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Chapter 2 - Journey to South Port

We met with Devin to discuss plans for our journey to It would be a long journey requiring many provisions and according to my visions, the King and Queen of The Land were to take part.

“But who will protect our home?” Devin asked. “We cannot leave The Land without leadership or protection. My Queen, one of you must stay.”

Devin was unsettled since he knew our home would be unprotected, but I had an idea. We would once again need the help of my great-grandfather, Christopher Farmoore. I asked Devin to ride to Farmoore in the hope that our neighboring town would offer support.

The next morning Devin set off for Farmoore while Riley and I planned our long trip across the continent. We needed armor, weapons, and rations to last many months. The blacksmiths of the town were happy to help and our seamstresses poured their hearts into every item I requested. If there was one thing on the continent I could trust, it was the loyalty of my people.

I studied the maps in Queen Kathleen’s library for long hours and read much about the lands we would visit. We would have to rely on Riley as our primary guide since he knew the continent better than any mortal, but it was up to me to learn about the rulers of the cities and towns. There was much history, including wars among men that happened well before I was born. Rivalry and mistrust must still exist between the towns. I had to convince the men of this land that unseen forces were at work against us. We must unite and stand together against the sinister plans of the protectors. How can I prove to the leaders that the protectors exist? Will they even believe me?

I shook my head to clear it. I had to move forward with my studies and not become overwhelmed with the task before me. I just hoped that my family history would go unnoticed. fought many years against my evil great-grandfather, Sabastian Elderbee, and if it were known that I was his great granddaughter, a great barrier of mistrust would surely surface.

A week later Devin arrived with the help I had requested. The gift I had offered Sir Lawrence of Farmoore, enticed him. I asked for forty of his most faithful guards to stay at the castle and protect my people while two knights would escort us to Sir Lawrence was a distant cousin to my family and in the bloodline of Farmoore rulers. According to Devin he had been reluctant to help, but my gift had been an enchanted sword.

“Tegan left long ago and abandoned his family,” Sir Lawrence had said to Devin. “Why should we take up arms and join you now? In what way does this serve us?”

Devin mentioned the threat of the plague, though it was not the illness that convinced Sir Lawrence to help us. The enchanted sword that enticed my distant relative was a piece of Farmoore history. I accidentally discovered the inscribed sword, marked with my great-grandfather’s royal crest, hidden in the library under a pile of stacked books. It was dusty and I had brought the sword to my room to examine it.

When I pulled the blade from its sheath, the metal gleamed as bright as sunlight and appeared magical. Inscriptions on the side of the sword baffled me, but I found another book written by my great-grandfather explaining their meaning. The sword had been enchanted to allow visions of an attacker to be seen by the wearer. One glance into the side of the reflective blade and the enemy would appear, offering the wearer the ability to distinguish true loyalty among his comrades. After numerous battles against , the sword passed to Tegan who brought it with him on his quest for a new home. The sword was a rich gift, indeed.

We were introduced to two of Sir Lawrence’s knights who would make the journey south with us. The Knights, Cal and Theo, were gracious gentlemen who bowed to us and were loyal to their ruler. I was happy to have them join us and the forty guards who came were also skilled swordsmen. Our home would be safe in the hands of such fine men.

In his stead, Devin appointed Charles Constantine as constable, a young man devoted to Devin more than any other guard. Charle’s father had been trusted by my Aunt and like so many guards loyal to their Queen, had died at my father’s hands. I thought of the strong bond between Devin and me, and imagined the same must have been true for Charles’s father and my aunt. I could not agree more with Devin’s decision.

Once all the parties were appointed, our little alliance gathered in a torch-lit room high in the castle.

Around the oblong table sat six men and two women. Riley and I were at the head of the table and Devin sat at the other end. To Devin’s right sat a woman who would be traveling with us. I was grateful that another female would be on the trip. She introduced herself as Sae’ka, an expert archer with dark hair and hazel eyes. Although she was older than Devin, her leather-strap uniform divulged a feminine figure with a healthy physique. Next to Sae’ka sat Cal and Theo, the knights from Farmoore and opposite them were two young guards who had worked with Devin these past years rebuilding The Land. These men were smaller and still in their teens, not at all like the powerfully built Devin and the knights of Farmoore. The first introduced himself as William, nicknamed “Wolfe” because of his keen senses. Next to Wolfe sat George who turned out to be the most comical of the group. Sometimes we called him “music-man” because he played a flute; it never left his side.

