A Journey Begins
Long before first light Aramun left the watchtower to tend to his horse. He turned and gazed over the Northern ocean one more time, hoping in vain to see the ships returning, there was still nothing on the horizon other than the thick, grey bank of storm clouds, then nothing but the dark, foreboding waves rolling on until they smashed into the jagged cliffs far below.
When he got to the stables the horses were nervous and uneasy after the storms of the last few days. The weather had eased slightly this morning, which provided him some small comfort.
His men had awoken and eaten a welcome breakfast before Aramun returned from the stables. Aramun sat down to eat with Gerant and Deran, his two senior officers, while the other soldiers gradually left the mess hall to prepare for departure. Aramun had known both men since they had all enlisted in the Royal Guard at the age of fifteen, and were close friends. Gerant, originally from Érran, was a huge, muscular, bull of a man. He was very tall standing at a shade under seven foot tall, with shoulder length fair hair and dark brown eyes He said little and to all but those who knew him well, appeared to be a hard and unfeeling man, which led to him often being misunderstood by the other soldiers. Tactically, he was not as adept as Aramun but was definitely someone that the captain was always glad to have on his side in the midst of battle. He was fiercely loyal and would lay down his life for any one of his comrades. Deran was from Arshand, and displayed definite signs of Elf blood somewhere in his lineage. His facial features were slightly softer than the average man of Arshand, with deep clear blue eyes and long dark hair. Unusually he was also clean shaven. He was lithe and lightning quick with keen senses. Amazingly skilled with a bow and equally adept with a sword, he was popular with the men, often sitting with them for hours around the fire regaling the naïve younger men with tales of previous adventures, sometimes with more than a little embellishment, for dramatic effect.
Soon after, the company set off from the tower, down the great stone steps that led down to the stables and on to the small road that ran through the village of Eruthan. The remote village was not far from the edge of the Terran Ice desert. The sky was overcast, but the air was dry as the rain held off. A fresh, brisk wind blew in off the ocean making the descent a bit uncomfortable.
Aramun allowed his men who had friends or family in the village a brief chance to say farewell. The men then gathered at the gate leading to the north highway. The brisk sea breeze had died down a bit in the relative shelter of the village. The breath of both man and horse steamed in the cold morning air.
Captain Aramun looked south, toward the mighty snow-capped peaks of the mountains of Érran, a range of mountains stretching from east to west across the entire breadth of the country. The sheer beauty and scale of these magnificent mountains never failed to impress and terrify him each time he looked upon them. A sudden icy gust of wind jolted him back to the moment.
“We must ride now,” he called to his band of men. And so in the cold steel grey of the early light of morning, they rode onto the great north road. The rain began again as a fine constant drizzle. Three days they would have to ride to reach their first place to rest at the garrison of the North Bay Fort.
Aramun and his men rode in silence through the stark and barren beauty of North Érran. It was a wild land of sparse grassland strewn with great isolated outcrops of granite rocks that looked as if they had been cast down across the landscape by the gods themselves. Off to the west of the road the landscape changed dramatically. The great north road ran along the edge of the Terran Ice desert, a harsh and unforgiving place that occupied the entire north west corner of Érran. Its interior was a flat, barren and icy wasteland. The only settlements in this part of Érran were a handful of tiny whaling and fishing outposts along the slightly more sheltered coast in the south of the desert.
Despite the rain they progressed well, but late that afternoon the cold, damp air had suddenly turned suddenly, bitterly cold. The wind had picked up, coming right across them from the west. Experience had taught him that such a sudden drop in temperature this close to the ice desert meant snow storms were not far behind.
Just before nightfall, Captain Aramun signalled to his men to make camp in a sheltered outcrop of rocks just off the road. He found a sheltered spot for the horses and dismounted. The men busied themselves gathering whatever wood and kindling they could find near the camp. Deran and Gerant assigned men to watch duties and set up a perimeter around the camp. Aramun approached the men setting up the fire. “Build the fire as strong as you can tonight. There are snow storms approaching from across the ice desert.”
The men prepared as best they could to prepare for the deathly cold of the night ahead. The discomfort of the men was palpable as they sought solace in their meagre rations. Captain Aramun sensed that neither men nor horses would find much rest this night.
