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Author Topic: Darkness Descends Chapter 7: The Search  (Read 1170 times)
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« on: 03 December 2004, 12:18:00 »

The sun flares one last time as it slowly settles behind the distant Prominent Mountains, as it does so the sky is filled with golden reds and scintillating pinks.  Wyland stops his horse and stares up at the sky.  Wonder at the natural beauty that the Creator has made washes over him as it so often does when he is away from civilization.  He reaches down and pats his mount on its shoulder.  Gazing at wonderful view overhead and listening to the sweet songs of the birds around him, Wyland takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out.  Doing so, he releases some of the frustration that has been building up in him over the past few days.  Looking about the small clearing he is now in and the meandering stream that runs through it, he feels some of the frustration coming back again.  Shaking his head in resignation he slowly dismounts and leads his steed to a tree that stands alone in the midst of the clearing, hanging over the stream.  Wrapping the reins around one of the limbs, he pats his horse a few more times.
“Well boy, we’ve been out here what three days now, and still no sign of that clearing where Surian fell off of his horse.  Each one we pass through looks similar, but not the same.  This sure is getting tiring.  What do you think Iria?”
The horse seems to agree as it neighs softly and continues eating the newly sprouted grass at the base of the tree.
“Well, this is as good of a spot as any,” he mutters to himself and begins unpacking Iria.   Wyland smiles to see Iria shake his mane and snort with joy when he removes the pack and saddle the horse has been carrying.  “I know, I know.  You would rather be in the nice warm stables getting fat on oats and hay.”  As he unrolls his pack, takes out some rations, and spreads the blankets out on the ground, he continues talking to his horse, “How about this Iria, I will make you a deal.  One more day of searching and if we do not find that blasted saddle then we will head back.”  Iria who has by now started drinking from the nearby stream looks behind him to his master with what looks like disbelief upon his long face.  “Seriously I mean it this time.  Sure, I said the same thing yesterday and it was probably foolish to bother doing this anyway, but I have to figure all of this out.  Besides, if the worst happens and the king dies, then at least I will give Surian the means to figure out what really happened.”
While Wyland is talking to his mount and settling in, the sun has completely disappeared and at first the faint, but now deeper purples of twilight have descended.  Now that darkness is fast approaching, he begins preparing to stay the night.  Keeping in mind the possibility of another encounter with a Voran Tiger Wyland begins preparing a fire by scraping a small depression in the ground and gathering some dead branches from the nearby trees. After that had been done, he starts a small fire and begins eating his rations.   With a glum look upon his face he steadily chews his way through dried meat and some stale bread.  Getting up he goes over to the brook and drinks a few handfuls of water.
Returning to where his gear is laid out he lies down on the soft ground, resting his head upon his saddle and pulls a blanket over him.  Trying to sleep, but finding it difficult Wyland opens his eyes and stares up at the stars that twinkle down upon him.  Normally this sight would bring him as much joy as that of the sunset, but instead thought after thought runs through his mind.  His thoughts are dominated by Surian falling off his horse while he himself laughed at his drenched cousin.  Yes, it was funny at the time, but with the new knowledge of what happened it is more serious now.  Idle conjectures abound, each one traced to its speculative conclusion.  What if Surian had fallen during his madcap ride and hit a rock at high speed.  What if he had fallen and been trampled by his own mount.  

There were so many possibilities and so many people who could have done such a thing.  The real questions were who did it and why.  A sneaking suspicion that the thin man who had chased them through the town might be involved, and one partially cut saddle strap were all that he had.   Before he could go tell the king or anyone of import besides his father he needed more proof.  After all, maybe the two things were completely unrelated.  Even though these thoughts and many others churned through his head, Wyland eventually falls asleep.  Nightmares of plots, murders, and warfare pervaded his dreams leaving him troubled and unrested.

