“You saw this yourself?” Brynd eyed up Cargh with suspicion. I don’t know how long I was out, and in fact didn’t even expect to awake. I lost the fight, and by all rights I should have died. If my wounded leg hadn’t killed me, the knife in my gut should have, but my time dead was short-lived. I woke to the sound of the allmarach conversing in a low tone.
“By the Rock, I swear it,” Cargh answered Brynd with conviction yet still respecting his superior. My head was still swimming a bit from the pain, but I managed to sit up and look around the room, spying the two that spoke, their hands wrapped around the trunk of mugs. Brynd brought the cup to his face and took a long slow draw, his eyes glazing over while lost in thought. Finally he spoke through froth laden lips, replacing the tankard on the wooden surface of the table at which they sat.
“I don’t want to believe you.” the leader of these mountain men began. “If what you say is true…” apparently all of that time in thought had not aided him much, for he couldn’t finished the statement.
“It is.” As I rose to stand, Cargh turned around and spying me, continued. “Mert will tell you the way of it. He saw more than I.”
Faltering on my wounded leg, I slowly made my way to the bench beside Cargh. A thin line of red smirked at me from my cloth-bandaged leg and grew as I moved with pain-staking effort. It went from a smirk to a sly grin and then a full-blown mocking laughter as I finally reached the bench. “What is this now?” I turned my attention to the two mountain men, trying to ignore the pain in my leg.
“Cargh says that you fought a brother in the spirit.” Brynd reminded me of the worst fight I had ever been in, not that I was very experienced. That was the whole problem though, wasn’t it? If I had been more experienced, I wouldn’t have been pinned-down by a wolf for the fight’s duration.
“True.” I wanted to say. Not really. I didn’t put up much of a fight. Though that’s how I felt, I would never admit it. Brynd had already seen my incompetence with a sword while I fought Kyra. I’m sure he didn’t need a reminder.
“Only one conclusion can be drawn from this…” his words hung in the air ominously. They bounced off of the low ceiling and floated down like harsh clouds promising harsher conditions yet procrastinating such delivery. Brynd took another drink from his mug allowing the procrastination to continue, the clouds building for the oncoming storm. When they finally did rain, it was punctuating but short-lived. “Klychawk is back.”
I didn’t know what he meant by “back.” This god of the north had been chasing me ever since I knew of his existence. I certainly wished that he would take a vacation from this senseless vendetta so that he would have a place to come “back” from.
Brynd was quite disturbed by his own words, and the truth they shared. Such disturbance was heightened when he began speaking of the allmarach who had turned up missing over the past couple of months. As any good leader should, he cared for his men and wanted to find them. “Whatever the case, there must be answers. The voice of the Rock must be heard.” He commissioned Cargh and myself to travel north and find Klychawk.
There was no way that I could even entertain complying with such an insane request. “You do realize that Klychawk wants my life?” These mountain men had, thus far, respected me as a knight (or warrior at least, though I was less of a warrior than a knight) and gifted me with a sword. I felt like this deserved some type of exchange, perhaps in service even, but this was too much.
“Perfect. Then you can find him easier, for he will come to you.”
I desperately searched for a way out of this ridiculous situation. Why me? I had been gone from Glanderxe for much longer than I had initially intended, and the longer I spent in such absence, the more it grated on me. “I am injured, and it would profit you nothing to choose me as a travelling companion.” If I thought such simple logic would convince them, such hope was soon dashed.
“A warrior must endure much for the sake of the Rock.” Cargh talked to me as if instructing his underling.
“Lady Eyes has no desire to visit Klychawk. Her direction leads me to Glanderxe.”
“The Rock gives direction!” Brynd rose from the table, defying my words. “You know not the way of things, Mert Whatley Lady Eyes. You put your mouth before the rest of your head. Be careful, or you may lose it.” Having finished his rant, he stared at me expecting some sort of response. What could I say to him that would not offend? I had no intention of losing my tongue, or any part of my head for that mater, and I doubted that he was speaking in jest.
