6. Falduin


Falduin fumed.

The sun was hot, even under the leaves. Thousands of creepy-crawlies buzzed about, clambered across, or dangled down from the trees. He was constantly brushing them away from his face and off his robe.

Falduin hated the wilderness. He always had. He preferred the comforts of a town or better, a city. A village might do in a pinch, but only when he was desperate. Not that he had ever travelled far until recently. Now he was stuck with a group of fools, being pursued by another bunch of fools.

Worse, he had lost most of his kit. Either it had been flung into the river when the barge hit the bank, or it had been stolen by whoever had killed the bargemen. That’s what really annoyed him. Years retrieving the different crystals, dried herbs, and incenses. Even the rosewood wand he’d whittled himself. It was misshapen and crude, but it was his. Now everything was lost.

He blamed himself. If he hadn’t let the bloodlust take control, then he would have retrieved his bags and stowed them properly. But he had been eager for battle. His first. There were spells (one in particular) he was desperate to use against real targets.

He loved beguiling the bandits. They stood completely distracted and unable to properly defend themselves, as his companions cut them down. He had spent months crafting that spell at the tower, a piece at a time so the masters would never suspect. He was mostly happy with the result. It had certainly turned the tide of the battle. It might have got ugly for them had he not been there.

Yet the spell needed work. Too many bandits had managed to shake off its initial effects. He would need to experiment more.

However he doubted he would have time before the next battle. According to Ifonsa their pursuers weren’t an especially large force, but they were moving much faster than them.

That annoyed him too. He was part of the problem, and he knew it. He had never walked this far and fast before. Certainly he had never done so without food nor sleep. Even without, what Ifonsa called, his kit to weigh him down, he found it taxing. Plus the sword was heavy, and had an awkward tendency to trip him up, especially on the uneven ground.

“You should have taken a scabbard,” Ifonsa told him.

“I didn’t know, did I?” he’d snapped back at her. “It’s my first sword.”

“You might soon have a chance to retrieve one,” she said looking over her shoulder. “Presuming you survive.” Then she and Ganthe dashed away, to check on the progress of their pursuers. That was hours ago.

Falduin did not like her. She was too bossy. Too much like Minia. He did not like bossy women.

Lera was more his type (if he had a type). Quiet, and clever. She might be almost as smart as him.

She was struggling too and lagging behind, especially lugging around the battleaxe she’d picked up, plus her shield. She was covered in sweat and puffing loudly, but she never once complained. Every time he helped her up a ridge or down a hill, she always said thank you. He liked nice manners. They were far too rare.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she said, “Was that your doing on the barge?”

“What specifically?” he asked.

“When we meditated, and saw the ambush.”

“I don’t know. I thought it was you.”

“Most definitely not. You’re the wizard.”

“Apprentice,” he corrected.

“If you insist,” she said with a wry smile.

From just below the top of the ridge, Heric signalled for them to hurry.

“Come on,” Falduin said taking Lera’s arm.

“Thank you,” Lera managed between breaths.

The two of them climbed the steep hill, struggling up until finally reaching where Heric waited.

“I believe I will sleep well tonight,” Lera said.

“Cotai,” Heric corrected her.


“Cotai. It’s a word The Wardens use. It means to sleep.”

“Thank you. I shall cotai well tonight.”

“You’ll get used to it,” he said with a smile.

Lera grinned back, as she crouched down catching her breath.

Falduin didn’t understand how Heric managed to know just what to say to keep their spirits up. Every time any of them flagged, he’d be there to say something helpful or witty. While Falduin certainly didn’t trust Heric – or any of them – he respected the man.

Seemingly from nowhere, Ifonsa was amongst them.

“They’re still there. Somehow,” she reported. ”They completely ignored the false trails I laid.”

“Maybe they have a better tracker,” Falduin offered.

“I’m good. Very good. Even the elfs are foiled by my ruses.”

“It seems not.”

“How far away are they?” Heric asked before Ifonsa could retort.

