Redshaft - Chapter 2

Fiction By Stephan // 2/17/2010

REDSHAFT

CHAPTER TWO

"Be wary of the walltop guards," I whispered as we jogged across the grass. "Let's not head to the forest, though."

He turned to me, slowing his pace, "Why not?"

"The stretch of ground is too vast, we risk being seen and shot. Let us head to the marshes," I motioned to the yellowing ground that stretched away to the left of the woods, cloaked in blue mists. "We will reach it in under three minutes instead of the ten or so to the treeline, and our position will be veiling by the fog."

He clapped my shoulder, smiling broadly. "I am glad to have encountered you, Talegan, you may be of use to me yet!"

"Use to you?" I objected as he trundled off towards the marshes. Glancing at the walltops, I move quickly after him. He had pulled an object out of his backpack and was assembling something quickly.

I heard a shout of surprise from far behind and looking over my shoulder, turned to see a soldier far atop the battlements, pointing at us and alerting his companions. The first soldier then pulled up a longbow, and produced an arrow from his shoulder quiver for the shot.

"We've been noticed!" I shouted to the dwarf, speedening my pace.

"I know!" he shouted back.

There was the sound of him slapping a metal bolt, and he leapt high, turning around in mid-air and pulling up an piece of wood ornately lined with metal, a sharp arrow set on top of it. There was a mechanical snapping sound and the two pieces of metal sprung out from either side to from a crossbow; there was a short click as he pulled the trigger and the little bolt whistled straight into the walltop guard who fell away from his post. Having done this all when in mid-jump, the dwarf completed his circle and landed, continuing his pace.
I could not conceal my admiration at this display of skill, and stealing a glance at me, he chuckled all the way into the moor.

When we were fully concealed by the mists, he slowed his pace, but upon my entreating him to continue despite our cover for the city's hunting dogs would soon be on their way to find us, we kept a steady pace until we were deep in the thick of the marsh. Leading him to the thickest regions so the dogs would lose our scent, I equally ensured our path safely crossed over all available stones and dry paths to avoid being caked in the mud.

After a few solid hours' pace without a word between us, it was deep into the night by the time we reached the one of the borders of the moor, where there lay huge piles of rocks and boulders. We ventured into the midst of the rocks until we arrived at a comfortably safe location to set camp for the night. We could light a fire here and make as much noise as we wished and would be safe from the complete lack of acoustics among the heaps tumbled boulders. He scattered the top layer of earth away to arrange a fireplace while I gathered dry brush and stray branches from the ferns that were dotted here and there among the terrain.
After starting a fire with a set of flame-stones he had, he poured from a gourd some fruit drink into handless cups which we were able to set over the fire to heat up. Producing a string of sausages wrapped in cloth, he picked two choice ones and thrusting them on branches, we slow-roasted them. They were pre-seasoned, which was very satisfying.
I silently watched as he bowed his head and closed his eyes, and removing his gloves, he dipped his finger in the drink, flicked some of the liquid onto the ground, then into the air before ceremoniously taking his first sip. Opening his eyes, he then relaxed, taking another sip, this one with his usual ease. I decided not to comment.

"So," he said as he let his warmed cup heat his hands. "You are partaking of my food, drink, settled by my lit fire... tell me about yourself."

"You sound as if it was all your doing," I laughed, breathing in the aroma wafting from my fruit drink. "But before I say anything about myself, I wish to know how you breached that wall on your own. Was that some spell you cast?"

"No, nothing of the sort," he shook his head, wiping some of the juice from his beard with his sleeve. "In my possession," he continued, patting himself on the chest. "It is a dwarven...tool, useful for such measures. So," he sipped his drink. "Who are you?"

"Talegan of the House of Evelet," I introduced myself.

"Evelet," he mused. "A prestigious house, I have heard that name used by several captains one time when I was passing a military citadel. The men of the army held the name in high esteem."

