After leaving the city, the small party first returned to the Lady Arta which sat amongst a herd of other ships in a field just outside of Nare. Clambering aboard, each man went to his respective cabin, to collect their belongings and anything else they may need on their journey. Not much was needed by the group and each filled his own satchel according to personal needs; Vincent brought along the pistol he had found during a raid of a guard’s quarters long ago, somewhere in the continent of Incendia. Pistols, or any other form of fire arm, are very rare, so it was a lucky find, and with it he brought along three shining bullets. Zayden brought some more practical things; rope, a flint, rags, a second water skin, a clear glass-faced compass, and the small green crystal he stole from the dwarf were all shoved into a leather bag. Skylar didn’t feel the need to bring much, in fact, his bag remained pretty much empty, the only thing he decided to take was a small leather-bound journal, that he always kept close at hand. Roan, being Roan, hauled a heavy bag of mostly useless things. A full, bursting bag of nik-naks and thingy-me-bobs that he’d gathered over the years. He also thought it would be a good idea to raid the pantry, and “borrow” a bottle of the Captains favourite rum. And with that, they made their way back across the field and plodded along a short dirt path. Sure enough, at the end of the path, there sat the cart. It was bigger than most, which indicated it usually wasn’t used to transport people, and made of a pale strong wood. A red blanket was sprawled across the bottom, with a pile of others .
A horse was roaming around on the grass next to the cart, gracefully lowering his head and chewing upon the grass. He was grey in colour, but also splattered with areas of white. Strong, powerful legs, ears swooshing and flicking with a great flowing white mane. The horse froze suddenly, cocked one ear this way and that, and then rose his great head and stared and the oncoming travellers. With a “humph” of its nostrils, he trotted; turns out he didn’t like the scent of these newcommers.
“Hullo!” bellowed a joyous voice, and from nowhere, out popped an older man, white bearded, balding and clad in plaid. “You must be the young fellows I’ve to take to Brezerus? Correct, yes?”
“Indeed, yes. My name is Vincent, and it’s very nice to meet you, sir.” For being a pirate, Vincent certainly retained the ability to be a gentlemen. Apparently, before he joined the crew, he was once under the care of very rich parents, and brought up very well. But his wishes did not lie in the gaining of effortless wealth and pompous dinner gatherings; no, it lay in the sky with adventure ahead of him, and to this day he never regrets his decision. He outstretched a strong hand, and shot a dazzling smile at the old man who took his hand in both of his, and shook it rapidly.
“Oh ho ho ho! Sir! My, my! Nobody has called me sir in a long time! Please now, call me William! And that grumpy steed over there, that’s ol’ Sam! Moody beast, but strong and quick! Which is exactly what we need to take us lot to many miles south-east!”
With greetings exchanged, Sam was reined in and the cart was attached with all the buckles and leather straps necessary. The pirates climbed aboard and old man William simply hopped up onto Sam’s back. A click of his tongue and a gentle tug at the reins, Sam gave a gentle whinny and began his own journey.
The sun was starting to decline on the third day of the journey to Brezerus. According to William, they were just over half way to the town. In a few more hours, just as the sun began to seep into the earth, the group would stop, unpack for a meal and rest. This appeared to have become the schedule. Skylar and Roan lay across the cart, under some of the ragged blankets that had been left for them. They stared up at the sky above, watching it transform from blue to red, as travelling clouds slowly crawled their way across. The occasional swooshing form of a bird was paired with a loud song as it flew towards its nest. This wasn’t the only song echoing around them, William himself seemed rather joyous today, and was singing an imaginative tune about his horse.
Clipty clop go old Sam's hoofs!
Along this dusty trail!
He takes us forth on our trip,
On legs that never fail!
My horse takes me on many journeys,
Across and over the land.
Old Sam will take me anywhere,
Every distance he can withstand!
Oh, clipty clop go old Sam's hoofs!
Along this dusty trail!