“My apologies.” And with that it was settled, or at least that’s what Brynd thought. He left the room, expecting us to carry out his will… or the will of the Rock. I didn’t really see a difference. Who is he to discern the desires of the Rock other than the leader of the men who serve such a strange deity?
It took a day to set the necessary preparations before Cargh and I ascended the long path that I had walked with Kyra many days ago. I had not known her very well then, but did I know Cargh now any better than I had known her then? Could he also transform himself into some strange beast that I was unaware of? Maybe a rock giant? He said nothing, and I didn’t expect him to. I never truly knew what went on inside this man’s head. His words always seemed to be accompanied with spittle and some complaint about defiance of the Rock. He had been quite vocal about such among the “vile abusers” of the west, and Kyra was certainly no help.
What had happened to the Thief? Did I really care? She had tried to kill me, hadn’t she? I suppose that she was simply protecting herself, for the allmarach would certainly have killed her had I not intervened. I was somewhat proud of myself for standing up for her, but how had she repaid me? It would have been better to die, thinking myself a hero, than be dragged along, not sure about the one whom I had fought for. Goodbye, noble knight. She even mocked my knightly ways in death, even when I turned them in her favour. If those were her final words, at least I was comforted in knowing that it was through me she managed to escape the rock tomb. Surely the mountain men would not have given her such grace. I knew not where she had gone to, but at least I could rest a little knowing that my last interactions with her were knightly in character.
I hobbled along behind Cargh, and the climb did not help matters. Though the pain in my leg and stomach screamed at me, it was an ever-present reminder of my valour. Because of my wounds, Kyra was free. Because of my blood, hers still flowed through those veins. Soon the slow drip of water returned to me, and I knew we were drawing near the mouth of the cavern. Soon the beautiful sight of the forest would greet me once again. Kyra had led me away from such beauty into the dark recesses of the mountain and even further to the urban mess of Kho Arian. Though I did not prescribe to the quest at hand, at least Cargh led me back to the trees, back to the forest, back to that place of beauty. Maybe I would stay there this time. Cargh could carry out his errand and I would wait for him among the trees. This was my hope… though I knew it would never be a reality.
Wind whispered through the hollows in the rock, proclaiming the lonely abandonment of the stone walls. Cracks shot from one stone to another, travelling the decay with purpose. Pellets of ice and snow mocked the castle that used to be, striking the walls with the force of their intentions. Tiny pebbles and larger chunks fell from the walls and pillars in defeat, giving in to their fate. Tiyhak’s tears crystallized as they fell down his troubled cheeks gathering in an indiscriminate pile, mixing with the blanket of white below. The garden was so beautiful in the realm beyond, so much so that he sometimes imagined he would never return to this place.
Klychawk told him not to trouble himself with such frivolous things. To father they were unimportant, but not to him. He had to live in this poor excuse of the remains of his life. This was his home so many years ago, Klychawk sitting on that throne in the flesh. Tiyhak was not worthy of the throne and wouldn’t shame it with his presence, but would it really be that bad? The only thing that sat there now were memories and animal remains. Surely he was more worthy of the seat than the excretions of the wild.
Wiping his face, Tiyhak rose, allowing the jet black of his clothes to answer the whispering wind, rustling out their annoyance. He rested a hand on one of the stone pillars which rose into the expanse above for a time before revealing their chipped and cracked exterior. He closed his eyes and released himself to the spirit realm, searching the strands for anything new. Nothing had changed… nothing at all. Those three spirits still sat beyond the void, locked in that dungeon-like cavern unmoved, unchanged, unwanted. They had been seemingly thrown away like trash, yet there was no sign of he who discarded them. Shaking his head, he opened his eyes again.
