Seventeen

Seventeen

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Gevin finds himself consumed with jealousy.

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17.

‘Jealousy is a kind of civil war in the soul, where judgment and imagination are at perpetual jars.’

-- William Penn

 

With the new horses - all of which were trained for riders (except the fillies of course), they were able to ride separately.   Gevin took the stallion Harn, for he was the most skilled with handling such a horse, especially one recently tamed and surrounded by mares and fillies.   

Zaeya insisted on riding the pregnant mare Ihar, mostly out of concern for her, though the Drow wouldn’t admit such emotions.   Without Troem seated behind her on Ihar’s back, it would be easier for the horse to carry a rider, and Zaeya was lightweight enough to not trouble her as long as they kept their daily rides easy.

Troem took one of the new mares, which he named ‘Twinkle’ as she had a certain look in her eyes that hinted at her intelligence.  

Crois was given a mare that he had ridden before when his band of thieves had taken the horses, and he called her Mehlia, which he said was the name of one of his aunts.

Applemint took the remaining mare, who seemed to be the dominant one of the group.   She was chestnut brown in color, so Applemint gave her the name ‘Chessie’ and worked her magic on the horse so well that Chessie seemed to love her almost immediately.

The two fillies were tethered to Chessie and Twinkle and Gevin suspected both mares were their dames.    The yearling was named ‘Brandy’ by Applemint because she was similar in color to her dame, Chessie, but with a slightly redder tint.   The two year old filly was playful and spirited, so they named her ‘Feisty’

 

Due to the number of female horses in the group, Gevin rode Harn a bit ahead of the others as so he wouldn’t be tempted to show off in front of the mares and fillies.

Zaeya followed on Ihar, as Harn was protective of her, followed by Crois on Mehlia and Apple on Chessie, the later leading Brandy behind her horse, and Troem brought up the rear on Twinkle, leading Feisty, keeping watch over Crois in case he tried to bolt away.

Being separated from the others, although it was just a small distance, did not help Gevin’s mood.   He couldn’t hear the exact conversations, but he certainly heard the Elven boy talking incessively to Applemint.   Crois was certainly trying to lay on the charm and by the mid afternoon he could hear the two of them laughing and the sound irritated him.   He fought the urge to go back amongst them and break up the flirting session, but then he’d check himself and the jealousy would turn to a self-loathing for his own immaturity and pettiness.

But then the emotions would cycle back through again and he’d fight them off.   Why was he so obsessed with the pretty Halfling girl?   Was it because of her devotion to him?   That was merely something she’d been instructed to show by her loyal parents.   Had he grown so pathetic that a teenaged girl’s affection was so important to him?   Yet in spite of all the more important problems, such as the political situation in Whiteberry, all he could focus on was the girl giggling and chatting with the Elven boy behind him.

As they neared the end of the ride for the day, he was emotionally exhausted and in a terribly foul mood.   He managed to pull free of his self-absorption long enough to pull back and check on Zaeya and Ihar.

The Drow lady had her cloak’s hood pulled down low over her face, but today had been hazy and overcast so she had not suffered as much as the previous day.

She looked up as he fell back beside her and noticed the icy glare that he gave the two youths happily riding behind her, joking and laughing.

“How are you doing Zaeya?  How’s Ihar?”

“We’re both alright, all things considered.   Ihar is a strong animal and she seems to like the exercise, though I must admit, I’m really getting tired of riding.   My whole body aches.”

“It’s a better experience when you have a good saddle, but we’re lucky that we were able to come up with reins for Harn and Ihar.   We’ll make camp soon; I think the land will flatten out ahead.   It looks like it will and maybe we’ll have a stream nearby for fresh water.”

“It’s all so…big…out here.   In the Underdark - or even in that magical jousting world- everything didn’t seem so wide open and large.   I don’t know how you all live up here with so much sky and space.”

“We’re used to it, I guess.   At least it was cloudy today.”

“That helped some.”

Applemint and Crois suddenly burst into hardy laughter and Gevin stiffened and fought the urge to turn and say something.

“You seem in a foul mood, Sir Gevin,”  Zaeya commented.

“I’m just tired of listening to their youthful silliness.”

“Is that it?  I’d say there was a bit of spite over how well they seem to be getting along.”

“Why would I care?” he snapped, trying to sound aloof but failing terribly.

“You shouldn’t care at all,” she replied, “She’s a Halfling youth and you should know how young people are, especially the childish Halflings.   Don’t waste your time on her - she’s a child and from the sound of them today, he’d have no trouble entering her castle anytime he’d want to tonight.   In fact, she’d probably lower the drawbridge for him.”

“I see,”  Gevin said coldly, his face frozen like ice.   He glanced back at the two who were still laughing, absorbed in their conversation and he felt such a surge of conflicting but powerful emotions come over him that he simply turned around and rammed his spurs into the flank of Harn, who with a whinny took off at a full gallop, rushing ahead so quickly that he was out of sight around a group of small hills that led into a wooded area.

“What in the world?”  Applemint exclaimed, riding forward as Zaeya sat there smiling underneath her cloak.

“Zaeya, what’s going on?”  Troem asked in alarm, rushing up to join them.   Crois sat on his horse puzzled but a bit apprehensive.

“He didn’t say, but he mentioned we should camp soon, so maybe he’s scouting ahead to look for a suitable place.”

“Something’s not right,”  Applemint replied.

“Ah, don’t worry about him - you’ve been so absorbed in your boyfriend there that you haven’t noticed anything going on around you all day.   You really ought to keep things private - just go off a distance tonight when we camp, so that we don’t have to listen to everything.”

“What?!”  Applemint exclaimed, horrified at what the Dark Elf was insinuating.

“Oh come now, Applemint, surely you know what’s on the boy’s mind!  You are obviously open and willing to his advances; you both just don’t have the sense to flirt around in private so it doesn’t irritate others.”

“Dear God!  What in the hell are you talking about!”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about; don’t deny it, we’ve had to listen to the two of you all day long.   Every time we’ve passed some bushes I suspected the two of you would slide off your horses and rut like rabbits.”

“You absolutely evil woman!   What a horrible thing to say!”

“Are you denying it?”

“Of course I’m denying it!  He’s just a boy, for heaven’s sake!”

