IX. Kevyn

IX. Kevyn

A Chapter by D.S. Dirck

IX.  Kevyn

Year: 643ALD


Despite wearing several layers of clothing, Kevyn shivered as the wind whipped up around him. His destrier seemed oblivious to the cold as long jets of steam erupted from the horse’s nostrils. With a wool tunic under banded leather, under plate mail, under a fur cloak, the wind still managed to reach his bare skin.

“Is it always so cold here?” he asked Lord Graham Tosch.

“Colder…” Graham’s breath appeared in the air, swirled around and vanished.

“You southerners,” chided Lord Gron Berribark. “You don’t know the meaning of cold. You know how we tell winter here in Tor?”

“Snow and cold?” Kevyn mocked between his chattering teeth.

Lord Berribark grinned. “I know it’s winter when my piss turns to ice before it hits the ground.”

“What a lovely thought.”

The Lord of Westwatch gave a blank stare before snapping his head back in laughter.

Kevyn turned his face against the wind as it lashed the stone bridge like an icy whip, kicking up small tufts of fine white powder.

Standing in the stirrups, He peered over the bridge in search of the Durish envoy, yet the eastern tower impeded his view. A feeling of heaviness welled in his gut and his stomach became unsettled as he wondered if the northern pottage had betrayed him. It would be too late to find a privy if the need arose. Not a full day had  passed since his arrival and he already became accustomed to the lack of etiquette.

Though, shitting one’s self in the presence of the Rex of Duria may well fall below the unintentional depravity of northerners. Maybe…

The Lord of Banesbridge looked up, nodding to the men atop the western tower. The sentries above flashed a series of hand signals, communicating the envoy’s size and distance.

“Fifty to sixty Durs. Thirty horse,” Graham interpreted. “Four mastodons. Six? No. Four rhinos.”

“Mastodons?” Kevyn sounded surprised. “Are they much bigger than mammoths?”

“Much bigger and more wild,” answered Graham. “Before the war, my father tried to tame them, but they were too damned stubborn. The Durs have been doing it for a thousand years, though.”

“My brother should be here,” Kevyn mused. “He’s always been fascinated by mammoths and mastodons.”

“As was my father.” Graham trotted forward, turning his horse around. “Majestic creatures for sure, but they stink and foul our plains with s***s the size of mountains.”

Two-hundred men consisting of the northern lords and their vassals lined the ramparts above the gate. Kevyn counted near twenty separate banners, mostly worn and ragged, but hoisted with pride. Despite their crude ways, the northerners' heraldry appeared as intricate and complex as anything he’d seen in the south. One particular banner consisting of blades of wheat encircled with daggers overlaying a crescent moon grabbed his attention. It appeared to him as a work of art.

Gazing over the rampart, he took notice of the lords and lordlings from different houses standing shoulder to shoulder, appearing as a band of brothers. Young men, old men, and men in between; many with bushy beards and pockmarked faces, scars from frostbite and broken teeth�"no doubt chipped on frozen meat and stale bread. These were hard men. They wore their scars without ambivalence, as an everyday fact of the world that suffered them. Kill or be killed. Live or die. The harsh way of life was written on their faces like war paint.

A small envy welled within him that this pale-skinned man with red eyes could foster such camaraderie in a place where resources were so few. His own father would never dare try to unite the holds in such a fashion, lest they cut each other’s throats.  

“Am I wrong to assume you weren’t expecting them so soon?” Kevyn asked. “Perhaps they cannot tell days or time?”

“There’s an old Durish saying,” said the thick-bellied Lord Berribark. “Every time is now.”

“It’s a ploy to catch us off guard,” Lord Tosch remarked, anxiously tightening his grip on the reigns, “in case we were planning something.”

Kevyn laughed until he realized it was no jape. “You aren’t planning anything, right?”

I’m not,” Graham reassured half-heartedly.

Something in the man’s tone left Kevyn’s stomach feeling more unsettled. If the Durs brought a privy with them he would consider hugging them all. Shitting over the bridge seemed to harbor its own hazards and he clenched his gut, determined to keep its contents locked tight.

