Excerpt Day 5: The Road to Faloan

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I managed some good stuff on the sequel to my ‘written in 3 days’ book ‘The Queen of Shadows’, and wanted to share some of it with you here today.  Yesterday, I introduced you to a couple of characters who were being put through the blender.  Here’s a bit of the aftermath.

Enjoy!

© 2010 Patrick Hester, All rights reserved.

The Road to Faloan

Chapter Excerpt

Tamra knelt near Jared where he lay in the litter they had built.  Once again his blankets had slipped and his shoulders were bare to the elements so she pulled them up and tightly tucked them under his chin.  His eyes seemed to flutter open momentarily and she sucked in a breath at the wild look he gave her before falling back into the delirium he had been suffering in for the past week.  She worried about the cold mixing with his fever and couldn’t stop a shudder from passing through her own body.  He’d fallen ill almost the moment they were safely away from the Black Tower and had been sick ever since.  She couldn’t figure out the cause beyond the fact that he had been beaten and tortured for so many days while they were held captive in the Tower’s dungeons.  She feared the worst, that he had some unseen infection or had picked up some disease in the dank and dark dungeon that had very nearly claimed both of their lives.

Just the thought of that place sent a new wave of convulsive shutters through her and she had to pull her cloak tight about her to ward away the evil memories and the natural cold.  Thinking of the Tower brought back the helplessness she had felt while chained in the dark, slimy creatures crawling through her hair, others biting at any exposed flesh in hopes of burrowing in for a meal.  She had never been afraid of the dark before but now she dreaded nightfall and huddled close to the fire for light and comfort.

And she kept Jared close to her.

She had been chained in the corner of the cell while he hung from chains in the center of the room.  He had been tortured mercilessly and she had been forced to watch.  As his body was pummeled and his spirit bent further and further – though never broken, she could do nothing beyond rail at her chains and cry until she had no more tears left.  It was this beating, this torture that she feared caused this illness in Jared.  And she feared it would kill him.

So many things had happened to her recently but the most surprising to her had been her love for this man lying abed before her.  Somehow he had wormed his way into a place in her heart she didn’t believe existed.  With his shy demeanor and fierce love for his family, and his willingness to trust her despite her hatred for the King, he had slowly ignited a fire in her heart and carefully stoked it over the weeks until she found herself completely in love.  So much so, she could barely remember a time when she did not love him.  To think he might die . .

No!  They had to do something!

Behind her, the argument raged on.  Absently hooking her errant red hair behind her ear, she turned to regard a scene that hadn’t changed in the last hour.  Agden and Min stood at the edge of the Witchwood, the man’s hand resting idly on the hilt of his sword while the warrior woman stood with feet planted firmly apart yet arms crossed across her breasts, both faced a group of armed Elves.

Agden was a massive terror all in black from the knee-high boots to the leather cord keeping his hair pulled back and away from his stone carved face.  A few wisps of gray showed at his temples now and were even twined in the various braids he wore, something she hadn’t noticed before, but it only added to the air of danger and menace surrounding him.  Weapons could be seen on his person as he stood with his cloak thrown back, but it was his eyes which truly made her fear him; they were a deep brown that seemed to bore through her and chill her to the bone.  How Min could love such a man was beyond Tamra.

For her part, the warrior woman Min looked no less imposing standing beside the giant of a man she claimed as her own.  She wore breeches like a man, something Tamra herself preferred, yet they were made of a different kind of cloth she hadn’t seen even as a traders daughter.  It was tough and resilient, finely woven and warm.  Atop them she wore a long sleeve shirt more like a jacket that folded over and was tied with another strip of cloth much like a belt.  Both shirt and breeches were a deep brown and a hooded cloak of gray covered all though it was pushed over her shoulder to free up her sword and sword arm.

They stood before a group of Elves, trying everything they could think of in order to earn them passage into the Witchwood.  Only the Elves weren’t buying it.  Three weeks on the road had led them to this place, three hard weeks with Jared suffering from whatever illness plagued him and the wounded soldiers dropping around them from a combination of the wounds they had taken and exposure to the elements.  Three weeks of riding through barren country, bypassing the route which would have taken them to Four Corners and her Uncle Bart and, just maybe, help.  But no, Agden had his own plans and no one was allowed to question his decisions.

That wasn’t entirely true.  Min questioned them from time to time, just not where anyone was supposed to know about it.  More publicly though, Allan would argue quite heatedly with the giant warrior.  Tamra had heard all her life how redheads supposedly had tempers, her brother Cam complained about hers enough, but she had never truly seen it until she watched Allan go toe to toe with the big man.  He definitely had a fire inside him and when it raged, it burned his face red and nearly flushed away those freckles when he stood in defiance of Agden.  Of course, it all centered around his concern for his brother’s health.  They were all concerned for Jared’s health.