“And you are just a girl…” Zaeya glanced over at Crois, who just sat there stupidly.

“I’m not the least bit interested in him!”  Applemint yelled in the Drow woman’s face, “You are nothing but an evil troublemaker that just wants to hurt people!   Why don’t you just ride off into your precious Underdark and leave us alone!”   Without another word, Applemint nudged her horse in the ribs and she took off in a gallop.

“Applemint, wait!”  Crois called after her.

“Just leave me alone!” She yelled back.   The Elven boy glared at Zaeya.

“You really are a demon, do you know that?” he turned his horse away from her in a trot, though not quick enough to pursue the Halfling girl.

Troem stared at her in disbelief.

“Well?” She asked, waiting for his reprimand. 

“You certainly don’t understand surface dwellers, do you?”

“Oh please!   How tough is it to understand.   The little redhead kid is just coming into maturity and she’s strutting around thrusting out her breasts at every male that will pay attention to her.   Gevin is smitten with her, but he’s too goody-goody to do anything about it, or else he’s caught up in that ridiculous ‘knightly code’, so he just suffers without saying or doing anything about it and little miss rotten Apple loves driving him and the Elf boy crazy.   The boy doesn’t understand what she is doing or why and Gevin is so messed up and fragile he doesn’t know how to even play the game.   All I did was bring things to a head so they can be addressed and all of this childish silliness can be dispensed of as soon as possible.”

“I don’t see that happening like you say.   You simply threw oil on a smoldering fire, Zaeya.”

“Sometimes fire needs kindled.”

“Other times fire needs extinguished.   I’m going to try to stop Applemint from getting herself in more trouble; why don’t you let Ihar rest here.”

“Are you giving orders now?” The Drow lady snapped.

“No; do whatever you want, Zaeya.   You usually do anyway, but remember this - Gevin released you from that prison you were in and Applemint and I have tried to be friends with you, so please don’t throw that away.”

“I don’t need any friends,” She snapped.

“People who say that usually need friends the most.    But the choice is yours, Zaeya - it is a very long distance to reach the region where the entrance to your Underdark is located; you can choose to do what you’d like.   Personally, I’d like to see you stay with us, but it’s your move again.   I’ll be back as soon as I can, hopefully with Applemint and Gevin and perhaps even Crois if Yesh has mercy.   Farewell!”  He turned from the Drow lady and set his horse into motion, leaving the Dark Elf all alone.

 

***

 

The stallion was young and strong and despite a nearly full day of walking was eager to run.   Gevin let him go where he wanted for the most part, only guiding him away from occasional tree branches that would have knocked him out of the saddle.   The way he felt right then, he wasn’t sure if that wouldn’t be the best thing.   Harn, to his credit, followed the path of the road, though he chose to run along the side of it on the grass instead on the packed dirt.

Gevin knew the Dark Elf had purposely ruffled his feathers and was laughing -probably with the rest of them- at his immature reaction.   But the anger that had welled up inside of him right then had worried him, for he’d felt as if he could have killed the Elven boy.   Jealousy scared him, as it tended to lead to worse sins and crimes, so rather than let Zaeya throw wood on a raging fire, he just fled as quickly as he could to give him time away from hearing the two young people laughing and flirting.

He had no idea what he should do now or if he should even go back to them.

But there was Mangle Pondertort and his clan, all travelling northward to rendezvous with them.   He didn’t know if the rest of them would continue southward as planned or what Mangle would do when he heard that Sir Gevin, in a very immature moment, simply rode off in a huff.

No, he’d have to go back, and so as soon as Harn seemed to be tiring, he brought the mighty horse down to a slow walk and then had him stop near a clear creek that ran close to the road.   It seemed to be a sort of stopping-off point - or had been when traffic regularly moved back and forth out of the former Elven kingdom.   Dismounting, he tied the reins to a low branch overhanging the creek and let the horse drink while he worked to loosen up his limbs. 

He’d worn the enchanted armor all day and while it was by far the most comfortable armor that he’d ever worn, it still grew hot and sweaty after a long day’s ride.

 

The attack came as he was kneeling down to cup his hands in the creek for a drink of water.   The buzz of an arrow zipped by his head, then a second one hit him in a gap behind his knee between two pieces of armor.   The mail underneath kept the arrow from going deep, but it sent him off balance, falling halfway into the creek.   Another arrow missed him entirely but hit Harn in the flank and the horse panicked, snapping the branch that tethered him to the tree and running off in pain.

Gevin pulled himself out of the stream, his upper body drenched in cold water and blood oozing down his leg from the arrow injury, as his attackers rushed at him from three sides.

He knew at once that they had to be some of Crois’ companions, or at least other Elven youths engaged in the same pursuit.   There were six of them, all armed with long Elven knives and long bows (which they’d discarded when they’d seen that they’d injured him).   They wore leather armor not really suitable for battle, but they possessed that daredevil young attitude that made them foolhardy and dangerous.

Fortunately, Gevin had worn his sword scabbard on his back while riding and as they rushed in, he put his weight on his uninjured leg and drew forth the magic sword.

It glowed brightly (though not as bright as when he’d fought the Ogre) and his attackers paused as they saw the eldritch glow.   But only for an instant, for they knew they outnumbered him and he was injured.

That hesitation gave Gevin time to prepare, though, and he limped back a step to put his back against the tree near the brook to offer his rear flank protection.

Still they came, confident that their numbers could overcome his armor’s protection and his magic sword.   They timed their multi-sided attack very well, but Gevin expected this and swung his sword in a wide, low side swipe.   Five managed to dodge backwards, but the boy approaching from the far right did not anticipate the swing going so wide and received a wicked cut to his shoulder.

Infuriated at the sound of their comrade’s cry of pain, the other five surged forward together, but Gevin brought his sword backwards with a reverse swipe.    It caught the blade of the knife of an Elf in the middle, knocking the knife from his hand.

The other four were upon him then, their knives slashing and stabbing.   Though he had his helmet off as he was preparing to take a drink of water when they attacked, the boys instead aimed at his torso and upper legs, perhaps thinking they could penetrate his armor with their knives.   One boy’s blade slashed Gevin’s chin - it was more of an accident as he brought his knife back to thrust again.    The knives had no chance of piercing the plate armor, though they may have found entry around the joints as the arrow had.   If they thought to aim for his head, he’d be in serious trouble.

