Stalker moaned. The cat eyed twins watching over him exchanged glances.
“What’ll happen when he wakes up and finds out she left?”
The other twin shrugged. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t find out for at least twenty-four hours after he wakes up.” Lightning cracked as the rain broke loose.
The smaller of the two moved closer and bent over the unconscious form. His blue eyes gleamed.“I just hope they get better Cardo.”Cardo shook his head as Stalker started groaning and thrashing. “It’s not looking good tonight.The other three can’t even move, Kaydo.”
The twins were a scout team Stalker had trained ten years before. Now, they had to care for their teacher.Cardo grunted.“If they live, it may be to die in Dirkorin’s next attack.”
Stalker shuddered suddenly, and all was as still as a grave beneath the rain.
The next morning found Jo sloshing through mud. She looked worse off than she really was; owing to the fact rain had seeped into her makeshift bedroom the night before.It was only her last eight to ten miles, and she could see Village South.
A farmer coming to sell his work at the market came along side Jo, and gave her an odd glance. Not many strangers came to Village South, and if they did, the reason was rarely friendly. He cleared his throat and offered her a ride.She grinned broadly at him.
“Sure I could use a lift! Thanks a million!”
He looked her over as she hoisted herself up beside him. “Where ya bound?”
Jo avoided his eyes as she answered, “The region of Gal Gor.”
“You’re kind o’ small to be goin’ there. Where ya from?”
“The forest of Dord’Dal.”
“Why you so far away?”
“I have some friends that need help.”
The man shrugged and introduced himself as Wheatsore. She said her name was Anna. She found he had three children and his wife was expecting another. His family had farmed for five generations.Jo, being a farm girl herself, was able to visit easily with him.She asked what kind of soil was in the area, and which crop was prominent in the area, and whether the rain and sun had been sufficient.When they reached the village, Jo saw a crowd gathering.As she studied the town and surrounding lands, the conversation behind her caught her attention.
“Heavens Wheatsore! War’d she fall from?”
“Told me she was from Dord’Dal.”
Jo caught a glimpse of a large woman with a loud voice.
’Dord’Dal? So far, the poor thing.”
Jo faced them when one of the men asked her where she was going. “Gal Gor, Sir.”
An old man eyed her shrewdly. “You carry a sword that should not belong to you, you dress like a guard of Mordgorden, and you behave like no one I have seen. Who are you, and what do you want with us? Tell us! We have a right to know.”
The group shifted uneasily. Jo looked at them slowly.The mention of Mordgorden made them uneasy.A young man muttered, “Aw, you know that Mordgorden is only a legend. Don’t exist no more, just something for the young ones.Leave the kid alone Grifwon.”
Grifwon seemed to think otherwise. “Well child speak! Are you a stone? Speak!”
Jo opened her mouth, but Wheatsore put his hand on her shoulder. “Grifwon stop it!She didn’t do no harm to us, let her be, Friend.”The old villager stomped off, and Jo wondered that the one man here who knew the truth of Mordgorden was so resentful of her.She turned to Wheatsore.
“Thank you again for the ride. I won’t forget.”
“My pleasure Anna.”
Jo pulled out her map and scanned it slowly. She bit her lip.If she went through the meadow, there would be little place to hide if Dirkorin’s men came upon her.She turned back to the man and pointed to a foggy region. “Can I get to Gal Gor if I go that way?”
Wheatsore glanced at the shifting and secretive half light. He sighed. “That’s the Place of the Unknown.It would be the best way, if you could get through it.I’ve known of people to go in and be found mutilated a few days later.Some get through, but not many.Look here, Anna.A man came through here and gave this to me when I was a boy.He never came back from that cursed mist.”
Jo leaned over to look into his hand. Resting on his palm, Wheatsore held a disc the size of a squashed fifty cent piece. It was made of silver, white gold, and inlaid with yellow gold.It had rings of gems and polished rocks that were rare.Jo could see the seal of Mordgorden, the blood red shield with a border of ivy. A likeness of the castle had been added behind it.The farmer picked it up and flipped it over.On the back, a Fher’denish inscription read,
Mordgorden, son of Bran,
Grandson of Seagoth.
Going to the Place of the Unknown.
“The path can be easily seen by those who seek.”
Jo nearly bolted. A king had gone before her, and a king had trusted this man.She gazed at Wheatsore in amazement for a moment.“Wow.”
“You still going?”
“Yes sir. Good Bye and thank you!”
Twenty minutes later, Wheatsore was looking after the figure disappearing into the mist that shrouded the Unknown.
Jo’s bursting lungs induced her to stop running. The Unknown wasn’t really open, but there were large clearings, one of which Jo stood gasping in.She moved to the next forest section, where there was some running water and cover for the night.
She refilled the water skin and leaned against a tree for a moment. She felt calm, having come this far alone.Pulling out the map, she tried to guess where she was, but she was a poor map reader, and the Unknown was uncharted.All Jo was able to do was keep to the general direction.With a sigh, she set her bags on the ground.
The weight landing on her shoulders sent her heavily into the loam. Staggering to her feet, she caught sight of what had fallen.
A man, seemingly insane, crouched a few feet away, eyeing her. Jo slowly moved her hand to the hilt of her sword, remembering Wheatsore’s words about mutilated bodies.
He jumped forward without warning, and Jo barely brought her sword up to block a think staff made of ironwood. The man was a skilled fighter, and Jo was wondering how long she would last.He was after blood.
Stalker had trained her well; she was able to hold her own. The man however, was a veteran.The sudden snap of his arm and the pain shooting through her head told her the fight was ending.Jo stumbled dizzily and barely kept him from getting her head again.Fighting the churning in her stomach, she swung the flat if her blade in a slicing motion.Everything went black, she couldn’t see.
The sword hit something and the ground rushed to meet her face.