“I should 'ave won first place at the county games that year.”
Oscar didn’t mind listening to Taron's ramblings. He was too timid to get a word in, and besides he was grateful for the chance to enjoy an under-age night-life while his parents were out of town.
“Champion of the 'ammer toss as usual.”
As long as Taron kept buying him drinks, Oscar would sit quietly and listen, as he had done for the last couple of hours. The sound of footsteps by his side however brought an end to the story.
“Hello chaps,” chirped a voice at his ear, “How about a beer? It's been a long day and I could use some good company”.
Oscar turned to see an old woman at his shoulder. She had a warm smile, and he decided that she must have been very beautiful in her youth, like the women in the fairy stories he used to read. A magnificent fire still burned behind her green eyes, but time had turned her hair to silver.
“Read my mind,” Taron replied as she placed three tankards on the table and sat down between the men, “I'm Taron, and this 'ere is Oscar. Don't recall seeing you around Stogumbus before.”
“Pleased to meet you Oscar and Taron, two fine figures of men if I say so,” the woman said with a wink in Oscar's direction. He tried in vain to hide a blush as he glanced over at the balding Taron, and decided her statement was unlikely.
“I'm Attey, and yes I've never been here before. I'm actually heading back north after a few weeks away.”
“Yup, thought you's from up north,” Taron replied with a tone of certainty. He was a man of the world, so long as the world did not expand beyond the local region.
“Well I wouldn't say that, I'm actually from the south-east, from the capital. I work for the palace on occasion.”
Oscar was astonished. Attey must have picked up on his wonderment from his expression, because she flashed him a grin.
“Oh yes, I'm actually headed to Torntown where the King's stationed at the moment, the royal children's nanny has been taken ill so they've requested me as the replacement.”
“I-incredible,” Oscar mumbled with tipsy excitement, “is that to do with the war? They say some terrible count from the continent is building an empire, slaying and killing anyone who gets in the way. Th-they say we are his next target. My mate reckons it's nonsense, but I don't think so!”
“Yep,” she continued, ”a nanny's work is never done. Even when the army is off gallivanting around the place someone’s still got to look after the little brats.”
Oscar did not want to hear this, he would have preferred tales of gallantry and the war instead so he continued, “th-they say the count is some kind of demon resurrected from a thousand years ago, is that true?”
Taron snorted in his condescending manner, and Attey chuckled, “well why don't you find out for yourself? I confess that's why I came over here, I need transport. These old legs can only carry me so far, and it's a long walk.”
“I knew you's up to something,” Taron said, “and you can forget it!”
“Oh, well there’s more in it than a beer. You fancy an easy earner, this is it. The royal court pays well you know.”
Oscar was wide-eyed with excitement, but Taron maintained a poker face.
“Would cost some upfront. Hiring a cart, supplies 'n' such.”
This was a lie, amongst other things Taron was a seasoned trader of the region, and had a cart and supplies aplenty.
“Of course, I understand. Let me see, how about upfront... fifty silver pieces, plus the same on arrival?”
Oscar thought Taron did a remarkable job maintaining his poker face.
“Hmm, I think we can sort somethin' out for y'.”
Oscar awoke to the sound of his name being bellowed somewhere in the vicinity. He prised his eyes open to try and fathom just where, when and what he was.
A few seconds of light-headed limbo passed, before it hit him. The skull splitting sensation of a dawning hangover collided into his head.
“Get up you lazy sod!” Taron shouted, his voice causing a fissure to crack in Oscar's mind. “That Attey woman is outside waitin', and you ought t' see this!” He waved a bag before Oscar's eyes with a jingle, “She paid up, this is more'n you earn in a year boy!”
With a sigh Oscar hauled himself out of bed and slipped into some clothes. The memories of the night before were slowly returning to him, the recollection of the agreement they had made with the strange woman. His heart stopped, what the hell was I thinking?