"Interesting," I said quickly, changing the subject. "So whither are you from?"

He noted I wanted to avoid the topic, so he answered casually as he turned his roasting sausage, "South-west of Iliden, the Anvil Stronghold. And yourself? Tell me of Talegan."

"I was born and raised in a small town outside Iliden," I replied, glancing at the rocks as memories flickered through my mind. "I moved to the city with my brother when we were of age; he entered the military, and I sought the Academy for Gaelthon Trackers. I wanted to be the best in Gaelthon, so through my exerted dedication, I graduated to the advanced Academy in northern Gaelthon."

"I didn't know there was another Academy."

"According to common knowledge, there isn't," I smiled proudly. "Only those found admissable or are employed to instruct the advanced Trackers are aware of its existence. I then became a renowned Tracker, constantly on missions for various nobles and merchants who had an issue of various sorts with various forms of enemies, from trolls to werewolves to human mercenaries. My brother, since his vocation was far nobler than mine was extensively popular, for his talents made him among the greatest officers in the King's army. He spends most of his time on the forefront, fighting the barbarians to the east, so whenever he comes home, he is hailed as a hero. I have been less fortunate." I sipped my drink, the smooth sweet flavour keeping my spirits up despite the unhappy topic. "I had the habit of being in frequent trouble with the nobility of Iliden, even so far as causing my elder brother to well nigh disown me. When this occured, I lost most of my friends and acquaintances, even being forced to forfeit my courting a certain lady I had the privilege of securing the heart of, due to her father's high regard for my elder brother's opinion. And frequently since then, the courtiers of Iliden have had very short tempers with me, and as I have a habit of being outspoken concerning the multiple intrigues and stupidities that Prince Fevrin -- may his regency over Gaelthon be peaceful -- is often I find myself sent to the dungeon. The way memebers of the high society are able to punish anyone is ridiculous. When I first entered Iliden that was never the issue; they were all far more respectful and diligent."

"It seems your luck didn't take much of a turn for the better," he smiled. "When I first met you, you were imprisoned."

"Quite so," I grunted, picking up my cooled sausage and toying with it a bit before tasting it. It had strong flavours of salt and spices, and was very good. "But anyway," I said, turning the focus to him. "What unfortunate occasion brought you to the dungeon?"

He sighed, weighing his words before uttering them. "I stole something from my people at my home in Anvil Stronghold, and upon my reaching your city of Iliden, I was recognised in the marketplace and apprehended while waiting for a reunion with a friend. The jurisdiction of Iliden knew of what I stole, and decided to place me in the dungeon until the royal hunting party returned."

"But you are not of our race, that is contrary to law." I queried.

"I was a fugitive form my own people," he said with a rather carefree sigh. "I wasn't protected by such regulations."

I leaned towards him as I put forward the next question he knew to be on the tip of my tongue. "What was it you stole from Anvil?"

He took a bite out of his sausage. Finding it in need of more cooking, he returned it to the licking flames. He was turning it over in his mind how much he planned to share. He started by asking an almost completely unrelated question.

"What is your opinion on the current state of the King?"

I fell silent, and the wind howled between us as if to notify us of the uncomfortable situation. "No one speaks of the King," I said quietly. He cocked his head at me sarcastically. I shrugged, looking at the fire. "But since you brought it up, and neither of us are currently following the law anyway, I would very much like to lay my breast out concerning the issue. The issue is so sensitive that if you merely hint the topic people look at you with aggressive expressions."

"Smells of fear," said the dwarf, his face twisted with disgust. "It wreaks of it. Is not this a time of peace? Why should there be such tension even between friends? Come Talegan, empty your mind and let us see if it deserves the imposed silence of the law."

I sighed; it felt good to be so free. "When the King was captured by the Warlord of Melachor, I had serious concerns on how that happened, especially as he had his full regiment of royal guards at the time, and his passage through the Ironshod Mountains was kept secret from even his family. I believe someone stole information into Melachor, to have the King imprisoned. Since the disaster, I confess..." I instinctively looked around, but then paused, shook my head at this reaction and turned to face my friend in the wilderness. "I confess I have harboured the suspicion that Prince Fevrin handed him over to the Warlord."

