Author Topic: Vagabond  (Read 7255 times)

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Offline NicTei

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Vagabond
« on: March 22, 2015, 10:29:57 PM »
Something I've been working on for a little while now.  I'll come back and write up a blurb later.  Maybe.

Updates every Friday!



Table of Contents
Chapter One - Click Here! (Or, y'know, scroll down)
Chapter Two - Click Here!
Chapter Three - Click Here!
Chapter Four - Click Here!
Chapter Five - Click Here!
Chapter Six - Click Here!
Chapter Seven - Click Here!
Chapter Eight - Coming Soon!
Chapter Nine - Coming Soon!
Chapter Ten - Coming Soon!
Chapter Eleven - Coming Soon!
Chapter Twelve - In Progress!
« Last Edit: July 26, 2015, 08:35:58 AM by NicTei »
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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline NicTei

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Chapter One
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2015, 10:31:49 PM »
   The downpour was torrential, but Marius barely felt a thing.  As he slogged through the river of mud that had in drier times been a road, he kept his eyes fixed on a pair of lights in the distance.  He had been down this road once or twice, just often enough to know that the lights were lanterns on either side of the wooden gate leading into a small settlement.  He had never understood exactly why such a small town needed a wall around it, but there it was.  With luck—and probably a little coin—the night watchman would let him into the village so he could find a warm bed for the night.  His coin purse was a little light on his belt already, but he was confident he could find something with what little he had.

    More problematic was what was strapped to his waist:  it was an old blade, the edge dulled by age and notched by use, but he knew that it was still deadly enough.  Out on the road it was more an asset than a liability, but carrying a weapon in town drew the kind of attention he could not afford.  At the moment it was hidden beneath his cloak, but one strong gust or wrong step would bare it for all to see.  Even if his luck held, he would have to remove his cloak indoors; he had been walking in the rain for the better part of the day, and he was soaked to the core.  No respectable innkeeper would want him dripping all over the floor, not with all the mud he would already be tracking in from the road.

   Reaching the lanterns, he pounded on the thick wooden door and waited.  When no one answered for several minutes, he took a step back and cast a look up at the wooden wall before him.  He might be able to scale the barrier, but he would be made as an outsider immediately, and he had precious little time to waste locked up in a dank little cell in the village jail—or worse, exposed to the elements in the stocks in the village square.  Thankfully, he was spared the effort of climbing over when the door opened warily.  A man in a dark cloak and hood stuck his head out, one hand gripping the shaft of a halberd and the other holding up a lantern so that he could see.

   “You got business in town, then?” he asked; he sounded as thin and ragged as he looked.  He punctuated his question by spitting on the ground, as though it was still too dry for his liking.

   “Just looking for a bed, maybe a warm meal,” Marius answered.

   “Not s’posed to let anyone in after dark,” the watchman replied tersely.  “All sorts of unsavory folk out there.”

   Wordlessly, Marius pulled his coin purse off his belt and withdrew two large silver coins, offering them towards the watchman.  They were accepted with a yellow-toothed grin, and he was waved through with an exaggerated bow and flourish.  On the other side of the wall, he found more of the same:  mud and rain.  The simple wooden houses provided some shelter from the downpour, but he found little comfort in that thought, soaked as thoroughly as he was.  Raising his head slightly to get a better view of the buildings around him from underneath his hood, he finally spotted a sign jutting out from above one of the doors.  He could see firelight flickering through the windows so he quickened his pace, eager to be out of the rain.

   The lettering on the sign simply read ‘Burke’s’, but he could tell as he stepped inside that it was a former home that had been transformed into a rudimentary inn.  Through a doorway to his right he could see that several shoddy beds had been set up in two neat rows; only three beds were able to fit on either side of the room, which was large enough that Marius guessed it had once been the main sitting gathering room of the house.  As he peered through the doorway, he heard footsteps on the floorboards behind him.  Instinct moved him to place his hand on the pommel of his sword but he fought the urge, not wanting to give the presence of the blade away so readily.  Instead he turned, finding himself staring straight at the broad chest of a mountain of a man.  Burke, presumably.

   “Good evenin’!”  His voice was higher and clearer than Marius would have expected for someone his size.  Even so, he found himself more than a little intimidated by the man, even though he was grinning from ear to ear.  “Name’s Burke!  Will you be wantin’ a bed for th’ night, or just some grub?”

   “Both would be nice,” Marius replied.

   Burke nodded and motioned towards the door he had come through.  Marius followed, realizing as he took a deep breath that he could smell food cooking in the next room; something spiced if his nose served him right, though he would be the first to admit that his senses were increasingly prone to failing him as of late.  For once, however, they had done him proud; as he stepped into the other room—which appeared to be the kitchen—Burke was ladling stew into a bowl, shoving it across the table to where Marius assumed he was meant to sit.

   As he began to sat, Burke clucked his tongue disapprovingly.  “If it’s all th’ same t’ you, I’d ask that you take th’ cloak off.  I like seein’ my guest’s faces, and th’ water’ll warp the chair.”

   Marius thought for a moment.  “Is there anywhere I can put it?”  If at all possible, he wanted to avoid showing the innkeeper that he was carrying a sword.

   To his relief, Burke nodded.  “You can put it on whatever bed you’ll be sleepin’ on tonight.  You’re th’ only guest for th’ night, so pick whichever bed you like.”

   Thanking the innkeeper, Marius returned to the room with all the beds and chose the one closest to the door.  Carefully, he loosened his sword belt and removed it with his cloak, laying them both at the foot of the bed.  He briefly considered putting them on the floor instead, in order to avoid wetting the sheets, but decided in the end that he would rather have a clean cloak than dry covers during the night.  Even damp sheets would be more comfortable than sleeping out in the rain.

   Now uncloaked and disarmed, he rejoined Burke at the table.  They ate in silence.  The stew was hot, but bland—an oddity, considering how strong the smell of spices was in the kitchenette.  Perhaps his nose had been wrong after all, or maybe he smelled a previous meal.  Whatever the case, he was too hungry to worry about the taste; he finished two full bowls and would have requested a third if there were more in the pot.  There was only enough left for one more serving, however, and the table etiquette he had been raised with forbade him from eating more than his host.  Burke, seeming not to notice his guest’s hunger, slowly finished his first helping and filled his bowl with what remained in the pot.

   When he had finally finished, he pushed himself back in his chair and belched contentedly.  “Th’ mark of a good meal,” he sighed.  He cast a glance at Marius.  “So, if you don’t mind me askin’, what’s a fella like you doin’ carryin’ around a sword?”

   Marius froze.  “I’m sorry?”

   Burke’s laugh was loud and hearty.  “I’m sorry too, lad!  I could see how hard you were workin’ at hidin’ your blade, but it’s in my nature t’ notice that sort of thing.”  He straightened in his seat.  “I spent a good long while with the Black Iron Company, an’ a mercenary who can’t tell when someone’s hidin’ a weapon doesn’t last long at all.”

   Marius relaxed, but only slightly.  “I used to have a friend in the Company.  Ever serve with a man named Alder?”

   Burke scratched his beard as he pondered the question.  At length he shook his head.  “Can’t say I did, tho’ I’d be th’ first t’ admit my memory ain’t what it used t’ be.  Could be your friend was in a different division, too.  Don’t s’pose you’d know who he served under?”

   Marius shook his head.  “I’m afraid not.  He mostly talked about his enemies, not his comrades.  We had a falling out some time ago, so I wouldn’t likely remember anyways.”  They were both quiet for a moment.  “Actually,” he ventured, “that’s the reason I’m travelling this way.  I’ve got a message for him from another old friend of ours, but none of the Black Iron Company’s liaisons I’ve met with so far know where I could find him.  The next liaison is in Taernsby, but I was hoping to avoid the city if possible.”

   “Best to go now, before th’ pilgrimages start and th’ only people you run into are zealots,” Burke remarked.  “Th’ last thing we need is more people runnin’ around screamin’ Scriptures at th’ skies.  Tho’, if I have t’ be honest, I don’t mind th’ extra coin; this season comes ‘round, they start showin’ up in droves lookin’ for a place to stay th’ night.  Finally realized I could charge ‘em for spendin’ th’ night, and after th’ wife died I had all sorts o’ extra space for more beds, so I had a sign made and turned th’ place into what you see now.  Most pilgrims like t’ avoid th’ main roads—too crowded, y’know—so I get a fair amount comin’ through here.”

   “Sounds rather lucrative,” Marius replied.

   Burke shrugged.  “Keeps me livin’ comfortable, that’s for sure.”  He stood slowly, gathering the bowls.  “But, I’ll be turnin’ in for th’ night.  If you need anythin’, holler; I’m a pretty light sleeper.  Another habit from th’ old life, o’ course.”

   Marius rose to his feet as well, bidding his host a goodnight and returning to the bed he had placed his personal effects on.  Kicking his boots off, he eased himself down onto the mattress, not bothering to pull back the sheets.  His legs were sore from spending the day walking, a workout he was unaccustomed to.  He was sure that the coming day would be just as trying, if not worse; Taernsby was still a good distance away from the backwater little town he was in now, which meant more walking.

   Worse, Burke had reminded him that it was the time of year when the faithful flocked to the main temple in Grandgate to pay their respects to some fallen prophet; religion was a subject that had always eluded him, so what went on in the temples was beyond his ken.  When he was younger he might have been able to name a few of the gods and goddesses, but he had long since replaced those memories with more important knowledge.  Perhaps as a result, the yearly pilgrimages seemed to annoy him more than others.  Unfortunately, if he wanted to find Alder he needed to go to Taernsby, zealots be damned.

   With a sigh, he closed his eyes.  The mattress was lumpy and the pillow beneath his head felt as though it had been stuffed with straw and rocks, but at least it was dry.  Listening to the rain’s relentless assault on the roof over his head, he drifted off to sleep with little difficulty, hoping against reason that his journey on the morrow would be a much drier affair.



   Marius awoke from a dream of an endless, wet road to the sound of rain softly pattering on the roof.  He had been hoping for a completely rain-free trek, but he would take what he could get.  Slowly sitting up, he ran a hand over the cloak at the foot of the bed; it was still a touch damp, but considering he would be out walking in the rain for the rest of the day, he decided he could live with it.  Pausing and listening to the rain for a moment, he finally pushed himself to his feet, a groan escaping his lips as every muscle in his body screamed in protest.  He might have had worse sleeping arrangements in the past, but it was hard to maintain objectivity when every fiber of his being was cursing his name.

   “Ah, you’re up, then.  I was just comin’ in t’ wake you.”  Burke had entered the room without his noticing, and was now motioning towards the kitchen.  “If you’d like some breakfast, I have some stew left over?”

   Marius shook his head.  “Thank you for the offer, but I really need to get going.  I want to deliver this message as soon as possible.”  Taking the coin purse off of his belt, he tossed it to Burke; the large man caught it easily, but kept his eyes on Marius.  “That should cover the bed and the meal, if not a little extra for your kindness.”

   Burke nodded.  “Thank you, lad.  Seein’ as how you’re bein’ so generous, I feel like I should return th’ favor.”  He produced a piece of paper, folded and sealed with wax, and offered it to Marius.  “When you get t’ Taernsby, find a guardsman named Branton—he’s as big as I am, and he has a habit o’ leavin’ his helmet at home.  Give this t’ him, and he’ll let you through th’ gates, no questions asked; he’s a friend o’ mine from my time in th’ Company.”

   Marius stared at the letter.  “Why would anyone else ask questions?”

   Burke put a hand on his shoulder; the gesture was almost fatherly, but Marius found it far from comforting.  “Th’ cloak is a good touch, lad, and I applaud th’ effort, but you’re walking into a city that’s preparin’ for a stream o’ pilgrims from all over th’ land.  Taernsby’ll be crawlin’ with Knight-Priests t’ protect them all, and don’t think they’ll be fooled by a bit o’ cloth.  You’ll be taken th’ minute they lay eyes on you.”

   Marius cast a wary glance at the large man.  “Anyone else would have me restrained, with a Knight-Priest or seven on the way, but you’re actively helping me avoid them.  Why?”

   Burke shrugged.  “Could be I don’t want any more o’ those zealots hangin’ around my town.  Could be I think your message is more important than th’ law.  Could be I’m too damned lazy t’ go t’ all that trouble.  Hard t’ say, really.  I did what I did for whatever reason, and that’s th’ end o’ that.  Some questions just don’t need answerin’.”

   Marius nodded slowly.  Generosity such as what Burke was showing him was rare, and answering it with suspicion like he had was terribly rude and made him seem ungrateful.  After thanking the innkeeper one last time he tucked the letter into his cloak, pulled up his hood, and stepped back out into the rain.  The sky was a much lighter shade of grey than it had been yesterday and the rainfall was much lighter, but if the streets in town were any indication, the walk today would be no less muddy than the previous day’s; he began to think it might even be worse.  He simply hoped that the rain would stop before he had to make camp for the night; from where he stood, Taernsby was nearly a four-day walk.

   Unfortunately, luck had not been on his side recently—Burke’s generosity notwithstanding.  All he could do was hope for the best while planning for the worst.  Although, if sleeping in the rain was the worst this journey had in store for him, he would be a happy man.  Knight-Priests were not known for their lenience, especially where fugitives were involved.


« Last Edit: April 02, 2015, 09:18:44 PM by NicTei »
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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline HelenNightengale

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2015, 01:20:09 AM »
Another good 'un.
I love how there is still the option for an MSN address...

Offline Angel

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2015, 08:54:44 AM »
Gosh darn I've missed reading your work Nic. This sounds right up mu street and you've got me eagerly anticipating the next chapter.  :read:

Enter Helena's world of light.
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Offline Araell

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2015, 11:50:28 AM »
Sounding really good Nic, I will stick with this one and to quote Angel "It sounds right up my street" too  ::)

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"The war has begun! The line between Light and Dark is beginning to blur and only time will tell which will overpower the other." Keeper Prophecy (Destiny)

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Offline Rabbit

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2015, 12:35:30 PM »
Intrigued by the world you've touched on so far. Knight-priests and pilgrimages. My only criticism is to maybe tone down Burke's dialogue a little - all the 'th's' and so forth make it a bit stodgy to read through.

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Offline NicTei

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2015, 06:46:04 PM »
Glad to hear you're liking it so far. ;D  As for Burke's speech, I can never tell how much is too much when it comes to trying to get an accent or dialect across, but that doesn't stop me from giving it a go every once in a while. >.>

Anyways, after some deliberation, I've decided on a rough posting schedule for my three currently active threads:  The Old Gods will update every Monday, Night Terrors every Wednesday, and Vagabond every Friday.  Because of how little of Vagabond and The Old Gods I have to post, I'll probably be filling in with an interactive or a few other things I've been working on as needed.

As always, thanks for reading! :)

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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline HelenNightengale

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2015, 01:44:21 AM »
I think it gives Burke character. I think it'd be strange to write properly sporadically too. :P
I love how there is still the option for an MSN address...

Offline NicTei

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Chapter Two
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2015, 02:01:35 AM »
   The rain did not let up until the morning after he left Burke’s makeshift in behind.  He had camped in the midst of a small cluster of trees just off the main road, using his cloak as a makeshift blanket and laying his head on his arm.  It was a poor substitute for even Burke’s lumpy mattress and pillow, but his spirits had been lifted by the discovery of sweetling at the base of one of the trees; the leaves of the plant were thick, and secreted a sugary sap when crushed or chewed, hence its name.  Chewing on a few leaves was no proper meal, of course, but it still felt like a reward for putting up with a few days of rain.

   With a drier day ahead of him, he set off in high spirits, noting that the clouds were beginning to clear up over the horizon; he might see some sunshine before reaching Taernsby.  While he would be glad to have a dry cloak, there would also be very little need to keep his hood up.  In clear weather that would only draw more attention to the fact that he had something to hide.  He would much rather enter the city anonymously, without drawing the eyes of the Knight-Priests—or anyone other than Branton, for that matter, and the guardsman was only an exception because he would provide safe passage through the gates.  If he felt he had any chance at all at getting in without any help, he would have declined Burke’s assistance, but with the pilgrimages starting he knew that the walls would be crawling with city guardsmen and Knight-Priests alike.  Even if he could scale the stone walls, he would likely find himself at the point of a spear or sword.  If he was incredibly lucky, it would only be the one.

   To his delight, he had the road completely to himself for the better part of the day.  So often when he had company, he felt compelled to find some common ground for conversation—not for his own sake, but for the sake of his companions.  He welcomed silence, but felt that he was being rude if he did not acknowledge someone who was traveling with him.  Alone, however, he could listen to the birds chirping in the trees either side of the road, or the wind rustling through the leaves, all without having to waste his breath engaging in mindless babble.  The downside was that he seemed to be talking to himself more often, a sure sign that he would benefit from living, breathing company for a change.

   With the setting of the sun, however, his luck finally ran out.  Three people were waiting at a crossroads as he approached, stepping into pace beside him after greeting him cheerily.  All three were wearing brown pilgrim’s rags, and two of them—a man and a woman—looked to be related.  The third was likely the woman’s husband; he was at least a head taller, with a more muscular build, and was unabashedly carrying a spear as a walking stick.  Though he gave Marius a curious look as he approached, he seemed every bit as amiable as his companions.  Even so, Marius remained cautious; Burke may have been kind to him, but he would be surprised if his luck in that regard held out much longer.

   The woman was the first to call out to him.  “Good evening, brother!  Are you on your way to visit the shrine in Taernsby?”

   Marius waited until he had reached the trio before answering, not only to avoid giving his position away in case this was a set-up, but also so he could come up with his answer.  There would be nothing wrong with telling them he was going to Taernsby for personal business, not a pilgrimage, but considering that the woman had addressed him as ‘brother’, she at least was likely the kind of zealot to start lecturing the minute she began to suspect someone was behind on their scripture lessons.  That she was so carefree about calling out to someone she did not know also spoke volumes; either she was incredibly naïve, or she trusted that her spear-wielding companion would be able to handle anyone that posed a serious threat to her.  In the time it took him to draw his sword the spear would be at his throat—possibly through it—so he was unwilling to seem threatening.

   “As a matter of fact, I am,” he answered when he had finally caught up with the three.  He made a show of looking back in the direction they had come from.  “Coming from the shrine in Eastgrove, are you?”

   The woman nodded enthusiastically.  “We spent the morning listening to a wonderful reading of the scripture by a quiet little lake!”  She continued to paint a verbal picture of the setting, and Marius smiled when her two companions rolled their eyes.  His earlier estimation of her zealotry seemed to be spot-on, but thankfully she seemed to be traveling with more laidback company.  When she paused to take a breath, the man with the spear cut in, extending his hand towards Marius.

   “I’m Samuel, and this is my wife, Meredith.”  He jerked his thumb towards the other man.  “That sorry sod is her brother, Edgar.”

   Marius shook his hand.  “Marius.”  He looked the three of them over again and noticed that only Meredith was carrying any sort of supply bag.  “You three are rather lightly supplied for being on a pilgrimage.”

   Samuel raised an eyebrow.  “That’s a fine observation coming from a man with nothing but the clothes on his back.”  His grip on his spear tightened noticeably.  “There aren’t any wayshrines down the road you were coming from.”

   Marius raised his hands in surrender.  “I simply took a detour to visit a friend.”  He produced Burke’s letter from under his cloak, praying none of them would think to read it.  “Look, he gave me a message for his brother in Taernsby, since he knew I’d be going there next for my pilgrimage.”

   Edgar looked unimpressed, stepping between Marius and his sister.  “And your friend didn’t see fit to give you any food for your journey?”

   “He did, but not enough—it was all gone by this morning.”  Marius was impressed by how easily the lies were coming to him; he had never been one for spinning stories.  He wondered briefly if that was something that should worry him, but quickly decided that a pleasant, peaceful journey to Taernsby would be worth a few lies.

   Eventually, Samuel seemed to relax.  “I’m sorry, Marius, but you can never be too careful.  Some of our own friends were attacked during their pilgrimage last year and had what little they brought with them stolen.  I don’t want that to happen to us.”

   “Why not travel in a larger group, then?” Marius inquired.  It was a valid question; most pilgrims traveled in groups of a dozen or more for reasons of safety and spirituality.  They made the roads a real bother for anyone who wanted a peaceful journey to any city that happened to have a wayshrine, filling up the inns and clearing entire fields.

     Edgar merely smiled.  “Probably for the same reason you aren’t:  we like the peace and quiet of the road, and we don’t like stopping every time the old folks need to take a rest.”  He glanced at his sister.  “Though I suppose I shouldn’t speak for all of us:  Meredith here would much rather travel with a large group; it gives her a bigger audience.”

     Meredith gave him a disapproving glare, but Samuel broke in before the two could begin arguing.  “You’re welcome to travel with us, Marius, though I should warn you that we won’t be able to spare much food for you.  As you say, we’re very lightly supplied.”

     Marius shook his head.  “Not to worry; we’ll be in Taernsby by tomorrow evening at the latest, and I’m no stranger to skipping meals—I have plenty of fasting under my belt.”  He paused.  “No pun intended, of course.”

     “I’m no stranger to fasting, myself!” Meredith interrupted excitedly.  “What’s the longest you’ve gone without a meal?  Just last year I went a whole eight days, and the year before I managed twelve!”  Her two companions sighed, but she ignored them.  “I swear I had a divine vision on the eleventh day, too!”

     Edgar snorted.  “Yes, we’ve heard all about your ‘vision’.  Honestly, sister, it isn’t that hard to believe that you saw a ‘beautiful feast, set aside for all the faithful at the end of time’ after going without food for more than a week.”  Catching her glare, he raised his hands defensively.  “Not that I mean to imply that you weren’t really blessed with a vision, of course.”

     Though he would be lying if he said he did not enjoy the friendly bickering between the trio, Marius would have preferred that they did so more quietly.  For all the care Samuel had supposedly been taking to avoid bandits and others who would do them ill, he was certainly going about it strangely.  His spear might aid him against a single highwayman armed with a sword, but more than one opponent would be a challenge, and Marius would be very little help; he knew how to use a sword, but had not actually done so for several years.  Common bandits were not renowned for their combat training, of course, but that mattered little when there were four or five of them all swinging their swords at the same target.

     Thankfully, they soon quieted down as they began to make camp for the evening, making a small fire just off the road.  True to their word, the trio shared a small portion of what they had with Marius, pushing a few strips of dried, salted meat into his hands despite his protests.  In return, he felt it was only fair to share the few sweetling leaves he had saved from the previous evening’s campsite as a sort of dessert; it was poor repayment, but it was all he had.  As they ate, they continued conversing, though to Marius’s relief, they kept their voices down.

    Eventually, Meredith appeared to tire of the small talk and produced a bedroll from her bag.  It had been rolled to an impressively tight cylinder in order to fit with the rest of her provisions—a skill perfected during previous pilgrimages, no doubt.  Her brother and husband retrieved bedrolls of their own, unrolling them to make a ring around the fire.  As Marius began to lie down on the ground, preparing for another evening like the previous, he felt a hand on his shoulder.  It was Samuel.

     “Go ahead and use my bed.  I’ll be taking first watch, anyways.”  Marius started to shake his head, but Samuel cut off his protests.  “Don’t worry, you won’t be imposing:  I’ll be waking you up to take second watch a little later on.  You’ll just be warming it up for me, really.”

     Marius saw that there would be no arguing and simply nodded.  It was a good plan; he wanted to feel like he was pulling his own weight if he was going to be eating their food, and assisting with the watch was as good a way as any to do that, especially if he was getting a bed out of the deal.  Casting a careful glance at his three companions, he settled onto Samuel’s bedroll, taking great care not to expose the sword at his waist.  He doubted they would be as kind if they discovered he had been lying to them.



   Though he had no recollection of falling asleep, Marius was suddenly awakened by a gentle prodding.  He opened his eyes, but could see very little; the sun had not yet risen, and judging by the dim red glow in the ashes of the fire pit, he had only been a sleep for a few hours at most.  Remembering that he was supposed to take the next watch, he opened his mouth to assure Samuel that he was awake and ready, but the other man shook his head, pressing a finger to his lips.  There was a worried look in his eye, and he had both hands on the haft of his spear.  He was ready for a fight.

   “Three men, just to the north.”  Samuel’s breath was barely above a whisper.  “Two have axes, one has a sword.  I tried to cover the fire, but they must have seen us camping earlier and decided to wait until we were asleep.”  He cast a glance down at Marius.  “Figured you and your sword would even the odds out a little when they made their move.”

   Marius sighed.  “I shouldn’t bother trying to hide it, should I?”  When there was no response, he followed Samuel’s gaze.  There were few clouds overhead, but the sliver of a moon in the sky gave precious little light. “Your eyes are far better than mine; I don’t see anything.”

   “Plenty of practice keeping wolves away from my sheep,” Samuel responded quietly.  He was quiet for a moment.  “They’re coming closer.  Get ready to draw your sword; they know by know that I’ve seen them, but they won’t be expecting you to have a weapon.”

   Marius felt a pit forming in his stomach.  Mixing with the crickets and the breeze shifting the grass, he could hear something larger rustling in the underbrush off in the direction Samuel was looking.  There was also an outcrop of trees a little further to the north; a prime camping spot for those who wanted to observe without being seen.  Gradually, three dark shapes became clearer in the knee-high grass, the metal of their weapons reflecting the dim starlight.  Every muscle in his body tensed as they inched closer and closer.  Samuel murmured something to him, but it was drowned out by a bloodcurdling wail as the first man exploded out of the knee-high grass, his axe arcing straight toward Samuel’s head.


« Last Edit: April 11, 2015, 05:39:12 AM by NicTei »
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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline Rabbit

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2015, 02:13:52 AM »
Ha! I was snooping on 'Who's Online' and saw you were posting here and I was thinking "He'd better be posting a new chapter!"

Coming along nicely, Nic. Who are these ruffians sneaking up on our hero in the dead of night, I wonder?
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Offline Angel

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2015, 07:51:38 AM »
Ruffians indeed! Nice cliffhanger there Nic. I hope Marius &co can come out somewhat unscathed although i have a feeling one of their number may not make it.
There was a wee typo in the first line, you said in instead of inn.
Great chapter Nic. Look forward to more.  :headphones:

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Offline Araell

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2015, 07:49:59 PM »
Finally got around to catching up on this one and with that cliffhanger it was worth the wait. Keep it comin'

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"The war has begun! The line between Light and Dark is beginning to blur and only time will tell which will overpower the other." Keeper Prophecy (Destiny)

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Offline NicTei

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Chapter Three
« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2015, 05:38:47 AM »
   A loud crack seemed to echo across the plain as Samuel blocked the axe with the haft of his spear.  The wood held up to the impact well, and wielder of the axe was knocked off of his feet by a strong kick to the chest as the other two men leaped into the fray.  Samuel took a step back to avoid a second axe blade, steadying himself to thrust his spear at the third man.  It was knocked away by a sword, but as the swordsman lunged for what would have been a fatal counter, Marius erupted from the bedroll, stepping in front of Samuel and parrying the strike with some effort.

   Taken by surprise, the swordsman stumbled backwards, expecting a riposte, but Marius merely watched him; his blade was single-edged, with a curve that made it a poor thrusting weapon.  As he and his opponent stared each other down, he could hear Samuel move on behind him, pressing his attack against the other two men.  The first assailant was still on the ground, the kick to his chest having knocked the wind out of him, but Marius did not doubt for a moment that he would recover and be back on his feet in short order.  Reasoning that it would be best to end the skirmish quickly, he struck quickly at the swordsman.

   Their blades rang out as the bandit parried his blow, and it was Marius’s turn to step back, the tip of his opponent’s sword catching slightly on his shirt, but otherwise causing no damage.  They started circling again, though Marius was unsure if they were sizing each other up or trying to convince themselves to attack again; he had the distinct impression that neither of them was very confident in their abilities, and they were equally reluctant to be struck by their opponent’s blade.  Curious, he faked a lunge, and the other man stepped back, swinging his blade in anticipation of a strike that never came.

   With a grim sense of satisfaction growing in his gut, Marius lunged for real, emboldened by his opponent’s fear.  Perhaps irritated by his own gullibility, his opponent struck back fiercely; the impact of their blades resonated deep in Marius’s chest, and his sword was nearly torn from his hands.  He had no time to worry about his grip, as the attack kept coming.  Somewhere behind him, he heard Meredith shriek as something heavy hit the ground hard.  Gritting his teeth, he pushed back against the swordsman, all too aware of the smell of blood.

   They continued to trade blows, his opponent growing more confident as each exchange showed him that they were more or less evenly-matched.  Marius suddenly found himself losing ground as his opponent swung faster and faster, his own strikes and parries losing speed as his stamina began to fade.  He was pushed further and further back, until he stumbled over the remains of the campfire; he went down, the swordsman’s blade narrowly missing him as he fell.  Rolling back to his feet, he grabbed a handful of ash and flung it forward.

   His opponent cursed as the ash got in his eyes, and Marius took the opening.  Striking out as he rose to his feet, he caught the man in the shin, bringing him to his knees.  Giving him no chance to retaliate, he brought his sword down.  The edge was dull, but the blade still cut deep, biting into the soft flesh between the neck and the shoulder until it was stopped by bone.  He was suddenly aware of a curious void of sound as he locked eyes with his opponent.  They were clouded by pain and fear; he knew he was going to die.  Marius merely sighed and, placing his foot on the man’s chest, unceremoniously tugged his blade out.  The wound began to bleed more freely, and the swordsman sank slowly to the ground, choking on his own blood.

   Though he was prepared to keep fighting, he found there was no need; one of the two remaining bandits was dead, his neck bent at a weird angle, and the other was on the ground beside him, gasping for breath.  Blood was pouring from a puncture wound in his chest, and Marius was sure he would not last long, either.  A short distance away, Meredith was easing Samuel to the ground to start binding a wound on his leg.  Though it was deep, it was also non-fatal.  The worst that would come of it would be a limp, perhaps even a scar.  Samuel was apparently more concerned about his brother-in-law, who was seated beside him, staring at his own hands.  Marius could not hear what was being said, but he could recognize the reassuring tone Samuel was using.

   Marius cleared his throat as he approached them.  “Is everyone alright?”

   Samuel grunted and gestured towards the assailants.  “Everyone but them.”  After a moment, he looked up at Marius.  “I’m not happy you hid that sword from us, but I suppose it doesn’t matter in the end.  I wouldn’t have been able to handle them all on my own.”

   Marius shrugged.  “You handled two of them well enough.”

   Samuel shot a glance at Edgar.  “Yes, I suppose I did.”  He took a sharp breath as Meredith tied a bandage around his leg.  When she had finished, he slowly stood and tested the leg.  Wincing, he leaned heavily on his spear.  “It looks like we’ll be traveling a little slower tomorrow, but we should still reach Taernsby before nightfall.”  He looked at each of the bodies in turn.  “We’ll check them over in the morning and burn any that have the markings.”

   Edgar seemed to come out of the trance he had been in, shakily pointing to the bandit with the broken neck.  “We should burn him tonight.  They won’t be as easy to see on him.”

   Samuel shook his head.  “I don’t want to risk attracting any more attention with the pyre.  We barely scraped through this encounter.  We’ll be fine until morning, I promise you that.”

   Edgar looked as though he wanted to protest, but said nothing.  Instead, he collapsed back onto his bedroll and, incredibly, was snoring in minutes.  Meredith followed suit after making sure her husband was alright.  Samuel remained by her side until she was asleep, then lifted himself to his feet with his spear.  Taking a few steps away from his wife and brother-in-law, he caught Marius’s eye and pointed to the swordsman’s body.  Getting the message, Marius dragged it over by the other two.

    “Would you mind taking the rest of the evening’s watch?” Samuel asked when he was done.  “I’m dead tired, and as fond of Edgar as I am, he’s too shaken to trust with our lives tonight.”

   Marius nodded.  “I doubt I would sleep well, anyways.”  Looking at the three bodies at his feet, his eyes rested on the corpse with the broken neck.  “Edgar had a point, though.  Even in the morning light, that one will be hard to check thoroughly.”

   Samuel shrugged.  “What does that have to do with how soon we burn him?  We’ll be in trouble if any of them have the markings, regardless of how easy they are to see.”  He yawned, giving Marius an indication of just how concerned he really was.  “Look, there is very little chance any of them are cursed, but if you’re that concerned about this one, cut his head off.  Just don’t let Meredith see it; she has a weak stomach.”  Another yawn escaped him.  “It’s up to you.  I need to rest up for tomorrow, though.  Tomorrow’s walk will be harder for me than for the rest of you.”

   Without another word, Samuel limped back to his bedroll and eased himself to the ground.  In moments, he was snoring louder than Edgar.  Marius shook his head in amazement; even asleep, these three were never quiet for very long.  Drawing his sword, he ran his hand down the length of the blade, pausing when he felt an area still wet with blood and using his cloak to wipe it as dry as he could.  It was far from adequate sword care, he knew, but he had not been able to afford the proper oil—or even a whetstone—for a long while, and he doubted that would change any time soon; whatever money he gained in the foreseeable future would go to keeping himself fed and sheltered while he tracked down Alder.

   Stepping back over to the bodies, he examined them as closely as he could in the darkness.  They were all wearing simple clothes, with various mismatched bits of leather padding on their arms and chests.  He had seen many like them, scavengers that took whatever protective gear was still in good condition off of the dead after a battle.  Similarly, the two axes were wildly different; one was simple in design, a common woodcutter’s tool, but the other had clearly been forged for battle, with a better-quality metal and a bearded shape that would be more beneficial in combat.  The sword his own opponent had been using was nothing special, though it was in better condition than his own.

   After taking a moment to close their eyes, he started searching them for valuables.  Being the righteous types that they were, he doubted his companions would approve, which was why he waited until he was certain they were sound asleep.  To his delight, he found that two of the men had indeed been carrying small coin purses on their belts—no doubt the spoils of more successful ambushes.  Careful not to shake the coins too much, he transferred the two small bags to his own belt before finishing his search.  He found nothing else of value, deducing that the men likely had somewhere nearby where they stashed their more valuable ‘earnings’.

     Had he more time, he would search the thicket he suspected they had been hiding in earlier, but that was out of the question.  He had somehow managed to retain Samuel’s trust despite his lies, and he was reluctant to jeopardize that by leaving camp to search of a bandit’s cache that might not even exist.  More importantly, the thicket was substantial distance away, and he had found his body growing increasingly sore as the rush of battle wore off.  Instead, he sat down on the northern edge of the camp, facing the copse with his back to his companions.  He also drew his sword and laid it across his lap, wanting it ready in the unlikely event of another attack.

     When it rose some time later, the sun found him still awake and in the same position.  As his right side began to warm up, he rose and stretched his sore limbs.  Instead of waking Samuel and his family, he moved back over to the bodies.  In the light of the morning, he was able to inspect the fatal wound on the swordsman more thoroughly, then moved on to the man Samuel had run through with his spear, peeling the shirt away from the wound and looking it over carefully.  His heart leapt to his throat when he saw the markings Edgar and Samuel had been afraid of: blackened, bloated veins around the wound.

     Returning to the camp, he shook Samuel awake.  “One of them is marked,” he reported quietly.

     Samuel sat bolt upright.  “Wake Edgar and go gather branches and any large pieces of wood you can find from the trees over there.  I’ll stay here and keep watch.”  Struggling to his feet, he staggered over to where the bodies were and picked up the war axe, tossing the other to Marius.  “Remember, we need enough wood to build a pyre for one of them, at the very least.  You’re sure the other two showed no signs?”

     Marius looked back over his shoulder as he nudged Edgar awake.  “The one I killed is clean, but your brother was right: it’s very hard to tell with the last one.  You might want to cut his head off and burn it, just to be safe.”

     Samuel nodded quickly.  “Just hurry; we need to get this done as fast as possible.”



   A short while later, a large pyre had been built on the site of their campfire, belching thick black smoke as the bodies of the bandits burned.  Meredith had knelt down almost dangerously close to the blaze; her eyes were closed and her lips were moving, but Marius could not hear what was being said.  He assumed it was scripture, but could not understand why she would bother praying for dead thieves and murderers.  Samuel, standing beside him, seemed to read his mind.

   “The Dying Verses,” he remarked.  “It’s a very basic series of funerary scriptures.”

   Marius cleared his throat.  “Right.  I knew that.”

   Samuel did not look at him.  “I don’t know how much of what you’ve told us is the truth, Marius, but you’re no pilgrim; that much is clear to me.  Don’t insult us by continuing to lie.”

   Neither spoke for a moment.  “If it makes you feel any better, I did attend services at the temple when I was growing up,” Marius remarked.

   Samuel merely grunted, and Marius knew the conversation was over.  They waited in silence while Meredith finished praying.  When she rose, they departed, leaving the blaze behind them.  They had cleared the area around the pyre of anything that might catch fire with an errant spark, but there was nothing for miles around, anyways; even if the flames got out of control, no one would be in danger.  More importantly, they had taken enough time as it was, and there was a very real possibility they would not reach Taernsby before nightfall.  Even during pilgrimage season, the gates remained firmly closed from the moment the sun disappeared over the horizon to the moment it began its climb into the sky the next morning, so there was a very real chance they would have to camp outside the walls until sunrise, assuming they reached the city at all.

   If Marius was being honest, though, he would be glad if they had to make camp before reaching Taernsby; the longer they were in view of the walls, the more likely it was that a guardsman would stop by and check on them.  Or, even worse, a Knight-Priest would stroll into camp—jovial and friendly as they always were—to spend time with the faithful pilgrims.  Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being friendly, of course, but he had the feeling that it would not last very long in their case.

   In the end, his worries were unfounded; when the sun began to drop below the western horizon, they made camp just off the road once again.  If he strained his eyes, Marius thought he could see Taernsby as a tiny speck in the distance, though it was also a possibility that his eyes were playing tricks on him.  Whatever the case, he estimated that they would arrive at the city gates by noon the next day, and from there it would simply be a matter of finding Branton and giving him Burke’s letter.  If all went smoothly, he would be able to get through the gates, find the Black Iron Company’s Taernsby liaison, and be back on Alder’s trail by sundown.


« Last Edit: April 24, 2015, 06:32:08 AM by NicTei »
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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline Araell

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2015, 06:50:32 PM »
Wow, completely missed this one  :headbang:

*adds to bookmarked area*
 

"The war has begun! The line between Light and Dark is beginning to blur and only time will tell which will overpower the other." Keeper Prophecy (Destiny)

"I'm beginning to wonder whether this world ever had a divine being at all or if the Gods were among us this whole time!" Omar Delaney (Writing on the Wall)

Offline Araell

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2015, 02:19:00 PM »
Good read once again Nic. Especially that battle sequence. Will be interesting to see where these curses and marks end up when they are explained further.

Keep it coming!  :read:
 

"The war has begun! The line between Light and Dark is beginning to blur and only time will tell which will overpower the other." Keeper Prophecy (Destiny)

"I'm beginning to wonder whether this world ever had a divine being at all or if the Gods were among us this whole time!" Omar Delaney (Writing on the Wall)

Offline Angel

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2015, 12:42:51 PM »
I'm in full [desc=spelling?]agreeance[/desc] with araell. I'm really interested to see what going on with the curses and marks. Marius is a curious character that's for sure. I'd like to know some more about his past.

More please!

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Offline NicTei

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Chapter Four
« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2015, 06:31:22 AM »
   Marius had found himself taking the first and third watches of the night, but that had served him just fine.   Sleep had not come easily to him during Edgar’s watch, and when he had finally nodded off his slumber was disturbed by nightmares that, upon waking, were erased from his memory.  If he thought hard, he could vaguely recall writhing black veins and acrid smoke, but he had never been one to dwell on his dreams, pleasant or not.  Instead, he focused his energy on keeping watch over Samuel and his family during the final watch of the night, rousing them from their sleep as the sun began to rise.

   Back on the road, Marius was pleased to see that the spot on the horizon he had noticed the night before was in fact Taernsby; as they neared, he could begin to make out the two main watchtowers positioned over the main gates in and out of the city.  In another age it had served as the capital of a much smaller nation, but in the aftermath of the Gallian conquest it had become the seat of a minor lord.  Because the city had been taken by treachery—legend held that the ancestors of the current lord led the Gallian army in under cover of nightfall—the walls had been relatively untouched since their construction.  As a result, it was one of the most secure cities in the Gallian Empire.

   Nowhere was that more apparent than at the southern gate.  One of the two main passageways into the city, the gate was wide enough for three large carts to pass side-by-side.  Four guardsmen had been posted at the threshold, each clad in light mail and the sage green sash of office.  All four had swords at their waists, though two of them were also bearing halberds.  None of them fit the description of Branton that Burke had given him.  Casting a glance up at the top of the wall, Marius thought he could see a fifth guard pacing along the battlements, but his attention was drawn back to the ground by a loud clanking noise.

   Walking side-by-side, two men appeared to relieve the halberdiers of their posts.  In stark contrast to the light armor of the city guardsmen, these two wore virtually identical plate armor, polished to a shine.  An eight-pointed star surrounded by a golden cord was engraved on their breastplates; the symbol of their order, and a motif that continued on the shields on their arms and the pommels of the swords at their waists.  Knight-Priests.

   “Marius?  Is something wrong?”

   Meredith was looking at him, concerned; he had stopped in his tracks the minute the two Knight-Priests had appeared.  Shaking his head quickly, he apologized.  “No, sorry, but I’m afraid this is where we part ways.”  He had never intended to remain in their company after getting through the city gates; they would be remaining in Taernsby to attend services at the wayshrine, whereas he would only stay in the city long enough to figure out where he could find Alder.  Still, he felt compelled part with them on friendly terms, rather than simply leaving them at the gates without a word.

   “Part ways?  But you’re going into the city, aren’t you?” Meredith asked, confused.

   Marius nodded.  “I am, but I have to deliver Burke’s message first.  His brother is in the guard, but I don’t see him here; I’m going to see if I can find him at any of the other gates.”

   “Circling around the city like that will take ages!  Why not just come in with us and ask after Burke’s friend once you’re in the city?” Edgar pointed out.

   Marius thought fast, but could come up with no good reason to reject the offer.  Edgar had a point, but he could not expect to walk past the Knight-Priests without incident, and even the smallest incident could prove catastrophic.  As suspicious as it may make him seem, he would have to insist on the leaving them.  Thankfully, Samuel came to his rescue.

   “Meredith, Edgar, let the man be; I’m sure he has more important things to do while he’s here than keep us company.  Besides, we’ll be staying with your aunt, won’t we?  She won’t have room for him.”  He nodded to Marius.  “Thanks for your help on the road; without you, I would be in much worse shape.”

    After thanking him, Meredith and Edgar started towards the gates, but Samuel hung back a moment longer.  “There’s no chance we’ll be seeing you again, is there?”

   “I certainly hope not.”  Realizing that he had spoken aloud, he hastily added, “Not that you and your family are bad company, of course.”

   Samuel grinned.  “I know what you meant.”  He clapped a hand on Marius’s shoulder.  “Travel safely, Marius; wind at your back, sun on your face, and so on.”

   As Samuel went to rejoin his family, Marius set off along a narrow path that led around the city walls.  Edgar called a final goodbye after him, but he did not turn back; he knew that he was not going to see them again, so he saw no point in fostering any further goodwill with them.  More importantly, if the Knight-Priests posted at the gates saw them with him for any longer than they already had, they would be in trouble if something went wrong while he was in Taernsby.  He had no right to put them in that position, if it was not already too late.  To be safe, he resolved to finish his business as quickly and carefully as possible.

   Several hours later he reached the western gate.  It was much smaller, and more lightly-staffed than either the northern or southern gates were, as it did not have to accommodate the traffic of the main road.  Thankfully, there were no Knight-Priests in sight, just two halberdiers posted on either side of the gate.  Only slightly reassured, he mustered as much confidence as he could before stepping up to the taller of the two guards.  He looked bored, and not at all impressed with Marius.

   Nevertheless, Marius tried to sound authoritative.  “I have a letter for Branton.”

   The guard yawned.  “He’s not here.”

   Marius waited for a moment, expecting further elaboration.  After a longer silence than he was proud of, he realized that the guard had no intention of saying anything more.  This was precisely why he had initially hoped Branton would be at one of the larger gates; he would rather deal with an overzealous Knight-Priest than a bored city guard just begging for retirement, death, or a good, stupid group of bandits to try raiding the city.  With a sigh, he looked to the smaller of the two guards.

   “Do you know where Branton’s been posted?  This is an urgent matter.”

   The tall guard laughed.  “Do you really think we pay attention to anyone else’s shift, boy?  Unless Branton’s patrolling or taking a post with us, we don’t care if the fat sod is at home or in the whorehouse!”

   “If I recall, the whorehouse is your territory, Sloan!”

   Both guards whirled around at the booming voice as another man stepped into view.  As large as Burke and wearing no helmet, Marius assumed him to be Branton.  Grinning ear to ear, he clapped a hand on the shoulder of the shorter guard, gesturing towards the city with his thumb.

   “Your shift with this moron is up, Donnic; head on home and get some rest.”  Taking the guardsman’s halberd, he cast a glance at Marius.  “If you’re looking for Branton, you’ve found him.  What can I do for you?”

   Wordlessly, Marius handed over the letter Burke had given him.  Branton opened it and read it through stroking his thick red beard.  Finally, he crumpled it up and tossed it into the still-lit brazier beside him.  His expression was dark when he looked back to Marius, but he ushered him through the gate anyways, walking with him far enough that Sloan was out of earshot.  When they reached an intersection, he stopped.

   “Burke is a good man, and he vouches for you, but I’d advise you to finish what business you have here quickly and get out of the city.”  He pointed up the street towards the north gate.  “You’ll find Taernsby’s Black Iron liaison in the Grinning Man, two blocks that way and one block east.  Just look for the sign—you can’t miss it.”  He started to leave, but turned back to him.  “Oh, and keep that sword in its scabbard, or there’ll be trouble.”

   With that, he turned and left.  Marius considered shouting a thanks after him, but decided it would be best to simply accept that fortune had smiled on him this once and continue on towards his destination.  Considering that there could be an entire garrison of Knight-Priests just around the corner, this was not the stage of his journey where he wanted to push his luck.  Following Branton’s directions, he kept a watchful eye on anyone he passed in the street; for the most part he saw simple townsfolk going about their daily business, though there were a few guards on patrol that passed him by.  No one paid any attention to him.

   He did not have to walk too far down the road after turning east to see that Branton had been telling the truth:  it was impossible to miss the sign for the Grinning Man.  In his mind’s eye he had pictured something like Burke’s makeshift sign.  What he found instead was an impossibly large carving of a man’s face split in a wide grin towering over the door of a building on the corner at an intersection.  It was not a sign, in the strictest sense; rather, it had been carved into the external wall itself.  All in all, it was rather garish, and he could hardly imagine how desperate the Black Iron Company was if their liaison was working out of such a garish place.

   Pausing for a moment in front of the door to divorce himself of the vast majority of his dignity, he stepped into the tavern.  The atmosphere was about what he had expected:  the lighting was very dim, as the windows were covered and only half of the candles were lit; the air was thick with smoke from night after night of regular patrons lighting their pipes at the table; as early as it was most of the tables were empty, and those that were taken were mostly in the corners and around the perimeter of the room.  It was more or less the same as every other tavern he had been in.  The only thing setting it apart was the nightmare-inducing façade on the outside of the building.

   After a brief scan of the room, he found what he was looking for:  a man seated at the table directly across the room from the door.  On the table in front of him was a helmet made of black iron, its design simple but iconic.  The clasp that held his cloak around his neck was a simple metal triangle, made of the same black material as the helmet.  Both looked as though they would be relatively easy to recreate, and thus poor badges of office, but the design was not what made them special:  the metal was what was important.  Through some trick of forging, close inspection of the arms and armor of the Black Iron Company would reveal a mottled pattern in the metal, not unlike wood grain.  Smiths in rival mercenary outfits had tried to replicate the technique, and though some had come close, none were perfect.

    “Welcome, sir!  How may the Black Iron Company serve you?” he asked as Marius approached; like any good public representative, he was incredibly cheerful and radiated confidence.  However, his build suggested that he was more than just a spokesperson for the Company.  Marius had never had a great deal of insight into the inner workings of the Company, but he assumed that the mercenaries were rotated onto liaison duty based on some sort of schedule.  Either that, or even those selected for the relatively combat-free job as a liaison were required to undergo the Black Iron Company’s infamously intense combat training regimen.

   “I was hoping you could help me find a mercenary,” Marius answered.  “Name’s Alder; I asked the liaison in Newgarden, but he didn’t know anything.  He told me you might be able to help me.”

   The liaison’s smile faltered.  “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.”

   Marius sighed; he had done this at least three times already.  “Yes, yes, I know; the current location of active Black Iron Company employees is private information.  Look, I’ve gone through this with every other liaison so far, and they’ve sent me on to you.  That alone should tell you that I’ve passed all of their tests:  I’m not an assassin looking to kill one of yours, I’m not a member of the Kestrels or any other rival company trying to sabotage your work, and I’m not a potential recruit with a friend who can get me into the Company.  I’m just a messenger with urgent news for an old friend.”

   “Yes, of course, but that’s not what I meant.”  The liaison’s expression was troubled.  He gestured to a nearby table, and they both sat down.  “I can’t tell you where Alder is because he no longer works for the Black Iron Company.”

   “What?”  For a moment, Marius was sure he had misheard.  If Alder was no longer a member of the Black Iron Company, there was little chance of being able to track him down by himself, and without any money to his name he could not afford to hire anyone to help him, but neither could he afford to spend much more time looking for Alder.  His entire situation had started out as a mess, but now it was becoming even more needlessly complicated.  Thanking the liaison for his time, he rose from the table and looked wistfully at the bar; he had never been in such dire need of a drink, but, once again, money was an issue.

   Back out on the street, he paused for a moment to get his bearings before heading off towards the northern gate.  He had hoped that he would be able to get a solid lead on Alder, but it seemed he had actually lost progress; when he set out, he had at least been able to ask Black Iron Company liaisons if they knew where he was.  Without the help of the Black Iron Company, there was no chance of narrowing down the area he needed to search, which was the entirety of Gallia.

     Still, he reasoned that it could be worse:  he could have half a dozen Knight-Priests on his tail.  Instead, mercifully, there was only one person following him, and as he could not hear the tell-tale clank of plate armor, he knew he was in no danger—not from the clergy, anyways.  The gait was steady and the footsteps were soft, nearly perfectly synchronized with his own; it was only when he stumbled over a stray cat that he heard them coming to a delayed halt, resuming as he recovered and continued on his way.  With the north gate in view, he did not want to risk making a scene and drawing the guardsmen over, but he knew that turning down a secluded road would be just as sure a sign that he knew he was being followed as turning to confront his stalker.

     What followed was a tense walk up to the north gate, the tension heightened momentarily by the presence of two Knight-Priests, posted in the same manner as their brethren at the southern gate.  Thankfully, one was speaking animatedly with a guardsman, and the other was diligently cleaning his sword to the exclusion of all else.  They were not the most dutiful soldiers he had seen, and he silently thanked them for it, passing through the gate with only a nod from one of the halberdiers.  To his surprise, he could still hear his stalker walking behind him, though the footsteps had long since fallen out of sync with his own.  They began to close in as he gained distance from Taernsby, and when they were dangerously close, he drew his sword slightly out of the sheath, ready to turn and strike.

     “That won’t be necessary.”

     The voice was soft, pleasant, and right in his ear.  Startled, he whirled and started to draw his blade completely, but a firm hand gripped his wrist through his cloak, stopping him as the tip of something sharp lightly kissed his throat.  With a sigh, he let go of the hilt of his sword and it dropped back into its scabbard.  Slowly, the blade moved away from his neck and the grip on his wrist loosened.  Wrenching his arm completely free, he turned to face his stalker.

     She was certainly dressed for travel, from her well-worn boots to a hooded cloak not unlike his own.  There was a bow and quiver on her back, and he caught a glimpse of several knives on her belt before it was obscured by her cloak.  Glancing up to her face, he found that she was scrutinizing him intensely.  Their eyes met for a moment, and he could see a fierceness in her gaze that he found more than a little unnerving.  She, too, seemed to see something in his eyes; surprise briefly lit her face, but it was gone in an instant, her expression once more unreadable.

     “You were asking about Alder back in the bar.”

     Marius nodded.  “I was, but what of it?  Do you know where I can find him?”

     The woman simply stared back at him.  “I may have an idea of where to start looking, but I need to know why you want to find him before I share anything with you.”

     Marius found it hard to read her—her face was stony and expressionless.  There was no question as to whether or not she could take care of herself, but she was offering to share information with him about Alder’s possible whereabouts to someone who had nothing to offer in return; she did not seem the kind to pursue a stranger and threaten his life out of sheer curiosity.  Still, he could see no harm in answering her question.

     “I just have a message for him.”

     For a moment she just stared him down, watching him for a tell.  Finally, she seemed satisfied with his story.  “A contact of mine has been keeping tabs on Alder since he left the Black Iron Company.  I was planning on meeting up with him in Mertham, but the group I was traveling with decided to stay in Taernsby a while longer.”

     “So you went to the Grinning Man to hire help?” Marius guessed.

     “And then you walked in and started asking about the same man I’m looking for,” she confirmed.  “Since it’s not safe to travel alone, and I don’t want to waste coin hiring a mercenary, I figured we could travel to Mertham together.  Provided you weren’t looking to kill Alder, of course.”

     “Can I ask why you’re looking for Alder, then?” Marius ventured.

     A slight smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.  “No, you may not.”  She extended her hand.  “You may call me Astrid.”

     “Marius.”  He looked down the road.  “I assume Mertham is this way?”

     “About a week’s walk, if you don’t slow me down too much.”  Astrid took the pack off of her back and handed it to him.  Marius glanced inside it; there was only a few days’ worth of food inside, so he had to assume that she had other plans for when supplies ran dry.  Throwing his cloak out of the way, he slipped it on.  “We’ll trade off tomorrow—I’ll take that back, and you’ll carry the bedrolls.  I want at least one of us relatively limber and ready to act if there’s trouble.”

     Marius nodded.  “That sounds fair.  Shall we?”

     They set off down the road, Marius wondering whether it was good or ill fortune that found him with another traveling companion; as much as he preferred solitary travel, he seemed to stumble upon company with astounding frequency.  Of course, he had to admit that was helpful when the odd highwayman—or three—showed up.  Considering how heavily Astrid was armed, he very much doubted that bandits would be an issue.


« Last Edit: May 21, 2015, 08:24:24 AM by NicTei »
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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline Araell

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #17 on: April 26, 2015, 01:22:14 PM »
Another good chapter Nic! Looking forward to learning more about Astrid's character...I do love a good female fighter in stories haha.

Keep it coming!  :read:
 

"The war has begun! The line between Light and Dark is beginning to blur and only time will tell which will overpower the other." Keeper Prophecy (Destiny)

"I'm beginning to wonder whether this world ever had a divine being at all or if the Gods were among us this whole time!" Omar Delaney (Writing on the Wall)

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Chapter Five
« Reply #18 on: May 09, 2015, 09:09:37 AM »
   By the third day of the journey to Mertham, the relatively flat, wide-open plains had begun to transition into the dense forests that stretched across northern Gallia.  The trees were not yet so tightly-packed that travel off the main roads would be difficult, but Marius still found himself on edge; there was no telling who or what could be watching them from the brush.  He also noticed that Astrid was keeping one hand near her belt, so he felt secure knowing that he was not the only one thinking about an ambush.

   Though they had been traveling and camping together about as long as Marius had traveled with Samuel and his family, they had spoken very little.  There was plenty of noise to make up for the silence, between the breeze rustling the branches of the trees and the songs of the birds, but the lack of conversation—even as background noise to his thoughts—left a peculiar void that he felt even more aware of in light of his travels with the three pilgrims on the way to Taernsby.  He did not mind the void, however; the silence was peaceful, and highly unlikely to draw any unwanted attention to the two.

   They continued walking long after the sun had gone down, only stopping once they had found a suitable clearing to camp in.  Astrid threw down the bedrolls as Marius withdrew two small loaves of bread from the bag of rations.  There was only enough food left inside for breakfast the next morning, leaving roughly four foodless days.  The only upside to the lack of food was that he remaining space in the travel bag had been filled with canteens, giving them enough water for the rest of the trip even if they found no water source to refill the empties.  Contrary to the evidence, Marius had the feeling that Astrid had a plan, so he made no mention of the lack of supplies.  She would be carrying the food bag tomorrow, anyways, so she would see what little was left in the morning.  What she wanted to do from there was up to her, though it would not be the first time he had gone a while without food if she had no back-up plan.

   After they had eaten their bread, Astrid settled onto her bedroll.  The first watch had been his since the first evening of their journey, and he felt that he learned more about Astrid during his watch than he had on the road.  For example, she slept nearly as little as he did, lying awake for hours and merely pretending to be asleep—her breathing pattern shifted when she had finally drifted off.  More telling, she mumbled in her sleep.  He kept these observations to himself, of course; in his experience, women—other people in general, really—did not take kindly to the thought of being watched while they slept.  In his defense the watch was incredibly boring, and when the only sound that broke the monotony of the forest sounds was his companion mumbling some incoherent phrase, he could not help but notice.

   In the end, he was simply happy that his watches had all been quiet thus far.  If there was any trouble when Astrid had taken over, she said nothing of it, and there was no evidence of it when he woke up.  Of course, he knew full well that a lack of evidence did not mean that nothing had happened; his companion had the air of someone who knew how to keep things hidden, and he was still unsure how to feel about that.  Samuel’s family had been relatively easy to travel with because he knew they were hiding nothing from him, but Astrid had not even told him why she was looking for Alder.  He supposed it was just cosmic payback for the secrets he had kept from Burke and Samuel’s family—or, in the case of his sword, tried to keep.

   Listening to the sounds of the forest around him, he only realized a large, dark bird was flying towards him when it dropped from the sky, wings flapping loudly as it alighted on a branch above Astrid.  Marius would have ignored it, but a flash of white as preened its feathers drew his eye; there was something tied around its leg.  As if on cue Astrid sat up in her bedroll and whistled to it, raising her arm.  The bird swooped down, perching just below her elbow and continuing to preen nonchalantly as she removed the note, holding it close to her face to read it in the darkness.  Whether or not she had ever been asleep, Marius did not know, but that was of little importance; she soon crumpled the tiny scroll up and tucked it into a pouch on her belt before shooing the bird away and lying back down.

   Marius cleared his throat.  “Anything I should know?”

   Astrid rolled over and looked him straight in the eye.  “No.”

   Having spoken, she rolled back over and said no more.  Marius sighed, but did not press the matter.  There would be no chance of getting his hands on the note, so he would have to resign himself to likely never knowing what the message had said.  Rather, he trusted that it was really not information that he needed, foolish though that may be, and that if something came up that he needed to know, Astrid would inform him immediately.  Blindly trusting someone who clearly did not trust him in return was risky, but he figured he had very little to lose anyways.

   After several hours of watching the stars and listening to the wind in the trees, he felt sleep tugging at his eyelids and woke Astrid as gently as he could.  Even so, she jolted up in her bedroll, a dagger in her hand, though on seeing that it was only him she calmed down considerably.  Laying down on his bedroll, he gratefully closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the darkness.



   When Marius awoke the next morning, he was greeted by the sound of a crackling fire and the smell of cooked meat.  Rising in confusion, he found Astrid roasting a rabbit on a makeshift spit, her bow and quiver of arrows resting against the base of a nearby tree.  She had already packed away her bedroll, and though he could tell that it was still early in the morning, he had the distinct impression that she was waiting for him to get up so they could continue on their journey.  More importantly, the rabbit looked like it was in danger of being too overcooked for his tastes.  As if hearing his thoughts, Astrid pulled it off of the fire.

   “Any word while I was asleep?” he ventured as he joined her at the small fire.

   Her response did not surprise him.  “No.”

   He let the matter drop, tearing a chunk off of the rabbit when she offered it to him.  Though it was the best meal he had eaten since Burke’s inn nearly a week before, he was disappointed by how bland it tasted.  As with Burke’s stew, however, he reminded himself that beggars could not be choosers, and he was essentially a beggar without the begging.  Astrid, on the other hand, had a coin pouch somewhere on her person; though he could tell she was very careful about how she moved, he could hear the distinct metal clink of silvers being jostled about.  He considered knowing about it to be payback for not being told the contents of the previous night’s message.

   When it was clear that they were both finished eating, Astrid hurled the remnants—spit and all—into the trees and stomped out the flames while Marius packed up his bedroll.  They were back on the road in short order, resuming their silent journey to Mertham.  Unlike previous days, however, Marius could not help but notice that the forest had fallen silent; there were no more bird songs, nor the sounds of animals rummaging around in the underbrush, only the wind in the trees and their footsteps on the dirt.  His companion appeared to have noticed as well; she was carrying her bow in her hand, as opposed to slung over her back, along with a handful of arrows, ready to fire the instant a threat appeared.  She did not have to wait long.

   Four men leaped out from behind the trees and onto the road in front of them, two training arrows on Astrid and the other two brandishing swords.  All four were bald-headed, with rudimentary skulls painted on their faces, and they were dressed in near-identical black uniforms with leather padding.  One of the swordsmen had a single metal pauldron on one shoulder, dented and worn from use, and probably taken off of one of his victims; Marius wondered absent-mindedly if it was the mark of the band’s leader.  Beside him, Astrid growled.

   “Dead Men,” she muttered.

   “Lay your weapons and provisions down on the road and step back!” the man with the pauldron ordered.

   Astrid glared at him.  “You’re just going to kill us anyways.”

   The man returned her gaze.  “We kill you that you might rise to a better life!  We release you from this farce to experience a more blessed existence!”  He looked to Marius.  “And, if you are lucky, you will become a disciple and aid us in liberating the rest of the world.”

   “If it’s all the same to you,” Marius answered, “I’d really rather go on about my business, farce or not.”

    Slowly and carefully, he began to move his hand towards the hilt of his sword, but the bowmen were too observant.  One called to the other, and before he could react an arrow was flying at him.  Time slowed to a crawl as he gripped the hilt of his blade, already knowing that even if he was able to draw his weapon he would not be able to stop the projectile; even as he started to dive out of the way, he could tell that it was going to hit him dangerously close to the heart.  He almost did not hear the twang of a bowstring beside him until the arrow that was so intent on ending his life was suddenly knocked out of the air by another arrow.

   Time snapped back to its normal relentless pace as Astrid notched a second arrow and fired it in one fluid motion as she turned on the other archer, hitting him in the shoulder before he could loose his own arrow.  The swordsman who had not spoken charged Marius as the bowman behind him drew back his bowstring again.  Finally relieving his sword of its sheath, Marius parried the first strike to come at him, grabbing his opponent by the shirt and pulling him right into the path an arrow.  Beside him he heard Astrid fire another arrow, and someone ahead cried out in pain.  Momentarily distracted, he was taken by surprise when his opponent kicked hard off the ground, knocking the both of them over.

   Kicking his assailant off, Marius rolled back to his feet, an arrow narrowly missing his head.  Seeing his chance, he rushed at the bowman while he drew another arrow from his quiver, hoping to catch him before he could fire another arrow.  A hand wrapped around his ankle, bringing him crashing back down to the ground.  Cursing into the dirt, lashed out with his foot and feeling his assailant’s teeth cave under his heel.  Released momentarily, he jumped to his feet and brought his sword down on the man’s neck before he could react.

   The first blow connected, but the resulting cut was nowhere near deep enough to actually decapitate his foe.  He drew back for another strike, but a sharp pain suddenly tore through his shoulder; he did not have to look to know that there was an arrow buried in him.  Turning his back on the archer had clearly been a mistake.  Even so, he took advantage of the time it would take the bowman to notch another arrow to take another swing at the man laying at his feet.  Once again, the damage was severe, but just short of decapitation.  Blood oozed out of the wound slower than it should have as the man tried to pull himself back together, his arms moving erratically.  Snarling, Marius gave up on him—he was no longer a threat, anyways.

   A quick glance around the area told him that Astrid was much smarter than he was:  she had ducked into the trees beside the road, still launching arrows at the Dead Men, though he thought he could see that her quiver was nearly empty—it was hard to tell when she was constantly on the move.  Regardless, now that she had to draw arrows from her quiver instead of shooting what she had ready in her bow hand, she had slowed down considerably, loosing arrows at a pace only marginally faster than that of the Dead Man archers.  More to the point, remaining swordsman was heading straight for her, and Marius doubted she would be able to stop a sword with a few daggers and throwing knives.

   Readying himself to rush the archer, he stopped; he could hear something coming down the road.  Heavy, pounding hoof beats.  As he turned to look, he barely had time to leap out of the way before a man on a large white horse raced past, unsheathing his sword and neatly decapitating the nearest bowman with one quick stroke.  Dismounting, he rushed at the remaining bowman, and Marius got a good look at him.  His heart sank.

   It was a Knight-Priest.



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« Last Edit: June 24, 2015, 08:56:40 AM by NicTei »
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Me Am Robot     |     Night Terrors     |     Sailing the Seven Skies     |     The Old Gods     |     Vagabond

Offline Araell

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Re: Vagabond
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2015, 07:28:42 PM »
Oohh a cliffhanger!!!  :o

Kept that one short and sweet, look forward to seeing more  :read:
 

"The war has begun! The line between Light and Dark is beginning to blur and only time will tell which will overpower the other." Keeper Prophecy (Destiny)

"I'm beginning to wonder whether this world ever had a divine being at all or if the Gods were among us this whole time!" Omar Delaney (Writing on the Wall)

 

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