Chapter 22 Edit
"No matter how trained, loyal, fed or happy he is. A man with a stick will always be a man with a stick, and somewhere down the line, he'll find a kind crossbowman to show him that."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran mayor of Ginallia
While Drindell and Anita did their best to avert direct conflict, the captain was briefing all those soldiers not trained in the art of bows (Only a small fraction of the inquisitors, since they had incentives to train in every form of combat) on what was going to happen, soon. Hobenrûd was between them.
The captain paced around, explaining that this was the classic Sardinian "Fresh From the Hook" tactic. They would launch ballista projectiles specially designed to destroy little, and still hold the ship tightly. Then they would reel the ship in with it, board the ship with superior troops and take control of it. All the while they would shoot arrows at the deck, trying to stop the ship's crew from obtaining a strong foothold. If the crew didn't leave the lower decks, they simply locked them in and used the wheel to steer the ship to a port, where many more soldiers would be waiting.
"I don't understand this!" said an inquisitor with plate armour, "Why are the Sardinian attacking us? We were allies just a day ago!" Another one stood, insulted the captain, and said he would not be pushed around by a low-rank. The captain, visibly angry with him, shouted: "You may be of higher ranking on land, but as long as you're on this ship, and you can't even steer a lifeboat...I'm the superior here! And you'll do as I tell if you don't want to meet Sallund a lot sooner than you expected!"
After venting his anger, the captain started explaining his battle plan to the soldiers below deck. Meanwhile, Anita had reached the mast, despite protests from the ignorant men in armour below, and making a swipe of her fan, sent a whirlwind, falling from the suddenly clouded sky and streaking into the water. Within moments the waterspout had turned its characteristic bluish, watery touch, and it spun in the direction of the Sardinians, some of whom leapt overboard at this point.
The small waterspout passed over the enemy deck, and most, if not all of the crossbowmen that didn't jump in the sea were forcefully thrown out of it. Two of the four masts of the enemy galleon were ripped apart, and the enemy mantlets made some physical damage on the ship. But the threat was not over. And as if to emphasize it, two other projectiles hurled through the air and hit the "Eastern Light," and the ship started to be reeled him even faster, despite Drindell's efforts to cut the ropes.
As the ships reached close enough, a drawbridge was lowered on the "Eastern Light" deck, and a stream of plate armoured soldiers poured out of the hatches to the lower decks from both ships. Most Sardinian soldiers were equipped with broadswords and brigandines, standard-issue equipment of Sardinian army, while some of the richer ones had poleaxes and full plate armour. While the inquisitors were equipped with most varied white-painted armour, differing from rank to rank and various weapons, including morning stars, longswords and spears.
The two groups faced each other. One waiting for the other to make the first move. Until Drindell took a foul-smelling thing that looked like it was taken from inside some animal and mumbled something, jumping on one foot and rotating. Now, no one until today has ever found reference to any spell cast like this. But the various sources I consulted on the event, all make mention of this. So I have no other thing to do, but to assume that this was merely a ploy that he used to give confidence to the inquisitors. And I daresay it must've worked.
What followed was one of the greatest battles of our history. Even though there not nearly as many soldiers involved than in Pulti, the battle was no less bloody, nor less remembered. Spearmen and poleaxemen charged with abandon, closely followed by the ferocious close-combat divisions. Hobenrûd's undulating blade met many bellies, arms, heads and legs that day. As did Marin's, compensating with sheer enthusiasm the relatively lower level of skill.
Anita decided to use the lighting rod, since the fan could hurt her own allies in such a small space. She wished she was with her loyal soldiers this time. Drindell threw enemies out of the ship, whacking them with his quarterstaff, or he simply quickly darted his kris from his clothes and slit their throats. But the inquisitors, even with their morale elevated by Drindell's "magics" and their faith in Sallund, were losing ground to the better equipped Sardinians.
And, somewhere along the line where the two groups collided, their attention was drawn to a single enemy. A man with red hair that parried their slashes and avoided their thrusts as if they were nothing. A man that killed three high-ranking inquisitors with only two thrusts of his sabre. A man that forced the inquisitors to retreat to the larboard side of the ship, and regroup, waiting.
The red-haired man twirled his own moustache, and not properly shouted, but rather, spoke with a loud voice: "I know the people responsible for the recent attack on a Sardinian camp near Pulti are aboard this ship! I have permission from the gran-mayor of Sardina to attack and apprehend ships transporting criminals! But don't worry, I am a reasonable man! Did you hear!? Ruann Rovias is a reasonable man! If you give the criminals, and the ship, to me...you will all be spared!"
He paused, as if waiting for an answer. Receiving none, he made a wide gesture with his hand, and his soldiers advanced a little more, among them, a man with only one hand. Then he continued talking: "It appears you are much more foolish than I previously thought. I am looking for two women and two men! One of the women is blond, one of the men is dark-haired! Ring any bells!?"
The inquisitors began mumbling among themselves, and the members of the Freedom Army thought it was over, they were done. They thought that this was the farthest they would make, and, at the time, it seemed they were right, as the inquisitors, one by one, turned toward them. But then the captain of the ship screamed back to the red-haired man: "This ship belongs to the Holy Order of Sallund! And, as dictated by the divine law of sanctuary, only members of the Order may persecute criminals here! Leave now, and Sallund may forgive your sacrilege!"
