Pursuit of the Red Horned God, Chapter 5

The guards disposition toward Oren immediately relaxed. One old man with a little knowledge had defused the entire situation. Oren wondered at the thought that so much time had passed that these young guards would have never seen a paladin nor recognize the weapon of one. The younger guards grouped up and clamored among themselves. Oren caught whispered fragments. One man claimed he’d known the Order had been reformed. Another confirming the mans boasts. A third implicated the threat of the Red Horned God necessitated the reformation. A more skeptical guard calling out their bravado for falsehoods. Oren smirked to himself as he led the stallion through the West Gate with a chastised apology from the captain.

The dirt roads that had once comprised all the walkways within The Landing had been paved over in cobblestone. All the outer buildings were comprised of stone. If Oren judged their components correctly, probably from the same quarry as the wall. He followed the path to the inn the guards suggested. The smell of the ocean started to overtake the ripeness that occurs when people live in such confined spaces. Buildings of stone gave way to older structures made from wood. Some of them bore signs of fire damage. The stone buildings were not just aesthetic then, he guessed.

When he arrived at the inn, Oren found it to be non-assuming. A susurrus of noise escaped from the common room into the street- men talking, deep in their drink. Most of them sounded to be sailors or guards. Oren led the stallion around back to the stable. A lone boy sat tossing stones into a bucket. As Oren approached, the boy snapped up to attention.

“You’ll be needing feed and grooming for your horse, sir?” the boy asked without prompting.

“Yes, and stabling for the night.” Oren produced his coin purse and drew out one silver coin. He paused and glanced at the boy then at the coin in silent question. The stable boy coughed with embarrassment and shook his head. He produced three more silvers from the bag before the boy offered a relieved nod. There was no helping the price. Oren resisted the urge to use the letter to demand free stable. The news of cultist activity had him on edge. He produced a fifth silver for the boy.

“For your trouble.” He said.

The boy murmured his thanks and tended to the horse once Oren had relieved it of the personal belongings he wanted to take with him to the inn. Securing the sword about his waist, he entered through the back door, startling a scullery maid. The maid started to curse him off before noticing the sword and thinking better of it. The entry from the kitchen to the common room provided enough shadow for him to survey the room and the people in it. His expectations from what he overheard in the street were met. Guards and sailors sat in clumps apart from each other. He couldn’t see a single man who didn’t have a tankard of ale in front of him.

He made way to a table in the corner where no one sat and claimed it for himself. The keep behind the bar took his time noticing him but bustled over in surprise when he did.

“Are you here just to drink, sir? Or do you need a room for the night as well? Don’t usually get travelers here. Mostly guards or sailors who wander back to the port once they’ve had their fill.” The keep gestured behind him.

“A mug of ale. Dinner. And a room. In that order. I’ve already left my horse with the stable boy outside.”

“Five silver then, sir, and I’ll have your first drink for you.” The man said, leaving the table and not waiting for Oren to fish the money from his purse. By the time the man returned with the ale, Oren had stacked five more silvers in a neat column. The keep swept them into his hand and returned to his station at the bar. The woman he had surprised brought out a bowl of stew with a pitiful butt end of bread for him. She scowled as she left the food for him and returned to the kitchen. Tasting the stew, Oren decided that if the conditions of the room upstairs matched the quality of the food, he should not have paid five copper bits for them.

He sat in solitude enjoying the only good thing the inn had to offer so far, the thick, dark ale. Just as he prepared to retire, the old man who recognized his paladin blade walked through the door with some of the seediest guards that had ever worn a uniform. Oren almost waved him over, but the old guard noticed him first with a look of shocked surprise.

Oren narrowed his eyes as the man spoke something to his comrades and they hustled off to a table as far from him as possible. He reckoned that either the soup was worse than he thought, or he needed to keep an eye on them. He flagged the barkeep for another ale and settled in to wait them out.


Apropos of: Arathania

-Crouse

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Pursuit of the Red Horned God, Chapter 3

The stallions hooves clomped against the cobble stone of the road. Oren noted the recent addition to the path to The Landing. As the steady rhythm lulled him into a half-slumber in the saddle, he wished the founders of the busiest port in the kingdom had possessed the foresight to call their fledgling town something other than The Landing. The name felt lacking as a description for the busiest port on the island. The Landing housed a population only second to that of the capitol itself. A wagon approached on the road, laden with goods from the harbor. The dissonant clatter of the two horses stepping out of time with his own stallion stirred Oren from his reverie.

The owner of the wagon showed no indication of traveling anywhere other than the middle of the road. As the team pulling it drew closer, Oren pulled the reins of his mount trading stone for soft dirt. The old couple sitting on the wagon bench bickered in hushed murmurs. He twisted in the saddle as they passed, eyeing the bed of the wagon. Whatever freight they held lay hidden beneath a heavy tarp. The thought of abusing the power of the writ he carried flitted to mind. He tugged the reins once more, returning the stallion to the paved road. Dismissing the siren call of curiosity, he returned his gaze to the path ahead. The decision proved fortunate as a heavier flow of traffic lay just beyond the old merchants.