His injured leg throbbed terribly, but he had no time to think of it as he fought for his life.   He punched one boy squarely in the nose, knocking him back and turned just in time as one of them decided to slash at his face.   Gevin thrust his sword straight forward, impaling the youth, and then pulling the sword free before he fell to the ground dead.

The other four still attacking him (including the one who had retrieved his dropped knife) saw their companion fall and this increased their fury, but Gevin was tired of messing with them.   He feigned a side swipe which he suddenly reversed just as two of them moved in to stab with their knives.   His blade sliced through the first boy like butter and nearly took the arm off his companion before the second boy fell back, yelping in pain.

One of the remaining two youths, in an act of bravado, dove at Gevin, but he saw his coming and blocked with his sword, cutting the young Elven man’s face and neck.   But this boy ignored his injury and tried to topple Gevin backwards, counting on the Half-Elf’s injury to assist in his endeavor.   The tree that he’d braced himself against prevented this, however, and the boy pulled back, only to be gutted by Gevin’s blade.

The last uninjured Elf decided survival was more important and simply broke and ran, joined by the first youth that had been injured in his shoulder.   They disappeared through a copse of trees on the opposite side of the road and a few moments later Gevin heard the galloping of horses.   He looked up to see the two on a pair of black quarter horses racing off to the west.

He surveyed the scene and found three dead boys and a forth one sitting on the ground in shock, bleeding profusely from a terrible cut that left his right arm hanging limp.  

Despite his own injury, the scared young face of the young Elf moved him to show undeserved compassion on him.   Hobbling to him, he loosened his sword belt and slid the scabbard from it as the weakened boy looked on, the life draining from him.   Without a word, Gevin slipped the sword belt above the cut and tightened it as far much as possible.

“Lay back and keep your arm above your heart” he told the boy.

“I can’t move my arm!”

With a frustrated sigh, Gevin assisted the boy, who plopped weakly onto the ground.   He placed the Elf’s badly injured arm across his chest, noticing that his tourniquet had seemed to stop the flow of blood.   There was very little he could do for him now but he decided to try to hobble across the road to where he’d seen the escaping Elves leave, to see if there were perhaps some sort of supplies in the saddlebags of the horses still left behind.   As he was struggling up the slight incline from the creek to the road, the approach of galloping hooves alarmed him, but there was no place to hide and his sword was still on the ground near the injured Elf.

Around the corner suddenly appeared a familiar redhead, seated on a mare covered in sweaty foam.   She brought the exhausted horse to a stop upon seeing him, her eyes wide as she beheld the scene of the attack.

“Sir Gevin, what happened?”

He gestured behind him to where the injured boy lay, “There’s a badly injured Elven boy over there - probably one of Crois’ friends- he’s lost a lot of blood.   See to him while I see if I can find anything to help.”

“What happened?   Sir!  There’s an arrow sticking out of the back of your leg!”

“Yes, I know that, believe me.   Just check on the boy, okay?” He said crossly, not wanting to have to explain everything.

He continued across the road and was pleased to see that the Elves had indeed set up camp over there.   Four horses were tied to trees in a way that they could not be seen from the road and it looked as if they had been preparing to make a camp fire when they’d heard him arrive.   Several packs were sitting on the ground and one of them had unrolled a sleeping mat.   Gevin scooped up one of the unopened packs and with great effort and a lot of pain limped back across the road.

Applemint was kneeling beside the Elven boy, wiping away blood from around the wound with the edge of the boy’s cloak.

“Sir, what happened here?”  She asked as he set the pack down beside her.

“An ambush,” he replied, and then leaned in close to the boy.

“Listen to me, boy; I have one of your packs here - is there anything in it that we can use to help you?”

The boy was as pale as a ghost and looked at him with glassy eyes.

“Ah, Hell,” Gevin murmured as Applemint looked at him questioningly, then back down at the boy.   She knelt in close to listen for a breath, and then put her ear against his chest to detect a heartbeat.

“Don’t bother, Apple; he’s dead,” Gevin said with a groan as he dropped down onto the ground and sank back against the trunk of a tree.

The girl sighed and respectfully shut the boy’s eyelids, then turned and hurried over to Gevin.

“Sir?” She said softly as Gevin had his head buried behind his forearms against the side of the tree, “Sir Gevin?”

He just ignored her, too weary to explain and too consumed from emotions to care.

For a suspended moment he sensed nothing but his own throbbing leg and then abruptly, there was a tender hand caressing his face.  He moved his arms and opened his eyes to find the beautiful face of Applemint looking sympathetically at him.   The glance from her green eyes made his heart ache terribly.   Rather than continue the pain, he simply closed his eyes.

“Sir, you’re injured.”

“I’m alright.”

“You have an arrow sticking out of your leg!”

“Yeah, well…it’s not that bad.”

“Sir, you’re bleeding all over the place; we’ll have to take it out!”

Without waiting for his consent, she moved down to look at it.

“It found the gap between your armor plates.   The mail kept it from going all the way through, but about half of the arrowhead is imbedded.   I think I can pull it out straight, but I’ll need something to put pressure on it so you won’t bleed too much.”

“There’s a pack by the dead Elf boy.”

She hurried over to it and was rummaging through it when another set of hooves could be heard approaching.

“It’s Troem!” She called out to him and very soon both of them were kneeling beside him, looking at the injury.

“You were ambushed?” Troem asked as he held Gevin’s leg steady so Applemint could remove the arrow.

“Yes, I didn’t see them; we stopped to get some water.”

“Where’s Harn?” Applemint asked as she gently, but quickly pulled the arrow out of his leg.   He yelled out once in pain but she put a long strip of tan cloth found in the Elven pack against the puncture wound and held it there.

“He took an arrow in his rump and ran off,” Gevin replied, gritting his teeth from the pain.

“The poor horse!”  Applemint said sympathetically as she applied pressure to his wound.  Troem was glancing at the dead Elven boy.

“They were very young - Crois’ age, I’d guess.   Were they some of his accomplices?” 

