Excerpt Day 6: The Road to Faloan 2

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I have  shared with you a couple of chapter excerpts from ‘The Queen of Shadows’, the book I wrote in 3 days.

To be honest with you, I didn’t even pause before I started working on the next book, ‘The Road to Faloan’.  It wasn’t until I started letting other people read the first book, that I realized it needed a lot of work and I should probably stop working on the second.  Still, I managed some good stuff on the sequel, and wanted to share some more of it with you here today.

© 2010 Patrick Hester, All rights reserved.

The Road to Faloan

Chapter One Excerpt

The frigid wind blew down across the Wasteland, bringing with it ice and snow that stung at his face and eyes despite the cowl pulled tightly down around his head and the thick woolen scarf covering his nose and mouth.  He could feel it as it gathered in his eyebrows and froze his nose and cheeks, both of which had long since stopped burning and had become a dull, constant throb that kept him moving ever forward in the hopes of shelter and warmth for the night.

Overhead, dark gray clouds filled the sky from horizon to horizon, distant cloud shrouded mountains to ever-closer snow capped peaks, promising more icy rain and snow to come.  The ground between those mountains rolled gently to his eye, covered as they were in a thick blanket of snow and ice that crunched beneath the hooves of the horses as they plodded along, careful to avoid the deeper patches that threatened broken limbs and pain.  He let his horse pick her own way, giving little by way of direction except to nudge with his knees now and again, keep her heading ever north, deeper and deeper into the unknown and near glacial lands where men and beast are few and far between.  In this way, she led the other horses and they followed her despite the lead lines, trusting her to choose wisely and keep them safe.

Even through a half dozen layers of clothing beneath warm animal furs he could feel the cold seeping into his very bones, luring him with its siren song, whispering that he should simply close his eyes and let the coldness take hold finally; completely.  He resisted that song fiercely, using the cold to keep his mind sharp instead.  As long as he felt the cold, as long as it kept him on the edge, he had to remain awake and alert if he was to survive.

Besides, he had more than himself to think about.

Not for the first time, he took the frozen water bag from its place on his saddle and channeled a small amount of Fire into its core.  The water inside would be warm and steaming soon, fit to drink for he and his companion though not so hot it would burn.  With only ice and snow available as sources of water, he had done this more and more often of late, for both of them and the horses as well.  It would not do for any of them to try and eat the ice and snow unmelted thus stealing the very warmth from their own bodies.  The horses were northern steeds, shaggy haired and thick skinned against the cold but even they needed a few furs, judiciously placed, and water, not ice.  He had traded for them in the single village he had found, deep within the Wasteland, giving over the smaller, less capable horses from the Westland along with a sizable amount of gold for the massive beasts helping to keep him alive.  The villagers, all pale haired and eyed, spoke a difficult language he did not understand as he purchased what they would need for this trip using gestures and sign language.  But the looks on their faces he understood all to well as he rode forth from the village, his course taking him deeper into the north.  Sadness, for the most part, could be seen on those faces.  They believed he would die out here.

Problem was, they were probably more right then he wanted to admit even to himself.

This was a harsh land where few animals and even fewer people had the mettle to live from day to day, let alone thrive.  The bitter cold killed most, he assumed.  Lack of food and shelter and sunlight – he had read books describing whole seasons passing without the sun rising once, added to the deaths.  And then there were the few beasts and creatures who could survive in this place, all purported to be as harsh and cruel as the land itself, striking quickly and without mercy, killing those caught with their guard down with ease.  He had heard those tales as well and repeated them from time to time to perk up the ears of his charges throughout the years of his service to the High King’s family.  Now, deep within one of the very hearth tales he had once told for the pure joy of seeing it come alive in a child’s eye, he found himself setting wards each night to warn him if any of those creatures should come near.  So far, they had been left alone.

He wondered how long that would last.

Despite the cold, the snow and the beasts, there were a few men in these lands but they were has hard and cold as the land itself.  Long ago, they had broken away from the High King and the remnants of the Thirteen Tribes, calling themselves outcasts and setting out for the Wasteland and the places where no men dwelled where they could rule themselves and bow to no King not of their own making.  Here they had made a home for themselves, if such a word could be used to describe this place.  Where others died, they took the lessons of this land to heart and became one with it, claiming that it was a proving ground for them, a millstone to hone the edge of the strong and break the weak, leaving only the sharp inner core; the best of the best.  These were the Northmen, called rabid by some, feared by all and genuinely accepted as the greatest warriors in the world.

And they followed the Shadow.

He could not help but shiver even as the warmed water trickled into his waiting mouth and took the chill from his hands as they held the bag tightly.  Would they even bother with he and his companion, two men with three horses slowly making their way across the Wasteland?  He had no idea if it would be worth it to them and didn’t know a way to avoid them if they decided it was worth the trouble.  Given the chance, he would avoid any other villages or settlements he might come upon, but he didn’t even have a map to tell him where such places might be.  There were no maps of the north as far as he knew.  But he doubted there could be many along his path.  Who would live in such a place?  Perhaps there were warmer climes to the east or west and that was where they had their settlements, though he found it difficult to believe.  He had trouble imagining anyone living here despite tales to that effect.