Even Lorna, the tall blonde apprentice to Min, who had befriended Tamra almost their first night together.  Often they would sit with Jared together while Tamra bathed his skin in cool water or tried to force broth into his mouth so he had something in his stomach.  It helped take her mind off things having Lorna with her, reminding her of her brother Cam and their relationship.  She missed him terribly.

“It cannot be, Friend Agden.  The King has sent orders – no Human is to pass our borders.”

The voice tickled her ears, sounding both light and serious all at once.  Having never before heard the speech of an Elf, Tamra found herself unable to put her finger on a single word to describe the sound of his voice.  It was light yet rich, almost always smooth and gentle as a whisper but with a definite huskyness that came through on certain words.

She just couldn’t define it.

“But I don’t understand, Anorein,” Agden said.  The conversation had drawn her attention again and she tried to focus in on what she took to be the combatants.  Min and Agden stood to one side, strong and confident in their demeanor while across from them stood a half dozen sylvan Elves.  Each was clad in simple tunics and breeks of rich forest colors of green and brown arrayed in a dizzying pattern that seemed to help them blend into the foliage behind them.  Four of them were dark haired and dark eyed, including their leader, and the other two were fair haired and pale of eye.  None stood above five feet in length yet each carried a bow as tall as Agden and had a quiver full of arrows on his belt with a small dagger opposite it.  All had golden skin, so much so that Min’s skin appeared more yellow to her eye.

“You name me ‘Friend’ yet tell me I cannot pass?” Agden asked.

Anorein, with his high forehead and spiky black hair, looked truly distressed by the entire situation.  His long face showed a shadow of emotion akin to shame as he answered the big man’s questions.

“I cannot question the order I have been sent by the King’s own hand, Agden.  Please, you must understand I mean no disrespect to you.”  His bone thin arms came up and he turned his long fingered hands over as if to plead for forgiveness.  “No Human may pass the border under penalty of death.  There is no exceptions.”

Agden was having none of it.

“Who came to you when the Orcs came through the mountains to desecrate the groves near Paltoarn?  Who hunted side by side with you to make sure not a single one made it home again?”

“You,” Anorein answered regretfully.  His long face was screwed up in agony.

“And was I not told that no fire would be closed to me?  That no Elf would deny me shelter from the cold or help should I require it for the remainder of my mortal life?  Was I not named Elf Friend for my services at Paltoarn and Reqoal and Yeluwn?”

“Yes, yes a thousand times yes!” Anorein cried.  “But I cannot disobey my King!”

“Anorein,” Agden said, his voice becoming softer.  “If ever I needed a haven for a time, and a friend, it is now.  My . .” he stumbled as if he was about to say something else but quickly changed it.  “This young man was sorely wounded and has taken on a fever that will not break.  He is in need of a healer and a warm, safe place to rest.  He is in my charge, is my responsibility and much rests upon his shoulders.  Please, if I must beg on my knees I will but let us pass.”

“I cannot,” Anorein whispered.

“Is there not a healer nearby you might send for?” Min asked suddenly.  “We could make camp here and wait.  You wouldn’t have to let us in and go against your orders.”

“Yes!” Anorein agreed, his head bobbing up and down at the chance to be let off the hook.  “Weyia of Clan Winddancer is only an hour by horseback.”  Turning quickly, he let of a stream of words so tangled Tamra couldn’t make out a single thing.  She assumed it was the Elf tongue she heard as the target of the tirade nodded once and disappeared into the forest at a fast trot.  Another few words and a second Elf bounced off and was quickly enveloped by the foliage.

“I have sent Pyia to fetch Weyia and Henae to gather wood so you may have a fire.”

“Can we at least move into the cover of the trees?” Agden pleaded.  “There is danger out in the open for you as much as us.”

Anorein struggled for a moment before he nodded and they were led a bit deeper into the Witchwood.  Tamra knew the slender trees here on the outskirts were nothing compared to the mighty trees deeper in the forest.  She had even heard tales about Elf cities being built high atop the trees deep within the forest where the trunks were as wide as a Human city and the tops couldn’t be seen from the ground.  Of course, those were hearth tales told by her father to amuse when she was still a child.  Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if there might not be a grain of truth to the tales.

Jared lay in a litter attached to two horses.  With her hand firmly on the bridle of one and Agden’s on the other, the Elves reluctantly drew them into the forest and to a small clearing where they were allowed to make camp.  Tamra busied herself with extricating Jared from the litter with the help of Allan and Lorna while Min and Agden sent Elves off for water even as the firewood arrived.