“Taron listen, my parents will be back in a couple days, and if I've not got my work done there'll be trouble.”
Taron stood by the door, “C'mon, it'll be fine. Don't be gettin' cold feet, you know what your parents will say? They'll say, 'Shit that's a lot of money son, well done for listening to Taron.' Now get a move on will yer!”
Taron left, and Oscar chucked a few things into a bag for the journey with a feeling of dread, before stumbling out of the house after him.
“I don't know 'bout this.” Taron was mumbling by the side of his wagon when Oscar arrived, “This ain’t what we agreed to.”
He stood frowning at the petite Attey and a tall man stood beside her, who had just arrived.
“Deary me, didn't I mention him last night?” Attey chuckled, “must have been too much of that local ale! Yes, Mr Howard is my companion; my chaperone.”
Howard bowed his blond head low, “Good sir, do not be vexed. You will find me inoffensive company.”
Taron grumbled low, “Fine, come on then let's get going!”
The horse trotted on slowly down the hill to Stogumbus. The animal was tired, the rider had pushed it hard on the trail of the high priestess Loka. He would have to find a new steed if she had already left, as this one would not last much longer.
Two men were working on a gate up ahead.
“Good morning!” He called as he neared them, “Tell me, where is place of rest in these parts?”
The two men glanced at each other, unaccustomed to the sight of dark hooded strangers with unusual accents.
“The Bridge O'er Water would suit your needs friend, but he'd barely 'ave opened up this time a mornin'.”
“That is fine friend, many thanks. Good day.”
He headed in the direction of the pub, and after tethering the horse outside he went in. The shutters had not yet been opened causing the place to seem gloomy.
A portly man looked up from his mop as he entered, “'Ello stranger, can I help you?”
“I am after information regarding friend of mine,” the Stranger replied as he closed the door, “Tell me, do you have young woman here from out of town?”
The Landlord frowned while he pondered, “Young woman? No, sorry mister.”
“You are sure?” The man pressed as he approached. “A young woman, you would not forget, truly beautiful.”
The Landlord shook his head with an apprehensive frown as the Stranger stepped toward him, a smile on his lean face. He got to just the right distance, and kicked out hard into the man's belly. The Landlord let out a howl as he fell to his knees.
“Think hard little man. I know she was here, possibly with escort. Do not be fool, I am sure you feel quite the hero for not talking but your efforts are in vain, you will not slow me down much!”
The barman raised himself up to look at the dark Stranger through watery eyes.
“Sir, I swear I don't know. N-no idea what you're talking about.”
With a flash of lightning the Stranger drew his blade from beneath his cloak and slashed out. The razor weapon sliced into the barman's cheek, opening a deep gash. Blood oozed from the wound and ran down his face.
“You are saying that you did not see anyone strange last night? No one from out of town? I will not ask again.”
“W-wait!” The barman said, throwing his hands up to fend off the sharp blade hovering inches from his face. “Yeah, I did see some strange folks, an old woman and her nephew, least that's what they said. Stayed the night, got chattin' with some of the locals.”
The Stranger kept his sword in hand, “So the little bitch had her servants cover for her while she hid in her room. Smart girl. Where are they now?”
The barman managed a timid shrug, “They got friendly with a couple of local lads who agreed to give 'em a lift out of town. Headed north I think, that's all I know! Please don't hurt me. I won't tell no one, I swear!”
“Listen, where is your stables? I need horse!”
The sun shone bright in the sky, causing Taron to squint as he drove the wagon on. Oscar sat beside him, their passengers in the back. They went on at a steady pace, stopping occasionally for a rest. There was a surprising number of people on the road, all heading south. Some Taron knew and greeted, but none stopped to talk.
Hours passed and the sun was low on the horizon, painting its twilight glow across the sky when they arrived at the next town of Westlington. It was the final stop before Torntown, and after a little deliberation they agreed to spend the night at a local inn frequented by Taron on his travels.