I began by explaining about the knight from and his news about the plague. Before we could divulge the nature of the illness and what I had learned at the Protectors’ Fortress, we had to tell the whole story, so Devin made sure no one could hear outside the room.

“What is told here must never be uttered by any of us, not until we have reached our destination,” Riley spoke gravely. He took a deep breath and began. “I was not always as I am now. I was something no man had noticed before. In fact, I was not a man at all.” The people around the table looked at one another in confusion and muttered, but Riley charged forward with his story.

“Long hidden from the glances of men, non-human beings of timeless origin exist, keeping the world balanced since the dawn of these lands. Although their true form is shapeless, they are visible to humans as a green mist. When they take a form it can be anything on this continent that is mammal or amphibian. They are called protectors and have roamed these lands for an eternity making sure that no inhabitant of this world would overrun or destroy it.

“Protectors disguised as predators have intervened and have kept animals at bay who posed a threat to this world. At times they have wiped out entire species. Unfortunately humans are a species they do not care for. Protectors have not found a predator that can kill humankind, nor do they care to become human because the emotions you possess are too overwhelming for them.” Riley paused. “I was one of the few protectors who traveled with your kind and watched them from afar. That was, until I met your Queen.”

“I don’t understand,” said . He and everyone else in the room, except Devin and me, could not fathom such a creature. “Are you still this creature? And what do you have to do with the plague spreading through our lands?”

“I was once a protector until this,” Riley turned to a box behind him and opened it. He took out the syringe and placed it in the middle of the table. “This is your plague, Sir Knight. A potion created by protectors with the sole purpose of changing an immortal into a mortal. You see, until this potion was developed, protectors were immortal and there was no way to kill one who did not comply with the protector’s code of keeping the balance. I was one of these rebels because I wished to help a woman I was ordered to kill. Instead, I saved her life and threatened the balance of this world, according to their view. Once a protector takes a mortal form, he can be injected with the potion and made mortal. But there’s a side effect. Every protector injected with the potion has died except for two, and I survived only because Queen Crystal healed me.”

“How did you get this?” Theo asked.

“I took it,” I said. “I went searching for the protector who had saved my life at Bear Ridge and discovered that he had been following me as I had suspected, though I was unaware that he had taken the form of my servant, Riley. The protectors found us in the woods when Riley transformed and they injected him with this potion. We were taken, imprisoned, and condemned to die in the protectors’ fortress, but I used my magic to help us escape.

“Eventually I healed Riley completely so he would not die like the other immortals injected. But before I could turn my attention fully to healing him, I had to return to the fortress to find the one protector who hated us most. He had dabbled in the creation of this potion and his sights were set on using it to kill our kind. I invaded the fortress undetected until he found me in his laboratory. I injected him immediately after he changed into the form I feared most, my deceased father. You now know him as my father’s identical twin, Uncle Ally, as Ashelle calls him. Uncle Ally was weakened by the injection, so I was able to escape a second time, but not before taking this.” I pointed to the syringe again. “This carries the potion that is now plaguing our continent.”

“That sick man was a protector?” Cal and Theo looked at each other in amazement.

“So then he is not your father’s identical twin,” Sae’ka stated while gazing at me. “But how did he survive the potion?”

“This particular protector has knowledge of medicines that humankind does not understand. He injected himself with human blood after I injected him with the potion and that helped him slow the potion’s effects. It was the one thing that kept him from death. He will remain here and I will offer him what he needs to help us find a cure. In return, we will keep him safe. Right now he is our best hope for fighting the plague.”

“How do you know he will even help? You said he wanted to kill us with this potion, so why would he help us now?” George asked.

“He is mortal for the first time. In his efforts to cure himself, he will cure us all. Because he was immortal, death was never a concern to him, but now he can feel pain, feel death coming. He will work hard to save himself.”

The thoughts of everyone at the table were focused on comprehending the recent information. I was relieved to read no opposition to the startling news that Uncle Ally would remain here to possibly remedy humankind from his own creation.

“We have provisions for you,” Devin stood and spoke. “We leave at dawn. The town believes that we are traveling to to meet with its ruler, nothing more. I expect that nothing shall be spoken about our new tidings?” The group nodded.