Gevin shrugged, “Who knows; they sure didn’t wait to find out who I was, though.”

“Sir, it would be easier to take care of your injury if your armor was removed,” Applemint said, still holing the cloth to the wound.

Gevin nodded and simply commanded the armor pieces to pile neatly nearby and as always with the magic armor, it happened at once.   Applemint started unfastening the mail sections from the fabric doublet and soon had his injured leg free.   She began winding the cloth tightly around the back of his knee.

As Applemint worked to bind the wound, once again the sound of horses approached and this time it was Crois.    Troem intercepted him before he could see what had happened.

“Gevin was ambushed while taking a drink from the stream,”  Troem explained as the boy tried to see past him, “He was hit by an arrow in the leg, another one hit Harn in the flank and he’s run off.”

The boy seemed more concerned about who was lying dead around the scene of the attack and he finally pushed the older Elf aside and hurried over, gasping when he saw them.

“Do you know them?” Gevin asked coolly as Applemint finished her work.

“Yes…they were friends of mine…they weren’t the ones I came here with, though…what happened?”

Gevin explained, telling him nearly the same thing that Troem had already conveyed.   The boy took it stoically, but his jaw seemed tightly clenched and his hands were fists at his side.   Gevin casually grabbed the handle of his sword, which was still lying nearby, watching the youth like a hawk.

“They attacked me, Crois, just like you did - unprovoked.”

“So you say,”  He replied, anger barely concealed in his tone.

“They shot me in the back of the leg, Crois, while I was kneeling over the creek to get a drink of water and shot Harn in the flank.   Both shots are hard to get when facing someone.   Then six of them attacked from all sides.”

“They’d not do that!” Crois angrily protested, but it was clear that he knew he was arguing in vain.

“Two of them rode off, the other four are dead, Crois.   Why?   They didn’t know who I was when I was bent over getting some water; they merely saw someone in plate armor and attacked - just as you did.”

“This is our land!  We were driven from it and you and your men destroyed it!”

“Yes,” Gevin agreed calmly, “That was wrong and I would rectify it if that were possible, because I regret my part in it.   But ambushing, robbing and killing innocent people is not going to make it easy to ever get this land back.”

“You’re not innocent…” Crois spat.

“Neither are you, Crois, but fortunately for you, there is time for you to keep yourself from having as much blood on your hands as I have.”

“I could never be like you.”

“I’d say you’re well on your way now.   You hate people for who they are rather than for what they are doing or trying to do.”

“What are you trying to do, sir knight?” Crois said sarcastically, “Dominate a poor helpless Halfling girl who you treat almost like a slave, manipulate and fool an Elf hermit into thinking you are moral and just in your cause and associating with a she demon.”

Gevin stood up, flinching in pain, but still staring down the boy, “Is that what you think I’m doing, boy?   You have less sense than I’d imagined.   Look at you; hardly away from your mother’s skirts and yet you know everything.    A real man knows when to observe and not make snap judgments, but you are too young and foolishly head strong for wisdom yet.    You let your blood boil over for supposed injustices that you have heard about, yet you don’t examine the cause of everything or seek to bring healing to your people.    You’re no different than the humans that you hate so much - they act the same way, all pompous and self-righteous, quick to point a finger or pull out a dagger or sword to fight, but slow to think or to bring peace to everyone.    You’ve got a lot to learn, youngster, and I hope you will live to gain wisdom, because if what I’ve seen is any evidence, you and most of the other wild young bucks of your people are going to get themselves killed or else start some events in motion that will spell doom to you and your people.”

“You don’t know anything about my people!”

“And I never shall if Elves like you are not willing to work for healing and peace amongst humans and your people.”

“There can never be peace between us!”

“Never is the battle cry of the doomed, Crois.   You have a lot of fire in you and if you would put that to constructive use instead of banditry, you could achieve something great in this world.   Your people deserve something great, but all you can do is think with your sword and bow.   Kill and rob, hate and destroy - this from a member of the race that is said to have so embraced life and lived in harmony with all things living.”

“Your people have made us like this!   You’re nothing but a half-breed b*****d!”  He spat at Gevin but before he could reply, Troem, who had been listening to the argument in silence, standing behind the boy, reached out and smacked him hard on the back of his head.  

Crois turned, his eyes burning with rage, only to be met with the calm steel of the older Elf.

“You foolish boy, you are a disgrace to your ancestors!   I’m older than your grandparents and lived through the times of destruction and war that you speak so unknowingly about.    I knew Elves that were far nobler than any alive today, and they would have boxed your ears if they’d heard what you said.    I’ve heard enough from you; this arguing is going nowhere.    There are four dead Elves lying in the grass.    You take one of their horses, respectfully put their bodies on it, then mount your horse and ride back to your people and tell them what you experienced.   You will no doubt taint your tale to put yourself in the best light, but I hope that your elders will be able to talk some sense into you before you end up dead as these others.”

“That’s fine by me, traitor!” he snapped at the older Elf, but flinched when he thought Troem would slap him again.

Crois turned to Applemint, “Applemint - you don’t have to stay with these people; you’re welcome to come with me!”

Gevin was preparing to reply to the boy (and possibly to the Halfling girl) that she was expected to meet her parents in the next few days, but Applemint replied on her own.

“Crois, I don’t want to go with you.   You’re two-faced; you can charm like a snake, but then you are full of venom.”

“Stupid little Halfling b***h, I ought to…”

Before he could finish the threat, Gevin had moved across to the boy and backhanded him so hard that he fell to the ground.   Before he could stand up, Gevin was upon him, sitting on his chest, backhanding him three times more, bloodying his nose and lips.   The bravado left the boy and he whimpered like a scared child.

Gevin stood back up, then grabbed him by the front of his tunic and yanked him up, slamming him back against the trunk of a tree while holding him by the neck (but not choking him).   Leaning in close, he spoke with such controlled anger in his voice that Crois would never forget every word.

“You will NEVER speak to her like that again, you worthless maggot, or I will rip that cocky attitude from your face.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!”  As he screamed in his face, he tightened his hold on the boy’s neck slightly while ramming his head back against the tree.