“All right darlin', need a room and a hot meal if you please,” Taron said as he strode up to the bar. The landlady, a gentle woman in her thirties, gave him a warm smile.
“Haven't seen you 'ere in a while, hows thing? Four of you is it?”
“Make that two rooms dear,” Attey said as she moved in at the bar beside Taron, “If you think I'm sharing with you chaps you've got another thing coming. The boys get a bit smelly on the road, don't you find?”
The woman chuckled, “Two rooms it is. Come, I'll show you the way. The rooms are upstairs, when you're ready come on down and I'll fix you up some grub.”
The group followed the woman upstairs.
“This one at the top of the stairs you'll find quite comfortable,” she said to Attey as she unlocked the door and handed her the key, “It's a little small, but it's got a bath. I'll get the lad to run up with some hot water in a bit.”
“Sounds lovely, and maybe I'll chuck the boys in afterwards. They could use a good scrub behind the ears.”
“And this room for the gents,” She said with a smile.
The Stranger pushed open the door to the inn, causing the bell above to jingle. It was dark by the time he arrived, and a couple of torches burned low inside. It appeared the patrons had retired for the evening. As he strode up to the bar, a woman appeared from one of the back rooms.
“Evening sir, can I help?” She asked.
The Stranger pulled back his hood, “Perhaps you can...”
Oscar's hangover had passed, but it left him feeling groggy as he drifted into an uneasy sleep.
After an untold time he awoke to a gentle tapping sound. He sat up and scanned the room. It was late in the night, and the darkness was near blinding. He could barely make out the sleeping forms of Taron and Howard in their beds.
When Oscar realised the tapping was coming from the door his heart jumped. The sound was only quiet, but it tolled in his mind like a church bell. He got out of bed and timidly shuffled toward the door, all the while hoping one of the others would awake and deal with it.
He gripped the handle firmly in nervous hands, and turned.
The smiling face of Attey greeted him from the other side. Without asking, she sauntered in.
“Young man, would you be ever such a good lad and lend me your bed for the night?”
Oscar stood dumbfounded as he closed the door, “but... but this is our bedroom, and that's my bed. You said yourself you'd rather have your own room.”
“I'm afraid I'm not quite the tough lass I thought I was. Do be a good boy and set up on the floor.”
“Many thanks,” The Stranger said as he wiped clean his dagger on her dress, “I knew you could help.”
He stood up and briefly admired his work, sparing a moment for the landlady lying dead at his feet. Finally, he placed a hand over her face and pulled her lids closed before leaving her in peace.
The first room at the top of the stairs, she had said, an old lady from out of town, travelling with a small group of men.
On feet as light as leaves the man ascended the staircase and crept up to the door. Gentle but deadly fingers wrapped around the door-handle. It may have been locked, which would require a less stealthy approach, but he applied pressure and the door gave way.
The window at the far side of the room was open and a slight draft breezed in. In the darkness he could just make out the shapes of two beds on the right hand side of the room. He approached the nearest first, stepping up beside it on feathered feet.
An exploring touch found the bed used but empty. The covers were a mess and a faint warmth still lingered.
Strange, he thought as he tried the next bed. He found it the same, used but recently discarded. Where are they? Could they have left just before I arrived, or escaped through the window?
The man's hands clenched into fists, damn that girl, she lied to throw me off!
He took a moment to admire her resilience, he found people rarely had the fortitude to lie while being tortured. She must have had a stronger will than he gave her credit for.
Without wasting another second, the Stranger ran down the stairs and out into the night.
The sun was on the rise and the wagon trundled along. Oscar had looked forward to a cooked breakfast in the morning, but it seemed Attey and Howard had other plans. Before dawn had broken Howard was up ushering them out of bed. They left under cover of darkness and had kept going since.
Oscar and Attey were sat in the back, the two men upfront.
“They say the Count Urslar ruled a mighty kingdom in the east, on the border of the known world.”