“One more request.” Devin continued. “Due to the nature of the plague, it is likely we will be seen by protectors during our journey. So, no one in our party can leave the group at any time. Each of us will be paired with someone at all times and pairs must never stray from the entire group. The King and Queen will be paired, myself with Sae’ka, with Theo, and lastly George and Wolfe. If you are alone and a protector finds you, you’ll be dead. It will be safer if we are together.”

“Thank you, Devin,” I said and turned to the group. “Please go and rest now. Our journey begins tomorrow at first light. We will meet at the castle gates.”

The members of the small party stood and bowed to Riley and me. Everyone left the room. Riley put the syringe in the box and took it to our chamber to pack. We glanced at each other often during dinner, though our conversation remained sparse. I read Riley’s thoughts and they were identical to mine. We were uncertain of our task at hand, but it was time to face the unknown. At least we would be together.

The next morning I followed Riley to the castle courtyard where Devin had been waiting for us. I mounted Sesha and Riley rode Nacaht. Besides heavy armor, Riley wore my grandfather’s sword. I looked wistfully at the large ruby. It was still beautiful, though it no longer gleamed with Orielle’s image. I had given it to Riley earlier when planning our trip. He would make better use of it than I ever could since I had no training with weapons. I did not even want a sword on our trip since my magical powers would be my best defense, but a blacksmith in town offered me a dagger of fine quality. The weapon had beautiful designs etched into the metal and it was light, yet durable, a work of art by a fine craftsman. He bowed, placing it in my hand, and spoke.

“May this blade protect my Queen when dark powers threaten. My heart will be with you on your journey if you carry this close.”

I thanked the blacksmith for his generosity while placing the dagger into its exquisite leather casing. From that moment I carried the dagger close to my heart. It became a symbol of home rather than a weapon of war, and I always knew the spirit of my people went with me during our travels.

We galloped to the gates to meet the others. The knights of Farmoore wore heavier armor than the rest of the party. Sae’ka’s uniform was the lightest and most revealing. She told me freedom of movement is essential for an archer and riding with her, perched on her shoulder armor, was a sparrow hawk.

George and Wolfe came trotting along and we noticed that George had a hard time staying on his horse. He never rode a horse before and slid off several times during the start of our travels. His patient horse would stop, walk back to him and wait while we attempted to control our laughter. Once the horse nudged George from behind and he tripped over his own feet.

“Stop playing around.” Devin insisted.

“But I’m not playing!” George got back on his saddle and swayed unsteadily.

A crowd of servants and townspeople gathered in the early morning hour to wish us well. We waved a cheerful farewell; deep down I was worried about my home and wondered if I had made the right decision by leaving The Land. But my visions became clearer as the days passed and despite not knowing the outcome, this journey was meant to happen. It was the details that bothered me, such as Ashelle.

I remembered the day “Uncle Ally” had been brought to town. I will never forget the look of sheer terror on Ashelle’s face. She had known my father before he ravaged The Land with his evil curse and she was still frightened of him. To see the image of my father come back into the castle that day horrified her, bringing back terrible memories.

She pleaded with me to let someone else bring him food. Even though she believed the man was just the identical twin of my father, she could not bear the image of him. I wondered if she feared my father more than I did. I told her gently but firmly that it was her duty to care for him. She needed to face her fears. In an effort to make his presence less fearful, she named my so-called uncle after her own uncle, “Ally,” who had died three years earlier.

Both Ashelle and Trixie were very emotional and had kind, generous hearts. Uncle Ally, a creature who could not yet understand emotions, would benefit from his association with my girls. I read their thoughts. They had asked him why he hurt so many people. Of course, he did not respond. Nevertheless, they poured their hearts out anyway. Their feelings were something this new “man” needed to hear, and he was forced to listen to the girls’ anger and hurt caused by my father. I hoped that during our absence the girls would teach the protector something about humanity.

It soon became evident that our journey to would take much longer than I had anticipated. My visions did not distinguish the expanse of time. Events I believed would happen in days took weeks, sometimes longer.

Our journey south began uneventfully, allowing everyone in the party to become familiar with one another. I later reflected upon this time as a part of my life that I treasured most. During our travels we learned much, but mostly we began to understand the unique make-up of our group.