“The men will follow your lead, sire,” the Master Steward of Banesbridge remarked.

We should have brought more men. Twenty-three wasn’t enough. Should these northerners decide to shed blood, the three of us will be nothing more than bystanders.    

The truth slapped Kevyn harder than the frigid air.

Faint little dots appeared visible through the rusted iron gate on the eastern side of the bridge. Within minutes the banners came into view. Much simpler and cruder than anything men created, the Durish banners appeared over fraying burlap and hemp cloth. The paints they used were weathered and faded in comparison to the vibrant hues of the Torish banners. A volcano highlighted one, while another depicted a simple shield. One bore what appeared to be a buttocks with spread cheeks and a bloody anus.

“Is that what I think it is?” Kevyn blinked twice.

“It’s a rose over breasts,” replied the steward. “Clan Greyfire. A powerful family in the Durish hierarchy. They are the chief purveyors of courtesans in Tiburion.”

“What did you think it was?” asked Lord Tosch.

Kevyn remained straight-faced. “Why, a rose over breasts, of course.”

Behind the banners and the haze of snow, large silhouettes appeared, towering over the Durs. A trumpeted blast echoed the familiar wail of the famed Durish mastodons.

The behemoths stood nearly fifteen feet tall with thick, broad shoulders which swayed side to side as they trudged forward. Their tusks appeared less curved than their smaller mammoth cousins, being filed in a serrated fashion with an ornate hand-etched pattern crawling the length of the shafts. Their intricate beauty was matched only by their intimidating nature. Each footstep released a puff of snow into the air, leaving a trail of haze in their wake.  

“I certainly wasn’t planning on being trampled today,” Kevyn swallowed, taking notice of Lord Tosch’s red eyes glaring at the approaching beasts. Durish warriors rode atop the woolly rhinos, the smaller but no less menacing cousins to the mastodons. The rhinos were all fur and muscle, with a single broad horn on their snout, rounded at the tip. They were akin to walking battering rams.

“Which banner is the Rex’s?” Lord Tosch asked. “Is it the mountain?”

“It’s the volcano of Mount Tiburion, the sign of Clan Mountainbreaker,” Steward Benjamin corrected. “The other banners are the lesser clans. The fist-shaped banner is the emblem for the Durish Horde.”

“Such poorly drawn banners,” remarked Lord Berribark. “My five-year-old niece could paint better than that. Perhaps I’ll offer her services?”

“You will do no such thing,” the steward rebuked the remark. “We would do well not to insult their lack of artistry.”  

“Agreed,” Lord Tosch chimed in. “Let’s not start a war over banners.”

Kevyn agreed with Lord Berribark, though. They were terribly drawn banners by comparison. If a lesser lord were to sport such a crudely illustrated sigil, the result would be mockery.  

The rumble of a drum beat grew, echoing  through the valley like rolling thunder. Pounding drums, combined with the grunts and wails of the larger beasts, added an air of gravitas to the envoy .

A bead of sweat rolled down Kevyn’s neck under the heavy layers of leather and steel. His right thumb teased the pommel of his sword, unclicking it from the scabbard.

I could die right now if this goes wrong. Kira was right. I should have stayed in bed with her.

He imagined her naked body, but the thought of it gave him little relief.

Tension hung thick in the air as every man above and below waited for the order to strike, should the situation turn sour. Lord Plumm rode a few steps forward in his full plate armor, turning back to the gate shouting, “We got em’ outnumbered three to one! If they make a move, we’ll cut their fooking heads off!” Every man on the gate lifted their weapons high and shouted “Hoooah!”

Northerners…

Rearing his destrier around, Lord Tosch trotted back to the gate to settle the men. “No one raises a hand without my command. Is that understood? I am the lord of this castle. This is my gate! You are my men!”

“F*****g right we are!” an unknown voice shouted. “All hail the White Bear! Son of the Dur-slayer!”

The men on the gate erupted in chanting. “Dur-slayer! Dur-slayer!”