Carts and wagons drawn by all manner of livestock clogged the road. The stallion whinnied in annoyance as Oren directed it back to the road’s embankment. The flow of merchants and farmers appeared to be an exodus. They flooded around the bend in the road in a steady stream. Each person laden with wares they secured from their time in the trade center of the nation. Only the lack of urgency belied the banality of their actions. Oren gawped like a country boy getting his first taste of the rest of the world. The Landing had prospered in the eight years he’d been absent from the rest of the world.

The strangeness of being the only traveler heading towards the city bothered Oren. As he rounded the bend, the walls of the city loomed in the distance. The old wood stockade Oren remembered was replaced by a fine expanse of stone and mortar. The flow of traffic stretched all the way to the gate that served as the main entrance. Oren owed the good fortune of having a well trained stallion to his continued progress to the city. He stared dumbstruck at the transformation of a simple port of call into a bustling metropolis.

The closer his approach brought him to simultaneously strange and familiar sights of The Landing, the slower the outbound citizens moved. Some gawked at him. Others kept their eyes forward. Everyone seemed disgruntled. Oren listened closely for whatever snippets of conversation he could glean from the ruckus. No mention of evacuation caught his ear. The sheer amount of people leaving looked abnormal, but the complacency of the participants indicated a sense of routine. A wave of doubt rushed of him.

If The Landing managed to change in such a drastic manner since he had cloistered himself from the world, he expected much greater changes from the rest of it. He thought back to his encounter with the bandits on the outset of his journey to the port. A sense of longing overtook him for the simple violence he enacted in response to them. The fact that his wizard-woven robe had prevented the bandits attack settled his unease. He reminded himself that there were always constants, despite the gray that now speckled his beard.

Lost in his own thoughts, he missed the first attempts of the gate guard to have him halt. The stallion snorted its irritation as he wheeled it to a stop and dismounted.

“You deaf, fop? How many times does a man have to tell you to halt?” The guard in charge groused at him.

“My apologies. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been traveling. The magnitude of the changes that have taken place took me by surprise. I have urgent matters that require I must get to the harbor as soon as possible.” He offered up his most charming smile as he imparted the last bit to the man.

“I reckon it has. That dress you’re wearing hasn’t been in fashion for nigh on five years. You talk all funny too.” The guard punctuated his assertions with a glob of phlegm on the cobblestones. “You can’t get in this gate right now. It’s a…” The guard paused and scratched at the stubble on his chin as he searched for a word. Giving up, he turned and shouted at another guard watching from the gate itself, “Oi, Bertram, what’s that fancy thingy the playwrights is all using for when everyone leaves?”

This question stumped Bertram, he called over a couple more guards. They debated noisily over what words the scribes used. The man detaining Oren appeared content to wait for them to come to a consensus. Oren was not.

“Exeunt Omnes.” He said.

“What?” The guard turned to look at him.

“The term is Exeunt Omnes. That’s what writers use to signal to the actors that they should all leave the stage.” He reiterated.

“Oi, Bertram. Exeunt Omnes sound right to you?” the guard called out to his friend. Bertram and the other guards huddled once more in conference. This time the debate was much shorter before Bertram popped over to Oren.

“Aye, Alek, we decided that sounds right.” He smiled, oblivious to the situation. Alek turned to Oren and smiled as well.

“The gate is Exeunt Omnes…” Oren prompted. Alek’s eyes widened as he remembered the conversation.

“Oh, right. West gate is Exeunt Omnes until nightfall. Only people leaving. You want to get in right now, you’re going to have to circle round to the North gate. Course, that would probably take you until nightfall.” Alek trailed off. He looked genuinely puzzled by the predicament Oren found himself in.

“Well,” Oren said to the guards, “I suppose I’ll just have to wait until nightfall.” He led the horse over to a small patch of grass and settled down to wait out the merchants.


Apropos of: Arathania

-Crouse

Pursuit of the Red Horned God – Chapter 2

“Your purse, sir.” the leading of the two men snarled at Oren. The way he spat out the word sir indicated he used it opposite of its intended effect. Both of the highwaymen continued to approach, albeit more cautiously now that Oren directed his attention to them. He eyed their daggers, watching for any indication of intent. They still drooped in their hands. The men lacked any concern for their cornered prey. They evinced this through brash maliciousness.

“I’ve naught to give you I’m afraid.” Oren lied. “I’ve just relinquished any claims to my family inheritance for the sake of love.” He affected an air of nonchalant melancholy. The second one, a crony by the looks of him, paused to pass a disgruntled look at his partner. “In fact all the possessions that I own are currently on my horse or my own back. I know you wonder about the paper I was just reading. A note from my beloved. Nothing more.” With that he splayed his hands innocently, half inviting them to charge.

“I told you he ain’t got nothing,” hissed the crony. “Waste of our fucking time, I said.” He punctuated his claims with gesturing stabs of his blade toward the ringleader.