Oscar had asked Attey about the war. Seeing as she worked in the palace, he figured she would be the authority on current affairs.
“Enraged after the murder of his queen at the hands of our ancestors, the Count beseeched his vile gods for vengeance, and in answer they turned him into a being monstrous to behold. None could match him in battle, yet his power came at a heavy price. Each day he had to take a life to sate the lust of his demonic gods.
After years of bloodshed the wise men of the west set off to the Count's kingdom in search of hope.
A year passed, when finally one man returned with a page torn from the holy book of the ruler's vile religion. With this, the wise man met the Count on the field of battle. He stood before the beast, and bellowed out a passage. In an instant the Count's army fell into disarray and the monster himself vanished in a cloud of smoke.
They say the wisdom used to vanquish the monster was locked away in a monastery in a country in the south that no longer exists. Only the wisest of mankind know where to find it to this day.
Now after all these years the Count has returned and his lust for vengeance burns as strong as ever before...”
Attey finished her story just as the wagon shuddered to a stop. Oscar was snapped out of his wonderment by the sound of voices outside. Taron, it seemed, was arguing with someone blocking the path.
“What're you talking about y' mad fool?”
“Do not deny it, you know very well,” came a voice unfamiliar to Oscar, with a strange accent, “I know you escort the priestess, hand her over and you may not be harmed!”
Oscar stumbled to his feet and stuck his head out of the canopy.
A horse stood in the middle of the road, and sat upon it was a man in a dark hood and cloak.
“There's no such person here y' drunkard! Now move it!”
The man flung back his hood revealing a dark, lean face. The sun reflected off his jet black hair, tied tightly back.
“You cannot fool me, Loka is travelling with you, and this knight is her companion!” he said as his piercing eyes turned to Howard.
“So you are the one from the inn?” Howard replied with menace in his voice. “You murdered that woman, and tried to kill us in our sleep?”
Oscar's head swam, Howard is a knight? And what in the hells happened last night?
“Do not try to resist me, it would be useless. I knew I would meet you on this road, I thought you had escaped me last night so I rode for Torntown, only to find you had not yet arrived. I then doubled back in hope I would still catch you on this road. Surrender now, for there is legion of Count's men following me. Look!” He stretched his arm toward the horizon, and at the tip of his fingers Oscar could see the specks of riders in the distance.
Howard turned to Taron and whispered, too low for Oscar to hear. Taron replied with a quizzical frown.
“Enough!” Howard bellowed as he stood up on the wagon, drawing a dagger from out of nowhere. He flung his cape aside in a grand movement and hurled the knife at the same time, leaping from the cart as he did.
The Stranger swerved to avoid the missile, but became unbalanced in the process. Howard, now with sword in hand rushed over and grabbed at his cloak. With a mighty tug he pulled the Stranger from the saddle, falling down himself under the momentum. Both men hit the ground with a thud.
In a flash they were on their feet. Howard swept up his sword where it lay, but the Stranger was just as quick. They stood face to face, two tigers ready to pounce any moment.
The Stranger attacked first, swinging his fine blade in a precise swipe at the knight's head. Howard parried and back-stepped, and the Stranger came on again with a slice at his midriff. Howard again patted this aside, before slicing out ferociously with a vertical swipe. The Stranger jumped back to avoid the move, barely in time to save his skin.
The knight turned back just long enough to yell at Taron, “Go! Get out of here!”
Oscar was stood a-daze as Taron whipped the horses into action. He stared wide-eyed until the battling figures were out of sight.
“What are you doing? We can't just leave him against that maniac!”
“That's exactly what we're doing,” Taron yelled back over the sound of the cart rumbling along the rough track, “now get out 'ere and help!”
The wagon thundered along. Attey remained silent in the back, while the two companions spurred the horses on upfront. Neither really knew why, but Taron was not going to wait around long enough to find out.