He takes us forth on our trip,
On legs that never fail!
This continued on for some time, and not once did the happiness falter from the old mans voice. It was soon made apparent that the “clipty clop” was the start of the chorus, and it wasn’t long until a rum fuelled Vincent and Zayden were loudly singing along and laughing proudly. Louder and louder they got with each repetition of the chorus and as they sung “clipty clop go old Sam’s hoofs!” with all their hearts, the jolly tune abruptly came to a halt.
William had become completely still; no longer was he swinging his arms around to the beat of his song. No longer were the creative words flowing from his lips, instead, blood and a gargling in his throat. Sam reared up letting out a cry, tossing the now limb, lifeless body of William. There was an arrow placed in his chest, another in the neck. Sam kicked and jumped in panic, then sharply turned to the right. The cart jolted violently and threw Vincent clean off, along with Skylar who slide from his peaceful resting place.
Vincent was instantly sobered as he and Skylar scrambled to their feet. The pair were quick in running over to William’s body. His face was contorted into shock and pain, and blooms of blood were still growing over his shirt.
“What the hell just happened!?” Roan and Zayden had now joined them, leaving the spooked horse sprinting around the area.
“He was shot. Chest and neck, by a pretty accurate marksman.” There was no joy left in Vincents voice.
The group were quick in drawing weapons, daggers to be precise, as each carried one somewhere on his body. Laughing and cheers were near by, coming just off the path, in a dark patch covered by the shade of trees and blocked by large boulders. The older members of the group took the lead; Vincent and Zayden crouched quietly and crept cautiously over to the boulders, backs flat against their rocky surface. Voices were now audible, and growing louder. Twigs cracked as the unknown villains were approaching nearer and nearer the silent group of pirates. Vincent at one side, and Zayden at the other stood rigid like traps wound tightly waiting to be set off. As if guided by the same mind, each of them closed their eyes and took a deep breathe. Exhale… Bursting from the calmness, each spun out to the side and grabbed an oncoming bandit by the neck, and with a swift slash, the attack was over. Hearing the startled shouts of the other men, Roan and Skylar popped up from behind the rock, and pursued them. They had gotten a head start, but the two younger pirates were quick in closing the gap. With the same exhale of concentration, Skylar aimed, and with a powerful shot, flung his dagger and it planted firmly in the bandits back. This shocked the other, but before he could figure out what happened, Roan had forced his blade into the mans stomach. After a cough and splutter, there was silence.
It took only minutes for the pirates to thoroughly search the bodies of the bandits. Nothing interesting was found, but they made a few coins each. Now, they stood at the edge of the worn dirt road at a loss. The sun was now sinking into the western horizon, silhouetting Sam in the near distance. They came to a unanimous agreement that it would be best to form some sort of camp for the night. Zayden ran ahead and lead the poor startled horse over to the group and into the shadows of the trees. After finding a clearing, a heap of twigs and dry leaves were quickly bundled together and lit alight, the ragged blankets were retrieved from the toppled cart and the pirates lay down for the night, nibbling on some of the foods the King had given them back at the castle.
…Slashed anyone that got in his way. Cries of glee and cries of fear could be heard all around the town. The cannons on the ship above were still firing away and the rhythmical boom in the background was enough to give any pirate a rush of adrenaline. Dashing through a small alley, Skylar came out nearby a ruined fountain and the remains of houses. Beyond the fountain there was a figure standing over another body. The figure standing looked like a man, it was hard to tell though with only one working lamppost, which flickered violently. Creeping quietly through the night, he slowly got closer to the figure, hopping from one shadow to another like darkness itself. He crouched down behind a piece of rubble, now only a few feet away. He was slightly clearer now, although shadows were still cast all over his face. Skylar was shivering with excitement; this was going to be his first proper kill. Edging his way round a pile of rubble, he gripped tightly on to the blade and sprang from his hiding place. The man gasped and tried to run away, but before he could even move, it was already too late. The dagger had already plunged deep into his chest with the bearer no more than an arms length away. Another boom from the cannon above and a nearby shop went up in flames, giving just enough light for Skylar to see his prey's shocked face. The man…he looked familiar. With his dark raven hair and his piercing blue eyes. He knew this man; he recognised him from pictures long ago. Then it hit him, he knew who it was.