Wyland’s beleaguered eyes open somewhat achingly to dawn’s bright light.  “Definitely the last day of this,” he mutters as he throws the inadequate covers off of him.  Grasping his legs he slowly pulls himself to a sitting position.  Searching for a little warmth to help ward off the morning chill he sets his eyes upon the fire that he started last night, only to find that there isn’t even an ember still glowing.  Rubbing his now sore back he looks down at the ground for the culprit.  There it was, just as he thought, a small gnarled root.  “Looks pretty happy with itself if I do say so,” grumbles Wyland.  Continuing to rub his back occasionally, he stands up and begins gathering his gear and reloads Iria for another day of searching.  After everything is secured he unties Iria’s reins while giving him a quick rub on his cheek.

“So, which way do you think we should go today, north, west, south?,” he inquires of Iria.  Peering at him with large eyes, Iria does not respond.  “Any help would be useful.  Besides, your guess is as good as mine.”  Wyland rolls his eyes as Iria continues to just look at him.  “Fine, fine”, he says as he gets up into the saddle, “I thought you animals were supposed to have, err animal instinct or something.”  With that last comment, Wyland guides the horse northward, but just as he pulls on the reins, Iria pulls his head to the west.  “What, now you want to help?  All right we will try it your way.  After all you did pretty well in chasing down Surian when he went riding off.”  Iria gives a slight snort after Wyland’s remark.  “Fine, fine you did better than I did.”  Iria’s neigh seems to indicate his agreement with that gratifying remark.  “You know Iria, I do believe that you are the most egotistical horse I have ever ridden.”

Continuing to talk with his horse, Wyland heads westward through the tangled trees.  Amidst talking to Iria about his dreams, his fears for the king, and other topics he occasionally stops to enjoy the beauty of the forest around him.  On one such stop in a small dell, he notices that this small offshoot of the Shaded Forest offers more beauty than the woods near his home.  Vibrant greens compliment the sprigs of bright color from early flowers.  Near Tormac, the plants tended to be more brush and weed rather than proper forest.  Soothing sounds greet his ears as he listens to the gentle flow of water winding its merry way amongst the rocks in its path.  Birds chirp as they soar through the air and squirrels scramble through the trees looking for future mates.  Here and there he sees shadowy forms break apart the small clusters of ferns, making them sway in some rhythmic dance.  Truly a veritable wealth of life abounds here.  The hazy light that filters through the canopy of boughs highlights morning dew, making everything glisten as if newly made by the Creator.

Shaking his head to release himself from this waking dream that is the beauty of nature he gives Iria a small pat on his strong neck before kicking him into a steady gait.  “While this is nice and all, I thought that you were going to lead me to the saddle, but I guess,” in the midst of his light scolding the sound of a horse’s whinny interrupts him.  Unsure of the source of the sound, Wyland quickly becomes quiet and strains to hear the sound again.  New thoughts run through his head now.  Thoughts along the line of: is it just a hunter, or did someone follow him?  Tensing in anticipation, he waits to see what might happen next.  Another whinny sounds, this time from his left.  Jerking the reins quickly, he tries heading away to a dense clump of foliage.  Iria balks however and instead neighs in response to the other horse.

“You’d better get moving,” Wyland says in a threatening voice to his mount. “Or I will…” A crashing sound to his left makes him trail off as a riderless roan stallion emerges from the trees.  A sigh of relief escapes Wyland’s mouth as he sees that it is the horse that Surian had been riding a few days ago while they had been on the hunt.  He had been wondering what had happened to it since Surian had jumped on Iria along with Wyland so they could rush to the sound of his father’s horn, though that horse would have been useful when facing that tiger .  Apparently the horse was fine and seemed excited to be with his stable mate again as they both made loud, energetic sounds upon the sight of each other.  The roan appears good natured and allows Wyland to give it a quick rub while it is close to Iria.

Dismounting he rummages in his pack and comes out with a small length of rope.  Using the rope he fashions a makeshift lead line.  Slowly approaching the horse as not to spook it, he finds his efforts unnecessary as the horse comes right up to him and gives a quick snort.  Reaching up and rubbing the nose, Wyland slips the line around the horse’s head, and with a snap of his wrist, tightens it.  Petting it softly on the cheek he says in a reasurring voice, “Do not worry boy, we will get you home soon.  I do not know what your name is so I suppose I will have to call you horse or stallion, or some such name.  Maybe with you here you can lead us to that saddle of yours.”