Kevyn’s horse became unruly, pawing at the stone ground beneath its hooves and snorting. He glanced nervously at the steward and then to Sir Conley. “What do I do?” he whispered.

Sir Derrian Conley scoffed at the northern outburst. “Backwater peasants,” he growled under his breath. “Lord Peter sent you here to keep the peace. So get over there and keep the damn peace.”

Kevyn groaned, turning his destrier around. The Durs were nearly upon the eastern gate and time was running short.

“Enough, I say!” Lord Tosch stammered, but it was no use. The convoy was well within earshot of the chanting.

“Dur-slayer! Dur-slayer!”

“Hey!” Kevyn shouted to no avail, reaching into the saddle bag and finding two nearly-frozen apples. He threw the first one at the top of the gate, missing entirely. Yet the second one struck the aging Lord Grover Cleese in the face. The old man nearly lost his footing, tumbling backwards in a flailing commotion, interrupting the chants.

The old Lord Cleese stewed and spat. “Who in the name of�"”

“�"By the authority of Lord Peter Hathaway, I command you all to shut up!” Kevyn commanded.

“That was a good shot,” Lord Tosch remarked, rearing his steed back to the east just as the Durish procession reached the gate.

The host split, filing into two columns passing underneath the stone archway. Not even a fist-height remained between the mastodons and the ceiling of the arch.

“They’re huge,” Kevyn remarked in astonishment. “Those things will crush us if this goes bad.”

The pale lord pulled the reins of his black destrier. “Let’s go, Lord Hathaway.”

Clutching his own reins, Kevyn motioned his horse forward. “Ok then, Lord Big Bear, is that what they call you?”

“Something like that.”

“Let’s make sure this doesn’t go bad then.” Shaking his head, Kevyn hoisted his helm, fastening the chinstrap.

“Rex Brandor looks awfully young,” Kevyn remarked as they drew closer. “Do Durs age the same as us?”

Lord Tosch squinted. “I don’t think they have quite our lifespan. I can’t be certain.”

Sporting a long, thick beard, oiled and braided with brass clasps and tiny silk ropes, the Dur was presumed to be Brandor Mountainbreaker, the Rex of Duria. His plate mail consisted of stone plates engraved with a hand-chiseled bone pattern which clanked like pottery as he moved. As primitive as it seemed, the plates reflected a unique beauty unlike anything ever seen by men.

The other rider wore no armor, garbed in a simple grey robe, with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. In place of a blade, a large, gnarled staff was fixed to a holster on his back. The skin on his face, neck, and hands appeared visibly stretched and scarred from burns. His right eye was colorless, yet despite the burns on his face he still grew a full grey beard.

The armored Dur removed his helm and raised a hand in greeting. “We come in the name of Brandor, the Mountain Breaker, Rex of Duria, Overseer of Tiburion, and benevolent claimant to the lands occupied by the nation of men.” Behind him, the lumbering mastodons swung their trunks around, slapping the ground impatiently. “I am Dwain, second born of Brandor, emissary of the Durish people. To my right is Shau Bramnu, spiritual guide and smoke seer. We request permission to enter your city.”

“Greetings. I am Graham Tosch. The Lord of Bainsbridge. Here with me is Lord Kevyn Hathaway t son of our regent, Lord Peter. You are welcome to all the hospitality Bainsbridge has to offer.”

“Where is the Rex?” Kevyn blurted out. “We were expecting him. Not you.”

Puffing his chest out in a deep breath, the Dur looked back with a stalwart expression. “The Rex was unable to make the journey. I have been tasked with representing him. Is there a problem with that?”

Kevyn glanced over to Lord Tosch, who returned a subtle shake of the head. “No,” he answered, “I suppose not.”

“You are the demon son of the Old Bear, they say,” said the scarred priest. “How is it the daylight does not burn you?”

“Why, it’s cloudy out of course,” Lord Tosch remarked.

The Durs turned to one another with serious faces until the master Dur slowly curled his mouth into a smile, giving way to a laugh. The Durs behind them joined in the concert of laughter, having no clue to what they were laughing about.

