This is the second chapter in the story, if you have not read the first chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 1 – A Meeting at the Wizard’s Hut
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Here is the second chapter:
For quite a while it was merely a casual walk, for this was all country that Carla knew well as she had roamed practically everywhere. As a chattering child, she walked along side Wissagebreht as he taught her about plants, bushes, flowers and roots. Later on she had wandered about on her errands to pick particular plants for the old wizard’s healing potions.
As they were walking along, Wissagebreht called Carla to him and handed her something. It consisted of a leather patch about the size of her palm, with a long cord, about the length of her arm, tied to each side of it. “A weapon,” he said. “It is called a sling, and if you are indeed going to come with us, perhaps you ought to have a weapon. Watch.”
He picked up a small round pebble from the ground, and set it in the leather patch. One of the cords had a loop tied at the end of it, and he put that round the forefinger of his right hand. Then, swinging the thing round his head by the ends of the two cords, he let go of the unlooped cord suddenly, and the stone flew rapidly off toward a hillside.
He handed her a small leather pouch. “Pick up suitable stones and put them in this. Practice with it as you go along; it will be hard at first, but it will get easier as time goes on.
Eventually they went up over a small hill. When they went down the other side the land was less familiar and by the time they had gone over the next hill Carla was sure that she had never seen this country before. Carla began to feel uneasy. Without realizing what she was doing, she moved a little nearer to the old Wizard.
He turned, smiling at her. “Afraid?”
“Yes. This isn’t home anymore.”
“No, it isn’t. But this time I don’t think it would be entirely safe for you to remain at home. Don’t worry my dear. There is some danger in this, but I will try not to let anything happen to us.”
They continued to march for some time, then stopped for a rest and a bit of lunch. During the march, Carla began to practice with her sling. They stopped to rest twice in the afternoon before the evening. When the sun began to go down, Wissagebreht announced, “We had best look for a place to camp.”
They camped in the lee of a hill, making a small fire to do their cooking. The pack-pony was unloaded, and his legs were hobbled so that he could move around and graze on the grass, but could not go too far. Having eaten, they sat around the fire telling stories and singing songs.
Carla sang her Unicorn song, and was astounded at the reactions. Wissagebreht, who seldom expressed an opinion on anything unless pressed, simply smiled slightly. The young King laughed with delight, but the Chamberlain looked as though he would burst with rage. For the life of her, Carla could not see what had caused him to be so angry.
Bruderic smiled, then began a piece of his own:
“They came to the Duke at the dawning of day,
‘The Swartings are on us, they rob and they slay,
Our homes are all burning; our families are dead,
On the beasts of our pastures the Swartings have fed!’
He has called for his sword to be sheathed at his side,
His warhorse is saddled; his bold men will ride.
For the goblins are coming, their armies draw near,
There is no longer time for foreboding or fear.
‘0 Master, dear Master, our hosts are too few!
The men from the Northdale are brave men and true,
And swift though they come they will not come today,
Go not forth till tomorrow; I beg you, Lord, stay!”
But the Duke felt honour-bound to ride at once to the rescue of his people. He went with his small force and attacked the goblins. He was victorious at first. But the King of the goblins rallied his own forces and returned to the attack, eventually overwhelming the Duke and his men. The last of them died in a ring around their mortally wounded Duke. The rest of the Duke’s army arrived only in time to take revenge by destroying the whole goblin-host.
It was a long poem and a bit tedious. But Carla as watching Bruderic, she saw that enjoying himself so much that she enjoyed it, too.
Wissagebreht favoured them with a short tale about the Elves. But the Chamberlain seemed to be in a foul mood, and did not try to add anything to the night’s entertainment.
Shortly they went to sleep and it seemed to Carla that even more shortly the Wizard was waking everyone up.
The next day was much like the first; save for the fact that this time nothing was familiar. The hills looked similar but once the party rounded them Carla always found something different such as new trees and flowers, many that she’d never seen before. By lunchtime Carla became used to the sensation and she no longer had the desire to run back home to the hut and hide.
The Chamberlain continued in his bad mood, accepting the food offered him with bad grace, and earning from the King an irritated glance. After lunch, Wissagebreht spoke to him.