The voice of an unseen stranger came soft and sweet on the wind. “Troubles?” Tiyhak suddenly snapped to attention, scanning the strands for any sign of intrusion. How had he missed her approach, this voice in the night? No strands played with his snow-blown surroundings but his own. Pharosh, those spiritless spies of the west.
“I would be less troubled if I knew who I was speaking to.”
“And I would be less troubled with my spirit, but we can’t always have what we want.” He could almost see her mockery taking shape in the clouds of breath which formed with every word. Slowly and silently he approached the fog in the night, attempting to keep a fix on her location.
I am not trained for this. “If it’s a fight you want, face me like a man instead of cowering behind that wall!” But when he jerked forward to spy his visitor, the only thing that remained of her was the cloud left by her breath.
“I could face you like a woman, perhaps, though it is not a fight I seek.” The shadows were thick and the night sky even thicker, pouring like molasses over the castle.
“State your intentions then, Pharosh!” He almost expected the cruel lizard to take flight and torch him from behind, confirming the deceit he heard in her words… but he would be ready. Though he couldn’t see her spirit, he still had eyes. All their blood runs the same: Pharosh, Tallri, allmarach, men.
“You have something I want… or at least you will.”
“If you seek a free trip to the god of death, I surly can oblige. I have nothing else to give you.” Darting behind another pillar where he had seen her hot breath condensing in the air proved as fruitless as his first attempt. Where is this beast!
“A spirit is what I need, and you will get it for me.”
“Will I now?” His laughter was sucked up by the darkness and faded into the night. “And what position are you in to make such demands?”
“It is not a favour I seek, but an exchange.”
“An exchange!” The Pharosh often tried to be funny, but this one was the best he had heard yet. “And what do you have that I want?”
“Only a body. A body without a spirit.”
“So, you wish to be a vessel then? Still I fail to see my profit in this. What do I get by giving you this spirit that you desire?”
“My empty body will give you the means to acquire another, for I only desire my own.” A hooded figure stepped from the shadows in front of Tiyhak and he almost jumped at the sight of two thin blades she held before her. “Take me to where my spirit is held and I will give you all that you seek.”
A gust of wind ripped at her clothes and Tiyhak saw her face between the cloth for but a moment. This was no Pharosh! “And what do I seek?”
“The spirit of Mert Whatley.”
Shafts of light filtered through the blanket of leafs and branches above, calling the day to attention. Thousands of tiny voices gossiping together, twittered over the sound of water lapping softly at the shore. The smell of fresh dew on the grass beneath filled me with an unexplainable desire to frolic and play between the tiny blades. Though I was once again in such beautiful surroundings, it felt like a mistake. Opening my eyes, I took in the jovial surroundings, but as I watched, the smiling faces caste in those thousand tree trunks shifted to deceptive smirks. Something called to me from beyond the forest, beyond the mountains, maybe even beyond the River West. The intense pull of emptiness within made the beauty of my lush surroundings meaningless. Even as I sat with Cargh devouring a breakfast of wild-berries and game flamed to a smoky golden exterior, everything left an unsatisfying taste in my mouth. Taking another bite of the bird – which by all culinary right was the best I had ever tasted – I almost felt sick. The juice raining from the berries as they popped in my mouth felt like a river of blood, and the hearty meat turned to ash leaving me raw and unsatisfied.
“Aren’t you going to eat.” Cargh noticed that I set aside the feast in favour of staring aimlessly across the river. “The journey’s long, and such delicacies shouldn’t be wasted.”
“I’ve lost my appetite.” I said, standing up. “Go on without me.” It was a short trip to the river, and took even less time to removing my clothing before drifting beneath the waves. The sun sparkled against my skin as the water touched me, leaving a thin glassy film behind. I could remain in this water-bath forever, but it got me no closer to my destination. No amount of bathing or scrubbing would wash away the emptiness within me, though I desperately wished it would do something. No longer did loyalty and love tear me in different directions, but my they worked as one. All of my heart desired to return to Glanderxe, but my spirit pulled me the other way. If only I had wings like a Tallri or Pharosh, I could fly over the great bath I now sat in and retrieve that which was cruelly taken from me. Then I could complete my quest with body, soul, and spirit working as one, pointing due-north instead of spinning around like a dizzying child.