The mass of riders ahead kicked up a plume of dust, having seen the wagon they began to charge.
“The soldiers that assassin spoke of, were goin' to run right into 'em!” Taron yelled.
“Wh-what do they want with us?”
“No idea,” Taron jerked hard on the reigns, pulling the horses to the right. The wagon thundered off the track onto the grassland, heading for a large wood in the distance.
“What you doing? Wh-why don't we get those soldiers to help?”
“They won't help us boy,” The wagon hurtled across the field toward an opening in the trees, “Howard said they think we're transportin' some royal guest. Those soldiers would kill us all to find 'im. Our best bet is to take the bridleway up ahead. I've used it in the past, It'll take us right outside town.”
The wagon slowed a little as they entered the wood. Roots and rocks reached up and snagged the wheels of the cart as it rumbled on through, and the sides of the canopy were whipped and torn by low hanging branches.
Taron pushed the horses hard, as if pouring his own willpower into them. He saw Oscar steal a glance behind.
“Shit, they're right behind us!”
Taron didn't waste time looking. He whipped the horses on faster until foam frothed from their mouths and their hooves tripped on the rough terrain.
Ahead the bridleway opened wider as they neared a fork in the track. They passed the fork and emerged into the wider section, and instantly the riders were upon them.
Several men closed in on each flank, two of them tried to grab the reigns to slow the cart while another reeled in closer on the left with his sword drawn. They all wore dark cloaks that billowed out behind as they rode.
“Keep hold of these!” Taron yelled as he passed the reigns to Oscar, who sat wide-eyed and white-knuckled. Taron stood and reached back into the canopy. He grabbed the nearest object he could find, a hammer from his tool kit, and re-emerged.
The sword wielding rider moved in to take a swing at Oscar, when Taron flung his hammer over the boy's head. The legendary hammer toss champion, his aim was flawless and the projectile walloped the rider hard in the side of the head. He let out a scream and fell behind.
“Yes!” Taron roared, and Oscar chuckled excitedly. Despite himself, Taron was enjoying this.
Suddenly an almighty crunching sound erupted from below, and the wagon bucked. The victory was short lived as the front left wheel sheared off on a rock and the cart skidded to a halt. The riders pulled back hard on their reigns to stop from bolting past.
In a moment they were surrounded. Taron's heart seemed to stop inside his chest, as the nearest soldier moved in, grabbed him roughly by the collar and threw him to the ground.
Taron landed with a thud. He lay there dazed for a few seconds as the world span and doom neared, but in those few moments he lay there expecting a painful death a sudden cacophony broke out around him. Screams pierced the silence of the woodland and the sounds of clashing swords caused Taron to look up from where he lay.
Another group set upon the dark robed assassins, men in the royal red of the army. Catching them unawares, the newcomers butchered the Count's men effortlessly. Bodies fell all around Taron, and soon the last of the dark hooded figures was dead, pierced through with an arrow. One of the soldiers walked over to Taron where he lay and stuck out his hand.
“It seems we got here just in time,” The man said as he pulled Taron to his feet, before lifting the helmet form his head. “Captain Wells of the royal guard. Our spies informed us that the enemy was pursuing you on the road north. Tell me, is the priestess with you?”
Taron stooped, heaving in air as he gathered his scattered wits. He noticed another soldier pull Oscar up from the ground.
“No, we've no priestess as everyone seems to think. I've never met the damned woman.”
A rustling sound came from the back of the wagon, and Oscar scrambled over to help the flustered Attey out.
“Young man,” she said as Oscar helped reunite her with the ground, “make haste and help us get to Vivar field. I have urgent news for the king, and what’s more Sir Howard needs your help.”
“Ah,” the captain replied unconvinced, “I presume you are Loka's maid, but where is the elusive girl herself? And what's this about Sir Howard?”
“He engaged in combat with an assassin on the road back there. He is in dire peril alone against the enemy.”
