Friday, November 30, 2012

Flight to the White Wyrm - Part One

I wrote the first two chapters on this some time ago. Maybe putting them on the blog will encourage me to finish it...

Flight to the White Wyrm


   The landscape was a bleak vista of endless scrub plains, stretching far in to the horizon. Distant, bluish mountains shrugged their way up the horizon like lethargic titans. The landscape was not entirely devoid of any character. An occasional riverbed meandered its way across the tundra, frozen now but slight testament to a time when warm weather would thaw the frigid land, bringing back flowing water and possibly even life. An occasional hillock would rise above the featureless plains, from which jutted old, quarry-worked stones marking the remnants of some long-lost ruin, suggesting a time when men could live in this land. That time was too long ago for anyone to remember who or what they were.  

   Draelon Ghorst grimaced, squinting across the barren land atop his gaited Hoagarit stallion. Behind him were a modest company of men, mercenaries all, adorned for war in a harsh winter. The stallion snorted, steam rising in the chill mid-day temperatures. He focused on a thin black line in the distance, what appeared to be no more than a curious blot of moving figures, men on horses, moving quickly toward the distant mountains.

   Draelon was a man of modest height, perhaps no more than five and a half spans high, but what his frame lacked in height he made up for in girth and mass. His arms rippled with lean muscle and sinew beneath fur-padded splint-mail. His wide, chiseled jaw was crisscrossed with long white scars visible beneath his thuck stubble as a beard worked to set its way in. He still held most of his teeth, despite evidence of a split lip and broken nose. No one could confuse this man for anything but a fighter, a warrior born.

    “We have them now,” Draelon muttered. He reached for his wine skin, took a long draw from the nozzle and offered to his nearest companion, a lean woman with raven-black hair drawn back in to a tight braid. Her form was hidden beneath thick smoky grey fur hides decorated with copper plates and raven feathers.  Bright silver and gold circlets were visible along her exposed wrists and neck. She took the wineskin and up-turned it for a quick drink, then returned it.

   “We will catch him soon,” the woman’s voice was quiet, but commanding. Her mannerisms spoke of aristocracy, and contrasted sharply with the vicious line of mercenaries she held company with. Yet no man among them looked upon her with anything less than fear. Something about her very manner evoked a sense of uncertain and lingering dread amongst the mercenaries.

   Draelon remembered the last night they spent in the port city of Khulinon. The story, as it had been told by Draelon’s master-at-arms Khorvish, was that a drunken lout of dubious Kaldinian heritage had affronted the woman. Khorvish, along with a handful of men, were posted as guards by the Lady’s request. They were slow to react when another patron, who had previously been seen sulking in the darkness of a corner stall, rushed the woman and drew a knife on her.

   Khorvish remembered the man vividly, when he recounted the tale to Draelon: “He was a lean, wild-haired sort, with the tattooed marks of a southern Thrall, perhaps a slave soldier of southern Kasdalan. He reeked of fish and goat. I took him for a madman, perhaps some escaped criminal from her lands. He had the same accent as she.”  

   Khorvish continued with his tale. “The man, he had madness in his eyes. He spoke to her. ‘Lady Poe, I have longed for the day I would take my revenge upon you and your kine.’ Spittle ran from the man’s quivering lips as he looked intensely in to her eyes. The woman moved not an inch,” the soldier said, “as we ordered the man back lest he be cut down. He seemed not to hear us, consumed with the inner madness that had been unleashed by Lady Poe’s presence.

   “’You are a good man,’ she said. I could barely hear her. Her lean, fair fingers reached up to stroke the man’s rough and scarred cheeks. Aye, I realized then he had the marks of many a lash upon his form. He gasped, he did, and let slip his hold on the knife at her neck.  ‘You are a loyal man to my family, and to my mother. But you will not harm me. You cannot.’ She meant it. The man seemed to quake in fear, then, and backed away from her in a burst of furious energy.

   “A’fore we could grab him, the madman fled in to the night, a strange, keening wail slowly emerging from his throat as he dashed through darkened, dirty streets, until he was found sometime later, before the pier upon which the Lady’s ship rested, where he had doused himself in lamp oil and set himself a’fire. The men, we watched and waited as he burned. He had stopped making any noise at all. It was eerie, a man dying silently in flame like that. Afterwards, I had the men dump the body. But no one about cared. A nearby old woman, a Hoagarit seer, came out and blessed the body. She said he was ‘Kasii’tin.’ I asked her what that meant. She said, ‘He was touched by the witch’s sight.’ His soul would never rest, she said. I believed her.”

   Since that night, when they set out on this journey in service to the noble princess, Lady Arvillia Poe, Draelon had kept such knowledge carefully in mind when dealing with her. She was Kasdalani, he knew. The women of the Poe family ruled that southern kingdom, and all were said to be necromancers and witches. No men of that distant land ever gained the power of sorcery, and indeed it was said that if a male child showed evidence of magical talent at birth, they were slain on the spot. Such was the way of the southern lands.

   Draelon’s musings were brought back to the present when he observed the thin, distant line of men on horses. A handful of figures seemed to break off from the trail, gathering at a high ridge. “They see us,” he mused.

   Lady Poe nodded. “The game is on.” He noticed that no vapor of chilled breath emerged from her mouth when she spoke. “My brother will now know that I have found him.”

   Her brother, Draelon mused. Ah, yes, it makes much sense now.

   “We had best push hard, then. We want to get to them before they reach the mountains.” If they made it to the mountains, along the Maegar border, then it would be difficult to find them in that rocky maze. Draelon hadn’t fought in this region for more than decade. He didn’t relish a repeat of the old Border Wars, when the Hoagarit warlord Sennegit decided to raid the northlands of Maegar and Syrgia beyond. The warlord still lived, last Draelon had heard, and he was most likely still holed up in those mountains, with thoughts of revenge no doubt in mind. Draelon would rather not have to face old foes as well as new.

   Poe nodded. “He is afraid of me, very afraid. He will push his men hard. If we can time this right, he will tire them out, wear down their faith in him. Then perhaps we can take advantage of that.”

   Draelon nodded. Call the woman a witch, a necromancer, a cruel mistress. She knew tactics. He liked that. It was a good trait to have.

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