If someone had told him that his future partner would be a runaway Silent Order brother, he would have belly laughed for hours. Certainly, he would have laughed if so told when he’d seen Topher for the first time. But the more he thought of it, the more it made sense. Unfortunately.
’Twas unfortunate for a number of reasons – the number one being that the boy was from a peaceful order and was needing to learn his weaponry skills on the fly. Dual order partnerships were strictly frowned upon, though there were no more orders that Renfry was aware of.
Another reason – he had searched everywhere for both a partner and his chapter’s mentor. Usually, once a Brother had lost a partner, a mentor assisted in providing a new one, and gave the final consent. But – there was a clause that stated that during times of war, a Brother might choose his own partner, as mentors might be killed in the war.
So Renfry had searched for six months for both a partner and his mentor and found neither, with the exception of Topher. He kept coming back to Topher, and Topher was well-learned in all and more of what the Brothers themselves were trained in, which meant that all he needed to learn was weaponry itself, and he was proving a quick study.
However – one of the first lessons to learn - be still, observe, report – which Renfry thought Topher would have adapted to immediately, he just could not be still. It must have been all the years of not talking, combined with his time as a barkeep, for now he was a gregarious fool. Observation and report, Topher was quite skilled at, but Renfry had the feeling that until Topher was placed in a dangerous situation which required silence, Topher would continue reporting before it was necessary to do so.
And they were on the verge of dangerous situations each day. Renfry believed Topher had the makings of an excellent scout, having lived off the land as long as he had. With Renfry teaching him weaponry, they would be an incomparable adversary, for Topher’s education was boundless.
But first, Renfry had to get to Queen Selby, whether Topher was ready or not.
Renfry had never seen so many Ormons in one place. Topher, for once, was silent. Finally. From what Renfry could divulge, they had landed upriver at Gull Port and a bloody battle had ensued between them and the Royal Crown Guard of Clemongard. Judging by the amount of Ormon to Clemongard soldiers, it would seem as if the Ormons took the upper hand.
He had scouted the territory, after a very difficult time leaving Topher behind in the shadows. All he’d done was listen to conversations, and he’d finally insisted that Topher had no experience or training in shadow stalking and could easily get them captured, thereby ruining the mission before it was barely underway. Topher was also under strict instructions to carry on the mission should Renfry be unable to do so, however ludicrous he might personally believe it. Topher swore an oath to fulfill the mission and Renfry relaxed.
But it was Topher who found the horses unattended. Ormon soldiers who had left their horses unattended while going to the mess tent – Topher kept his head down and his cloak cowl up, praying to his One God the entire time, or so he’d informed Renfry.
Now, however, they had information and a mission. Fellow travelers told them the Riverlands were infested with Ormons, and Renfry wondered just how much the Queen knew of the Ormon presence here between the Roarnebourke and the Trellis Rivers, for all he had heard as he was scouting was that she was at war in the north of Clemongard.
Whenever they were asked for identification, Renfry introduced themselves as travelers, just him and his kid brother, which was not too far off the mark, though they acted as travelers rather than members of an order on a mission to save a Queen, and possibly a realm’s, life.
It was Topher’s idea to steal the horses.
Renfry had bought new horses in Storden in Kettlebrick but Topher was tired of dodging enemy lines and sleeping in the woods.
At Elm Haven, they finally met a number of Ormon cavalry troops. And that was when Topher got the idea. If they stole Ormon horses, they could fall in with the Ormon troops, and travel in plain sight, or even ride by night with no fear of being stopped.
At first, Renfry was violently opposed to it and said he’d rather feed his left nut to an Ormon before he rode with their troops.
But Topher insisted they needed to pick up speed, and the cavalry was traveling at a good pace, whereas he and Renfry on their own horses were skirting the Ormon forces continually. They only needed to fall in with them, not change sides. They already looked like mercenaries, so no one would know the better. The advantages were too plentiful to resist.
And so finally, Topher talked Renfry into stealing the Ormon cavalry horses. Now, they rode at a good clip, in a sea of Ormon enemy soldiers who were none the wiser. It made Renfry’s skin itch. As soon as they were within range of Clemongardian or Eastern soldiers, Renfry and Topher were going to ditch these horses. Never did he think he would be masquerading as a Northerner!
Yet here he sat across from a campfire from Topher, surrounded by Ormons, just north of Moss Grove. He had to admit it was a stroke of genius, hiding in plain view. They would be turning east tomorrow, toward the mountains, and Molengrove, a town where they hoped to resupply. The sooner he and Topher could outfit these horses as normal horses and then make a run for the tree line, the better, for then they could travel at their own pace, without the watchful eyes of Ormon soldiers and mercenaries. They needed to get to Queen Selby as soon as possible and that required breaking away from the Ormon Army.
Assuming they could break away tonight, they had three days’ hard ride before they met the Queen in Rockdale Pass. And every day counted.