The sun breaking through the darkness of the room brought new hope to a new day. Today would be different: the beginning of an adventure. Confusion filled my mind as to why I was chosen to carry out this mission, but it was quickly eradicated by an overwhelming sense of loyalty to the requests of the queen. Whatever the reason and whatever the cost, this mission would be carried out. How hard could it really be. I was basically a glorified messenger.
Loading my pack with provisions for the journey I made my way to the kitchen to wish mother goodbye. As I stepped into the kitchen she stopped what she was doing and came over to me. “So, you have chosen to leave me as well! Not that I am surprised. I always expected you to walk in the footsteps of your father.”
I was not so taken aback as I maybe should have been, but this was something that mother had said countless times before. “Father did not leave us, he passed. It was not by choice that he is no longer with us.”
“Not by choice!” Her words bit the air with the harshness of the wind on a cold day. “He never should have gotten involved. Let the younger men scare off the wolves. He was not fit for such a task and he knew it!”
“Hush, mama. Not now. That is in the past. We must look to the future from the eyes of the present.”
“The present gazes at your back while the future dictates your lack of presence here.”
I could hear that she was hurt. “Mother, what can I do? The queen has requested it.”
“Don’t speak such drivel! She has been poisoned by that sly intruder Reuben if you ask me! Secrecy never led to nothing but lies!”
It was apparent that she was unmoved on her position and more conversation would only get her into more trouble. I kindly requested that she watch her tongue and kissed her farewell. What more could I do? She had convinced herself and no amount of logic could refute. These thoughts filled my head as I made my way to the stables where Sir Reuben and his men in arms awaited to see me off. As I made my way down the road I kept my eye out for Miranda. God only knows what trouble she has gotten herself into the night prior and any chance to say my farewells could only be found on the streets.
As I drew near to the stables fortune did not offer me with the sight of my dear sister and searching for her among the many alleys of the great city would prove time-consuming and more than likely not the least bit profitable. Sir Reuben got down from his horse to greet me. “The horses have been watered and I see that you are prepared with provisions, but that will only get you so far. The trip to the borders of Glanderxe will be long and take you on not oft travelled roads.” Pulling a coin purse from his belt he continued. “Take this. You will surely need to purchase supplies along the way and the message must be delivered safety. Make sure that you are always well stocked and do not veer off the common road. Who knows what dangers lie beyond the civilized settlements.”
“Yes, my lord.” I answered. I took the coin purse and placed it in my pack. After making a final check of my supplies I mounted my horse ready for the road ahead.
“We were hoping to accompany you as far as Dete Plych, but duty calls me elsewhere. I must gather the people of Glanderxe Cossarde as we must be united in these future endeavours. May your journey be blessed and our thoughts are with you.” Sir Reuben unsheathed his sword and lifted it to the sky. I did the same as a gesture of respect and acceptance of his good wishes. “May your steed be swift and your arm be true. The hearts of your brothers are with you.”
A chorus of knights and men at arms rang out from around me, “The hearts of your brothers are with you.”
Feeling a sense of pride and excitement for the mission ahead I raised my voice to the customary response. “For Glanderxe and for Calwen!” The company around me cheered as I rushed off leaving naught but a cloud of dust behind.
I travelled but a moment before slowing down my pace. I never been too far from the great city. No need had ever arisen for me to travel further than the small town nestled in the shadow of the great city which I once called home. As Coere Ghante came to mind I stopped and turned my mount to gaze down the winding path which would lead to the small village. For a brief moment I thought about going to bid the lovely Farah Bailey farewell… but that wouldn’t do. She had made her intentions clear at our last meeting… not that I had forgotten. The nightmares still haunted me more nights than they didn’t. How I longed to gaze into those sweet crystal eyes of hers, to touch that delicate skin, feel her warm lips against mine once again. One day, I told myself. One day I will come back for her. When the time is right I will return.
Finding no more comfort in the thought of her, I turned to face what lay ahead. I could see the great stalks of the Mhoarid forest in the distance. This would be my first challenge along the road to Dete Plych. Glancing at the sky I noted that there was still plenty of daylight ahead of me. It shouldn’t be too foreboding during the day, though some say otherwise. I had never been one to hold too strongly to superstition, yet never having travelled across that mighty bridge which separates Glanderxe from the rest of the Cossarde, I was a bit apprehensive. There was no telling what lie beyond the bridge shrouded by the great trees of Mhoarid: none but the tales I have heard. Some say it is haunted by the dead and still others say that all manner of wild beasts find their home among the trees, preying on any who dare to trespass. Beasts I could handle, but I had never had dealings with the dead except at the graveside to give my respects. That is where the dead belong, and as far as I’m concerned, that is where they stay. Those who believe otherwise are fools poisoned by superstition. Beasts, however, did not remain in their dens and no amount of superstition was needed for proof. Growing up, I remember spending many nights with the other men, watching the fields for any sight of wolves. Then there was that night… mother hated to talk about. Yes she mentioned it a lot, but always out of malice spoken from a hardened heart. She would never breach the subject with any sense of civility.
The wolves had been especially brutal that night. It was right before harvest, the crops being mature and the cattle plump: always the most dangerous time of year. We rejoiced by day and cursed by night: the developed crops being a welcome sight, softening the load of the labour we had put in. With the night, however, came an increasing sense of dread as the season approached. We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the mature produce and buxom livestock.