“Well check his horse, moron.” The first man’s annoyance worn like a cap on a man’s head, plain to everyone but himself. The second man scowled and sheathed his blade as he stomped over to the stallion. He muttered half-caught profanities under his breath as he came up on its rear. Oren loosed a sharp whistle through his teeth, catching both men by surprise. The stallion was well trained. Its steel clad hooves lashed out and caught the crony square in the jaw. His bones broke. Loudly.

The remaining highwayman wheeled around in surprise. This presented Oren the opportunity he wanted. He rushed forward, reaching out in an attempt to grapple the criminal from behind. The other man recovered quicker from the shock than Oren was able to move. The deadly piece of metal grasped in his hand swung around and continued toward Oren’s gut. When it reached him, the highwayman had his second surprise of the day. Rather than slicing through the dress robe that Oren wore it managed to push in the cloth. For Oren, the experience was akin to a rude passer-by jabbing their finger angrily into his stomach. The highwayman attempted another stab with results of predictable similarity to the first.

“Witch-woven cloth…” the man murmured as he dropped his dagger.

“Close. Wizard-woven, to be precise.” Oren said. He kept his relief that the magic had not faded from the cloth in all this time secret. “I would love to educate you on the finer intricacies of it, unfortunately, I am pressed for time. And you did try to rob and murder me.”  The bandit gawped at him as Oren brought his hand up in a sharp blow. The man’s neck gave a subtle yet audible crack. Oren watched as his would-be murderer fought for breath, dropping to his knees. When the man started spitting up red froth, he relaxed his stance and checked the tack on his horse. Mounting up and continuing down the road, he thanked Luck that the King’s decree had not ordered him to be surreptitious.


Apropos of: Arathania

So obviously I survived the Hurricane, and I didn’t get a post up on Friday like I had wanted to. But we’re back at it again now, with a trail of bodies following our hero. Thanks for reading.

-Crouse

Pursuit of the Red Horned God – Chapter 1

The manor he’d spent the last eight years of his life at burned as Oren Cobbe readied the prized stallion in the stables. The horses stamped and whinnied nervously as the wind blew the scent of smoke from the distant home into the stalls. Taking care to double check the straps, lest the horse trick him into riding a loose saddle, Oren’s rote  movements belied the urgency with which he performed them. Before long, the neighboring village would notice the plumes rising over the tree line that ensconced his home away from the rest of the world. Satisfied that the saddle would not slip as he rode it to the nearest seaport, he patted the breast pocket of the robes of office he salvaged from the house before the blaze grew out of control.  The King’s Decree remained safely tucked away. He lashed the ancestral sword rescued from above the hearth to the saddle and mounted up. The horses left were his gift to the villagers who would eventually tend to the smoldering wreckage of the main structure and provide the funerary rites for the four dead men inside it.

The twilight dissipated with the oncoming dawn as he spurred the stallion away from the life he had known and onto a new life. The thrill of riding the open road toward an unknown adventure swallowed his perception as fence posts and trees flew by with the stallion’s galloping strides.  The joy at such freedom dampened as he remembered his noble companion remained dead among the three strangers that had assaulted them. He’d hoped for the king to reassemble the paladin order for eight years. That his closest friend was the cost of having his dreams realized chafed Oren.

After an hour of hard riding, Oren slowed his steed to a canter. After a good distance of the slower speed and several cautious glances around, Oren dismounted and surveyed the land for a pond to water the stallion at. Just as his feet began to ache from his tread upon the uneven ground he found one. Letting the horse drink, Oren perched on a nearby stump and pulled out the parchment to read once more. The lettering betrayed the fact that the entire document had been written by a court scribe. Even the signature was too neat for a King with only three fingers on his dominant hand. The blob of gilded wax indented with the Royal Seal was the only indication of the King’s actual hand in the matter.

Master Cobbe

Dark forces align themselves against the Kingdom. The time has once again returned that the Kingdom has need of the services of the paladins. Go forth and eliminate the corruption that threatens the well being of the realm. It may be beneficent to begin your search in the Arathanian Colonies.

May any who read this letter know that Master Oren Cobbe is on service vital to the survival of the Kingdom and acts with the King’s blessing in all matters. By penalty of death, executed at the hands of the bearer of this note, you are charged to provide him with any an all aid required.

By Virtue of the King’s Hand

His Most Gracious and Benevolent 

King Arathur Z. Drakebane, First of His Name

The rustle of grass and snapping of a twig alerted Oren to the approach of unwanted visitors. He stashed the note and rose. His hand slid to his belt, where the sword conspicuously did not rest. The two men approached him with menacing grins. The points of their daggers dipped low. Oren resigned himself to dealing with them the hard way.


Apropos of: Arathania

Writer’s Update: Those of you who have been following the blog may have noticed that I have been absent. This has been due to a combination of real life issues. The Day Job™ has thankfully died down enough that I don’t feel as if my mental and emotional health has been wrung through the equivalent of an old school laundry press. Back to the regular updates though! This is the first piece of what is going to be a fairly long ongoing tale. Thank’s for reading.

– Crouse