hide in the dark blind spot up there."
"Easy enough," Claude said.
"Just ease you're way up and see if the head guy is gone. Once he's gone put on the clothes in this bag," she said patting the bag she had given him.
"Where did you get all this stuff?" he asked.
"They're the ones you killed," she said, "We took them while you were talking to the villagers."
"We?" Claude asked.
"Me and the pub owner," she said, "he's also a friend of my father."
"You're father has friends around," Claude said turning to study his part. Samantha smiled and asked, "Are you ready?"
Claude nodded, "Let's go."