Skylar sat upright, his chest heaving up and down. Wide-eyed, he frantically scanned the area, slowly realising he was once again dreaming. Letting out a long sigh, he ran his fingertips through his black hair.
“I simply cannot escaped this memory.” he spoke, barely above a whisper.
The fire of the night had went out, and now only bright ashes smouldered. Quietly, Skylar got up, and walked through the night to calm his mind. Coming out at the path, he came quickly upon William's still body. His skin had drained of all colour, and the blood had turned brown on his clothing and face. Horrifed eyes stared out of the lifeless corpse, bulging from the skull. Skylar bent down beside him and carefully removed the two murderous arrows protruding from the old man's skin. Gently, he closed his eyes. With cautious movements, Skylar decided it would be best not just to leave him on the road, and began dragging him towards the camp site. He left William's body just outside the clearing, to be cremated in the morning before they depart. With that, Skylar headed back into the clearing and remade his leaf pillow. His eyelid soon felt heavy and his eyes weakened. In the distance, behind the figures of tall trees, something glowed a faint silver; yet instead focussing on what it was, his eyes chose to shut and sleep captured him.
The morning sun gently kissed Skylar's face, a breath of warmth tickling his skin until he awoke. The others too were abandoning their dreams and returning to reality.
Roan grumbled, “My back hurts so much... and there's leaves in my hair...My clothes are all mucky now...plus I think I have bugs on me...” He proceeded to pick through his blonde hair and swat at his skin.
Sam sat beside his rider, nudging his lifeless body with his nose. He snuffed and sorted quietly, almost like sobbing. Sam would not budge from his masters side, nor would he allow the pirates near him. The pirates were at a loss, and walking the rest of the way was looking like the only answer, until Zayden thought of a new solution.
“We could always take his body in the cart?” he suggested whilst resting upon a fallen tree trunk, “Sure it'll be a little gross having to sit along side a dead man for a couple of days, but I'm sure we'll manage!”
Seeming like the only wise thing to do, Vincent, Zayden and Roan all left the clearing in an atempt to bring the cart as far into the forest as possible. In the mean time, Skylar sat beside Sam, gently tugging at his reins to lead him away.
“Come on Sam,” he whispered and the steed turned his face towards him, greif gleaming in his charcoal eyes, “there's a good horse. It'll be okay. Come on,” Skylar's voice was gentle and softly he stroked the Sam's long nose, “Do you want your friend to have a proper send off? You could take us to the next town and I'm sure they would be glad too. Would you like to do that Sam?”
The horse stared out at him, but as if he understood, Sam gave a nodding motion and slowly rose up from the ground.
“Good Sam. This way now. Don't worry, we'll come back for him.” Skylar slowly lead the horse out of the trees and onto the dirt path, meeting perfectly in time with the others who were slowly dragging the heavy cart. Sam was re-buckled onto the wooden contraption, then the group returned to the woods and bundled William up in blankets, and carefully carried his body.
“Here he is Sam,” said Skylar as they once again reached the cart, “We're going to place him on the cart okay?”
With William now lying across the cart, the pirates squeezed on, legs dangling off the edge, and Sam began his gloomy trip onwards placing one heavy hoof in front of the other.
The following days rolled by slowly, only stopping to sleep, and to give Sam a break from carrying his burden. The path now ran parallel to a splashing stream, which was ideal as their water skins were running low. On they went for another night, and another day, slowly plodding onwards. The sun began to set upon the seventh day of their travels, splintering the sky into shades of red and orange and violet. From above, the silhouettes from a school of jellyfish bobbed amongst the slivers of cloud. Every year the jellyfish from Incendia would migrate down to Ventus escape the intense heat of Incendia's summer. Sure enough, behind that first tiny school, came hundred and hundred of bobbing little jellyfish swooshing around on the wind. Their bodies glinted against the lowering sun's rays like a flock of early stars. Wobbling over and beyond the pirates heads, they soon bounced into the distance, becoming a waving line against the horizon.