“Milord Chamberlain, would you walk with me? We have things to speak of.” Lungand looked at him and grunted. Then he handed the pack-pony’s lead-rope to the King and strode up to walk beside the Wizard. Carla allowed herself to drop back; knowing that the two would wish to talk privately. But she heard the first words, which made her extremely curious.
“Lungand, you do not favour this expedition, do you?”
“No, and I know too well why you arranged so that I should come along. You fear that if I were left behind, I would begin making plans to usurp the throne from that young man back there.”
“You think that?” Wissagebreht was surprised. “No, Milord, that was not my reason. But I have a strong suspicion that you doubt the tale of the unicorns, and that you are even more chary of what tale we might return with. I felt it best that you should come along with us the whole way. To see with your own eyes and to hear with your own ears what we see and hear. So that when we return, you will not fear any plot among us.”
Suddenly Wissagebreht looked back, frowning. Carla felt herself turning red, and slowed her steps so that she fell further behind. She could no longer hear anything from the two in front save a murmur of voices.
She began to practice with her sling once more. During the first day she had managed to become skilled enough that she could send the stone off in the direction she intended. Though not far or accurately. She now began picking out marks to throw at, a willow stump, a boulder, or some such thing. The skill seemed to be beyond her, but she was determined to keep trying.
Later on, as the day was passing on into evening, the party mounted towards the crest of a hill. Wissagebreht had rode ahead to scout their path ahead. Suddenly, the Wizard stopped. He then motioned for the rest of the party, who were behind him, to stop as well. Slowly he lay down, then motioned for them to come up, whispering as he did so, “Come up, but carefully, and don’t let your head be seen above the hill!”
Carefully, they crept their way up slowly, until they were beside the wizard. Carla was burning with curiosity. Following Wissagebreht’s instructions, she cautiously peeked over the hill but kept low to the grass.
Far away on the horizon was a long string of wagons moving across their path. Each wagon had what appeared to be a cover of some sort of cloth stretched over a wooden frame which gave it something of the appearance of a small house on wheels. Carla heard the Chamberlain mutter something that sounded like a curse, then “Wendleases! Unpredictable murdering savages!”
Carla continued to watch the wagons, each hauled by teams of two to six oxen with long horns. Wissagebreht answered the Chamberlain. “Say you so, Lungand? Actually, they are people with a particular way of life. And, finding themselves distrusted by other peoples, hold themselves apart from other peoples. And yes indeed, there are some, even some whole tribes, who set upon and kill any they find in their path, but this ought not to condemn the whole race, just as some murderers among our own folk are not taken to condemn our whole race.
Carla could make out young boys and men afoot and riding horses beside the wagons. While at the rear of the whole train was a huge mob of cattle and horses, stirring up a tremendous cloud of dust. They walked in a large semicircle around them and pushed them on, preventing any of them from straying.
The King asked, “What sort of people are they?”
Wissagebreht answered, “They are of many sorts. In fact, the various tribes of Wendleases among them, speak about ten different languages. There is even one tribe which speaks a language much like ours. As for this particular band, the tribal symbols painted on their wagons are unfamiliar to me. And I would not wish us to come to their attention, since it is not certain how they might receive us. Let us rest here until they have gone by.”
They sat quietly in the lee of the hill. Occasionally, someone in the party would slowly peek over to see whether the Wendleases had completely passed by. At one point Lungand asked, “Are we safe even here? When they move, do they not have scouts and outriders around to seek out enemies?”
“Yes, they will have scouts and outriders, but I think we are beyond the range of such. Best we wait here till they pass.”
Finally, after the wagons had gone by and disappeared into the distance, the little band went on. The day passed uneventfully, as did the night.
Again the next day they marched, with nothing to disturb them save the occasional sighting of prairie deer, the skittering of gophers, and the very skvaders which would take flight from the nearby brush as they walked. Evening came, and once more they stopped for the night, making a small fire for cooking and then wrapping up to sleep for the night.
Again they talked, telling stories and singing songs, as the fire died. As the last coals were still shining, Wissagebreht suddenly held up his hand and said “Hush!”
“What?” The Chamberlain looked up sharply.
“I heard something out there.”
“Only the horse wandering.”