“NEVER, EVER AGAIN!” Gevin released his choke hold, but backhanded the boy so hard that he lost consciousness.    As Applemint and Troem looked on in fear, Gevin grabbed the boy by the back of his tunic with one hand and dragged him over to the boy’s horse then flung him onto her back so that he slouched against her neck.   The steed whinnied, sensing Gevin’s rage, but did not bolt and the boy stayed put on her back.

Still furious, Gevin scooped up the body of the Elf that had bled to death and placed him sideways behind the unconscious boy, then stormed off (not even limping, due to the pain numbing affect of his anger) across the road to return quickly with a coiled rope from the abandoned camp of the Elves that had attacked him.  

“Gevin-“ Troem said gently, but the look from the Half-Elf made him fall silent. 

With amazing speed, he tied the dead Elf to the horse and then retrieved from the corpse, his belt that he’d attempted to use as a tourniquet.   Applemint stood there trembling at the sight of her master in such a state but did not move and only watched as he then carried the bodies of the other dead Elf youths and tied all three of them to the back of one of the horses still hitched by the abandoned camp with ropes found in their saddles.   He took the reins of the second horse and tied it around the ropes securing the dead Elf next to Crois, then filled up two of the Elven canteens in the stream and slipped both around Crois’ neck.   Putting the reins of the horse in Crois’ hands, he swatted the rear of the stead just as the Elven boy was groaning and regaining consciousness.    The horse took off at a trot, pulling the other horse behind, who matched his pace, perhaps eager to get away from the enraged Half-Elf.

The two horses headed north, up the road that Gevin’s party had travelled down that day, but he really didn’t care, for he knew as soon as Crois got his senses about him and figured out where he was and what had happened, he’d certainly change course.

The two horses disappeared behind a turn in the road, with the four dead bodies firmly secured and Crois slowly waking up, coughing and sniffling blood from his nose.

Gevin watched them go until they disappeared from sight and all his strength left him.   His shoulders sagged and he simply slid to the ground where he’d stood.

Applemint rushed over to him, but not without a bit of trepidation as she remembered the fire in his eyes.  Troem joined her and they both knelt next to the Half-Elf, afraid to touch him or to say anything.

He looked up at them, weariness having fallen heavy on his face.   His chin cut from the earlier battle was oozing blood again.

“Sorry, I think I just had a Black Duke moment,” he said grimly to them, but something about how he said it eased their minds and they came in closer to him, sensing that he was restored to sanity.

“Sir, my God, I thought you’d kill him!”  Applemint told him as she pressed the edge of her sleeve against his chin to stop the bleeding.

“I think I wanted to, after he insulted you like that, Apple,”  Gevin’s voice was hoarse from screaming at the boy, “I hope I didn’t kill him.”

“No,” Troem replied, patting his shoulder, “He was moving around some and I’ll bet he’s already changing course for home.”

“If he doesn’t come back here.”

“He won’t!”  Applemint and Troem said in unison. 

“You scared the hell out of him, sir,”  the Halfling continued, “And us as well!”

“It scared me too, Apple,” Gevin replied, swallowing painfully to clear his throat which only made him wonder if he’d permanently damaged the boy’s throat or  his head in his rage.

“Are you alright?”  Troem asked.

“No, I don’t think I am, really.   I don’t know what happened to me today.   I feel like a summer thunderstorm has just passed over me.  I didn’t even feel like it was actually me when I went off on Crois.   It was almost like someone watching an actor in a play, only I was watching myself.   It was terrifying and so strange!”

“You got as mad as Zaeya did at me after we’d left that pool and I got away from her,” Applemint said.

“Yesh have mercy!   I should be locked away someplace; I’ve surely lost my mind!”

“You’d just had enough and the stupid boy was like a child poking at a big dog with a sharp stick, until you just snapped.”  Troem said.

“Well, that’s not going to smooth relations with his Elven clan when he tells them about how I acted toward him.”

“Does it really make any difference any more, sir?”  Applemint asked.

“I don’t know, Apple; I just seem to have a knack for making tough situations worse.”

“We probably shouldn’t stay here, Gevin, in case he runs into some other group of youths and they decide to come challenge you to restore Crois’ tainted honor.”

“He’s lucky he’s not cut into little pieces and left to rot here.”

Applemint and Troem frowned in disgust at the visual image.

“Sorry,”  Gevin mumbled, “I agree, Troem, let’s head on southward for a few more hours before camping.”

“What about Harn, and the horses the Elves left behind?”  Applemint inquired.

“Well, Harn’s probably a long way off by now.”

“Or maybe he’s close by,” Came the voice of Zaeya and they glanced up to see her approaching, holding the reins of Harn and leading the stallion behind her.

Applemint frowned, glaring at the Drow woman, but did not say anything.   Troem stood and walked over to her, taking Harn’s lead when she offered it.

“How’d you find him?”  The Elf asked.

“He found us!   We were coming up the road a while ago and he just appeared out of nowhere.   He seemed agitated and I noticed an arrow sticking out of his rump.”

“It’s gone now,”  Gevin stated as he glanced at the stallion.

“That’s because I pulled it out of his butt and chanted a healing spell upon his injury.   It will probably not even leave a scar.”

“Did you see Crois riding past you?”

“No, but I heard some horses not too long before I got here, but when I came around the hill there was no-one there.”

“Good.”

“Has something changed since earlier this afternoon?”  Zaeya asked, trying to hide a smile.

No one answered for a few moments, and then finally Gevin said, ‘Crois will no longer be riding with us.”

“Oh?  Why?”

“His attitude was troubling.”

Zaeya snickered, glancing at Applemint first, then at Gevin, “I’m not surprised.”

Applemint gave the Drow lady an irritated look, but the Dark Elf had moved on from that subject.

“It looks like there was a fight here,”  Zaeya stated while looking at the ground near the other three as she dismounted.

“How can you tell that?”  Troem wondered.

“Blood.   I can see a faint glow from it on the ground, so it has to be recent.”

“Glowing blood?” Applemint snorted, skeptical of the claim.

“It is a Drow ability - in dim light, spilled blood, if it is warm and recent, gives off a type of radiance that we can see.   There are glowing areas in a few spots around you guys and Gevin’s got blood on his hands as well - or actually, blood on his gauntlets.”