The moonlight slowly began to appear in the now cloudless sky, glistening gently on the trickling surface of the nearby stream. The group took a small diversion off the path and took Sam over to the water to replenish himself. Slowly, but surely, he was beginning to warm to the pirates as he nuzzled Vincent's face before bowing low for a drink. The wind was soft and cool, breathing gently upon them, filled with gentle scents. The songs of insects filled the air as they continued travelling, following the stream. They had came across fields of corn and maize, swaying slightly in the wind, guarded by the posts of wooden fences. A tall sign post jutted from the ground with one of the pointed planks reading 'Brezerus'.
Brezerus was a small inhabited town, surrounded by forests and mountains. Lying round the village was a small country of fields, some used for crops while others were filled with tamed wild flowers. The inhabitants of Brezerus were cheerful and independent, belonging to nobody but themselves. With fresh flowing water and a supply of seasonal vegetables, many felt no reason to leave the small town sanctuary. The village only had small handful of houses, seventy or so, made of sturdy stone and wood with warm light emitting from the windows. From a distance, they appeared like tiny fireflies, guiding the travellers safely towards their destination. The moon hung high in the sky, with white stars shining, by the time Skylar and the group reached the first houses of Brezerus.
They wandered aimlessly through and between the little houses. The streets were clean, and quiet with only one or two individuals finishing up their duties before scuttling inside. As expected, heads turned twice to look at Skylar, staring at his little horn. He ruffled his hair, attempting to cover the small protrusion that shone like a moon beam of its own. Quietly, the guided Sam through the brick roads in attempt to find someone able to help. Now at the other side of the town, they stood before a large building that stretched out on either side, built entirely from long wooden logs.
“Think that could be the town's Grand Hall?” suggested Vincent.
“Perhaps. If so, someone inside should be able to help. I'll be back in a minute.” Zayden lightly ran ahead and knock upon the doors of the hall. Within seconds, they swung open, flooding the outside with warm light. Zayden shook someone's hand, and then stepped inside the bright glow.
A short amount of time passed, and the doors were open once again. Walking beside Zayden was a small, frail figure, clad in a robe of white. An elderly man, with a sweet smile.
“Greetings, my name is Alden and I am the priest of this village,” he said warmly as he reached the group, “What is it I can help you with this evening?”
“While we were travelling here, we were attacked by a group of bandits, and they killed our escort. He lies now in the back of the cart.” answered Vincent.
“Oh my,” the old man's face wrinkled with genuine horror and pity, “how awful. May I ask how long ago he passed to the other side?”
“This night is the forth that he lays dead.”
“Oh dear, then we should prepare right away. I do believe some new graves were dug today. Is a burial okay for you?”
“Yeah, that's fine.”
Skylar, Roan, Vincent, Zayden and Sam were all lead down a stone path which brought them out behind the Grand Hall. Before them lay a field of magnificent green grass, sadly decorated with tombstones. Carefully manoeuvring Sam and his cart the group wandered passed the graves until they came to an open pit at the base of a hill.
“I believe this is a nice area. Now if you excuse me, I must make some final preparations before we begin.” With that Alden made his way make to the Grand Hall.
He was not long in returning, and was now accompanied by two younger men with shovels and golden rope. Alden carried a sheet of purple silk along with a handful of dainty white flowers. Sam was released from his cart, and Williams body was brought down and onto the grass. The smell was rancid as his body had began to rot, yet Alden did not seem to mind as he place the silk fabric over blanket covered body. Carefully, he worked to remove the other sheets, until only the silk laid between Williams body and the onlookers eyes. Alden then tucked the silk beneath William, encasing him in a shimmering purple cocoon.