“I think not.” The Wizard was looking around into the dark. He stood up. Looking around again, he gave a shout, then pointed at the remains of the fire. There was a bang and a burst of flame that blinded them all, and when they could see again, he was gone.
Shouting broke out in the darkness around them. The King and the Chamberlain looked around, groping for their swords. Then men came out into the light of the last coals of the fire. Most of them carried short bows that curved back at the tips. All of the bows had arrows on the strings, and the arrows were pointed at the three. The men were all similarly dressed, in leather trousers and tunic, though some also had a cap of leather which came to a point above the forehead, with long flaps on the sides in front of the ears.
They had all been temporarily blinded by the flash which Wissagebreht had made, but their vision was obviously coming back.
They were all grinning, but there was no good humour in grins, only pleasure at having taken the prey. Carla noticed that they all had scars on their left cheeks. Some of them had scars in a tic-tac-toe pattern, others had a strange sort of spiral.
The leader was a wizened little man, dressed the same as others, but carrying a rod of twisted black wood in his right hand. He was extremely cheerful at having taken them.
“Oho, Oho, we’ve taken three of them!”
His accent was a little strange, but there was no mistaking the glee in it.
”All but the wizard, and of course wizards are chancy companions, aren’t they? No, no, don’t try to draw swords, my men will turn you into pincushions before they are half out of the scabbards.”
Lungand looked around, muttered something, and let go of his sword. However, Bruderic held his sword hilt until men with ropes came and roughly grasped his hands and bound them behind him, while yet another man took the sword. Carla winced at the tightness of her bonds. She would have cried except that she knew that that would only make her captors laugh. She decided not to give them so much satisfaction.
The wizened little leader of their captors capered around, dancing from one person to another as he looked at them carefully. He picked up the packs and sorted through the contents. All the time he chuckled to himself and occasionally spoke to the captives.
“Oho, oho, not rich travellers, are they? But they do have a few things we can use. And as for themselves, well… The girl will make a slave, if only to help the women around the wagons. The boy may make a slave too, if he can be taught to accept his new station. The old one, well he can be our amusement for the night.
“Come, come, quickly, pack up the horse as well. Let us get back to our wagons and think about all this over our beer. Are we ready yet? Hurry, hurry!”
He was such a pest that Carla could hardly believe that the men who were actually doing the work would not eventually tell him to go away. But they seemed afraid of him. When he came too close they stiffened a bit. It was as though they were not quite sure what he might do, but knew that it would be something cruel.
“Come, come, let us go! We are all ready? Good! Prisoners in the middle, lest they should decide to risk running off with bound hands. Now, prisoners, watch the people ahead of you! If any of you stray more than two paces from their path, the people following you will shoot arrows into you. First into your legs and, if you keep going, into your back. You understand? Good, let us be on our way.”
They set out then, at a rather fast pace. Carla was surprised to discover just how hard it was to walk with arms bound. Her balance was out, and she stumbled on things that she never thought to stumble on. The two men in front of her were shorter than the rest, with yellowish skin and strangely-shaped eyes. They also spoke to each other in some strange language which she did not understand at all.
Occasionally they would laugh a little, a laugh which made her shudder.
They marched thus for about an hour, and Carla wondered every once in a while where Wissagebreht had gone. Despite what the leader of the Wendleases had said, it was not like him to desert his companions when trouble threatened.
Most of her time was spent in trying to keep her balance and in heeding the old Wendleas’ warning about straying from the path of those in front of her. Eventually, far in front of them, she could see a small glimmer of a far-off fire, and guessed that that was where they were headed.
Sure enough, it was not much longer before they could see the looming shapes of several wagons, and could hear the barking of dogs and the lowing of cattle. Then, worn and weary and discouraged, they stumbled into the firelight within the circle of wagons. The wagons were old and hard-used. The wagons seemed to have been repaired. But these repairs seemed to be hastily made without any sign of craftsmanship, by the hands of people who cared only that they serve for a little more time.
There were a half-dozen or more women standing around the fire too. When Carla looked at them, she remembered the old Wendlease suggesting that she should be a slave for them, she could not help but shudder. The old leader himself came into the circle and looked around. “Oh, for shame, let us remember our manners and offer a seat to our guests. Quickly, quickly. And we will want our beer too, so see to it, women.”
