Making my way across through the forest I bade farewell to the memory of my late father, who was buried in that same field at the back end of town where he had died. There was no sense in dwelling on the past. Neither my father nor Farah were coming back to me. I left them behind, turning to what lay before me. The tall trees of the Mhoarid forest stretched high above my head as I made my way in silence. It did not seem as foreboding as the tales had wished me to believe. That seemed to be the way of things in the grand city. Tales were of plenty, but truth was few. Not too many were interested in what went on outside those walls, and those that did were involved in matters of politics and thus their duty was for the Coessarde as a whole.
The small towns and forests were left untouched except by the tales of men and women, often aided by a little drink. It was good to get out and see things for myself. I shouldn’t be so harsh on my new-found neighbours. I knew nothing of life outside Coere Ghante until fortune brought me to the great city. At least I had room to dream. As a child I often wondered what it was like in the great city and even beyond. Those of a higher class than I were afforded the luxuries of education and knowledge of the histories of the land. Myself without such enlightenment, the land stretched before me as a blank canvas, ready to be discovered. Not that it seemed so open at the moment. The trees crowded around me, seemingly watching my every move. But what did I care what trees thought? They could watch me all they liked.
My march through the forest was disappointingly uneventful. Not that I wished my journey to become difficult so close to its onset, but after all of the grand tales of ghosts and the like, one can imagine the let down such an ordinary trek could afford. As the sun began to grow dim, I saw no end to the trees before me. It was said that the great Mhoarid was a days journey deep and countless many more in length, however, having travelled all day the end was not in sight. It had always been a wonder to me who counted the journey? Was it a days journey on foot or horseback, and if horseback would it be a gallop, trot, or mere saunter? Regardless, the days journey had obviously been recorded by someone of greater speed than myself. It could be that because of the tales of the forest many chose a swifter pace than had been my preference of the day.
The trees seemed to grow closer and closer as the light continued to fade. There was no sense in travelling through the night. The journey would be long and I needed my strength for the following day. Dismounting, I proceeded a short distance into the trees before tethering my horse. Firewood was easy to find in the surroundings which I found myself, and soon I warmed myself by the comfort of the flames. As the night grew darker and air colder, the heat was welcome. I pulled a map from my pack and began examining it. Never having been past the great bridge I had little knowledge of what might lie ahead of me on the road. It would be best to be as prepared as I could. I followed the road with my finger as it went through the Mhoarid forest northward toward Dete Plych after which it veered to the west. This would be my first stop. There was no way of knowing how long it would take to get there. Once I was out of the trees I would have a better idea of my surrounding. Perhaps tomorrow would afford me with such luxury.
As the fire began to die down my thoughts turned to Miranda. I didn’t want to think about where she would be tonight. It worried me, not knowing where she was, or more importantly, who she was with. Not that my presence in the city would change that. I knew naught of her whereabouts most nights, but the change in scenery made me especially astute to such facts. It seemed no matter where my mind would wander it would cause dismay. If it not be Farah or father, it would be mother or sister. This journey will be quite lonely and ultimately unpleasant if I’m to be left with naught but my thoughts.
The sound of the wolves in the distance brought back remembrance of that night so long ago which left mother a widow and myself without a father. Even after all these years, fear went down my spine at every wolf cry and the baying of a hound. Though renewal of strength was my goal, I did not attain it. The canine cries left me to sleep with one eye open and my mind racing. As I saw the sun begin to peek through the treetops, it could not have come too soon. The sound of wolves departed with the morning light and some sense of comfort returned to me. Though the night was as uneventful as the day previous, my emotions were at a high from the incessant howling which accompanied the woods.
Today’s goal would be to leave these blessed trees behind. They lacked any tale-worthy nature by day, but night allowed the wolves to prowl much more than I had become accustomed to. The luxuries of living in Glanderxe had gotten the better of me. Not a sound was heard in my quarters inside those castle walls. It surprised me how jarring the sound of a howling wolf would be after all these years.