“I hope you do not mind, but as you have no coffin, I simply cannot provide one.”
“This is already more than I was expecting. Thank you.” said Skylar.
Alden nodded, then indicated to his men for the rope. He tied one length around the legs, another around the hips, and the final around the shoulders.
“I believe we are ready to begin.”
O Lord Fuga,
Grant this soul eternal rest,
And free them from sorrow and sin.
Guide them into the light under your loving wings,
And bless his spirit forever more.
“Now please, if you could each take on of the ropes ends.” Alden spoke.
Skylar stood on one side, along with the two men Alden had brought with him. Roan, Zayden and Vincent stood upon the other, with Sam looming over Vincent's shoulder.
O Lord Fuga,
Hear my prayer.
We return the flesh to the earth,
And ask of you to protect his soul,
from the darkest shadows passing.
Slowly, inch by inch, the rope was fed through their hands, cautiously lowering the body of William. Sam began to nuzzle into Vincent, then began to butt his head in around the rope. Sure enough Sam took it in between his teeth, bumped Vincent out of the way, and lowered his neck in time to the others movements until William's silk cocoon rested at the bottom of the grave.
“Does anyone have any final words?” Alden asked.
The pirates each shook their heads, but Sam let out a powerful squeal, as if it were a final painful good-bye to his friend. With that, Alden picked up the flowers and tossed them into the grave.
“Let the scent of these flowers calm your soul as you journey to the other side.”
As Alden spoke his closing words, the two men picked up their shovels, and began filing up Williams resting place.
The pirate group had left the graveyard and returned to the dirt streets. It must have been past midnight by this point. Sam however, had remained by his master, and sat quietly as the two men filled the grave. Now seeking refuge from the chill night air, the four pirates slipped into a building made of wood logs, with a swinging sign scrawled with 'The Parched Poet”.
The inside was quiet a contrast to the quiet dirt roads. A bunch of rowdy men clapped and laughed heartily as they glugged down mouthfuls of mead and ale. A bard sang merrily along to an upbeat song somewhere from amongst the crowd, and a woman scantly clad in purple garments adorned with golden rings danced upon a stage. Pushing through the rough drunken crowd they emerged at a small bar occupied by a curvy, busty brunette.
“Alright there! What can I get for ya?” spoke the woman cheerfully, a hint of country in her voice.
“We are in need of a room, miss,” answered Zayden, “also, we are looking for someone. A woman. Her name is Karraj.”
“Well you're in the right place! I can set ya up with two rooms, two beds in each, for thirty gold. As for this Karraj you speak of...” the woman almost chuckled before continuing, “Not many know her by that name. She is here. Drawing a fair amount of attention as you can see.” She tilted her head in the direction of the dancer, “You can speak to her once she's finished.”
Each shuffled around in their pockets and pouches and handed over the gold to the barmaid. With time to kill, they all ordered a drink and sat amongst the lively crowd at a round wooden table.
The bard now played upon his lute, and was accompanied by a short, stout hairy man with a drum. Karraj, or as the others called her, Mirage had upped the tempo of her dance. She swayed seductively, and moved her hips in time to the music. A thin film of sweat lay upon her caramel skin, and she held the mens attention in her fierce ruby eyes. Her hair too shone red, and was tied up high on her head and braided, reaching half way down her back. Certainly the pirates were not going to complain about waiting a little while.
Severally hours passed, longer than they were intending, and the group had now blended in to the other rowdy men. Vincent had dragged Skylar right up to “Mirage's” podium, where he commenced to shout out ridiculous flirtatious comments. Roan had became the third, unwanted member of the musical trio, and Zayden had befriended a group of farm workers and sat playing some card game. Eventually, the crowd began to thin out; some left staggering out of the Parched Poet's doors, whilst others retired to their rooms for the night. Now finished her dance, Karraj and the bar maid were speaking as she sipped on a tall glass of water, whilst looking over at the pirates who had regrouped. Once finished her beverage, she sashayed over, “So I believe you four were wanting to speak to me?” an exotic twist in her accent.