He did not even look at the women as he addressed them, and Carla shuddered again. He treated them as animals. Maybe on the level of the oxen that drew the wagons. Although from the look of them, they had learned not to protest against that treatment. But that only meant that they would be likely to use her, their slave, to take out all their resentment.
Once again she held back from crying, knowing that that would only make her treatment that much the worse.
They were roughly pulled and pushed over to one of the wagons where they were pushed down roughly. Then ropes were put round their necks and fastened to the wagon wheel. The Wendleases all went then to toss another log on the fire and began drinking.
As this was going on a woman approached the captives. She was a young woman with long dark hair, a smooth round face and pointed chin. She carried a water-flask in her hand and bent down quickly, offering it to Carla. “Here, drink. The waiting will be bad enough without the thirst. It is little enough I can do for you.”
Carla drank gratefully then, as the young woman passed on to the King, she asked, “Could you not cut our ropes and let us go?”
The woman frowned. “If I am seen doing this much for you, I will surely be punished; if I should do more, what then?”
By this time she was looking back over her shoulder to see if anyone had noticed what she was up to.
She finished giving drink to the captives, then straightened up and hurried away. Carla wondered about her. There was someone in this group, hard and cruel as they were, who was still capable of showing kindness. However little it may be.
She had little doubt as to how the night would go. Once the men had drunk sufficiently, they would turn to the prisoners and begin to torment them. It was true that they would think to save Carla and Bruderic for slaves. But the thought could easily get lost as the night went on.
Then one of the men got up and began walking in their direction. As he came, he lifted a sort of tarred leather bowl to his lips and drained it. As he took the cup down from his mouth, his eyes changed. His mouth opened as though he were trying to say something, then he fell face-down into the grass.
Another man came over, looked down at his prostrate comrade, and then began laughing. He prodded him with a toe, then bent over and took his shoulder. Suddenly, he too crumpled to the ground.
Carla was beginning to wonder, since the men had hardly had the time to drink enough beer to make them so drunk. She looked around. Other men were falling, or if they were seated, slumping sidewise. The women, most of whom had not been drinking, stood looking at this spectacle, wondering.
Carla looked around for the wizened little man. She saw him looking around at his men who were dropping to the ground like puppets with cut strings. He dropped his own cup, then looked over at Carla, still tied to the wagon wheel. “A witch! II He shouted. “A witch! She has bewitched them all!”
He continued shouting. But his shouting was now in some strange language He groped around for his wand. then hurled himself to his feet and began staggering toward her.
The campfire flared up in a flash, and the old Wenleas stopped, staring stupidly at it. Out of the flash stepped Wissagebreht. He looked extremely calm, as though this were a thing he did every day. The old leader of the Wendleases stopped gaping and began to raise his wand. But Wissagebreht raised his staff and seemed only to tap him on the temple He fell sprawling to the ground.
The women stood staring, fearful, not daring to interfere. After a sweeping glance at them, Wissagebreht went to Carla. Taking a sharp knife from his belt, he cut her free. He handed her the knife, but she found that her hands were all pins and needles and would not work properly. He smiled, setting the knife down.
“When you can make your hands work again, set the others free. There are things we must do.”
Carla wiggled her fingers to get some feeling back into them. Meanwhile, Wissagebreht walked back to the leader of the Wendleases and rolled him over twice. Leaving the black wand lying by itself on the grass. He was careful not to touch it.
Chamberlain spoke. “What magic did you use on them?”
The wizard looked around at the group of women. “No magic, only a little something added to the beer. Indeed, even Carla could show you one or two plants which, when added to drink or food, would give this effect.”
Lungand went on to something else that was on his mind. “Why did you flee when they first came?”
Wissagebreht shrugged. “Had I stayed and attempted to fight, we would all have been killed at once. I thought it best to escape at once and come back to rescue you later.”
“And if they had simply decided to murder us all on the spot? Or if they had gotten tired of leading us across the plain and decided to kill us somewhere along the way?”
“And if your mother had had four legs, she would have been a table. Lungand, there are risks in anything.”