Devin was the leader. Protecting his King and Queen was his top priority, and he brought forth confidence in all of us. Riley guided us and Wolfe became our lookout, sensing danger with his beyond-human capabilities. My powers protected the alliance along with Sae’ka’s and the knight’s fighting skills. George, whose most attractive attribute was his humor, pursued Sae’ka like a loving puppy, always struggling to gain her affection. One clear day I rode alongside Sae’ka. After a few minutes, she asked why I was looking at her without speaking.

“Your friend,” I said. “I’ve been talking with her. Skinny’s pleased to be with you and she’s loyal to you because of what you did for her.” Sae’ka did not believe I had been speaking with the sparrow hawk loyally perched atop her shoulder until I mentioned her hawk’s name. “You took her in when you found her on the ground next to the lake. Her wing was badly injured and she couldn’t fly or hunt. That’s how she got her name, Skinny, because she had lost so much weight. She’s very grateful to you for feeding her and tending to her wing until she could fly again. I believe Skinny will help us much during our travels.” I trotted ahead to Riley. Sae’ka was astonished that the tiny creature on her shoulder had understood so much about the past experiences shared between them.

I found traveling south much easier than the trip I had made through the east woods. The climate was warmer and the path easier to follow because many people traveled this single passage between The Land and Sometimes the path, called “The Crossing,” disappeared under dense brush or passing streams, but Riley always guided us until the trail revealed itself once more. There were concerns that free-roamers might attack us while traveling The Crossing, but most roamers did not raid parties while in open land. Once we reached the wooded area of “” we would have to be on guard.

We could easily find shelter while staying in the towns of North and , but rural areas outside of each province were rarely guarded for lack of armed escorts. It seemed that the protectors were not as much a threat here as the men and women who had joined my grandfather in the formation of The Land.

Because The Land’s history was partly rooted in the free-roamers of the west and south, I always admired the people who traveled freely. My grandmother was a free-roamer from the west and I felt a kinship with these solitary people although I had never traveled with them or even met them. My views would soon change after our first meeting.

In the early morning we had traveled beyond the open area of The Crossing and into the dense woods of . Sunlight partially passed through the treetops. Sounds of animals scurrying about filled the brush, and birds fluttered from tree to tree above us. Riley rode up behind me and spoke softly.

“, I must warn you,” Our horses were close and I leaned over to listen. “I know every animal call upon this continent, and I’ve just heard two calls that I don’t recognize. They can’t be bird songs or I would have understood them.”

At the same moment I read Wolfe’s thoughts. He sensed something too, a smell somehow out of place in the woods. I raised my hand and silently halted the party.

“Back your horses into a circle facing outward and be on guard.” The group did as I asked, and I sensed their worry. They drew their weapons and we waited.

The strange calls from the trees stopped and a flurry of arrows rained down on us from every direction. My energy shield surrounded us, the same shield I had used with the vultures from the east woods. The arrows raced through the air. When they reached my barrier they bounced off and fell to the ground. I cautioned everyone to stay in place and not move. If one of the horses spooked, we would lose our defense.

A large group of men and women sprang out of the woods, their faces dirty and their actions menacing. We stood in place as they savagely raced toward us holding crude weapons. My alliance did not move and the barrier held against their fruitless blows. A powerful force of wind radiated out from my shield, knocking the attackers to the ground, and their swords, spears, and axes flew from their grasp. Another group of roamers attempted a second attack while dodging the first group stumbling for their weapons. I countered with a greater force of wind, and this time no one was left standing.

“Why do you attack us? We are traveling to and have no quarrel with you!” I called out to several roamers, hoping to establish some type of communication, but they scattered and hid.

“Answer the Queen, you cowards!” Devin shouted from behind me with unsettled nerves.

A dozen men tried to attack again although their attempt was futile. We glanced around to see five or six people peering at us from behind trees, trying to figure out their next move.

“Your second attack from the river will fail and the night attack you just thought about will not work either,” I warned. I had read the thoughts of a man close to us, standing behind a massive tree. “You, Sir, behind the tree, what’s your name?”

The man scampered off into the woods, bounding over branches like a rabbit. Cal and Theo wanted to chase after him but the rest of us were content to hold our position. I dropped the barrier when I sensed it was safe to travel. The roamers were likely to plan a different attack, but I hoped we would have covered some distance by then.

The roamers would not even talk with us, and I was supposed to bring humans together? They acted worse than animals in the wild. I began seriously doubting my ability to bring mortals together if their objective was to fight their own kind. How will I be able to unite “our kind”?

“Be observant,” counseled Devin. “We must follow the path no matter what surprises lie ahead.”