 Gevin looked down at his hands in horror and disgust and immediately gave an order to his enchanted plate armor to pile itself nearby, leaving him wearing only his arming doublet.

“Did you murder him?”  Zaeya asked smoothly, her red eyes glowing in the fading evening light.

“No I didn’t murder him!”  Gevin snapped back, but she’d hit a nerve and the Dark Elf seemed somewhat pleased at the accomplishment. 

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did; he was irritating me all day as well, but for different reasons than yours.”

The Half-Elf stood up, only to yelp in pain from his arrow wound.

“Were you injured?” Zaeya asked sweetly.

“He was shot with an arrow in the back of the leg!”  Applemint defended him, standing up with her hands on her hips and glaring at the Drow.

“Was it your boyfriend that shot him?”  Zaeya purred, egging the Halfling girl on.   Applemint grew beet red with outrage and was primed to tell the Dark Elf off, but Gevin’s arm slipping around her shoulder stopped her.

“Crois didn’t shoot me, Zaeya, though it was likely some of his friends.   I killed half of them before Crois arrived and he didn’t like that too well and he grew rather belligerent so I…neutralized the situation.   We’ve had too many potentially volatile moments, recently.   If you are going to try to stir up trouble with Apple, why don’t you just leave us as well?   I’d like us all to get along, but I’m beginning to wonder if that is possible.   You seem to be a master of manipulating situations, Zaeya, which is unfortunate as I think you have the charm and intelligence to do constructive and noble things.   Instead you had me acting like a jealous idiot over something that is none of my business.”

Zaeya shrugged, “It looks like you decided to make it your business.”

“Zaeya, let me be quite frank with you; I’m not very good at courtly games like they play back in Whiteberry.   I’m not sure how things play out in your home in the Underdark, but not everyone enjoys head games.   I believe in the straight-forward approach with my dealings and when I deviate from that philosophy things get messy.   I’m not going to be controlled by situations or even emotions.”

Gevin turned to look down at Applemint, “Apple, I am sorry I stuck my nose into your business.   I acted poorly and probably mucked up everything.  Please forgive me; I promise you that I won’t act so immaturely again and I will respect your privacy.”

The girl looked surprised and smiled sweetly, “Sir, you don’t have to apologize; I acted like a foolish little girl.   You were right about your reservations about Crois.”

“Well, it looks like we have that all worked out!”  Zaeya said this to Troem, who stood there quietly listening.   She then turned back to Gevin, “So do you want me to cast a healing spell on your leg like I did for your horse?   It will make your life much easier.”

“That would be great, Zaeya.”

“Then turn around and I’ll chant the spell,”  She began the incantation before he had completely turned and a few moments later she touched his upper leg and a warm pink glow covered the area of the wound, then faded.   Applemint looked on in wonder, then glanced up at Gevin.

“Sir?”

“It’s definitely working.   Thank you Zaeya.”

“My pleasure; I cause chaos then I restore order - all in a day’s work.   I’m going to check on Ihar.”   Without a word to any of them, she turned her attention to the pregnant mare.

 

***

 

Tired of all the bickering, they agreed to follow Gevin’s plan to ride south a bit further before stopping for the night.   Four fine Elven horses belonging to the youths that had attacked Gevin were still hitched to trees across the road at the Elven camp so they decided to give the steeds that they had ridden today a rest.   All the riding gear of the Elves was there as well, including saddles and they tethered each of those they had ridden to one of the Elven steeds.   They even found a saddlebag filled with gold and silver coins and some jewelry, apparently pilfered from the same location where they had stolen the horses.

The Elven horses - all of them young, but well trained stallions-- didn’t seem to mind mixing with their halfway wild mounts, and even Harn, perhaps tired from a long day’s ride, got along with the young stallion that Gevin chose for himself.

“They were trained exceptionally well,”  Gevin told Troem as they rode south in the twilight, “Stallions can really be hard to work with sometimes when there are other horses introduced.”

“The Elves from Albsidhe were once renowned as masters of horsemanship.   I knew of some that trained both horses and riders how to interact well with each other.  Perhaps that is why Greidour was so keen on invading Albsidhe years ago - they heard about the well trained, intelligent horses that our cavalry used and they assumed that was due merely to a type of breed rather than their training.”

“I wouldn’t doubt that,” Gevin responded, “The kings have always been very focused on their cavalry and horse-breeding is one of the richest professions in Greidour.”

As he spoke, Gevin glanced casually toward Applemint and Zaeya, who were riding side by side to his left.    Applemint was just watching the road ahead, perhaps uneasy with the thought of riding in the impending darkness.    Zaeya was more focused on monitoring Ihar, who trotted behind the Elven horse she was riding.    Her eyes were once again glowing bright red in the dark, giving her a supernaturally disturbing appearance.

“She’s alright - just tired, I think,”  Zaeya said to him, noticing his glance and assuming he was also monitoring the pregnant mare.

“We’ll stop soon; I just didn’t want us to camp in a spot used by some of those Elven boys.   There has been far too much conflict for a while.”

“If they’re anything like my people, they will want revenge for their dead boys,”  Zaeya replied.

“Hopefully we’ll be far away from here by then,”  Applemint answered.

“They’ll put the blame on Greidour,”  Troem stated, “But Gevin and probably all of us will be marked as outlaws and criminals in their eyes.   If any of them know who I am, they’ll label me as a traitor to my people.”

“Troem, I am so very sorry,” Gevin said to him softly, “I tend to be a jinx to everyone by the choices I make.”

“No need to keep apologizing, Gevin; you’re only responsible for your actions, not for other people’s actions.   The remaining Elves are a bitter people, and that is to be expected for a conquered race, but when combined with their unwavering pride and considerable arrogance, it can lead to a level of misery that gives rise to a degradation of a once noble people.”

“It just seems that event after event is leading us down a road of escalated conflict with everyone I come into contact with.”

“You’re just a natural charmer, Sir Gevin,” Zaeya commented, which got her a stern glare from Applemint.    The Halfling girl smiled sympathetically at him and pulled her horse closer to his.

“Don’t lose hope, lord; things will get better soon.”

“I hope so, Apple.  I’ll feel much better when we rendezvous with your family - who knows what is going on in Greidour and what sort of atrocities are being committed with the current political situation.”