The dwarf tutted. "Such words, my friend." But he was smiling; our beliefs undoubtedly coincided. "Why would you think such treasonous thoughts?"

"His brother has always wanted to order the armies into the west to overtake the west and strangle the obstinate natives there who never wanted to share their underground fortunes with us. The King had decided to leave them alone, but his brother couldn't stand the outrage of their superior attitude, despite how evident the King made it that they were a fully developed culture and were entitled to use their homeland as they chose. Their only crime was a lack of interest in trade, and the Prince Fevrin saw this an insult. He tried to take them over once, when the King was fighting in the Ironshod Mountains, but the King managed to return in time to stop him."

"And ever since the King has been in Melachor, hasn't it been convenient that the Prince has outlawed any efforts to save him?"

"I remember the day we all heard of the King's being captured," I recollected morosely, removing the hot sausage from my stick and setting it aside to cool. I stirred the embers with my charred stick. "The Prince had long known, and said he was trying to have the King returned in a diplomatic way; anything rash would cause the Warlord to slay the King. Since then, it became more and more common practice not to even mention the subject, as that may denote your were among the rebellious few who were known to gather to discuss plans on liberating the King, and have tried many times over, but failed miserably each time for whatever reasons."

"I personally these independant-minded 'rebels' have traitors in their midst who report their plans to Prince Fevrin and thus foil every attempt to save the King. What say you to the apathy which is now commonplace among the peoples in concern to the King's predicament?"

"Everyone is now seems comfortable with Prince Fevrin on the throne as regent, and his efforts for the King have been forgotten, everyone saying he has his noble brother's best interests at heart. He has made most of the nobles increasingly comfortable, dolling out rewards and lands to many. The courtiers have become flippant and abuse their authority; I believe I have felt the brunt of that. Many suspect as I do, but would never think of mentioning it even to their family. I think this sickening fear of being detected and imprisoned is a poison of the Prince's doing."

"Well, as it seems you are quite determined in your opinion on the subject," the dwarf concluded, readjusting his sitting position and settling down chewing a bite of his sausage. "What would say," he narrowed his eyes questioningly at me. "If I knew of a way to save the King?"

I fell silent. I didn't know whether I wanted to jump to the motion right away or retreat from it as much as I could. "That is no small statement," I said slowly. "That would probably be the greatest task of the century."

"It is no small thing," he said, now serious, but keeping his eyes steadily on me to read my every reaction. "But if I, the dwarf before you, knew of a way in which it could be efficiently done, would you embark with me on the perilous quest?"

I turned the enormity of it over in my mind. "That would mean stealing through some incredible path into Melachor," I said uncertainly. "But even if you manage to enter, find the King, and free him, how would you leave the place? It would be impossible to then leave without suffering detection!"

"But if I had a way," said the dwarf. "Would you join me?"

I bit my lip thoughtfully. "Saving the King...from Melachor...that would rank among the greatest feats of all time. You would become as famous as the sun, and every history book would have your name."

"Too true," he chuckled. "They would."

As this thought moved through my mind, I paused. "Yes," I said softly. "That would change my life forever. I would prove...I would prove to them. To Ellesor..." I turned back to the dwarf, my eyes suddenly aglow. "Yes, I would join you."

"Excellent, I am glad the heavens have seen fit I should find a companion," he said distantly with a solemnity I was unused to.

I paused. "I beg your pardon?"

He smiled at me. "I have a friend in my acquaintance who has the jealously guarded knowledge of how to safely enter Melachor. After deriving this intelligence we can proceed into Melachor."

"Just the two of us?" I inquired.