Working in shifts through the night, we kept the pasture torches lit, not only for sight but safety. The wolves usually stayed away, finding joy in picking off the cattle that wandered in the dark. They were strong yet sly, not wishing to fight for their food unless necessity called them to. Working like thieves in the night, they swept in without a sound and left no trace but trampled crops and trails of blood as they dragged off the less fortunate of the livestock. Their howls could often be heard off in the distance, but they never drew such attention to themselves when stalking close to town.
I was on the third shift that night, waking from my cosy bed to be passed the baton by Mr. Bailey. Father and I arrived just as Mr. Bailey and his son were returning from the fields. It was customary to have father and son work the shift together where opportunity allowed. As a boy, I watched my father, learning from him not only how to grow a crop but to protect it. “Quiet night?” He had said as Mr. Bailey handed over his torch.
“You’d better hope it stays that way.” His reply came in a threatening tone. He had been a harder man in his younger days. Age had mellowed his tone.
“Hope and prayer, brother. Hope and prayer.”
“Amen.” Addressing his son he continued. “Let’s go. Comfort is weakened by the will of frigidity.”
“Agreed. Tonight’s conditions are colder than most.”
“Don’t let the air cloud your demeanour or the hour will be prolonged.” Mr. Bailey, motioning for his son to follow, retired from the scene.
The chill in the air did make the hour seem longer than it usually did, however it remained uneventful… until the winds came. A slight breeze was stirring throughout the night, not bringing much alarm until it increased. I had never experienced such wind, and it made the job more difficult as we rushed from post to post, attempting to keep the fires lit as we fought nature with every blast. Eventually it became imperative that father give me a torch as well so we could cover ground at a greater pace. In a race against the wind, we parted ways, entering the battlefield from opposite directions, hoping to trick nature into revealing its weakness. It seemed that our efforts did not afford us such a luxury, but rather provoked our opponent to anger as it rushed this way and that, battling us both with greater ferocity than I had known nature could produce from the mere manifestation of wind.
Suddenly a great gust buffeted us both to the ground, not only putting out those beacons of light we were desperate to keep lit, but the source torches we held in our hands. Above the sound of the wind I could hear my father yelling my name. “Mert! Son!”
My response was swift but shrouded with fear. “Father!”
“Stay where you are! I’m going to get more torches!”
I could not muster a reply. It was as if the wind itself took on a face and bore deep into my soul, threatening me not to utter a word. The only thing I could hear over the sound of the tempest was the wolves baying in the distance. As I waited for my father to return, the sounds grew closer and closer, creeping in as I lay there: poor, helpless. I could see dad’s new torches approaching in the distance, but the light moved slower than the sound. I began to cry out, “Dad! Hurry!” Closer now, they must be just on the edge of town. In just a matter of moments they would reach the fields, not only taking away the cattle, but anything they deemed meal worthy. Wolves hold no code of ethics. Their hunger drives them to the hunt, and easy prey is their target.
“Mert! Come towards the light! The wolves are out!”
As if his words needed to be uttered. I was already on my feet the moment I saw his light and ran, fighting against the wind to reach him. The rustling of the crops behind me was now enhanced as the wolves tore through the fields towards me. They were practically at my heels when I reached dad, who had begun to run in the opposite direction, attempting to reach the bell that hung by the stables which would signal the town of the trouble which followed us. I had almost reached the stables when my feet were wrenched from underneath me as I could feel the teeth of a hound digging into my skin. Screaming I began to shake my leg violently in an attempt to loose the predator from his grasp. Dad came running, torch in hand, and struck the beast in the face with the burning end. It yelped in pain loosing its grip on my leg.
“Go! Call the men!” Eager in my obedience I ran for the bell which dad had previously attempted to reach. No longer was I pursed as dad remain, torch in hand, holding the beasts at bay. Reaching the stables I lunged for the chord which hung from the bell and swung on it with all of my might. The sound was deafening and cut through the wind like a blade. Light erupted from every house in Coere Ghante as men lit torches and ran for the fields to face the threat which awaited them.
Mr. Bailey, having the closest residence to the fields was the first on the scene, his son in tow. I grabbed a torch and ran, joining them as they rushed to join my father on the battlefront. He was faced with more adversaries than I could count and was becoming overwhelmed. Despite the torch he held as a weapon, one of the beasts leapt for his chest, taking him to the ground just as we drew close enough to act. Mr. Bailey Junior, being older than myself and holding a bravery unmatched by anyone I have met dove for my dad, striking the attacker on the snout with more might than I knew could come from such small arms. He landed on top of my dad with the wolf sandwiched in the middle. Mr. Bailey Senior sought to reach his son and aid, but his foot caught a stone and he was thrown to the ground face first.
The other men were getting closer. Soon this would be a fair fight. I, however, was not the only one who perceived this impending change of events. The wolves, not wishing to fight such a great number of us began their retreat, but not before grabbing a snack to go. Two more wolves pounced on top of Mr. Bailey the Brave and he screamed in pain. Mr. Bailey the Fallen cried out in agony as he watched his son get dragged away by the pack of beasts. Getting up, he chased after them, followed by a host of men armed with torches, broomsticks and improvised weapons of every shape and variety. Though gifted by God with bravery, passion, courage, and every host of emotion, men were not gifted with the speed of a cheetah, or for that matter, a wolf.
Fortunately for the town of Coere Ghante, not much was lost that day. Some of the crop was trampled, but not a cow was touched by the cruel attackers. Unfortunately for the families of Bailey and Whatley… much was lost. Mr. Bailey the Fallen fell once again, in the middle of the field, this time out of grief. I’m sure that his cries could be heard all the way to the great city. My tears, however, were soft and internal as I kneeled over my father’s dying body as he remained fallen from the wound in his chest, never to rise again.