“You....you are....absolutely gorgeous.” slurred Vincent, sloshing his drink onto the floor.
“Charming.” Karraj rolled her blazing eyes, with a smirk hidden behind the veil across her mouth.
“Wait wait wait,” swayed Skylar, wide eyed and holding his hands up in the air, “We have something, for you!” He pointed dramatically at Karraj.
Skylar began to rummage around in his pack, as did the others, for none of them could remember who in fact had the King's scroll. They searched for an awkwardly long amount of time, breaking down into fits of giggles, before Skylar eventually declared, “We have this!”
Karraj took the document, opened it, and gave it a quick once over, “I will further discuss this with you in the morning. For now you should all go to bed and rest.”
“Will you join me?” Vincent slyly butted in.
“Not tonight I'm afraid.” She scoffed in amusement. Turning away, she left the room through a corridor behind the bar.
The sun streamed through the windows in golden rays, filling the room with a warm glow, spilling onto the faces of the still sleeping pirates; Skylar and Roan lay soundless in one room, with Zayden and Vincent across the hall. The rooms were small, yet homely, with odd trinkets and ornaments laid out on shelves, and paintings of fields and lakes hung upon on the wall. Without the noise of drunks singing loudly, the building was very calm, serene even. The stream ran alongside the back of the inn, trickling playfully along the banks. Great trees sat by the river, and they shaded the water with their great boughs covered in masses of bright bushy green leaves.
There was a violent banging on the door, utterly obliterating the quietness. It rang out loudly down the corridor and thumped inside Skylar and Roan's post-alcohol fuelled heads. Again, the booming came from the door, followed by an exotic call of, “Rise and shine boys!” Desperate for the sound to stop, Skylar dragged his weighty body out of bed and yanked the door open with a frustrated tug.
“What?” he grumpily hissed at the woman before him.
“You were wanting to speak to me, no?” Karraj waved the scroll in front of him.
“Oh uh...yes...Sorry...” Skylar trailed off and backed away from the door and returned to his bed, allowing Karraj to pass into the room. She looked very different compared to last night; her ruby hair sat in waves around her shoulders, her pointed ears were adorned with golden hoops and three smaller studs, and clad she was in leather breastplate, metallic shoulder guards, and a long, torn beast skin skirt. Striding in she sat at the edge of Skylar's bed. Looking at him with sparkling scarlet eyes, he found himself intoxicated. Skylar simply stared at her, feeling a small leap in his chest as he watched her lips move.
“Wait, what?” he uttered, snapping out of his trance.
“Where are the others? It makes sense for you all to be together.”
“Oh, eh, across the hall, I think...” he stammered.
Karraj strode out of the room and proceeded to also violently bang on the door of the others. Vincent was quick to come to the door, first displeased by the noise, then his face softened as he realised who it was.
“Well, well. Change your mind about my bed?” a mischievous smirk played across his lips.
Karraj said nothing, only simply indicated to Skylar's room, before turning away and retaking her place upon the bed. Vincent and Zayden followed closely after.
With all now gathered, Karraj rose and stood before them all, scroll in hand.
“So, from this letter, the King believes that Empress Rhine of Terra has began taking actions to start a war.” she paused for a moment, thinking back, “I have seen a few of their soldiers around here recently. On one occasion they were going around the whole town, talking to and questioning everyone. I do not know what about, but it was still rather odd.”
“Anyway, the King has asked for my help,” Karraj continued, “He states here that he wants me to take you all to meet someone, and it is very important that you do so. Our journey will take us all to the south, to the very end of our continent. It will be a long trip, so I suggest we spend one more night here, and stock up on supplies.”
“Wait, are you saying we're going to walk there?” questioned Roan, shocked at the very thought, “Why can't we just fly there?”