“Three perhaps four hundred paces,” Ifonsa replied, “They’re just entering the valley. Ganthe is watching them.”

“Are they still catching up?”

“Yes, but this hill will slow them.”

“Very well. We’ll use that,” Heric said, then issued his commands, “Ifonsa make it look like we’re heading over the ridge and down the other side. We’re going to traverse along this ridge line. Remember to keep below the top. If they have scouts in the trees they might be able to see your silhouette. All good?”

They all nodded, and went their separate ways.

A coil in the shape of a nine

They had spent a further half-hour following the ridge. Off to his right, Falduin glimpsed a massive hill through the trees. He hoped that Heric wasn’t planning to make for it. Steep cliffs ringed its summit.

There was still no sign of Ifonsa or Ganthe. He didn’t mind the thought of Ifonsa disappearing permanently, but Ganthe would be a loss. Falduin felt a sort of kinship with him. They were both Outsiders.

It was clear that Ganthe had served with Heric at some time, but they certainly weren’t close. Ganthe was a vagrant. Falduin couldn’t imagine Heric allowing any of his men-at-arms to sink to that level. Heric would do everything he could do to help. So they must have been only passing associates. And yet, for some reason, Ganthe was here. Why had Heric chosen someone like him instead of one of his former comrades?

There was more to this whole escapade than Heric was telling. It annoyed Falduin he hadn’t been forthright from the start.

The attack upon the bargemen for starters. How had that happened without leaving any trace? Or had Ifonsa just missed any they had left behind?

Falduin suspected the raiders had swum the river, attacked and then fled back the same way. The river was wide, but the flow didn’t look too fast.

“You don’t swim, do you?” Ifonsa said when he mentioned it. “If you leapt in here, by the time you’d reached the other side – presuming you ever reached the other side – you’d be a quarter league downstream.”

“So it is possible?”

“Only if they were very strong swimmers and managed to sneak aboard, and kill everyone without leaving a solitary sopping footprint!”

Afterwards they had been too slow, and too unconcerned. Instead of a stroll to Cabridge, they should have been more alert to the dangers. It had cost them.

Yet the past is easier to see than the future. If he had more foresight he would have averted the situation entirely. He certainly would have avoided, the ironically named, Clarity Street.

That’s where the Old Wizard had found him. If he indeed was a wizard. Falduin had initially thought he was a priest. He was dressed as one, with his head shaven, but with a long greyish beard.

He had been at the periphery of the ecclesiastical district. That’s what the guard at the gate had told him when he asked for directions to the docks. So priest, rather than wizard, seemed more likely. However Falduin hadn’t paid too close attention at the time.

He had been hurrying to the docks, intending to book passage on a ship. Preferably one heading to Tikva, but any ship would do, he didn’t care. He suspected The Keepers were only an hour or two behind him, but he feared they were much closer.

“Boy! In here,” the Old Priest said stepping out of nowhere. ”Hurry, before they spot you.”

Falduin had been so flustered, he dutifully followed the Priest into an alley like a fool. It was dark in there and vacant aside from the two of them.

“Who are you?” Falduin had asked eventually, as they dashed between two shrines.

Too slow, he thought to himself as he remembered. His face flushed red.

“I’m glad I found you before they did. It was a close thing. They almost got you,” the Priest said with a laugh. “That would be exceedingly bad. Don’t you think? All that fire and the staring into your eyes. Frightful.”

All Falduin could do was nod and follow behind as they cut across North Lane.

“Who are you?” Falduin asked again, like an idiot.

“Do you have any friends?”

Falduin shook his head.

“Well you do now,” and he smiled straight at Falduin. The man’s amber-coloured eyes twinkled, and the next thing Falduin remembered was sitting in the tavern.

“Cheers,” the old man said, holding up his mug of…whatever it was. Falduin never asked. Falduin touched his mug to the old man’s and then took a sip. It was exceedingly bitter and Falduin almost gagged. It was nothing like the beer or wine he was used to.