“Sir, whom do you think will rise to the top?   Surely one of the nobles will dominate the others and gain control.”

“I imagine that will be the case, Apple, but first there will be an intense period of jockeying for power and alliances and betrayals of friendships.   That is what is going on right now, I’d imagine, which is why I wanted your family out of there.”

“Gevin, is there anyone else in Greidour that you are concerned for?”  Troem asked his great grand nephew.

“No, none at all,” He responded soberly, before adding, “And right now I’m very glad of that fact.”

 

***

 

Fifteen minutes later as total darkness fell over the land, Troem pointed out the dark shape of a large building standing on a slight hill to the left of the road.

“That is the old Ravenrook inn,” he told the others, “It was a stopping off point halfway from the border, back in the days when there were good relations between Greidour and Albsidhe.”

“But it’s long closed,”  Zaeya stated, seeing the stone building better than any of them in the darkness.

“Yes, but it should be structurally sound.   It was never burnt or vandalized as far as I know, by the Greidour army of the Black Duke.”

“Why’s that?”  Applemint asked, glancing at Gevin, who had unconsciously frowned at the mention of his father.

“Because it had been closed up for probably fifty years before the invasion.   There was a terrible thing that happened there.”

“What?”  Zaeya, Applemint and Gevin all asked in unison.

“Well, the inn was noted for employing both Elven and human barmaids and housekeepers.   It was owned by an Elven man of a rather coarse mindset.   His prices for food were much higher due to the location of the Inn out in the middle of nowhere.   The rooms were well-kept and insulated from noise, mainly because he had most of the barmaids and housekeepers working for him work as prostitutes for his patrons by night.   He would sell ale and beer for ridiculously cheap prices to anyone who bought a room there for the night, then make sure the men were loop-legged drunk and have one of his women gush over each drunk until he left for his room with her for a night of drunken debauchery.”  

“After the man would pass out, the prostitute would steal some of his merchandise or money - but never all of it- and bring it back to the inn keeper.   Then she and the other working girls would go to secluded quarters to sleep and lay low all day.”

“The next morning, if the duped man found his stuff missing, he’d usually think he’d given it to one of the prostitutes.   Most of the time he’d be too embarrassed to say anything, but if he’d complain to the inn keeper, the man would just throw him out.   He had his own security force to keep irate merchants and travelers from causing a fuss.   As you can imagine the place grew very notorious in reputation, but it still attracted a lot of business.”

“What did the respectable Elves here think about it?”  Gevin asked as they stopped in front of the looming building.

“They didn’t exactly like it, but since most of the people the inn keeper cheated were humans, they looked the other way.”

“So what happened here that closed it down?”  Zaeya asked, intrigued.

“The story is that there was a human wizard that frequently stayed here that was infatuated with a particularly attractive Elven barmaid.    This girl was…extremely popular…with the male patrons and this irritated the wizard, though for a long time he did not say anything.   When he stayed there, if she was…available…for his attention, everything went fine, but sometimes she had, um…contracted out…to another patron for the night.”

“We know where jealousy leads!”  Zaeya exclaimed with a subtle glance at both Gevin and Applemint.

“Ah, well, it was the cause of the events in this case.   One evening the wizard was staying there and had the girl to himself.  He was about halfway drunk when a wealthy merchant arrived late.   This man was known to be a big spender and apparently also fancied this particular girl.    Since this merchant always…er…paid her extremely well for her services,  she foolishly decided to abandon the wizard for the better prospects of the rich merchant.”

“Uh oh,” Applemint commented.

“Yeah, you guessed it.   The wizard was livid and tried to stop her from leaving the private dining room he’d rented out for their evening, but she slapped him and left.”

“What did he do?”  Zaeya’s red eyes were glowing with enjoyment of the tale.

“To his credit, he went to the innkeeper first and demanded satisfaction and the money back that he’d paid for the girl’s time.  The innkeeper mocked him and the wizard grew belligerent, so the security team pulled him out of the inn and gave him a good thrashing, then told him never to return.”

“That was very foolish, if he was a wizard of any power or status,”  Zaeya commented.

“He was quite powerful, it seems,”  Troem answered, “he waited a few hours, hiding out in the darkness of the stables in the back.   Around midnight, the legend goes, he began chanting the spell.    No-one knows what that spell was, but it was aimed at anyone in the Inn when he began chanting it.   There were a few servants chatting outside by the well on the south end of the building and they were the ones who told the story.”

“Well, let’s hear it!”  Zaeya said eagerly.

“They said that soon after they heard the wizard chanting, all the doors and windows in the inn closed and locked at the same time.   Then a few moments later an eerie blue glow filled the inn.   They could see this ghostly blue light shining through all the windows and from underneath the panes of the doors.   Then they heard terrible screams and frantic yelling from within the building, but it lasted only several long moments.   The blue light slowly faded and everything grew completely silent.   The wizard was never heard from again.”

“What happened to those inside the Inn?”  Applemint asked nervously glancing at the old brick building.

“The servants were scared to death and for a long time were too afraid to go into the building, so they huddled around the stable until almost sunrise.   In the pre-dawn hour when it started getting a bit lighter in the east, they steeled up enough courage to enter the inn.   Nobody had left or entered since the wizard had cast his spell and no sound had left the place since the screams stopped.  So four of them tried the front entrance of the building and were surprised to find it unlocked, since they’d heard all the doors and windows close and lock during the first part of the wizard’s spell.”

“I’ll bet there was something terrible inside,”  Zaeya commented.

“Well, that was the surprising part - when the servants entered, just as the sun was rising, they found the place completely empty.   Nobody was there and everything had been cleaned up and put perfectly back into place.   None of the beds were unmade; there were no dirty beer mugs in the tavern, not even cobwebs or dust on the floor.   But everyone inside the inn had vanished and could never be found.”

“So nobody ever knew what the wizard did to them?”  Applemint asked.

“Nope; the Inn was not near any town or really part of any community, so it took a while for the servants to get some Albsidhe officials out there to see.    No-one would stay in the Inn after that, unsurprisingly, and three days later a delegation from the Albsidhe king arrived at the site.   By then there were other travelers as well as family, friends and business associates of those who disappeared, all curious about what had happened.    Groups of them searched the Inn for the missing people, or even clues of what happened to them, but they found nothing.   None of their belongings that were inside of the Inn at the time of the spell was ever found.”