“This is a small farm town, we have very little in terms of boats. I would be surprised if one of the locals ships could even reach to Nare without needing refuelled. Rafts are more commonly used around here. Yes, I am afraid we must walk. But I know these lands well, as I have travelled over the face of all the continents. I am not simply just a dancer. We will depart at dawn tomorrow, so be ready.” As she left, her eyes lingered on Skylar; first on his shimmering eyes, then on his pearly horn.
After the initial complains, the pirates eventually left the inn and began the search for provisions. Each got a brown back pack to replace there small in comparison satchels. They also each bought a long, grey cloak. Other things such as bandages, herbs, meat, tools and rope all also filled their bags, not to mention the odd stolen loaf of bread or the contents of a tip bowl.
Light began to wane, and the sun slowly sunk towards the horizon. The land was cast in red, and the faces of the northern mountains blushed pink. The stream glittered with golden flecks and splashed merrily against the banks. Upon its shimmering surface, small rafts covered in baskets of fruits and boxes of goods bobbed along its waves, directed by a man in a straw hat with a large wooden oar. The river winded to the west, past the farm fields before pulling off to the north. After, it swayed and winded until it found its end point in the mountains near Nare where goods were exchanged and traded. With the stores closing, the pirates headed back to the inn to sort out their new belongings, except for Skylar. Instead, he made his way down to lush green graveyard. Sure enough, at the base of the hill, there sat Sam in the exact place he had been last night.
“Hey there, Sam. What you still doing down here?” he sat as he sat down on the grass beside the horse, who simple snuffed in response.
“You know,” Skylar continued, “I'm sure William wouldn't like seeing you like this. He'd want you running around in fields, or in the wild. William would want ol' Sams hooves to go clipity-clop, I'm sure!”
It had only been a week, but he had gotten attached to the horse. Skylar placed his forehead against the steeds, nuzzling the beast, his tiny horn stroking the hair of the horse. In a sudden painful twinge, a jolt of agony ran from his horn into his skull.
“Thank you for your concern, human. I will be fine, in time. As for now, I simply just want to lay beside my master, and friend.” Sam snorted and turned his head to gaze upon the small mound of dirt.
Skylar clutched at his head, shocked at the voice he just heard echoing through it. Baffled, he sat staring wide-eyed at the horse, “Did you just speak to me?” he muttered quietly.
“Why, hello again!” came a voice from behind, shaking Skylar from his thoughts. It was Alden and he came bearing a wreath. “I brought this for the grave. It would be a pity for it to have no flowers.” He placed the ring of flowers gently on the dirt, the patted the head of the horse, “and I see this fine horse is still here. Does he belong to you?”
“Oh no, the horse belonged to William. His name is Sam.”
“Hello Sam, I am deeply sorry for your lose.” declared Alden as he stroked the top of Sam's head, “I will have to bring him some hay from the stables if he has not moved by tonight.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Skylar smiled softly, “I...think he just needs some time, just like people do.”
Alden nodded, “Animals have big hearts, which means they suffer from treacherous heart breaks.”
“Do you think you would be able to take care of him? I believe I'm leaving so on on a long journey, and do not want to force him to come if he is not willing.”
Alden laughed, “My, I am too old to care for a steed with so much energy, but there are many stables around here, as I am sure you have noticed. And farmlands for running. I am certain someone in this village will give him a good, warm home. I will do my best to visit whenever possible, however.”
“That sounds great, thanks,” Skylar stood up and gazed at Sam one last time, “Good-bye, Sam.”
“Farewell little horned human.”
Skylar returned to the inn and headed straight for his room. Roan, Zayden and Vincent had only just began sorting through their new purchases. Spreading his own on the floor, they all sorted out their packs for the early rise tomorrow. When finished, the group went down stairs to sit by the bar. Upon their arrival, they were greeted each with a steaming plate of pork.