The Chamberlain lapsed into silence, and now Carla was able to cut the ropes on him and the King. Wissagebreht called her, and pointed to the black wand on the ground. “Get some sticks of firewood and pile them on that, being careful not to touch it yourself.”
She did as the Wizard said. Wissagebreht kept his eye on the women, lest any of them begin to fear too much what might happen to them and try to attack the small band. A few of the women, those had had a bit more of the beer than the others, were falling to the ground unconscious. While others merely stood dumbly.
After she had piled the wood over the wand, Wissagebreht glanced down and said, “Good enough. Now take a brand from fire and light that. Do not try to light the wand itself, only the wood over it.”
She continued to follow his instructions. She also watched Lungand and Bruderic. Who had now regained some feeling in their own hands, and were looking on in wonder. The fire held readily to the wood and she watched as it began to blaze.
“Stand back!” Wissagebreht said sharply.
Surprised, she leaped backward as he pointed a hand down at the fire. Again there was a bang and a flash and the fire blazed up fiercely.
Carla looked into the heart of the fire and saw that the black wand was burning now. Burning slowly, as though it fought the flames at every step.
Wissagebreht moved, and Carla looked up again. Lungand found his sword and was moving purposefully toward the prostrate leader of the Wendleases. “No, Lungand.”
“NO?” There was outrage in the voice.
“In battle, yes, In the heat of anger, yes, but to kill an enemy who lies helpless before you?”
“Helpless for the moment. But what of tomorrow when they come hunting us?”
“Most of them will be too sick tomorrow, possibly the next day, to bother with pursuing us. And as this wand is being destroyed, so is the power that the warlock had over them. They will be a time sorting that out, I think.”
“And I say that they are evil, and we would be best to exterminate the lot of them.”
“They have been deep in evil, indeed. You see the marks on their cheeks? They are all outcasts, cast out of the various tribes of the Wendleases, come together in this band for company and for the need to survive. It has been the warlock who led them into evil, for the most part, though doubtless there are many who needed little leading.
“But with the power of the warlock gone, they will perforce seek a new leader, and if the new leader is a better then it will be the better for them. And I seriously doubt that they will take the time to follow us. They have their cattle to consider, the grazing and all. And they travel in a direction different from the one we take. Even revenge will not be sufficient to force them to put their herds into danger.”
In all this discussion, Bruderic had stood quietly by, saying nothing. Now, however, he spoke. “Lungand, I think he is right. Better we be gone from here with all speed rather than indulge in our own revenge. Let us go.”
They took their packs, hunted out whatever of their belongings they could, took the packhorse, and were on their way.
As they marched Lungand spoke to Wissagebreht, heedless of who might hear. “Well, this is proof, if proof were needed, that this is too dangerous. The King must go back.”
“Lungand, anything is dangerous. If he sits back in the palace forever, there is still the danger that sickness will take him away. In fact, there may even be a certainty of that, for if this quest fails, the land will steadily become less and less productive, until even the richest will have no food, for there will be none to buy. And when that happens what safety will there be in being King in the palace?”
“I did not raise the boy and fight his enemies for this!”
“No, that I doubt not. Yet what other choice is there? The quest cannot be achieved without the King being present, and if the quest fails, so will the land. Did you raise him to turn aside from his responsibilities?”
“NO, but — “
“Then tell me if you can see another choice in all this. If you cannot, then we must continue as we have been, perhaps with more care. But we must continue.”
After they had gone some distance from the Wendleases camp, Wissagebreht called them to a halt. “We have to have some rest, whatever else might happen. We will stop here for a time.”
Lungand looked up sharply. “And if they come after us?”
“And if we keep going until we are too weary to stand properly? Let us rest, with one keeping watch, for what remains of the night. In the morning we will go on, and get ourselves as far as may be from here.”
The Chamberlain did not like this, but he saw the wisdom of it. Wissagebreht took the first watch and Bruderic the second, then they marched again. Despite the Wizard’s assurances, Lungand kept looking back over his shoulder for the whole day as though he expected to see all the Wendleases coming in hot pursuit.
They never saw that band of Wendleases again. As they wandered through the plains however, they would occasionally, from great distances, see other bands of Wendleases and when they did so, they took precautions.
That was Chapter two. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]
Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.