Lord Tosch humbly raised a pale hand. “The rumors of my inherit vampirism have been, how shall I put it, overstated.”

Raising the staff high, trinkets of bone and metal jangled as the shau waved it about. “The spirit of the tek tek is strong with you. This I see.”

Kevyn leaned to Lord Tosch, “What’s a tek tek?”

“The fabled white giant,” he replied. “A tale told to us as children, nothing more.”  

The shau shunned the remark. “No. Many years ago, when these lands slept under ice, the tek teks ruled over all.”

The talk of folklore failed to keep Kevyn’s attention amidst the biting cold.

We learn something new every day.

Another gust of frigid wind swept over the bridge, and the Durs' horses became restless. “Perhaps we could continue this conversation inside, next to the comfort of a fire. We brought cider and spirits with us.”

They like to drink, eh? My old man should have thought twice about not coming.

“Indeed,” Lord Tosch replied, rearing his horse around. “If you’ll follow me, my lords.”

The perceived tension eased as Dwain motioned for the rest of his entourage to follow. The mastodons huffed and growled, straining as they pushed their bodies forward.

Kevyn trotted towards the gate in time to see Haedric Plumm, Milburn Brandenburg, and three dozen other lords and their lieutenants standing in a defensive formation. Steward Benjamin kicked his horse into a hard gallop, turning back to investigate.

“Benjamin. What’s going on?” asked Lord Tosch.

The steward brimmed with panic. “We have a problem, my lord.”

Lords Haedric Plumm and Gron Berribark stepped forward with swords drawn, their faces painted red with rage.

“You’re fooking right we have a problem,” Lord Berribark stammered.

Kevyn’s heart thumped. The wind felt less cold as the blood rushed from his face. Sirs Conley and Ryker rode up, flanking Kevyn on both sides with the hilts free from their scabbards. “What is this?”

“What are you doing?” Lord Tosch demanded. “Have you all gone mad? Lower your weapons at once!”

The Durs arrived at the gate just in time to see the standoff. They abruptly halted in place, drawing their swords, clubs, maces and spears. The mastodons roared and the rhinos grunted, one command away from trampling everyone on the bridge.

This is bad…

“Lay down your weapons! All of you!” the white lord commanded, yet not a single man moved.  

Lord Berribark stammered, “I want his fooking head on a pike! Blood for blood!”

“Aye! That’s right!” Lord Plumm pointed his sword directly at Dwain, shouting, “You, dwarf lord! You say you come in the name of peace, yet you slander us by bringing that filth to our gates!”

Sir Conley reached over and clutched Kevyn’s shoulder, shuffling him and his destrier towards the edge of the bridge, out of the way of the archers above.

How upset would father be if he learned of this? Would he be angry that I died? Or that I failed to get the Durs to Springhaven?

While men maintained the larger numbers, the mastodons more than compensated for the disadvantage. They huffed in agitation, looking ready to charge as they slid their massive paws along the stone bridge.

Gron jumped off his horse, disregarding his lord completely, and with his broadsword unsheathed, he stepped towards the Durish envoy. Durish spears, bows and axes all focused on the bearded Torishman. “I speak to you!” With his sword pointed at the shau, he growled, “Do not think us such fools that we are tricked by your robes and superstitions! And don’t think we've forgotten who you really are, you raper of women, you butcher of children! Dok Torath!

The name sent shivers down Kevyn’s spine, harkening back to childhood tales.

Be sure to mind your elders, lest Dok Torath come and steal you away. And do your chores, as Dok Torath loves to torture lazy children,” parents would say to their unruly sons and daughters to great effect. And yet he gazed at the scarred priest before him, wondering if the son of the Rex could be so foolish.

And a priest no less?   

Lord Plumm stepped forward with his own blade in hand. “What do you say!” he shouted to the shau, “You, butcher of the innocent! Are you prepared to answer for your crimes?”

“We come in peace and you greet us with slander and swords?” Dwain’s horse stepped forward. “Do men know nothing of honor? Do not think despite our numbers, we are any less deadly! And do not forget it was a host merely larger this that razed this city to the ground the last time!”