“What about the stables?”  Zaeya asked, “There surely were quite a few horses there that belonged to patrons of the inn; were they harmed?”

“No, all the horses were fine and anything left in saddlebags outside of the inn were okay as well.   Only those who had been inside of the inn and all of their personal belongings disappeared.   The King of Alsidhe had his top wizards brought in to see if they could determine what happened, but they could not figure out what magic had been used or how to reverse it.”

“So did they just sell the Inn to a new owner and re-open it?”  Gevin asked, surveying the building.

“No, because of what happened exactly a week after the incident.    No-one had stayed inside the Inn since then, but there were probably fifty people camped out around the building as they investigated it.    Some were merchants that had planned on staying there on their journey and were forced instead to camp out.    Others were family members of those who disappeared who were demanding answers from the royal officials who were milling around, unsure what to do next.    On the one week anniversary of the disappearance, the royal officials decided to let those camping outside to stay in the Ravenrook inn - if they wanted to- because it had started raining.”

“I wouldn’t have gone inside!”  Applemint exclaimed with a shiver.

“Many didn’t - they chose to stay near the stables, but the rain grew heavier and most of them finally decided to enter the dry building.”

“So what happened?”  Zaeya was completely engrossed in the tale and seemed to be greatly enjoying it.

“They fired up the stoves and opened the bar and at first everything was normal and most of them relaxed.   Bedrooms were assigned and some of them had retired for the night, glad for a soft bed after camping outside.   About a quarter of an hour before midnight, it began.”

“Oh, here we go!” Applemint groaned, moving her horse closer to Gevin’s steed.   All the horses - those they were riding and those tethered behind them, seemed a bit nervous, as if they were listening to Troem’s story.

“At a quarter until midnight, all the doors and windows closed and locked at the same moment and a faint blue glow filled the Inn like a mist.    No-one had observed this happening in the week following the disappearance and obviously, those inside the inn when this occurred were scared to death.”

“Did they disappear too?”  Applemint demanded, her green eyes wide as saucers. 

“I’m getting to that,” Troem replied, smiling at all of their intense reactions to the story, “They said that the blue mist swirled throughout the inn and took the form of those who had disappeared.   Each of them appeared, apparently re-enacting what they were doing shortly before midnight one week earlier.”

“Ghosts…”  Applemint whispered, shivering.

“Or magic,”  Zaeya countered, “Probably the effects of the wizard’s spell.”

Troem shrugged, “No-one really knows.    All throughout the Inn, everything was recreated in ghostly detail - patrons still in the tavern, the prostitutes and their, um, clients, in their rooms, the servants running around doing chores - all of them.   During this time, none of the royal officials and others who witnessed these apparitions could escape the rooms they were in, which of course terrified them.    The ghostly recreation played out until at exactly midnight, all the ghosts suddenly looked up as if surprised by something, started screaming - as loud as if they were actually there, and the blue light grew more and more intense.   Some of the light, they said, took the form of some sort of energy and it would begin wrapping around the ghosts until they were covered.   For a few minutes, they were covered, until those watching this play out said that the light became blinding.   They’d close their eyes and suddenly the apparitions vanished and everything went back to normal.   All the doors and windows could be opened again and everyone inside fled out into the stables.”

“So nobody died?”  Zaeya asked.

“Don’t sound so disappointed!”  Applemint mumbled, but the Dark Elf ignored her.

“No, Zaeya, there were no more deaths.   But after that no-one wanted the Inn.    Every week on the anniversary of the disappearance, the ghostly reenactment played out at the same time - just before midnight.    Wizards tried in vain to dispel the magic but failed.   Nobody wanted to buy the building, though it is, as you can see, very well made.   So it was abandoned, and the legend goes that it was left with everything inside still in place.   For some strange reason, it has never been vandalized - they say- and the house never deteriorates, as if it was just frozen in time.   Even the stables, which were not covered by the blue glow of the wizard’s spell, remains exactly as it was.   Before Albsidhe fell, Ravenrook was avoided as a haunted place, and apparently, from the looks of it, the Greidour soldiers also stayed away.”

“Or else the magic of the place kept it from being desecrated,” Zaeya suggested, “You realize we absolutely have to go check it out!”

“You can’t be serious!”  Applemint countered.

“Why not?   Surely you’re not scared of ghosts!”

“Aren’t you?”

“Where I come from, ghosts are the very least of your concerns.   Look, we need to camp for the night - this place has stables for Ihar and the horses and we could stay under a roof.”

“With ghosts!”  The Halfling protested.

“Maybe it was all just a fable,”  Zaeya turned to the two men, “Surely the two of you aren’t scared of ghosts?”

Both shook their head and Zaeya turned back to Applemint, “See?  Nothing to be afraid of!   I have spells to repel any trouble-making ghosts anyway.”

“Some of them make trouble?!” Applemint asked in alarm.

“Don’t worry about it - there are no tales of the ghosts harming anyone, is there Troem?”

“Well, no, but-“

“Then wouldn’t it make more sense to stay there?   I doubt any Elven boy bandits will be brave enough to go inside.”

Gevin turned to Applemint, “If you don’t want to, I’ll stay with you out in the stable.”

The redheaded girl didn’t want to look like a scared child in front of the rest of them, so she shook her head and with well-faked resolve, agreed to stay in the Ravenrook Inn for the night.

“Good!”  Zaeya said, pleased that she had gotten her way, “Don’t worry, Troem said the ghosts only appear once a week, so we are probably safe.”

No-one heard Applemint mumble the word “probably” as she followed the others to the Inn’s stable.




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 26, 2020
Last Updated on November 26, 2020
Tags: fantasy, Nihility_Gate, Synomenia, Drow, Halflings, knights, magic, sword_and_sorcery, elf


Author

Eddie Davis
Eddie Davis

Springfield, MO



About
I'm a fantasy and science-fiction writer that enjoys sharing my tales with everyone. Three trilogies are offered here, all taking place in the same fantasy world of Synomenia. Other books and stor.. more..

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