“It's on the house, boys” winked the bar maid as she set the plates down, then darted off back behind her counter. It wasn't long until the inn began to liven up once again, and the evenings festivities stretched on into the night. There was however, no sign of Karraj tonight, and instead only the musicians played. The sky blackened outside, and with the silvery moon beams shining through the windows, it was time for the group to retire.
A soft rattle came from the door, and to Karraj's surprise, was responded to quickly. Skylar, Roan, Vincent and Zayden all stood in the room, fully prepared and ready to go.
“It's good to see you are prepared. Also, I believe I am yet to learn your name?” Karraj enquired standing in the door frame.
With introductions and small pleasantries exchanged Karraj spoke again, “Excellent. Now if you will, follow me.”
Wrapping their long cloaks around their shoulders, they left the homely warmth of the Parched Poet and into the cold breath of morning. Dew droplets hung upon the grass, and a thin finger of fog crept though and between the buildings. Stalks of wheat waved them goodbye as they passed by the farm lands. A sweet scent of flowers danced on the eastern blowing wind, filing them with calmness. As they reached the very outer stables of Brezerus, a man stood leaning against a wooden fence, waving at them heartily as they approached.
“Ah Karraj! Yer early so you are! I take it these are the travellers you mentioned?”
“Indeed. I trust you have everything ready for us?”
“Certainly! One moment and I'll bring them out for ya!”
Hopping over the fence, the raven-haired man vanished into the wooden stable. Several minutes later, he emerged from around the corner of the stable, guiding five horses. Black and bay, dun and blue roan, and a marvellous steed of pure white all clip-clopped behind the man until standing by Karraj.
“Some of my best steeds right here! Here we have Faxa, Azarax, Fahrun, Aerin and Eoall,” the horses sniffed and snorted at their new soon to be riders, “But they can be a little stubborn at times, especially Faxa.”
The white steed swished its dark grey mane and huffed through its nostrils.
“I do ask however,” the man continued, “that you do not take them into the Broken Marshes. I fear they may stumble from the path and fall into a swamp, or worse.”
The Broken Marshes lay in the centre of Ventus. Perhaps it was when the land rose, or perhaps countless years of harsh winds whipping against the continent, but in this area, large ravines and caverns had formed, jutting this way and that. The area around these ravines was wet and swampy, with long high grasses, covering the cracks in the land. One foot in the wrong direction, and you would either be sucked into the earth, or fall for an eternity.
“I did not plan on taking them into the marshes myself,” answered Karraj, “I doubt it would be safe for all of us to lead a horse across the path.”
“My heart swells with relief. These horses know the way well around here. Once you are done with them, simply send them on their way back here, and they shall come!”
With that each of their packs were fastened to the horses, a measly weight that was hardly noticeable for the proud steeds. With a swift jump, Karraj landed softly on the back of Azarax; his coat the colour of midnight shadows, black and velvet soft. Clumsily, the others followed her lead. It took some time, but eventually Zayden sat upon Fahrun, Roan upon Aerin, and Eoall bared Vincent. Yet there stood Skylar, awkwardly trying to mount Faxa, who stubbornly was not willing to carry his new rider.
“Hiy! Faxa! Quit bein' so fussy!” the man scolded the horse, before whipping a carrot out from his pocket, “Here, have this and be quite!”
With the stroppy horse now distracted, Skylar quickly managed to scramble onto Faxa's back, much to his disapproval. The horse began to swing its neck and rear up, neighing loudly.
“Faxa, Faxa! Hiy! Stop it!” the horse quietened once again, “I'm sorry, I've never seen him like this before. I'm sure he'll get used to you as the time passes though. Here,” the man whipped more carrots out of nowhere, “I'll put these in yer pack. Maybe feed him one each time you stop, and he should grow to like you!”
With Faxa now calmed, or rather putting up with the situation, the group galloped forth into the new day.
“I miss Sam already.” thought Skylar, as the new steed pounded along the dirt road.