Kevyn looked on as Dwain’s words lit a fire in Lord Tosch’s eyes. Reaching down, the Lord of Banesbridge unsheathed his blacksteel greatsword. The blade rang out in a blood-curdling scream as it scraped the scabbard, leaving everyone gritting their teeth.

The blade was reminiscent of Skybourne, the famed blacksteel longsword Kevyn’s father once wielded, though this blade appeared twice as wide and a foot longer. All eyes marveled at the blade save for Lord Tosch, whose fury was fixed solely on Dwain Brandor and Shau Bramnu.

“You speak to me of honor?” the young lord snarled. “What would you know of honor? You brag of razing this city? Where’s the pride in sneaking around like rats and cutting our throats as we slept? Look before you! Do you not see? There is nothing your impotent race can destroy that we will not rebuild, larger and stronger than before!”

A hundred taut bowstrings echoed from above. Kevyn looked up, going numb with disbelief as Sirs Conley and Ryker moved to shield him.

Is this really happening?

“Enough words boy!” Dwain reared back, lifting his sword high and preparing to bring it down, signaling the charge.

Kevyn closed his eyes and imagined himself tangled with Kira in bed. The feel of her touch, the smell of her breath, the silk-like softness of her hair and the soothing sound of her voice all rushed to him in the moment.

The Faith of the Father says the honorable dead get to spend the afterlife in their happiest moment. I know exactly where I’m going when this is over.

Dwain’s sword came crashing down, signaling the charge. Spears and shields went up. Horses and mastodons wailed. And then, in half a heartbeat, the shau appeared from thin air, shouting and waving his staff high in full view.

All sides hesitated as Shau Bramnu appeared front and center. Unarmed save for his staff, which he threw to the ground, he floated towards the gate, falling to his knees before the northmen. “It is true!” he wailed. “It is true!”

Kevyn’s heart raced and he felt hot as a furnace under all the layers of clothing. He and Dwain’s eyes met for a brief moment. Both were unsure what was happening.

“I once was the miserable pathetic creature you speak of!” the shau proclaimed. “Honor meant little to that horrid wretch of a Dur! And many suffered at the hands of his dishonor.”

The northmen stood bewildered by the confession as the shau shed his robes, revealing himself to be wearing only a loin cloth. Every inch of his skin appeared stretched and twisted from burn scars. The sight of him was treated with utter disgust by all.

The priest fell to his knees with outstretched arms as the brutal wind pulled on his beard, yet he appeared unaffected by the cold. “The vile creature you knew as Dok Torath, was thrown into the fires of Mount Tiburion as an atonement. As the fires of Tok Tura consumed him, the mountain god saw fit to spit me out of the flames to serve as his messenger. Yet, I cannot deny before you and your gods that I still walk in the shell of the evil Dur who brought so much suffering to your people.”  

Lord Reynard Scarberry pushed his way through the crowd, observing the spectacle close up. His stare was cold, without anger or disbelief. At the sight of Reynard, the shau wept aloud and crawled on his hands and knees to the scarred lord, kissing his boots.

With gnashing of teeth, the Lord of The Crag frowned in a tense silence. “You, more than anyone, have suffered at the hands of that terrible creature whose name I will not say again. No amount of forgiveness could ever undo the wrongs done to you, Lord Scarberry. I offer you my life if it will spare further bloodshed.”

Swords and weapons on all sides lowered. Gron Berribark spit at the ground in protest and walked away, as the other lords followed suit. Lord Scarberry himself slowly stepped back, struggling to suppress the torrent of emotions as he vanished into the crowd.

Glancing to Dwain, Lord Tosch gestured toward the shau, “Keep that thing out of our sight. I cannot guarantee his safety during your stay.”

Dwain nodded. “We�"I--meant no offense by bringing him with us.”

“Whatever your intent was, offense was taken,” Graham muttered. “Your people have much to learn about diplomacy.”

A somber mood settled over the keep as the evening feast was served. Intended as a celebration of a coming-together of two peoples, Kevyn found the atmosphere awkward and sour.