As she and Allan freed the litter poles from the horses and gently laid Jared on the ground, she caught the other’s eyes for just a moment and registered the pain and loss in the man’ gray eyes.  She knew that pain well for it kept her up at night with thoughts of losing Jared after all she had gone through to find him.  How must it be for Allan who had traveled across the whole of Westland to rescue his brother only to have him fall to a sickness and be on the brink of death?  Without knowing why, she reached out and squeezed his hand gently.  He smiled awkwardly and stepped away, leaving her to tend to Jared while he took care of the horses.

“Here.”  Tamra followed the water skin up to find Lorna hovering just beside her.  Her pale blue eyes shimmered as she smiled.  She had her long blond hair pulled back into a tail and wore clothes identical to Min’s with a simple cloak over them.  The hilt of a sword could be seen just peeking over her shoulder.  She wouldn’t speak of the sword except to explain that it had belonged to her father and now was hers.  For her part, Tamra wore the sword of one of the fallen soldiers on her back.

Together, they helped settle Jared into a more comfortable position, Tamra trickling water into his mouth while Lorna undid the straps holding him in place.  As she worked, the blankets were pushed aside and Tamra caught a glimpse of metal etched with dark runes as it caught the sunlight.  That was the sword she had pulled from the crystal when she and Jared were trying to escape from the Black Tower.  They had been lost in the labyrinth above the dungeons and she simply found herself in the room where the sword rested.  It had seemed to call to her and she freed it as easily as slicing cheese with a warm knife, the runes seeming to glow green in the light of the room.  She didn’t know why no one else had ever pulled the sword free before, but it had seemed the right thing to do at the time and they had need of a weapon beyond the dagger she carried.  But still, she hadn’t told a single soul what she had done, not even her new friend Lorna.

Besides, it wasn’t as if she had kept the sword.  No sooner had she pulled it free, then Kaine had walked in on her and Jared.  Just the thought of the man sent shivers through her.  He had a bald head and golden brown skin that was covered in tattoos forming a swirling pattern that hurt her eyes to look at.  He had been the one who tortured Jared and, by making her watch, had tortured her as well.  Not to mention the things he promised to do to her after he broke Jared’s spirit.  She would not think of that.  When he walked into the room, she had tossed the sword to Jared because he was closer and Kaine’s men were coming forward with their own swords drawn.  Jared had cut them down with ease.  Kaine demanded he hand over the sword, extending his right hand out forcefully, fully believing that Jared would comply.  He was wrong.  Jared had cut the hand off cleanly with a single swipe and sent Kaine screaming from the room; the hand lay in a bloody heap where it had fallen.

Somehow, she sensed that the sword belonged with Jared even though it was she who had freed it from the crystal.  So she had left it by his side throughout their long trek south.  No one had said a thing about it or questioned her in the least she it remained there still.  As if the thought urged her on, she pulled at the blanket and hid the gleaming metal from sight.  If Lorna saw anything, she didn’t say so.

“There’s time before she notices we’ve stopped for the night,” Lorna said.  “Do you need anything else?”

Tamra couldn’t help but smile.  Lorna was talking about Min and their nightly training sessions.  No matter how far they traveled in a day, nor how hard the traveling was that day, Min would come to Lorna soon after they made camp and expect at least an hours worth of training from the girl.  Sometimes it was with swords; most times it was without.  Tamra found herself mesmerized by the latter.  Min had a way of fighting that just seemed to flow and to watch her and Lorna go through the motions slowly each night, the younger following the pattern laid out by the older over and over again, it just caught and held her attention.  For that brief period in time, all her worries and concerns melted away and she simply followed the pattern.  Truth to tell, she found herself becoming jealous of the teaching and wished that she, too, could be out there slowly stepping out the moves to Min’s cadence.

“I’m fine,” she answered with a genuine smile of affection.  She might be a little jealous, but Lorna was her friend and was concerned for her.

“Well, I could use some help with the horses.”

Lorna tried her best to scowl at Allan as he stood not too far away from them, horses patiently waiting to be rubbed down and fed.  Tamra couldn’t quite figure out if something was going on there or not.  Allan did his best not to even look at Lorna while all she did was cast scowls in his direction anytime he did get caught looking.  To make matters worse, he was a prankster just as Jared had once told her long ago.  The first chance he got when they were away from the Wastelands, he had placed a couple of frogs in Lorna’s bedroll while she practiced with Min.  Agden nearly flogged him for it.  Everyone could hear as the older man chastised the younger for being a fool and an idiot and a few coarser phrases Tamra had stored away for future use.  As punishment, Allan had spent the next week exclusively caring for the horses.  But that didn’t stop him from arranging a green snake in Lorna’s bedroll eight days later.  Agden had been furious.

“I’m sure you could,” Lorna said coolly.  Then she promptly headed off in the opposite direction.  Allan watched her walk away.  When he noticed that he had done so in plain view of everyone, he blushed furiously and led the horses away muttering to himself all the while.  Tamra had to stifle a giggle.