Having taken his fill of the water, he pulled the lead line attaching his horse to the one behind and brought them side by side.  Pushing back the cowl of his companion, he noted the frost clinging to the beginnings of a beard framing the young face of his companion and charge.  His cheeks were ruddy and chapped, as were his lips and nose.  His wispy brown hair had grown much longer in the few short weeks they had been traveling and would now fall off his shoulders were it not bunched up within his cowl.  Blue eyes once fierce and commanding stared vacantly at nothing while he placed the water bag to cracked lips and tilted it back.  Swallowing seemed more reflex than conscious act but he was glad for it.  With the bag half empty, he pulled it away and began to rub down the arms and legs of his companion as much for the momentary warmth he received as for what it did for the other.

Three days had passed since there had been any movement or sign of life from the other beyond what he forced him to do.  Three days of blessed silence in which he cursed his own insensitivity as much as he praised the quiet.  He could not help it, though, to be grateful for a respite from the ever-erratic behavior coming from the other.  Half the snow they trod through now had been caused by a strange incident where he had believed himself to be in another place and time, fighting some army or threat only he could see and hear.  He had called a massive storm then and it had lasted a week, blanketing the land in fresh snow nearly up to his knees before it finally quit.  Frightening.  Perhaps more frightening had been when he realized that the man had called a storm and he had not been able to see the weaves.  Whatever Magic the Wizard had used, it was not the same elemental weaves he had been taught at the Academy.

No, though it pained him to see his friend in such a catatonic state, the alternative was worse.

Re-wrapping the scarf that had come loose and replacing the cowl around his friends head, Enmaleth turned his horse north again, re-wrapping his own head and continuing on.  He knew the road ahead would be long and cold and the silence he now enjoyed would not last, but there was no other choice that he could see.

Somewhere ahead lay the Valley of the Lost and a place called the Temple of the Soul.  He had to find this place; it was up to him to bring the Wizard Darius to the Mindwalkers.

* * *

“Enmaleth?”

The voice was so weak and hoarse he nearly jumped from his skin.  Turning, he saw Darius sway in his saddle, gloved hands reaching out to grasp the pommel.  The movement came so quickly, the horse shied and pranced aside and very nearly lost its footing in the snow before he was able to tug at the lead line and pull him forward.

“Where is my staff?” Darius asked.

“Lost,” he answered.  He had answered this question three times in as many weeks.  “In the rubble of the Tower.”

“Can you hear it?” he asked, left hand slowly rising to disappear beneath his cowl.  “Gods, Enmaleth, it’s so loud.”

“I’m afraid only you can hear it,” he said softly.  In these moments of lucidity he often complained of the voices only he could hear and how they raged and shouted, each vying for his attention.

“Where are we?” he asked and the hand slowly lowered again to retake its death grip on the pommel.

“The Wasteland.  We head for the place the Ancient told me about, in the mountains there.”  He pointed to the mountains on the distant horizon.  Never a good judge of distances, he had no idea how many more leagues stood between them and the mountains, had no idea where the entrance to their home even lay once he got there.  In his mind he knew only the vision of the stark gray archway bereft of rune or image that lead through a mountain and, supposedly, to the Mindwalkers.  How to find this place was a problem he left for later.  Instead he simply concentrated on getting them to the mountains alive and intact.

“She’s following us,” Darius whispered.  The icy cold surrounding them seemed to grip his heart and his horse tossed its head as it sensed the sudden shift in his mood to strong fear.

“Who?” he choked.  “Who is following?”  But it was too late.  He could tell simply by the way his body shifted in the saddle that Darius was no longer there, that he had once again become lost in the tumult that raged through his mind.  He imagined the voices the Wizard complained about had swallowed him again.

Scanning the land behind them, he tried to imagine who could possibly be following them.  Darius had said ‘she’ and that left the possibility of Moira, whom he thought he had warded their presence against with his Magic, or perhaps the warrior woman Min who had recently traveled with them.  Supposedly, the woman could sense Darius wherever he might be, but he had hoped his ward would shield her from sensing them as well.  He could think of no one else who could be following them.  Surely the Queen was gone, ripped from this existence as he had seen in the vision, swallowed by a massive portal she created from this world to the world of the Shadows.

Suddenly he had something new to fear out in the endless sea of white surrounding them and again found himself without alternatives for their protection beyond simple wards around the camp at night to give him some warning.  He had no ability with Spirit and little with Air and so, could not extend his senses out across the land in search of the ‘she’ who followed.  The wards he used to hide them from Magic were difficult enough without Spirit and he dared not try something so dangerous as projecting his mind ‘into the wind’ as it were and there seemed little chance Darius would wake enough to do so himself, so he put the matter from his mind for now.

Turning his horse he tugged at the lead lines and set them back on their course north.