A wide row of empty tables separated the men from the Durs in the Great Hall. Kevyn seated himself at the head table with Lord Tosch and Dwain Brandor. Dwain’s chief lieutenant, a stout Dur by the name of Tor Valus sat with them next to Lord Tosch’s steward. At the end of the table sat Sir Conley and Sir Ryker, appearing stiff and anxious.

Durish highborn were a bit of an enigma to Kevyn. Many of them sported long hair of varying colors, consisting of sky blues, deep greens, bright yellows, deep reds and brilliant shades of orange. Their braids appeared intricately woven, held together with ornamental jewelry fashioned from gold and silver.

Their native speech was strange and distinct in comparison to the Elytian and Reysian tongues. When they spoke, it sounded as if their tongues scraped their teeth. Many words ended with sounds likened to spitting.

Yet as the feast progressed, the wine took hold. Kevyn blinked, taking notice of stark similarities between the Torish and their Durish neighbors. They both shared a common lacking of table manners and a penchant for crude japes, heavy drinking, and hearty laughter.

They really aren’t so different. They like to eat, drink, and laugh. I imagine they probably like to s**t and f**k too. Aside from being a few inches shorter, they don’t look that much different, either.

The realization was interrupted by servants bringing trays of roasted boar with mashed turnips and boiled buckwheat. Kevyn disliked buckwheat, but it grew in abundance throughout Tor and was a staple of their diet. Many of the Durs expressed confusion and disgust by the greens and especially the buckwheat.  

In response, Lord Tosch motioned to the servants to bring out more boar and roast duck, as the Durs held little fondness for anything not related to bread, cheese or meat.

Even wine seemed a foreign concept, as they found it to be overly bitter and foul tasting. “Our women would love this red piss water,” exclaimed one of Dwain’s lieutenants, “It smells like flowers.”

As the servants returned with more roasted boar, Lord Tosch ordered them to open another cask of ale, which was drained in less than an hour.

The day’s events ruined the appetites of everyone at the table. Kevyn picked at his mashed turnips, as Dwain nibbled on small pieces of boar. Several minutes of awkward silence had passed, when Kevyn spoke to lighten the mood.

“So is it true what he said? About being thrown in the fire?”

“I didn’t see it, but that’s what they say.” Dwain looked up. His tone suggested a hint of skepticism. “We faced quite a famine after the war. The Old Bear laid waste to our fields. Even today, they remain a barren dust plain. In an effort to appease our god, a blood sacrifice was ordered to atone for failing him.”

“How did you fail your god?” Kevyn asked.

Dwain took a long drink of ale, measuring his words. “Men. Elytians. Whatever you call yourselves. We swore to push you all into the sea. Our ancestors made the mistake of allowing you on our shores six centuries ago. The last war was intended to rectify that mistake.”

Lord Tosch stared with cold red eyes. “Or you could have simply chosen to coexist with us. Obviously my father wouldn’t have scorched a third of your country.”

The Durs at the table grumbled under their breath as Dwain chewed his boar, coldly staring back. “As I was saying. The shaus chose him, believing his actions were an affront to Tok Tura. They say he kicked and screamed when they threw him in, cursing God and all of us. Yet as quickly as he disappeared into the belly of the mountain, the mountain spit him back.”

Tor Valus shook his head, dismissing the story entirely. “Tis fables, nothing more. He probably just caught himself on a cliff edge.”

My father ordered we bring him, though,” Dwain conceded. “I have no use for Durs of his talents.”

“Lord Dwain, could you take a look at these papers for a moment?” Steward Benjamin reached into his coat, presenting a set of crumpled pages.

Dwain and Tor Valus leaned in to examine the parchments. “Looks like a map of sorts,” Tor Valus concluded, “but I can’t read that scratching.”

“It’s old Durish,” Dwain bluntly stated. “Where did this come from?”

“Can you read it?” Lord Tosch pressed.