“How is he today?”

Tamra jumped as Min came up behind her.  The woman could walk across broken glass without making a sound, something that just bothered Tamra to no end.  Her older brother Cam had taught her about the forest and how to hunt, but she doubted that even he would hear Min approach unless she wanted him to.  Staring up at the mysterious woman with green eyes so like her own, a fact which bothered her as well considering she had been the only one for miles who could boast such green eyes once, she couldn’t help but feel the jealousy surge back to the top again.  This woman knew so much and she wanted to beg her for the knowledge, to take on a second apprentice.  But she could never find the right words and felt that it just wasn’t something you could just blurt out.  What was she supposed to do?  Walk up with her sword in hand and beg to be taught?

“Still fevered,” she answered with a grim smile.  Running her hand across Jared’s forehead it came back slick with cool sweat yet his skin was hot.

“There will be a fire in moments and the Elf, Anorein, says that he has a tea for fevers that is most effective.  Until the healer arrives, we will try the tea.”

Tamra nodded.  They had been trying different teas and potions for weeks now only to have them slow the sickness for a few hours, perhaps a day before it came back with a vengeance.  The Dwarf, Kala’nor, had produced many of the roots and leaves for the teas they had tried before he left suddenly one night.  She knew there had been arguments between the Dwarf and Agden, but she was never privy to any of them.  Then, late one night, she woke to find him leading his pony from the camp.  In the silver moonlight, she could just make out Agden’s form as he stood watch.  He never made any attempt to stop the Dwarf’s departure.

“I hope the healer isn’t far.”

“Anorein has said that she is an hour away on horseback,” Min offered.  “Expect two and a half before she arrives.”

“I still think we should have gone to the city.  They may not be the best healers around, but they were closer and I fear every moment he lies untended.”

“But the danger was greater in the city.  Here we sought known allies of Agden.”

“And look how well that’s turned out,” Tamra shook her head.  “Turned away at the borders.”

“Not yet.  Do not underestimate Agden, child.  Once he has set his mind on a goal, he does not stop until he has attained it.  That is why you stand here today, free from the Tower.”

Tamra snorted.  Both Min and Agden conveniently left out the part where she and Jared freed themselves from the dungeon whenever they wanted to close the discussion and make her feel small for not readily agreeing to everything they said.  She was supposed to feel grateful when all she felt was helpless.  Helpless to break the fever and bring Jared out of his delirium.

“And Four Corners?” she asked knowing full well the answer she’d receive.

“Far too dangerous now,” Min repeated Agden’s catechism.  “You must remember with whom you now travel.”

As Min walked away, the words hung in the air.  Looking down at Jared’s pale face, his features distorted somewhat by the sunken cheeks and dark circles under his eyes, she found it hard to breathe.  There had been a few traders along the roads, people Agden rode out alone to converse with and they all had the same story concerning the White Tower, a story weeks old even before it reached them here at the edge of the Westland; the King was dead.  He had not been seen for a very long time and the Baron’s were now fighting over the crown.  But it wasn’t their right to sit on the throne of the Westland.  That right belonged to Jared alone.

It seemed like a hundred years had passed since the night when they sat together next to a fire and he told her who he was.  So many emotions had shot through her in that moment, fear foremost among them, and she had backed away for a time.  Before that moment, she had found herself liking and trusting the shy young man she had rescued and it wasn’t for his looks because his face was swollen and his body was a continuous bruise covered over in a stench that assaulted her nose at every turn.  No, she had liked him.  He was shy and gentle, quick to laugh and easy going enough to be laughed at without getting angry.  Like his brother he was a prankster, was fiercely devoted to those whom he loved, and wanted nothing more than to go home again – something that she herself felt deep in her own heart.

But in that moment of truth between them, everything had changed.  She had been raised with a hatred for the White Tower and the King.  The King had called for taxes, then more taxes and then when her father couldn’t pay, he had taken everything in payment.  Her father was killed, her mother and sisters raped and killed, and she had always believed in her soul that the King had been responsible.  Yet here was a man telling her that everything she believed in was a lie; that the King had nothing to do with any of it because he wouldn’t do that.  He said that the King was a good man and that Jared himself was his heir.  And she found herself wanting to believe simply because even if she didn’t know this King, she had come to knew Jared.

And now, when she had come to terms with the things he had told her, had accepted that it was the Barons who were raising the taxes and bringing harm to the people in order to discredit the King, and had found herself in love with a man, the man turned out to be a King.

That’s why it had become too dangerous for them to travel in cities where the loyalties could not be absolutely assured, why they had to hide among the Elf forests if Agden could swing it.  All because the man she had come to love, the man who had in her mind been only the Heir and thus, not too far above her love, had very suddenly become the King and very few people would be happy to find him alive and well.