Night came swiftly, as did the snow. It was a struggle to keep the fire going with such meagre supplies of wood. Deran sat with the men who were all huddled as close to the fire as possible. Aramun, observed as Deran tried to keep spirits up with his usual array of fantastic tales. Most of them had heard all of them a hundred times over, but were always ready to hear them again.
Deran definitely had a gift for storytelling, able to divert everyone's attention away from the cold, miserable weather. The truth was Deran loved telling the tales as much as they loved hearing them. Aramun had always been most grateful for Deran as, although he was a strong and well-respected leader, he did prefer his own company most of the time and was a man of few words.
Aramun sat with Gerant next to a smaller second fire just beside the main group. Gerant busied himself brewing coffee. It was one of very few luxuries they ever carried with them. Gerant was fiercely loyal and protective over Aramun, and seldom left his side. He poured some into the captain’s cup and offered it to him. Aramun smiled and nodded at his officer.
“Many thanks Gerant,” he said taking the cup from him.
It was later that night, Hiros, the guard on first watch awoke the captain.
“Forgive me for waking you Captain Aramun. The scouts, Farain and Erian, have returned. They report someone approaching the camp on horse” said Hiros.
“Which direction on the road do they approach from?” said the captain sleepily.
The watchman hesitated. “The rider does not approach from the road Captain Aramun. We cannot make out whether they are friend or foe as there is no moon tonight. The rider comes from the directions of the snow plains at the foot of the mountains”
Aramun was suddenly wide-awake.
“What! But there are no towns or settlements within hundreds of miles of the snow plains, or the mountains” exclaimed the captain, springing quickly up to his feet.
“I know captain. The rider’s light stopped moving about a half hour ago. We believe he has set up camp. He does not appear to have seen us,” replied Farain.
Aramun gathered his few belongings and stowed them away on his horse. After securing his sword to the side of the saddle, he turned back to Hiros.
“Hiros, wait till I am gone then wake Deran and Gerant. I will ride ahead and investigate. I will try and return before dawn. If I do not, tell them my orders are that you ride ahead to the Darlian pass, through the mountains with all the haste you can muster. I will meet you there,” said Aramun.
“But captain. Why would you not return, and why would we not meet at the garrison at North Bay fort?” asked Hiros curiously.
The captain mounted his horse, his,moving with a sense of purpose as if he had known this moment was coming.
“I cannot explain it. I have had a feeling, or sense, that someone has been following or approaching since we left Eruthan this morning. Its almost as if someone, or something, has been in my head, calling to me. I suspect there may be sorcery involved here” replied Aramun.
“Hiros, inform the men and hold your course for the pass. I will be there at nightfall, four days from today.” With that Aramun spurred his horse, and he was gone, riding swiftly into the night
The watchmen stood watching the figure of the Captain disappear into the night with a heavy heart.
He went to the officers’ tent, and leant forward next to the entrance, before entering.
“Deran! Gerant! Forgive me for waking you. Captain Aramun has departed,” said Hiros, sounding apologetic, but secretly having no issue waking the officers. Deran and Gerant were not in a deep sleep and were wide-awake in seconds at the news that Aramun was gone.
Gerant looked pointedly at Hiros. “What do you mean? Where has he gone?” he asked urgently.
Hiros told Deran and Gerant what had happened and relayed the captain’s orders. They listened with concerned looks. Gerant's expression suggested he was seething under the surface.
When Hiros had finished, both officers left the tent after getting dressed. The wind had picked up and the night was bitterly cold now. Gerant and Deran woke the other men who all gathered and huddled around the fire looking confused. They explained what was happening to the other men and ordered them to begin preparing to leave, as it was now only a couple of hours until dawn.
Far ahead off the North road, Aramun led his horse silently through the pitch black of the night.
He longed to see the stars and the moon, but the clouds of an impending snow storm allowed none through. The bitter and biting cold added to his sense of dread and discomfort almost as much as the wintry rain which began to fall now in a fine sheet, swirling in the wind.
He knew not what he approached, only that it was he alone who was meant to meet this mysterious rider that came from where no men are known to live.
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