Thinking better of it and hoping that Stallion, as he has now named the roan, can lead him to the saddle he takes his saddle off of Iria and fastens it onto Stallion, but leaves the pack and other equipment with Iria.  Next he transfers the lead line from Stallion to Iria, all the while being given a somewhat nasty look from his horse, it’s lip is raised and yellowed teeth are showing in defiance.  “It is fine; I am not replacing you, just think of it as a little break.”  Soothed by the sound of Wyland’s voice Iria settles down and allows the lead rope to go around his neck.

Excited by the chance of finding Surian’s horse, Wyland swiftly mounts and kicks his heels to Stallion, hoping for the best.  Tree after tree, clearing after clearing pass by Wyland, as Stallion leads them slowly westward deeper and deeper into the forest.  Several hours later, after his excitement has died away and instead been replaced by frustration,  then lethargy, and his aching eyes attempt to close Wyland finds himself jarred completely awake by Stallion’s abrupt stop at a stream.  Unready for this stop, he nearly overbalances.  Deciding that this is as good of a place as any to allow the horses to stop, graze a bit, and drink, he dismounts Stallion.  Not that he had much of a choice he thinks, since both of these horses obviously decided that they were thirsty now anyway.

Searching the small clearing to find some place to sit for a while and rest, something in the stream catches his eye as he looks along it.  Stopping to stare more intently to see what it might be, his breath catches in hope that he has finally found the piece of the puzzle that he needs.  Screwing his eyes up tightly in concentration he makes out two round humps protruding from the surface of the water about two hand spans away from each other.  Quickly walking to the edge of the stream he looks down into the middle of the waterway intently.  Lo and behold the slow, clear waters reveal the blurred shape of a saddle.  Excitedly he rushes into the water, soaking his breeches in the process, but does not even notice in his rush.  

Reaching his prize, he plunges his hands through the water churned up by his passage and grips the saddle.  Heaving against the weight of the water he pulls upward, freeing the burden from its resting place.  Seeing the water drain off of the leather curves of the saddle reminds him that he is standing in the middle of a rather cold stream.  Holding off his desire to examine the saddle immediately, Wyland turns back to the bank and heads to dry ground.  All the while, his sloshing and shivering has drawn the attention of both horses who seem to peer at him rather quizzically.  Upon reaching the bank his holds out his prize for Iria to inspect it briefly.

Not even bothering to find a decent rock or stump to sit on, Wyland just sits himself down on the muddy bank.  Placing the saddle so that the girth strap dangles in his lap he grabs the two, now separated, pieces of the girth strap.  The end where it is held tight by the fastening buckle was good, and that part of the strap was still buckled in well.  Continuing down the length of the strap he noted that there is little wear to the strap at all, in fact it looked fairly new.  The possibility that it had snapped was even more unlikely since it was in such good condition.  He puts the two ends of the strap next to each other, lining them up so it looks as it should have when it was whole.  Even a cursory examination shows that it had been cut through.  The cut was straight through most of the strap, only the very end was jagged where it had ripped.  With this observation he stands up excitedly and approaches Iria.      

“Do you know what this means?”, as he asks this question water drips off him onto Iria’s foot.  Iria gives a slight snort and backs away a little bit.  Looking down at himself and seeing that he is now shaking a bit Wyland says, “You are right, I need to get out of these wet clothes.”  Wyland begins rummaging through the pack on Iria’s back and comes out with a blanket and a change of pants.  Drying himself off he puts on the dry set of breeches, then goes about finding dead wood to start a fire.  Once the blaze is crackling merrily at the base of the tree, he drapes his pants over a low hanging branch in the hopes that they will dry quickly.