“It’s a message written in the southern Durish dialect. I can’t exactly translate it. But I can tell you what I think it says.” Holding the pages, he read what he could. “It says, ‘a ship was found… twenty thousand gold payment… another twenty for return voyage… follow the path’.” Dwain looked up. “I know nothing of this. Who from our lands would want a ship from the western coast? Where would they want to go? Where did you get these pages?”

“Lord Scarberry captured a man trying to cross into Duria through the Crag,” Lord Tosch replied.

“I can barely read this writing,” Dwain admitted. “It would be impressive to find a man capable of writing in any dialect of Durish. Very few of our own people can read and write.”

“Twenty thousand gold payment is no small fee,” remarked Kevyn as he reached for the pages, glancing at them for a brief moment when something caught his attention. “What’s this?” he asked, pointing to a faint marking on the map.

“It looks like an ‘x’,” said Lord Tosch, as the others leaned over to get a better look.

“But there’s nothing along the northern coast,” declared Benjamin, “just small fishing villages of little consequence.”

Dwain nodded, stroking his beard. “You took this map from a man, you say?”

Steward Benjamin nodded. “Presented to us by the Lord of The Crag.”

“If one were to sneak between our lands, that would be the way to go, for sure,” Dwain replied, looking at his Tor. “What do you make of this?”

Tor Valus clutched the pages, shaking his head. “Perhaps someone is conspiring with a rival clan? Greyfire or Ironheart would have cause. But even if that were the case, it would not explain what this means.”

It was plain for all to see the implications, as vague as they were, troubled Dwain, or at least appeared to. A subtle foreboding seemed to hover over the table long after the discussion of the matter was past.

The following morning arrived colder and windier than the one before it. One by one, the Durs slowly awakened, crawling from their tents, horse stalls, and stacks of hay. Many appeared hungover as Kevyn awoke, with Sir Ryker and Sir Conley huddling around a brazier near the stables for warmth. They broke their fast over a rasher of bacon, generously offered by the stablemaster, who once served in the Royal Legion many years ago.

By midday, all the Durs had awoken and gathered for the journey ahead. The mastodons were bridled and the woolly rhinos saddled as they waited in formation near the city gate.

Lord Tosch and his faithful steward rode out to bid them farewell, as Kevyn and his men waited for the Durs. Only a few of the Torish lords were present to see the envoy off, Reynard Scarberry being one, standing far away and watching with suspicious eyes.

“Here in Tor, it’s ill luck to wish someone a safe journey,” Lord Tosch remarked, shaking Kevyn’s hand. “Be well. I should be in the capital a few weeks from now for Landings Day. Perhaps I’ll find you.”

“I thank you, Lord Tosch,” Kevyn replied, “but I’ll be off to the Sunterland by then.”

“Call me Graham.” Lord Tosch smiled and nodded, shaking Kevyn’s hand. “So you are riding with them, eh?”

Kevyn sensed no abundance of envy in the White Bear’s tone.

“There’s plenty of room for you on that rhino back there,” Kevyn japed. “Don’t be jealous.”

Graham gave a hearty laugh. “I wouldn’t steal the honor from you.”

Steward Benjamin stepped forward to shake Kevyn’s hand. “When you get back to Springhaven, tell the archivist, Pondarius, there is a particular tome of mine he borrowed. I would like it back. It’s titled ‘Mythologies and Prophecies of First Age Terra’.”

Kevin slowly nodded. “I can do that.”

There is no way I’ll remember a title that long.

“Lord Hathaway,” Dwain shouted. “We are ready to depart.”

Mounting his destrier, Kevyn trotted forth, taking the lead, with Sir Conley and Sir Ryker behind him.

Concealed in robes and a hood, Shau Bramnu quietly mounted his own horse, opting to travel in the rear of the procession.

Turning his head around, Dwain barked a command in his native tongue, and the Durs mounted on the woolly rhinos lurched forward, as the mastodons gave slow chase. “We shall follow you.” Dwain said to Kevyn, peering back to make sure his soldiers were in position.

The first several miles of the journey left them all to the mercy of the elements, as the sparse, flat landscape did little to impede the winds.