I doused the fire in a manner suitable as to not cause the coals to erupts once again into flame, which being left unattended could result in a catastrophe that no one wished to be responsible for. After watering my horse, I mounted once again to continue through the trees. It was about noon by the time I reached the edge of the forest. The sun on my face, unobscured by the branches, was a comfort I would have taken for granted if not for spending a day shrouded by trees. The sun brought hope that I was actually moving forward, for previously the scenery had remained the same, this tree looking no different than the one ahead to my left and its twin on my right. The path before me was well worn as it was the only route through the forest to the isolated capital of Glanderxe. Travellers usually formed in large groups and spent some time in the great city before returning home. Two treks through the trees of Mhoarid within a fortnight was virtually unheard of.
The most common of such travelling groups could be seen in the distance on the road ahead: a merchants travelling caravan. As they drew closer, I could see the party was no less than 50 in number. “Ho, young traveller!” A friendly voice hailed me from within the caravan. It was from a short stocky-looking man pulling a cart of goods by horse, or more specifically, pony. I presumed that his short legs would not allow him to mount a steed of greater height. I replied to his greeting in a friendly manner, drawing near to him. Stopping his cart did not seem to bother the rest of the travellers. They found their way around him as a large stone in the path. It seemed that the group I had encountered today did not travel together for the purpose of comradery. “What brings you through the forest at such an hour as this?”
“I journey for Dete Plych on business of the crown.” There was a hint of pride in my words as I sat tall on my mount.
“Well, don’t let me get in your way! I’m just a humble merchant.” He aimed to pass me by.
“You are not in my way. A friendly face is welcome on this lonesome road.” I had not meant to offend this little man, however I had done so.
“The road would be less lonesome if status did not dictate your attitude.”
“I had not meant it to. My sincerest apologies. In truth, this is my first mission on business of my lady Calwen.” Humility began to set back in. My words seemed to set the little man in a better manner than I would have expected.
“And what manner of business might this be? Sir Reuben has been off to Glanderxe himself. If you are meaning to meet with him you have either been misinformed or are a fool.” He was overly intrigued by this business of mine.
“My journey be not of a political manner.” I said and then quickly added, “And I am not a fool. I journey to Dete Plych for a mere reprise in the longer journey ahead.”
“And where might this journey take you?”
“The great River West.”
“You travel to the River West, yet say you are not a fool.” He laughed a little, clearly amusing himself. “And what has her majesty given you in preparation for such a journey.”
I was baffled by his question. “Nothing extraordinary. Just some coin for supplies and other sundry essentials.”
“As she should for such a long journey… but wouldn’t it prove of greater profit to use said coin on well needed supplies than hoarding it like some miser?” His eye glinted as he spotted my coin purse.
“Certainly so. That is why I travel to Dete Plych. I aim to gather supplies for the journey ahead.”
He laughed once again. “Look around you, boy! Is this not a caravan you have stumbled upon? Supplies be of plenty, and greater treasure be found here than in the drear city of Dete Plych. It still be a days journey ahead.”
Clearly this man was trying to play me for a fool. What could a little man such as himself know of riches. His cart was small and couldn’t contain much of interest to anyone. “And what, may I ask, would this small cart of yours carry that would interest me greater than all that Dete Plych might have to offer?”
“What a strange question that is. What a strange question, indeed.” Getting off his horse he took me to the back of his cart where he unpinned the canvas to reveal a small chest. Unlocking the chest with a big ring of keys he carried on his belt he pulled out what looked like the horn of a mighty stag. He handed it to me and a grin stretched across his face from one to ear to the other. “What do you think?”
It appeared to have been shaped into the type of horn one would use to signal a battle cry or the arrival of royalty to a small village. Turning my attention from the horn, I gave the little man a curious look. “This trinket seems suitable for a knight, not a traveller.”
“Aren’t you both?” The little man eyed my attire, clearly noticing the seal of Glanderxe which I wore emblazoned on my cloth.
“That be true, but of what use could this provide me more than a instrument to amuse myself with around the fire.”
“Ah, I see that you misunderstand what it is that you hold in your hand.”
“I misunderstand nothing. These horns are of common use in the castle of the grand city, especially with the frequency of Sir Reuben’s visitation as of late.” The sound of the horns was in my mind’s ear as I remembered the announcement of Sir Reuben’s arrival at Glanderxe a few days prior.
“This is no ordinary horn. What you have there is Riul’s horn of Tranquility.” He said with a sense of awe in his voice.
