Milos heard that princess Aliana had gone missing. The news had spread like wildfire throughout the capital Evan and it was now filtering into the villages. Numerous rumours abound, but they all had one common thread—the king of Arnay was livid.
“I heard that she has gone and eloped with that Whitby heir.” said one of the men beside him at the bar.
“Why would she go and do something stupid like that!” erupted another. “Chrisoncor house has power second only to the king’s family in Gohara. An alliance was to be made between those two houses. It would strengthen the royal bloodline.”
“A strong bloodline it would have made, but also an ugly one. The Whitby boy is a handsome fellow my niece Lanny tells me. The princess was born plain so I can see why she would want to marry a better looking lad, erasing the sins of her mother. Now Queen Annabeth, rest her soul was beauty personified.”
“That may be so Sammy, but how will a pretty king help us against the Garion garbage when they finally decide to strike. Wars are expensive and the Chrisoncor wealth is what will finance it.”
Milos couldn’t help himself but he let out a loud snort which caught the attention of the man beside him.
“Find something funny stranger?”
“I am sorry, are you talking to me?” he asked as he emptied the tankard and placed it on the counter.
“Yes, you. You dolt. You seem like you have something to add to what me and the boys were saying.”
“I assure you kind sirs that I do not. Your conversation was quite stimulating and any input from me would not have made it any better.” he pulled his hood over his face. “In fact, I will be leaving now as it is getting quite dark.”
“Well not before you pay for that drink.” bellowed the bartender.
“Right,” he said as he turned and pulled out a silver coin from the pouch hidden under his coat and place it on the table.
Sammy eyed him suspiciously as he caught a glimpse of the pouch under the coat. “My wife sewed me a pouch just like that.”
“Well she must be quite talented.” said Milos. The man started to search for his own pouch. “I must be going now.” Milos turned and half ran, half walked towards the door.
“Hey! Stop him! He’s got my money! Thief!” screamed the burly man and all the men in the tavern got up. Two of them blocked the door and another scrawny-looking one stood by the window.
“I think you have made a mistake. I am no thief.” he said turning to face the converging crowd. “My name is Milos, magistrate from Nur.” he said holding up his hands.
“From Nur, that is odd. What a magistrate from Nur be doing this far south? Don’t you witching kind usual keep to yourselves?” said the barkeep who had a wicked baton twirling in his hand. “Well?”
“Well, I have come with Moriah, now Ana-Moriah head magistrate from the Mudlands for her wedding to King Arro-Bartholomew.”
“This one spouts more lies than a drunk bard. I don’t know whether to laugh or bludgeon him for his tall tales.”
“I tell no tales, but the truth. A muddy witch is now queen. So, I would be kinder to anyone from Nur.” The entire tavern erupted into laughter.
“Is that so Nurian?” asked a bulky man stepping forward.
“It is. That is why the princess was exiled, you dolts. The king would rather hide his shame by covering it with lies about his daughter.”
“Aww I can’t listen to him anymore. Grab him and teach him a serious lesson about why we don’t like liars and thieves in these parts.” shouted one of the men. Several of them converged on him at once. He ducked out of their hold and scrambled between their legs.
Another caught hold of his cloak but he shrugged it off quickly. The door was still guarded but the window was clear. He dashed towards the opening and dived through.
“Shit!” he cursed as he landed poorly on his wrist. He rolled off the floor and headed for the outpost which had his horse hitched. The mob spilled out of the tavern and onto the street.
“Catch him!” someone shouted but it was already too late as he rode out of the village, cold but mostly unharmed. He kept going until the outer edge of the Arbors was in sight. Desperate he might be, but he wasn’t stupid enough to venture into the Arborlands—even if it was the North Arborlands—at this hour. He was sure that the villagers wouldn’t follow either. They were probably hoping that the forest haunts would get him for his crimes.
Confident that he was alone, he came off his horse. His wrist throbbed and was already swelling. He touched it tentatively. He didn’t feel any broken bones. It was just a sprain. “That will teach me next time. Pay from my pocket not the purse. Dilan would have flayed me for my folly if he had witnessed this.”
He searched through his pack and pulled out a few strips of cloth which he used as brace for his wrist. He then set about setting up camp for the night.
The tent was made of brilliant red cloth, easily visible to the human eye. But it wasn’t human detection that he was worried about out here. He had heard the saying so often growing up:
Scarlet heart, scarlet skies,
Scarlet hides from evil eyes.
Crimson cloth, crimson fire,
Crimson saves from death so dire.
The forest was alive with cricket song. Where he came from, he didn’t hear this side of nature at all. He rarely heard anything except sentiments of disappointment. He wasn’t like his older brother, the responsible one, the handsome one, the perfect one. He would forever be the black spot in the family’s silken tapestry. So, he left. He thought that they would come after him, but alas, it was like he had never existed. The spot was gone, and everyone rejoiced.
The whooping song of a horned owl was cut short by the blood curdling sound of a woman screaming. He sat up out and listened once more. Silence remained. Whomever it was, it was already too late for them.
He settled back under the covers and closed his eyes. He heard the scream again this time it was much closer. The woman was alive but was luring the creatures towards him. He muttered as he pulled on his boots and red hooded cape. He drew for his sword, bow, quiver, a box of matches, and vial containing a thick syrupy liquid before heading outside.
Silently he stalked along the outer brushes and waited. Two figures barrelled out of the woods. One of them, a man, was hurt as he seemed to be leaning heavily on the other, a tall willowy female dressed in leggings and a billowy white shirt.
She let go of the man and he faltered slightly, but stood his ground pulling out a broad sword. She pulled out a staff with gleaming blades at the end. They were looking towards the forest waiting.
“Fools, why are they just standing there.” He muttered.
He didn’t have to wait long as five wraiths floated out into the open. Usually grims wouldn’t venture this far out of the forest, but the scent of blood permeated the air and they were not going to give up on a meal.
The pair were skilled with their weapons as they struck the wraiths multiple times causing the creatures to let out a piercing shriek. The blades would hold them off but wouldn’t kill them.
He crept closer to the wraiths keeping to the shadows. He pulled out a small vial of oil and threw it behind the wraiths. All five heads turned towards the sound and moved towards it. He lit the tip of an arrow and sent it fling towards the creatures. One of them looked up but it was too late. The fire and oil mixed into a small but powerful explosion, incinerating all five of the creatures at once.
He climbed out of hiding and came to stand in front of the strangers. The woman pointed the staff at his chest.
“Odd thanks for someone who just saved your life.” he said pulling off his hood.
The girl pushed the blade closer to his chest. “Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Milos. I just saved your lives and if you want them, your lives that is, to stay saved, it is best you follow me.” He pushed the spear tip away from his chest and walked past them to his tent.
A slight argument seemed to be going on between the two strangers. The man was being stubborn. He whirred to face the two, “You are bleeding and grim aren’t the worst things out at night. If you plan to become dinner for another ghoul, kindly inform me so that I can be on my way, that is after you have reimbursed me for the vial of Sidna oil I just wasted on saving your lives.”
The man glared at him, but he soon relented after the woman touched him once more. “Fine.” he said.
“Could you help us please? He has lost quite a bit of blood and is hard to carry when he is injured.” said the girl.
“Very well, but just so you know, this means that I will be charging extra.” said Milos flashing them another winning smile which earned him another glare from the man.