Japes were traded between the Durs and men for more than an hour. Durish humor was nearly as crude as that found in Tor, at least amongst the Durs kind enough to jape in the tongue of men. Kevyn felt it a welcomed relief to share a laugh with the folk with whom he would be enduring this hellishly long journey.

“Your father is the most feared man amongst my people,” Dwain lamented to Kevyn. “Not since your warrior queen have my people respected a king such as him.”

Despite parting on bad terms, Kevyn still felt a hint of pride that his father was the most feared man in Duria. “He’s not really a king. He’s just keeping the throne warm in case one of the members of the royal family rises from the dead.”  

The comment genuinely confused Dwain. “I assumed necromancy was forbidden in your lands, as it is in ours.”

“No, not literally,” Kevyn replied. “Our Emperor died without any children, but some still believe there’s an heir out there somewhere.”

“How can a family return once they’ve been extinguished?” Dwain seemed more puzzled. “We have clans extinguished all the time. Never has one come back.”

Kevyn pulled his cloak tighter in hopes of escaping the wind. “I’ve been asking that question since I was little.”

Endless miles of flat grass plains extended to both sides of the road on the way to Mors. The overcast sky extended forever, with Kevyn cursing his father every time the wind blew from behind.  

Chrystopher could have done this instead of me. I could be building my bow in the Sunterlands by now.

Every few hours, men on horse would approach and wait on the side of the road for the envoy to pass. Their eyes seemed transfixed on the mastodons and rhinos. Everyone marveled at the beasts, as few men ever laid eyes on animals so large.

Kevyn found himself making eye contact with the bull to his left as it stared at him.

What are you thinking in that big furry head of yours? Would you eat me if you could? Or just trample me?

The animal projected a sense of tiredness, in Kevyn’s opinion, and he touched the beast out of sympathy. The bull’s eye widened as Kevyn ran his fingers through the thick matted fur, leaving the animal even more enamored.  

You and I, we were made for bigger and better things than this.

The Dur on the woolly rhino in front of Kevyn turned to see him touching the mastodon. “That there is Zortho. I think he likes you.”

“How can you tell?”

“Cause he ain’t picked you up off your horse with his trunk and bashed your face into the ground, yet.”

Kevyn felt the foreboding power residing in the beast, knowing his life rested at the animals whims. “You’re a good boy. Aren’t you, Zortho.”

The mastodon raised its trunk and made a gentle huffing sound in response. Kevyn was caught off guard and pulled himself back as the mastodon reached for his hand with its trunk, pulling him from his horse. Kevyn cried out, convinced he’d pissed the beast off.

“Lockmore, stop him at once!” Dwain hurried over as the envoy came to a halt.  

Great, now here comes the part where I get trampled in front of all these Durs…

But rather than trample Kevyn, Zortho extended his trunk out, wrapping it around Kevyn’s waist and kneeling.

“Ha ha!” bellowed Lockmore, the Durish beast master. “Old Zortho wants you to ride him. Seems you made a friend.” The Dur walked over, placing a hand on the mastodon’s trunk as it lowered Kevyn to the ground in a gentle fashion. “Urchok Zortho, na skrim de’ zu schlarga.”

“What did you tell him?” Kevyn asked.

“I told him we didn’t bring a saddle.”

“And he understands?” asked Kevyn.

“Aye, he does,” the Dur replied. “Smart creatures, those things are.”

Kevyn, in a brave move approached and placed his hand on the beasts face. “I can’t ride you, but I can keep riding with you? Would you like that?”

Zortho raised his trunk and Lockmore tossed Kevyn a small sack full of apples. “Give him some of those once in a while and he’ll love you forever.”

Love me forever? If only everything was so simple…



© 2016 D.S. Dirck


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Added on March 28, 2016
Last Updated on April 4, 2016
Tags: fantasy, fiction, novel


Author

D.S. Dirck
D.S. Dirck

Fort Wayne, IN



About
I am an unpublished author searching for a literary agent and eventually publication. In the mean time, I'm here to network with other like-minded (and even non-like-minded) authors. I'm by no mea.. more..

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