Wells turned to his men, “Not a moment to lose then, division one get to it!”
The men saluted and mounted up, not needing any more instruction they rode off. He then turned back to the trio, “Come, time is of the essence. Three of my men shall lend you their horses and tend to the wagon. Mount up and we shall get going.”
The group rode through the wood escorted by the captain and his men. They arrived at Vivar field late in the afternoon. Oscar's eyes swept over hundreds of tents as they rode past, and the faces of tired and battered men that glanced up from them.
All his life Oscar had dreamed of the glorious life of a knight, yet the reality of such chilled him to behold. There was no feeling of glory on Vivar field that evening.
Ahead, atop a large hill a pavilion had been constructed, and Wells led them to it. Oscar and his friends dismounted at the entrance and were led inside. Torches burned along the walls and a large table sat in the centre covered in maps and scrolls. A dozen men were stood around it, deep in debate.
“My lord, I bring news of the priestess Loka,” Wells stated as he dropped to one knee. The others emulated him, and all the men at the table turned to face them. Oscar's eyes went to a tall man with dark hair and deep, tired eyes. The King Dimitrus, his crown weighing heavier than ever upon his head.
“Rise, all of you. What news captain?”
“It seems Loka's whereabouts are...”
“Dimitrus, pardon the confusion,” Attey interrupted the Captain as she stepped forward, “allow me to clear things up.”
Attey lowered her eyes as she uttered a few words beneath her breath, her face wrinkling in an effort to remember them.
Suddenly, a blinding flash of light filled the room, hitting Oscar with the force of a physical blow. He shut his eyes and blurred shapes danced behind his eyelids. After a moment the light faded, and he opened his eyes again to a distorted vision. As his sight began to clear and the room once again came into focus, his gaze settled on a blurred outline before him. First her frame came into focus, then the finer details.
Oscar gasped in surprise and the woman chuckled at his reaction. Where had stood Attey was now someone else. Her hair was just as grey as Attey's, and behind the emerald eyes burned the same fire, but she was much younger. Oscar thought she looked just like a princess from one of his old fairy stories.
“Loka!” the King exclaimed, “Praise the lord you are here!” He rushed in and grabbed her by the shoulders.
“Your highness, you are grinning like a schoolboy,” she teased, “yes it is I.”
Oscar, Taron and the others in the room were dumbstruck.
“The ancient ones left greater knowledge than I had expected, including the ability to change one's appearance. I thought it a wise precaution for the road back, knowing that I was being pursued.”
The king released her from the embrace, yet his smile remained.
“And what of your quest, have you acquired that which you sought, the power to destroy Urslar?”
Loka nodded with a smile, “I have! It won't be easy, I will need to be close enough to touch him for the ritual to work.”
The king's face fell stern. One of the captains behind him spoke up, “That'll be dangerous, but the opportunity will not be hard to come by. The count lavishes in the bloodshed of battle. Once a day he appears on the field, slaughtering men like insects.”
“True enough,” The king replied, turning to face the man, “But we have an ally in surprise. A sudden rush, all the men we have in a spear formation straight to the heart of the enemy. It would be a move he would not expect, sure to draw him out. If we fail, we die and the west falls.”
Loka's smile vanished, “There's no knowing if this will work! That is too great a risk.”
“It is our last chance,” the captain said, gazing sternly at the king in approval, before turning to Loka, “we are near defeated. Just now we were plotting a final stand. We likely would not have lasted the night.”
The king's gaze drifted over his captains, over Oscar and Taron, and finally rested on Loka. “Mount up, captains rally all the men. We ride within the hour.”
Taron was fidgeting at Oscar's side as the tent sprang to life, worrying that his earnings would be riding to their doom with a suicidal King.
“This is all well and good miss,” Taron said to Loka in a whisper, “but what about our deal? I wish y' the best of luck, but if you fail I've still got a new cart to buy.”