Riley took the lead and guided us while Devin stayed close behind. I went to the back of the group and asked Sae’ka if Skinny would fly over the area. I suspected a free roamer camp was nearby. Skinny took off before I finished asking.

At the start of our journey I had hoped the free-roamers would at least talk with us, but robbing our party seemed more important. It was a shame since they were the ones who had suffered most from the protector’s plague. I often heard that they took travelers as slaves and roamers massacred traveling parties for no reason. I never believed it could be true until now. Our recent encounter forced me to reassess my view of these people, people I had always felt a vague kinship with.

We followed Riley’s lead for an hour until Skinny arrived with the free-roamers’ location. They were camped to the west of , so I asked Riley to take us as far away from them as possible. We left the path and headed toward a rough mountain area in the east. It would be a longer route but safer than our previous one.

The roamers would not seek out eight travelers hidden deep in the wilderness. They would probably be interested in larger parties who were oblivious to their whereabouts. My questions and magic were enough to put a bad taste in their mouths and the rewards for slaughtering us were not worth the effort.

Before dark we came across a cozy place to rest for the night. A creek flowed next to a rock face that stretched higher than the treetops, and a gravel embankment emerged from the woods, twisting alongside the trickling water. We were secure here, so the knights began setting up camp. Once branches were gathered and stacked, I started our nightly fire.

Sae’ka and Devin hunted for game and Wolfe and George cooked our dinner. We were bound to each other - Devin carefully watched so that no one wandered too far from the group. I had not anticipated the problems that would arise due to our limited privacy.

After eating, I removed my leather armor and sat on an uncomfortable rock. We were not eager to give away our location to any stray free-roamers, so George refrained from playing his flute. I rested silently, mindlessly gazing at the cool waters gliding downstream while listening to the crackling fire and rushing water. Light conversation could be heard among the group, and I sat apart from the others as thoughts about the future gradually poured into my consciousness.

“I would like to practice.” Riley said. I did not even notice him walk up to me.

“What?” I asked. My thoughts were too numerous understand him.

“Mating. I want to practice mating.” Riley stood in front of me, showing an innocent smile and I laughed. He had no comprehension of human etiquette. I noticed that Cal and Theo glanced at us when they heard Riley, so I immediately got up and grabbed his arm.

“Come over here,” I pulled him to a queue of trees while hoping to block our view from the others. I read his thoughts. He believed I was leading him somewhere to have sex, but I had to stop him before his misinterpretation went too far.

“No, Riley. It’s not what you think. No mating, not here and not yet.” Riley had already removed his armor and placed it on the ground next to us. The others were watching.

“I do not understand. Are we not mates?” Riley stood close to me. Our private discussion about practicing had surfaced and I could feel his urges. But he had yet to learn about human society and the rules of being part of a group.

“Yes, we are mates, Riley,” I whispered, “but we can’t have sex in front of other people.”

“Why not? Animals mate whether or not their kind is observing. Why are we whispering?”

“Shhh! We’re not animals, Riley. Social rules exist among our kind, and people do not mate in front of others. Think about the times you spent following our kind. Did you once see a male and female mating in front of other humans?”

“No, but I still don’t understand. When can we mate?” Riley’s sexual urges were very strong and he could not understand what to do. The body and mind of the young man he now possessed had hormones that controlled his thoughts, and I too was having problems with my own urges.

“We must wait until we’re alone and free of the group. Once we have found refuge in a town we can practice together.” His gaze showed frustration. “Riley, I feel the same as you. I would like to practice, too.”

“I don’t know how to handle this.” He said. I think about what we did, and I think about you all the time. I want to be with you, to touch you as I did before. My thoughts are hard to change and when I look at you, it gets worse. Is it normal for a human to feel what I’m feeling?”

I smiled and could not imagine a more romantic statement than what he had just said.

“The feelings you have are normal,” I kissed him. “And I hope they last as long as we’re together. You’re my protector, Riley, and I love you. Soon we will be together, but you must hold your feelings awhile until we can be alone. Can you do that for me?”

Riley stared into my eyes, thinking only about me, not about what I just said.

“Can I touch my lips to yours while around the others, the way you did just now?” I told him that would be fine and he leaned me against a tree, kissing me. He felt better with this concession though he longed for more. We slept that night by the fire with the hope that we would find a town soon, very soon!

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