Sitting near the fire, this time on a blanket, Wyland sets about eating, as it has been some hours since his last meal.  He is so engrossed in thought that he doesn’t even taste the slight mold on the bread or the wooden consistency of his dried meat.  While he can answer some of his former questions, others still go unanswered.  The evidence showed that the girth strap had been cut most of the way through, and riding finished off the job  Also, the cut was the same on both the king’s horse and on Surian’s.  There was no possibility that this was in anyway an accident.  While it was nice that this part came together and supported his theory, he still didn’t have answers to the most important questions, who would do this, and why.

After finishing his meal, takes the lead line off of Iria and ropes it around Stallion.  Next he removes the saddle and cinches it onto Iria.  “There,” he says as he gives Iria a quick scratch on the nose, “I told you that it would just be a break.”  Iria gives a whinny of pleasure.  Taking the rest of the items off Iria, he packs it all on top of Stallion, including Surian’s saddle which he secures with a length of rope.  Receiving Stallion’s look of annoyance at having the goods put on him, Wyland replies, “What can I say, he was here first.  Sorry boy.”  When everything is set to go he stamps out the small fire with his boots and mounts up.  Clucking his tongue and setting his boots to Iria, Wyland heads back to Vermoth.

A day later, he finds himself just outside of a small farm, less than a day’s ride from the city.  A pretty young woman is standing near a well, drawing water out from it.  When she notices of him he raises a hand in greeting and she smiles back at him sweetly.  Before he can even say anything, the woman asks him if he would like water because he looked rather thirsty.  Agreeing, he drinks the cool water from the wooden ladle she offers him.  “That is quite good, thank you.  I have been traveling the past several days and that is just what I needed”, he says with a smile.      

“Anytime.  If you’ve been a travellin’ then you prolly haven’t a heard about the feast comin’ up.”

“Actually, no I have not.  What feast might that be?”, Wyland asks with curiosity.

“It’s been a goin’ round that the prince killed a mighty Voran tiger all by himself.  They say the Creator steadied his sword and gave ‘im the strength to kill it.  That’s why there’s a feast bein’ a plannin’.  It’s in two days and everyone is bein’ invited to go.  Course since there’s not much notice ‘fore the feast prolly only people near the city be goin’.  You’re a lucky to be here now, I hear they have great feasts.”

“Yes I’ve heard the same thing”, Wyland says while trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.  Saying his farewells and taking his leave from the nice young lady he continues toward the city thankful that the king’s injuries has not been spread around, for she would have surely shared that knowledge if she had it.  Continuing his journey with this new bit of information Wyland mulls over the reasons for the feast and decides it is most likely a way to divert attention away from the king.  However, the king should attend a feast so that did not necessarily make sense.  As always, the first site of the impending city is the sight of several of its grandiose towers breaking the horizon, showing off man’s attempted majesty above nature. Ahead, the gates stand open like a mouth waiting to swallow him whole.

Approaching the bridge to the city of Vermoth he knows the answers about the feast and the political intrigue are in there - somewhere.  The clip-clop of hooves on cobblestones brings back memories of the haste and anxiety that had accompanied him when he had last heard that sound.  Watching the flow of people entering and exiting the gates around him was tribute to the fact that no matter what happens life goes on as it ever does.  Passing through the great stone arch and by several soldiers, Wyland nods towards one in respect.  The soldier gives a quick jerk of his neck in acknowledgment and continues to survey the flow of traffic while talking with a nearby soldier.

Getting somewhat crushed now as people are funneled into a second, smaller gateway, Wyland can not help but hope that this all gets taken care of soon so that he can get back to his home of wide open spaces and sparsely populated regions.  Quirking his lips as memories of his home’s rugged beauty come to him, he continues heading into the city. Once by the second gate and series of guards he looks backwards as thoughts of the amount of security this city has drift through his mind.  “Odd”, he mutters to himself.  “I thought that there were six guards at that gate, not five.”  Dismissing it as nothing more then blurry vision from lack of sleep and plenty of physical activity, Wyland makes his way to the palace.  All the while unaware of the eyes that follow him.

Dirg'mystrume of the Helvet'ine Kuglim.  
Lord of the North

Edited by: Artimidor Federkiel at: 12/27/04 10:02

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