The King heard Taron and turned to face him. “Good man, you dare speak of money at this time? You should be content in the honour of your service to the crown.”
“Oh stop Dimitrus,” Loka interrupted, “Don't go on. I promised him, and as I have proven I do not back out of my promises. Pay him and don't be so surly!”
Oscar, standing well back, had to stifle a chuckle. He couldn't help but smile, still the same Attey.
Taron stood beside Oscar looking over Vivar field. Both sides still fought on relentlessly in the field below. As the evening approached the lines slowly fell one by one.
The companions watched on in silence beneath the glow of the sunset, off to the side stood the King's council, equally enthralled by the view. The bulk of the King's army, gathered behind the front line, began to mobilize. Taron could not make out individuals, but he knew the King and Loka would be a few lines back in the spearhead, ready to meet the invading army once the tip had been broken.
Finally the King's men, with a deafening cry that carried to the onlookers on the hilltop, charged headlong into the fray.
The men on the field scurried out of the way as the cavalry neared, opening a gap for them to charge the Count's horde. The spear formation drove deep into the enemy, smashing through the first lines unopposed. Taron struggled to make out the details from this distance but he could hear the sounds of the battle from where he stood.
He had never approved of knights and their ilk, but Taron had to admit a new-found respect. He knew that he would not want to be down there.
They stood watching for some time as the battle raged on below them. They waited in anticipation for something to happen, but as time pressed on there was nothing. Taron began to doubt the success of the plan, and as the sun began to set he considered suggesting a timely departure.
Suddenly in the distance a brilliant flash erupted, shrouding the landscape in blinding white light. It originated from deep within the enemy lines. Taron turned away as it dazzled his eyes.
In a moment the light faded, leaving a deathly silence. Moments passed when slowly, on the field below a cheer broke out. One after another the combatants below let out a cry, spreading across the field like a rumour of victory.
The King limped up the hill supported on the shoulders of two of his men. Loka and the captains followed behind, all in high spirits. Dimitrus shrugged off his two helpers as he neared the top and came into view of his audience. He unclipped his plate mail, letting it lie where it fell, and as he passed Oscar and Taron he gave them a short nod.
The captains walked past with Loka, who stopped beside them. Her clothes were torn and her body drenched in sweat and blood.
“It worked!” she beamed with an exhausted satisfaction, “The count is gone, vanished in a cloud of smoke like in the fable! His army was under a supernatural influence, with him gone they soon surrendered.”
“Incredible,” Oscar beamed, “So we've saved the world like heroes of old?”
Though they travelled the same road, the return trip felt very different. Oscar and Taron went with a feeling of accomplishment, but also with a pang of regret at having had only a glimpse of a world they would never know again.
They stopped at a different inn at Westlington, and were soon sat at a table in the corner, drinking beer.
In the familiar setting Oscar's thoughts went back to reality, What will I tell my parents? They won't believe any of this.
“Mind if I join you?” Asked a hooded figure at his shoulder, who stood with three tankards of beer in hand. Oscar recognised the voice, but could not see the face beneath the hood.
“Seeing as you’re bringing beer.” Taron answered.
“Ha, well next beers are on you friend, I hear you've come into some money lately,” The stranger threw back his hood with a grin as he took a seat.
“Howard, you're alive!” Oscar said, “What happened back there?”
“What, that assassin? That dog was no match for me, I dealt with him then took my cue for a quiet get away. I've been thinking of retiring from palace life for a while now, time for a fresh start.” He paused to take a swig of his beer, “I had been many things before I became a knight. Now that life has gotten stale for me, too many formalities. Time to roam once again. I could do with some companions on the road you know,” He glanced back and forth between Oscar whose grin stretched even wider, and Taron whose frown deepened. “What do you say, either of you up for an adventure?”
©February, 2016 Daniel Amatiello
Daniel Amatiello has not previously been published. He intends to showcase his future work at danielamatiello.com.