Ugh, Lowesday, Today I woke with my hands bound and a splitting headache. Must have been out a whole day. Things got worse from there. Too tired to write about it but at least I'm alive. For now.
The wagon train crawled onwards. Despite the good weather and well kept roads progress was slow. Greiip awoke fully some time around noon. He had been drifting in and out for a while but finally got a hold of himself enough to turn and look around. Everywhere he saw the regalia of the Realm, a white Square on a black field, inset with a red Pallenwood. Great. On his left he heard a sound like sobbing and turned his whole body to get a look. The man sat there was a sorry excuse, his mud caked face clean only where the tears had run. Greiip stared at him for a moment until the lad became aware of the gaze. He looked back.
“So your awake?” said the prisoner between sobs.
Greiip stayed silent
“No words aye, well it makes no matter, I saw them take you. If it hadn't been for you I'd have had that horse and been halfway to Rammenwall by now”.
“So you're going to cry all the way to the headsman?” asked Greiip solemnly.
“Headsman, hah, you think that's what they have planned for us? A horse thief and a spy, we'll be sent to the mines I expect, either that or sent out as fodder”
“Spy? I'm no spy” said Greiip.
“Sure, sure, so you were just sneaking into the most militarised part of this battle line to see the view then”.
“Battle line?” said Greiip.
The horse thief laughed.
“You don't know? The Thraat invaded the Realm five days ago. They haven't spread this far west yet but they're expected to soon”.
The thief shook his head.
“What rotten luck, how you didn't pick up on this sooner”.
Greiip had ploughed through the last hundred hops in less than half a crest barely stopping. Now he thought back many of the villages had been heavily guarded, Xiss had even pointed this out on occasion. Or was it Riss? Yes, in fact many were boarded up, abandoned or just outright closed and hostile. So much like me thought Greiip, to miss the small details.
“I came here for adventure” said Greiip “where I'm from, they tell tales of the Realm, of its sprawling cities, its great armies, the vast tunnels that run beneath it full of riches for those who...”
He stopped. The thief was laughing now.
“What?” asked Greiip abashed, “tell me it's true”.
The thief caught his breath.
“Oh it's true, and then some it's just” he looked Greiip up and down “it's just you, don't really look the part”.
Greiip turned away. He'd heard enough of this to know not to rise to it but it was annoying all the same.
“What's your name anyway horse thief?”
“Karndal, from the village of..”
“Quiet down back there” ordered the driver curtly.
“We're passing close to the border again, this pass gets quite narrow” whispered Karndal seeming to regain some composure “I know this place well”.
A hop ahead the tip of the train was crawling into the ravine. Greiip looked back at Karndal, he was watching the cliffs above.
“Expecting something?” whispered Greiip.
“I hope not, the raiders in these parts don't take prisoners, but they don't attack military convoys either. If the Thraat have got up there though, well, I doubt they take prisoners either”.
Their wagon entered the ravine. Below the brick path rumbled under the wooden wheels, the two stout Rorebas snorting at the front, the crack of the drivers whip. Every sound tinkled about the cliff walls a thousand times.
“Amazing isn't it?” asked Karndal “The sound gets trapped in here. No one's really sure why. They say it can linger for moments on end, a whole tenth sometimes”.
He leaned in closer to Greiip.
“I don't know if you saw but several men with bows just clambered down the ravine wall, they're following the train at a quarter hop now. We should be ready to curl up small and hide”.
Greiip suddenly experienced a new found modicum of respect for his companion in chains. A fellow who knows how to curl up and hide, now that could make a good squire.
“Listen, Karndal, what are our chances of getting out of here, you know, more or less alive, still.”
“Couldn't say, I don't know who these men are, just stay crispy”.
“Crispy” said Karndal “haven't you ever heard that?”
“Well they say it loads where I'm from”.
The front most wagon exploded. That was how Greiip would later recount the thing he saw, but explosion was a mockery of a description. It was as if a small volcano erupted beneath the ground. The sound carried like a roar along the canyon. The carriages near were spilled over and suddenly arrows were materialising in the air. Greiip and Karndal gave each other a quick look, rolled over the side and back under their wagon in one swift, synchronised movement. The surly driver appeared next but with an arrow shaft protruding from his forehead. Greiip brought his hands under his feet as he had done when bound (and/ or gagged) many times before and procured the drivers sword. He had the ropes off in a blink and Karndal free in no less time. The fellow rubbed his wrists and propped himself up on an elbow. Another soldier fell down near to the back wheels and Karndal helped himself to that sword without breaking gaze.