“Hey, Lady! Let’s get moving. Don’t want to waste all this precious daylight.”
I wanted to respond to him with an equally endearing yet insulting name, but how could one manipulate “Fioreh” into such an address? If Kyra had called me “Lady” I would taken it as an insult, though how a lady calling me a lady could be insulting I don’t know. I had come to like Cargh a little, though his violent outbursts of passion were a bit much at times. I could relate some with him. Though our passions were certainly of a different calibre, we shared similar responses to insult. I say similar and not same because mine usually involved less drawing of steel. Lady: though the word was the same, the meaning was entirely different. Lady Eyes was mine. She was a part of me as much as Mert Whatley was, from Cargh’s point of view.
If only the circumstances were different, I think I could travel with this man. I imaged us searching about the land for all manners of evil and injustice. With his twin blades and my one true sword we would drive out the rapists from villages, thieves from their pits, and wolves from their hovels. We could be the heroes of the land… under different circumstances. The only thing that this land needed now was for me to return to my love and complete my mission, for how can the heart of a knight track down any evil when his loyalty and love distract him constantly. I had nothing against searching out the source of these disappearances, for that seemed a noble quest enough, but though the allmarach were favourable, my loyalties lay in Glanderxe. Cargh didn’t seem to understand my misgivings. “Your duty is to serve the Rock,” was all he said when I mentioned Glanderxe.
“I served the Queen before I knew of the Rock. Were my duties in Glanderxe complete, I would gladly follow you in whatever mission that guides you.”
“The Rock guides me, as it does you.” Thick headedness: that was one quality that I hoped I didn’t share with this rock dweller, though I couldn’t rightly judge that myself.
“There are many rocks around, and the rocks which built the city of Glanderxe are my guide.” Could I trick him into thinking differently? Not likely, but at least I could try.
Cargh stopped and turned to look at me. A strange fire rose in his eyes which I had seen before, though it had never been directed at me. It almost seemed fuelled by the sword which his hand rested on. “Do what you will, Mert, just know that the Rock calls for the blood of all who defile it.” We stood there for a time, his eyes challenging me as his sword soon could, though it certainly wouldn’t be a challenge. He could cut me down like a tree made out of paper as I stood there stupidly awaiting my death.
“I don’t mean to go against the will of the Rock. We just have a difference of opinion at the moment.” I let out a nervous laugh which sounded more fake to me than I hoped it did to Cargh. “No worries, friend. I will get over it soon enough.” I began to walk away, hoping he could follow with his feet and not his blade. He seemed to be settled a bit once he returned to my side. What would a true knight do? Deliver some silly paper, or go to save some captured men? Certainly the queen would understand. Did I turn a blind eye to Kyra in Dete Plych when those men harassed her? Maybe I should have, considering the consequences. Certainly then, I should help Cargh as well… shouldn’t I? Either way, I would certainly lose in a fight to this man, and how then could I return to Glanderxe – but in a coffin – accomplishing the task set before me by Her Majesty.
It was not long before we had left the forest to enter that frozen wasteland which populated most of the north. I would have been more against travelling the northern wastes if the forest had given me the joy it once did. The beauty, though vibrant, was dull and taunting… not that this snow blanket was any better. The wind never seemed to stop its incessant mockery, and when it did stop to take a breath, the snow beat at my face trying to bore through to find the man beneath. Who was that man now? I couldn’t decide whether I was a more true knight for going along with Cargh or whether I should be defending my loyalty to the queen. Such playing with steel would surely end in my death… but what kind of knight is afraid of death? As we made camp after the long-days journey, I still wondered. Was I a knight going to face the evils of the north… or simply a man afraid for his life.