Continuing the Tale...
“Osamande, are you so sure it is not one of your own?” The man named Eldenar squinted in to the distance, but his vision was not good enough to see the distant cluster of figures on the far horizon. Eldenar, wrapped in white linens and a thick rabbit-hide coat, was one of a handful of foreign men among a large contingent of native mercenaries, men he had hired with the aid of Osamande to carry him northward to the great mountains. He looked for one particular peak, upon the Mount of the White Wyrm. Osamande alone among the guides of Khulinon claimed knowledge of that dreaded peak.
Osamande snorted as he squinted in to the distance. “They wear armor of plate metal, and ride their horses like foreigners.” Osamande was a swarthy, dark-skinned Hoagarit with a thick, braided beard and long, snarled mane, coarse like the horse he rode. Laden in padded armor lined with thick curbolli plates, a wicked tulwar belted to his waist and a long recurve bow across his back, Osamande was as typical a horse warrior of the Hoagarit as could be found. “They are definitely foreign,” he said again. “And a woman rides among them. I can tell. She carries herself at the front of their procession. No Hoagarit man would ride beside his woman, let alone follow her. The women ride in the rear.”
Eldenar, who was awed at the eagle-like sight of his guide, nodded. “You are a good guide, Osamande. What should we do? It is most likely one of my sisters. I can only pray it is not Arvillia. She is a vengeful one. We should make all due haste.”
Osamande nodded. “We should take to the low river-beds. We should stay low on the horizon. Let us not wear our mounts out, lest they take us when we are tired and worn. If your sister is a witch, as you say, then that would be bad.” He spat a thick, gooey chunk of tobacco upon the tundra. As he scooped more from a pouch, he offered some to Eldenar, who shook his head in disgust.
“Then lead the way. I pay you well for this service. I expect to arrive safely at the Mountain.” Eldenar turned away from his guide, then, and returned to the procession of warriors. He sought out the small cluster of his own, men from the south who, like himself, sought refuge in the distant north from the matriarchs of their dreaded southern kingdom. He called back to Osamande then: “My sister is ferocious and her witchery is frightening. You do not want to meet her.” He did not wait for Osamande’s reaction.
Back amongst his own, Eldenar reigned in to their midst and spoke quickly, in his native tongue. “The guide says they are foreigners, and a women rides at their fore. It’s her, I know it is. We have doom at hand.” The other men reacted with a mixture of fear and anger.
One older man, with a bald pate but the lengthy, graying, braided beard of a philosopher spoke up. “We are many miles ahead of them, and we have native guides and mercenaries, who know the land well. It will be close, but I would not count this fight lost, yet, m’lord. We can yet lose them in this forsaken land and make the Mountain, I am sure of it. The spirits are on our side.”
Eldenar looked scornfully at his mentor, the elder Quitarnus. “I doubt your wisdom here, my friend, but I suppose all we can do is push on. Mayhap we should offer some sacrifice up to the spirits of this land. The Hoagarit seem to have a strong faith in the demiurges of their land. It couldn’t hurt.”
Quitarnus nodded. “You would do well to cull all the favor you can. But remember, she is far from her home, far from the seat of her family’s power. She has hired foreigners to serve her. They can’t be as familiar as the native guides we have. We have an edge, I assure you. And if we get to the Mountain first, then all the power of her lineage can’t possibly save her from what we will come to possess. Keep hope!” He pumped his arm in a gesture of strength.
Eldenar and the other men seemed somewhat heartened at Quitarnus’s speech. It had long been his job as mentor and teacher to Eldenar to raise spirits when needed. Few remembered that the elderly scholar had once, long ago, been a general in the Kasdalani army. His time as a fighter was long past, but here and now, he felt young, once again, in a way he had not felt for decades.
“We will survive,” he finished. “We will find the Mountain and we will steal its power. And then the Royal daughters and the Dark Queen herself will fear you, m’lord. It will be so. It must be so!” Around him, the men cheered, a sharp cry of victory for the homeland.
And so they rode on, following their Hoagarit guides in to the deep, frozen riverbeds of the endless tundra.
To Be Continued...?