"It will increase our possibilities of eluding attention," he explained. "With me I have one of the three Dwarven Staffs of Lifestone. It is called the Redshaft," he added, producing from behind himself the cloth-bound rod brought from the Dungeon room we exited. "It can disrupt any physical obstruction to my path. My brother, whom I had planned to meet at Iliden managed -- after much greater lengths than I would want to fear -- to acquire the Blueshaft before arriving at Iliden, it disrupts the air and all things with a high amount of air in them. Power over the heavy and power over the lightweight would combine and we would now be on our way to Melachor, but something happened."

"What occured?" I asked, my attention clinging onto his every word.

"I do not know," he said, though careful not to permit dejection to enter his voice. "I wish I did, but he was never there. But anyway, the mission at hand is still the same, and is yet to be accomplished."

"I admire your steadfastness," I said quietly. "Were you not phased when you knew you needed to continue alone?"

"Well, I now have your company." he answered, sidestepping the question. He looked up at the stars above. "Once inside Melachor, we head into the Warlord's chambers to find the King, and upon extracting him, I will subsequently break the Redshaft. This will result in a quake of the earth, which will allow ample oppurtunity to leave without all the Warlord's dominions on our tails."

"Break the Redshaft?" I asked, looking at the weapon he held securely to himself. "Is not that an important ancient artefact of your people?"

"It is," he said plainly. "The most important. But these things we have, anything we may save, would be, should be, for assisting others instead of remaining as decor to increase the grandure of our halls or our name in the land."

"Saving the King will return a lot of peace and order to Gaelthon, and all surrounding lands besides," I speculated. "It would be quite a sacrifice, from what I've read of how jealously your people guard your artefacts; but I would agree it would be worth it."

"I have overridden my every doubt on that matter." he affirmed. He sipped his drink, and on finding that to be his last draught, he refilled his cup. I downed the rest of mine, and had him refill it as well. "Another round, for friendship's sake, for devotion's sake." he said, filling my little cup before fastening the lip back on the gourd and putting it away.

He held up his cup, raising his eyes to the heavens. I imitated him slowly, turning up at the starry sky above as he spoke.

"Heavens above," he said earnestly. "Let our journey be a success. Together have us a team worthy of rescuing the King, and saving this land from falling apart. Give us victory, or give us death."

Following this fearless commitment to the cause, we then took a short draught, and leaning back, he sighed cheerfully. Something caught his attention and he stretched out his arm to me,

"Forgive my rudeness," he apologised. "My name is Durnon. Durnon of Whiterock."

"I am glad our paths crossed, Durnon," I said courtiously, before returning my now-cold sausage to the flame to warm up again.

He looked into the flame, holding up his cup with one hand. He smiled broadly, the light of adventure sparkling in his eyes, "Talegan, to the King."

I raised my cup steadily; I had never any idea I would be on such an expedition. This was truly to be the journey of a lifetime. I narrowed my eyes in decision. "To the King."

As we drank, I wondered what I was headed into. More than that; as I analysed at his solid, undaunted face I hoped my own reasons for the campaign were substantial enough, concrete enough to see me through to the end.

Whatever that end was going to be.
 

Comments

Really Good :)

I am so glad you put up 2 more chapters of this story, Stephen. I was afraid you weren't going to. I really like it, and Talegan is a good name. I did noticed a few typos, and 'speedening' should be 'quickening'. I'm about to read chap. 3 now :)

Laura Elizabeth | Tue, 02/23/2010

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The best stories are those that are focused, unassuming, and self-confident enough to trust the reader to figure things out. --

http://lauraeandrews.blogspot.com/2014/05/dont-tell-me-hes-smart.html

Some interesting changes

It seems you split off the end of chapter one and expanded its action to create chapter two... but you edited out some of the information that I gleaned from their conversation, like Talegan's story of arguing with a snobby courtier of a lady he liked (I think it went something like that), or Durnon's more detailed story of how he was arrested.

James | Tue, 03/02/2010

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"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle