A Sample Chapter: The Commander and the Den Asaan Rautu
The Return to Diras
The return journey to the capital must be a short one. The party contrived to stop as little as possible along the road, though the prevailing snows and impassable road was doing everything necessary to impede them. They would not stop until nightfall when the biting cold and dominant winds had caused Rithea and Ghelbhi to succumb to entreaties for shelter. Rautu permitted them to sit by the auspices of a small fire on the edge of the forest and off the road, but though this had shielded them from the chief of the winds, the snows of a late Frewyn winter still fell on the party, enough almost to threaten their source of warmth.
Ghelbhi offered to alter the weather, and though a somewhat momentary fix, it was greatly desired, but Rautu soon joined by Rithea denied the idea: she must keep her energy for traveling, and as Rithea could not carry her to the capital and the Den Asaan certainly would not consider such an action, Ghelbhi relinquished her desire to give everyone reprieve of the unbearable cold was cast aside. It was an offer well-meant and she must comprehend that her magic was strange to them, making any performance of magical nature at present unadvisable.
The disappearance of the sun further hindered their travels. The blend of the tumbling snows and the darkness had ruined all visibility, making them travel in a close formation to maintain their pace and their numbers. Rautu tucked his mate into the folds of his furs and kept her there as source of heat and of placation to himself, for having two mages, one old and insufferable in her pestering and the other an dangerous exile, was ever a great discomfort to him. He bore Rithea’s inquiries on his being cold, he with so little on his feet, tolerably well and did his best to ignore Ghelbhi no matter how many times she fell in the snow banks along the road or no matter how many times he had pushed her into them. His hope was that she would be lost amidst the darkness and poor climate, forcing them to press ahead without her, but he had always found her way back to them and always had Rithea to look after her.
Rautu lost his composure when the two mages asked for an hour of rest after having been traveling at a quick pace for many hours of the night. First light was making its arrival, and with it would surely bring the Thellisian fleet to the capital, but they must stop to regain their strength and find some warmth for their aching bones.
“We might be able to do without food and rest for many days, Rau,” the commander said in a low voice to the giant. “But they’ve hardly had the same training.”
Rautu chuffed and looked disappointedly at the two mages as they sat upon some rocks eating the remainder of their rations. “How are they able to rest when your lands are being threatened with invasion? Doing nothing while your leader calls for assistance proves their disloyalty. We should leave them here.”
“I will not leave them to be victims of the Frewyn winter,” the commander simpered.
“My people would not find time to rest so easily,” he asserted. “They will have a few moments. No more.”
“Rautu,” Rithea called out from beside the whipping campfire. “Come join us. You must be freezing with nothing on your legs.”
The Den Asaan stared at his mate and gave her a look as if to beg her to occupy the old woman and make her cease her hounding inquiries lest he do so himself.
Ghelbhi and Rithea were given just enough time to nod off but not enough time to gain any benefit from their short sleep. They were roused by the Den Asaan rumbling demands of moving forward, and as Alasdair had called for their express support, they must forget their want of rest and continue. Soon, however, when the heavy snows draped across the whole of the countryside, Rithea surrendered to the humid frost and the infatigable pain in her joints would allow her to move no longer. She would have to be transported to the capital by some conveyance, but there were no traders or supplies carts along the road due to the weather. Someone would be called on to carry her or magic would need to be employed if they wished to remain a party.
The commander offered to bear the old mage- for though she was taller than herself, she was slighter in build and would be easy to carry- but when Rithea’s legs gave way to the cold a second time, the Den Asaan’s hand grabbed for her instead. He lifted the cleric out of the snow and, much to the party’s surprise, placed her on his back.
“Hold to me, old woman,” he commanded her, quickening his pace. “You will remain there and you will be silent. You will not ask to walk again until we reach the capital and you will not ask me if I am cold. If you do, I will leave you on the road.”
Rithea laughed at his ruthless kindness but made no promises on the side of motherly harassment. Her ride was a precarious one, being on the back of a bounding giant, but it was one she came to enjoy. His disregard of thanks for his actions proved his humble civility, and Rithea would not disturb him for the remainder of their journey.
The grey skies of morning peeled back to reveal the warming rays of sunlight as the party came to the Diras main gates. Only one member of the Royal Guard was there to greet them and even his greetings was rushed. He recognized the commander and Den Asaan instantly from his place on the capital’s outer wall and called for them to enter the city as fast as their tired legs would permit.
They entered the Frewyn capital to find it much altered since their last visit: the vibrancy of the streets gone, the marketplace desolate and devoid of bustling crowds, the guards lining the lanes of Diras River vanished, the bells and hymns from the Church quieted. All the animation that had been there upon their arrival from Sanhedhran was misplaced.
Rautu let Rithea down and began hunting for life while Ghelbhi was still, busy with sifting through the minds in their vicinity.
-There,- Ghelbhi said, lifting a frozen finger toward the east. –Just beyond the bridge to the bay. The ships come.-
The fleet was coming and quickly. A squint of the eyes to block out the rising glare of the sun revealed the black sails of numerous frigates heading toward the ports , and even more revealing was the whole of the Diras regiment standing along the wharf with King Alasdair as their lead.
The party hurried toward the port and heard the calls of the king ordering the hundred or so men to take their formations and prepare to assault the ships. The front lines dipped their arrows their lit the metal heads, readying to burn the fleet’s sails to slow their arrival and draw their crews into the cold waters below.
“Alasdair,” the commander called out, running to his place on the wharf.
He turned to her, surprised to see her so soon. “Thank the Gods,” he breathed, welcoming her into his arms. “I thought my message might be delayed due to the terrible conditions.”
“Fortunately, no. It was traveling that was the difficulty.” The commander noted the gratitude on Alasdair’s face and turned to gauge the whole of the men under his command. “There are many faces I do not recollect,” she said quietly, smiling to all the latest additions to the forces.
“I began recruiting directly after you left.”
“An excellent beginning to rebuild what we lost, but are they prepared for this?”
‘They’ll have to be. The regiments from Farriage and Sethshire haven’t arrived yet.”
“And those from Tyfferim Company?”
“Haven’t heard anything.”
The commander swore under her breath and remarked the Thellisian fleet making its languid crawl toward the bay, the bows cutting through the icy waters. “Have they fired a warning shot?”
“I don’t think they came with archers.”
“Rather foolish on their part to lead a fleet into enemy territory with no ranged weaponry. Are their mages on those ships?”
“I haven’t seen any but that doesn’t mean there aren’t.”
“Well,” the commander sighed in relief, “ At least their lack of forethought is in our favour. I would never be so bold as to enter enemy lands without some means of reinforcement. Even if they should overcome us, we do mean to destroy their ships. How should they return home or even defend against the other regiments of our nations. A poor operation. Whomsoever designed this attack should be beaten for his idiocy.”
Alasdair looked over at his friend, calmer than he had been during the first part of the fleet’s arrival. He half-smiled at her, knowing that her presences would give him ease from the impending difficulty. Her japes and disparaging comments on the Thellisian’s side helped him configure his thoughts. He was about to make the first call to fire at the black sails when he observed the Den Asaan making a thorough inspection of the ranks. “He’s here,” Alasdair said with a dissatisfied accent.
“Of course. Rithea and Ghelbhi as well,” the commander rejoined. “You did invite him.”
“I did, but to fight along with the regiments, not to judge them.” Alasdair sighed. He had been anticipating the giant’s return home. He had believed that with Ghelbhi safely at the Haven and the commander returned with no expectation of her return the giant would seek passage to islands to perhaps make a periodical return, but his continuance was not a favourable sign to Alasdair. He wished him gone, even if his presence for this battle would mean Frewyn’s victory, but he said nothing to mark his dislike for Rautu’s attendance. He only bowed when the creature approached and murmured a soft, “Thank you for joining us once again.”
“These men are not prepared,” Rautu said with a disapproving hum.
The regiments stirred when they perceived the giant looming behind them. Those in the ranks who were unfamiliar with the towering beast started at the sight of his unfriendly countenance. His piercing black and violet eyes judging their every movement was disconcerting, and many attempted ignore the giant’s overbearing denigration without much success.
Alasdair buried his face in his hand and exhaled in frustration. He knew this should happen if Rautu came among them again. He was not unused to such harshness in the ranks, as his own commanding officer was a difficult judge of character, but he felt that the Den Asaan was unnecessarily cruel and impenetrable to those who had willingly given their lives in service to their kingdom. He thought to remonstrate, but to what end. He felt the giant was pitiless and suspected he came to aid them because his intimate friend had asked him to do so. He had no notion of the directness with which Rautu had acted at the Haven, and even if he had done, Alasdair was disposed not to treat him with friendliness. His internal promises of inhospitableness heightened to resentment when he believed that Rautu was making a claim on the commander: the giant stood closely behind his friend, rolled his shoulders, and gazed down at him while draping the folds of his trappings over the commander’s sides. She seemed not to mind his excessive closeness, but Alasdair could not mistake this gesture. He returned Rautu’s glare with tightened lips and clenched fists, making his own sentiments on his attachment clear.
Rautu took the king’s unwelcoming gapes as a challenge. His eyes flared, he stood upright and lifted his chest to display his full stature and prowess. His object did not slink back and he would have accepted the king’s defiance for a match to defend his claims on his woman if she had not turned to see what they were engaged in.
Alasdair and the Den Asaan exchanged restrained looks, the former suffering from bitter envy and the latter protective of his great acquisition. They were resolved to be rivals on this point and were it not for the approaching fleet, the two might have been disposed to combat one another.