“What now?” asked Greiip.
“Well, either we wait till this is over and get captured again, or we run for it”.
“Yes, well I know those two options” shot back Greiip “you don't know me but those are pretty much the only two options I ever have, I was hoping you'd have a third choice”.
Karndal shrugged unhelpfully.
“Fine, okay, follow my lead then” said Greiip.
He rolled out from under the cart and into the nearest bush, turned to the side and wriggled between the branches. A blink later Karndal appeared.
“Get your feet in. Fifth rule of hiding, don't forget about your feet”.
“Okay good, so what's the first?”
Greiip held up his hand “whoa slow down there friend, one rule at a time”.
A barrage of men clanked past shouting, boots that didn't match the Realm's uniform. Greiip took his chance.
They broke the hedge and sprinted away from the action. Back at the entrance to the ravine they found some safe looking rocks and ducked behind. The sound here was quieter but the explosion still lingered in the valley, roaring back and forth. They poked their heads back out and they took in the scene. Men in unusual armour were picking amongst the carnage. Their own dead could be seen but it was clear they had won the encounter by a wide margin, A few of the realm's men fought on but there was no quarter here. A man in amour of the same design as the others but with a more commanderly flare strode amongst the dead looking as he went. Despite his seemingly higher rank the men at arms seemed relaxed around him and there was no stiff military behaviour. The officer turned to a nearby subordinate and removed his helmet. He tried shouting over the din but gave up and led the soldier out towards the hiding spot, just in earshot.
“Search amongst the prisoners, he must be here”
“Aye sir, and what of the rest, there's some scum here but not all of them are bad I'll wager”.
“Fine Tollick take the rest back, it's at your discretion. Perhaps there are a few recruits in there. And next time, pick a better place to set off a firebrand, that blast will be heard for half a crest”.
Another soldier bustled towards the other two.
“Sir we have him”
Further up the road elated shouts could be heard mingling with the already abundant sounds escaping like puffs of steam. Greiip and Karndal slipped away as the victorious soldiers gathered around the wagons. Greiip remembered seeing the hillside slope down sharply on the way into the ravine so he headed back that way and down to the riverbed at the bottom. Karndal descended after him panting and splashed into the boggy Silt Grass. They looked back up the way they had come.
“Looks like a clean break” said Karndal “you're quite good at this no?”
Greiip sat down and began pulling off his boots.
“I've had a lot of practice, but hey, trust me, you're a natural”.
Karndal smiled “you really think so?”
“No question about it lad, if I could escape that well at your age I'd still have all my toes”.
Karndal wrinkled his brow.
“Long story” Greiip put his boots to one side and wriggled eight tired toes in the stream. Karndal sat beside him.
“So you said you were here to seek adventure?”
Greiip reached down and rubbed his feet dispelling a cloud of dirt into the clear water.
“Well, if you're just going to be disparaging again you can go and..”
“No, no I'm not” said Karndal quickly “there is great treasure in this land you were right but, well, it's a dangerous job. Two in ten live through their first dungeon and the survival rate drops sharply from there”
“That's what we call them but I guess underground tunnels would be more accurate. All sorts of scum and vermin live there and horde their treasures but they're powerful or hire powerful warriors to defend them”.
“So why bring it back up?” asked Greiip.
“Well, the thing is everyone who comes here to get riches, they always do it with big loud shields, and big loud swords, and even bigger louder armour. It's just that no one has ever tried to, well, just get in quiet like and scurry off with something of value before they're seen”.
Greiip rubbed his chin.
“How do you know, I mean if you're not getting seen then how do you know some folk aren't doing this already?”
“Someone would have slipped up by now, we'd have heard about it” said Karndal.
“The citizens of the realm. Adventuring is all anyone talks about here you know, a big attraction to foreign commerce too. What guild did you register with?”
Greiip cleared his throat “erm, guild?”
“Oh golly, okay you really didn't prepare for this did you. Look you can't just walk into the realm and start robbing off random dungeons, there's rules, a monopoly, people you really don't want to upset”.
Greiip got up. The stream trickled gently over the edge of a cliff falling into droplets in the wind. The land away in the distance reminded him of home. Far from the weird and wonderful picture he had thought of on the long walk here.
“I thought it'd be more misty” he said.
“It's just a name” replied Karndal.