“Whoever this Riul is, he can keep his tranquility. This horns proves of no use to me.” I handed it back to the little man who looked at me, dumbfounded.
“You know not of Riul! What kind of imposter knight of Glanderxe might you be that you have neglected your education.” He looked horrified and I quickly tried to explain before he caused a scene pointing me out as the “imposter” he thought me to be.
“I am not of Glanderxe by blood, but have gained the favour of Lady Calwen and have been administered into her ranks.”
“Certainly!” He did not look convinced. “What of it!” He laughed again. “Pardon me. It is not my business who you chose to masquerade as. My business is as a merchant of such fine works as Riul’s Horn of Tranquility.” The little man, though unconvinced of my legitimacy, seemed to regain his composure. “It is said that the Talri worshipped Riul, the goddess of nature. It is she who created the earth on which we stand and has power over nature itself.”
“And you believe such foolish stories?” I was less impressed now that he had shared his knowledge of Riul with me.
“Stories!” The little man looked offended. “This is legend! Tales of old! You should put more faith in such things if you are headed for the River West.”
“And why might that be?”
“Beyond the River reside the only remaining race of old, the Pharosh. They know all of the history, even more than us mere men remember. It is said that they have vast libraries, books upon books, of legend all but forgotten.”
I had heard of the Pharosh, as all men hold curiosity of the unknown in high favour, however my knowledge of history and legend was clearly surpassed by the little man before me. The Talri I knew nothing of, nor did I know of Riul, the goddess of nature, but my journey would definitely be aided by such knowledge. “And what of this horn? Is that in one of those books the Pharosh keep captive across the great River West.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it, but one has no need to travel so far to hear of Riul. It is said that she spoke the earth into being through merely her voice, and this horn has captured the essence of that voice. The sound of the horn gives the user power over nature through the voice of Riul. The road to the River West will be long. The further west you go, you will find that nature shrouds the road and begins a hostile takeover of the untravelled western route. Power over nature may prove a useful asset to a traveller like yourself.”
There was some truth in his words. I knew not what lay ahead of me, but I knew the road to be less travelled than most. Perhaps this little man did have something that would prove useful to me, but I still wanted to prove its authenticity. “How might a little man like yourself have come across such a powerful trinket as this.”
“Don’t let my size fool you, boy. Small yet mighty! In my younger days I travelled the mountain passes of Keltone in search of treasures unimaginable! I found the horn deep in a cave on one such expedition on an altar in the depiction of the great Riul herself, with an inscription beneath on great stone tablets telling of the horn.” He handed me a piece of parchment well worn by the years. I could not make out any of the words on it except for “horn of tranquillity” and “Riul.” “I copied the inscription here, but the years haven’t been good to it.”
I scanned the note attempting to gather a sense of its reading, but could not make out any more words. “Very well, little man. You seem to know much of legend and are clearly well travelled. What would it cost me to take this off your hands.”
“You can imagine the danger I went through to acquire such a piece. that alone would make it worth 100 gold pieces, but the magical powers it beholds easily doubles that price!” Scratching his beard he continued, “However… I am a loyal citizen of Glanderxe Coessarde. It would not be my place to get in the way of the business of the queen. I could let it go for a mere 150 gold pieces in service to her majesty.”
I easily had enough to pay the little man, but having not been on a journey of this magnitude before, I had no way of knowing how much money I would need along the way. Not wishing to seem ungrateful I offered 120 gold pieces for his trouble and told him that her majesty would hear of his generosity and he would easily be rewarded over and above the 30 gold pieces which I shorted him. The exchange being made I put the horn in my pack and bade him farewell. “You have been too kind, but I have a long journey ahead of me.”
“As do I,” replied the little man. “I must make it through the forest before nightfall.”
This time it was my turn to give a little laugh. “May luck smile on you, for it took me one day and extra to pass through Mhoarid. The sun is already at it’s highest point and will begin to set as the day progresses.”
“I best be off then. What is it they say in the great city…” scratching his beard once again he remained in thought but a moment then continued. “May your steed be swift and your arm be true.”
The customary response held no meaning in response to this man for he was neither my brother in arms nor a resident of Glanderxe proper. Not knowing quite how to respond, I acknowledged the respect he had bestowed on me through his words and gave my best wishes in return. “And you little man. May your steed be swift and your arm be true.”