That’s when Heric and Ganthe had arrived. And further embarrassment.

Why had he chosen to show-off? If he had kept his head he wouldn’t be here now. The old man planned to leave him once he was settled with the others. He could have easily slipped away afterwards. Instead the orb of fire had somehow turned substantive and there were flames everywhere. He was so stupid!

Falduin slammed his fist into the nearest tree in frustration.

“Ssssh!” Lera said softly, placing her hand upon his shoulder, “ Calm now.” He sensed the surge of power pass into him. It felt like when he drunk a particularly good wine, and he could feel it waft through his mind.

He should have been angry at such a violation, but for some reason the rage wouldn’t coalesce. The hot fire he had felt in his belly since the debacle at Cabridge quenched and was finally extinguished.

“Much better,” Lera said.

“You must teach me that some time, Sister.” Falduin said.

“In time,” she said with a smile.

They continued on beneath the ash trees following the ridge. Falduin found it quite pleasant, despite his desire to rest and to eat. It was well past the time for their luncheon.

“I sensed a great deal of anger in you, Falduin,” Lera said, keeping her voice low so that it wouldn’t carry.

Falduin nodded solemnly.

“A great deal of self-hatred,” Lera continued. “Of shame, and a fear of weakness.”

“Yes,” Falduin said. He should have been annoyed, but he wasn’t. It felt almost nice being able to admit it.

“We will need to work on that,” Lera said.

“I’d like that,” Falduin said with a smile. He especially liked the we.

The ridge turned away toward the hill he had seen. A short way ahead the land flattened as it gently rose toward the cliffs.

Falduin stopped and looked behind at the valley. If he ever had a chance to settle he would find a place like this. He would build a tall tower atop the hill. It would give him a wide view for leagues around.

“They’re coming!” Ifonsa said, appearing from behind a tree beside him. He hated when she did that. Why couldn’t she just wander about like everyone else instead of showing off?

Ganthe emerged from behind the same tree. He grinned at Falduin as he said. “They’re carrying someone.”

“What do you mean?” Heric asked.

“On their back. They keep swapping.”


Ganthe shrugged, “I couldn’t see. They’re small, like a child. Wearing red.”

“How close are they?” Heric asked.

“Close enough that we’ll need to fight.” Ifonsa replied.

Heric glanced around, “Not here.”

Ifonsa shook her head.

That enraged Falduin even more. How could she know? What did she know about laying ambushes? She was only a Warden. Heric had years of combat experience leading men, Falduin could tell. He didn’t know how, but he just knew with absolute certainty. How could this…this grimalkin know anything about that, as if she were his equal.

“Falduin,” Lera’s voice reached out to him. It was calm, with an edge of concern. “What are you doing?”

Falduin found that he had drawn his sword and was glaring angrily at Ifonsa. Everyone was staring at him.

Ifonsa’s hand was on the hilt of her thin, pointed knife. She eyed him dangerously, “Unless you want to die,” she growled. “Put that away.”

Heric stepped between them, “Stop it,” he hissed.

Falduin felt a touch on his shoulder.

His rage flared. What liberty! They were all against him. He turned, planning on striking at Lera. He saw both Heric and Ifonsa leap to stop him, but they were too slow. He raised the sword. It felt clumsy in his hand. Why hadn’t he just used a spell? But it was too late now.

He felt the blade shift in his hand. Falling from his grasp. The shoulder where Lera touched him felt suddenly cold. A wave of calm washed over him, as the sword fell. He watched as it spun, the crossbar rotating around the hilt, like when he used to twirl staffs on their end and see how long before they fell over.

The wrath returned and he moved to grab the sword. Without it he was defenceless. But it immediately dissipated, and the feeling of idyllic calm filled him. He wanted to laugh as he watched his sword bounce amongst the undergrowth.

“He is being controlled,” he heard Lera say to the others. “I can feel them. A witch, I think. They’re tracking us by following his rage.”

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