The red-haired man didn't actually laugh, it was more a chuckle, according to accounts, but he couldn't have angered the inquisitors more, even if he had. And as the inquisitors charged, paying no heed to safety, followed closely by the party of hitch-hikers, except for Drindell, who decided he would be of more use giving magical support. He took a strange black, furry smaller bag from his bag, and poured a strange purple powder from it on the deck. Forming a pentagon-like symbol.
He then took a small gem bound by a thin thread from his pocket, and made strange movements with it. All the people that ran to the front lines felt something different then. It was neither a feeling of euphoria, nor one of "strength," but rather, a mixture of those. And thus, the inquisitors fought as they never fought before. Their strength and resistance heightened.
The inquisitors nearly trampled the first line of Sardinians, while Rovias retreated to the back. Shields collided, as the Sardinians tried to stop the onslaught of the magically enhanced defenders. But the inquisitor spearmen poked their spears between the shields, until another line fell. The Sardinians, seeing the inquisitors killing line after line, fell on disarray and fled as they could.
Rovias tried to rally the scattered troops and counter-attack, but Hobenrûd ran toward him, from the mass of victorious inquisitors, brandishing his sword. Rovias avoided his every strike, until he was cornered on the starboard of the Sardinian ship. Hobenrûd slashed mightily, aiming for his foe's chest, but Rovias, without any space to avoid it, parried the attack and kicked Hobenrûd's chest, throwing him on the ground.
Smiling, Rovias looked at his fallen foe, prepared to finish him off, and saw a piece of metal beside him. Startled, he looked at his own sabre, it was broken. A large chunk of metal, near the tip, had broken off. Then he felt something hit his chest, hard. An arrow, shot by Gilbert, the legends say, although no hard evidence of that exists. Ruann Rovias fell over the starboard of the ship, still holding his broken sword, into the sea below.
Chapter 23 Edit
"Across the eastern sea, lie a land of luscious lavish.\ Across the eastern sea lie a land of ragged runts.\ Across the eastern sea lie a land of weary wares."
---'Cross the eastern sea
After the battle, the inquisitors had a meeting to decide what to do with Hobenrûd and the others. To not give any possible reader of this work the feel I am concentrating far too much attention on minor characters, suffice to say that they decided to not punish them, since they helped to protect the Order's property, but the inquisitors would not protect them anymore. They were alone from now on.
As the five of them left the ship, on the port-city of Akumba, the captain remembered Hobenrûd of a promise his, before closing the drawbridge, and no matter how much they asked, Hobenrûd dismissed the matter as "of no importance." And thus, they finally crossed the great eastern sea, and reached Sumdo. Ready to start another journey, on a strange land.
The "city" of Akumba (Maybe by Sumdonian standards, but it would never be considered a city if it was in the Continent) was rather small. Apart from the port, run by Sardinian investors, it seemed to be still stuck in the old ages. The streets were littered with rotten food, ripped clothes...other more disgusting kinds of dirtiness...and beggars, most of dark complexion, while carriages decorated with gold transported the important Sardinian investors from their homes to their duties.
And as she walked through the dusty streets, looking for either a transportation or a guide that could get them to Jyptia, Marin couldn't help but feel...disgusted by the state of the city. While Anita did her best to not look at the beggars, while she waited for Drindell...for someone to realize that they couldn't just leave them there.
Instead, they kept walking, a little uncomfortably maybe, but they kept walking. And they walked along the main street, stopping only when they found a plaque near an alley, telling them that the "Nfarah, travlin gide" was in that direction. And checking it, they found two small animals tied to a post and a run-down building, proving, without doubt, the veracity of the plaque.
Gilbert glanced around and saw a man behind the counter of the establishment. "Can't be!" he exclaimed, and, tapping at Hobenrûd's shoulder, continued, "Hoben, look at that! Come! ...And you guys wait here," going into the building.
At the moment they crossed the entryway, the man behind the counter greeted them: "Hallo kalimbes. Welcome to my humble..." he paused, trying to remember the word, "Estlabment. I am very known in the ways of this land, so if you wish to visit the renown galhambas of Fergu Munsur, I am very cheap, and..."
"Nfar?" said Hobenrûd, startled. But the man, "Nfar" still tried to steer the conversation to more profitable topics, "Yes. That is the name on the sign, now..."
Gilbert interrupted him, "Don't remember me? Five years ago? In this very town," and Nfar's face was first puzzled, then startled, and then joyful. "The ruivocan kalimbes? So...the info I got you was good?" he asked, really curious.
Gilbert looked around the decrepit building, "Oh yes, very good. We stormed Hukbaba Castle that very night. From what I see here, I suppose the money we gave you was not as good?" he asked. Nfar grinned, showing his scores of yellow teeth, except for the occasional cavity, and a gold one, "After the tooth, I didn't have much jabembe to spare, and thought setting up a business would get me more. I spent nearly everything with it, and by Geres' sustenance, this building was in a much better state when I did."
Hobenrûd felt bad for him, but quickly remembered the reason he went there in the first place, "Hard to hear it, but cheer up! Your business seem slow, so we have a proposal for you," Hobenrûd said, and proceeded to explain what he could do to help Nfar.
While Gilbert and Hobenrûd talked with Nfar, Anita's attention was drawn to a woman, a ragged woman lying on the ground, not moving. Marin felt her heart constrict in disgust. There was a dead woman here. And then the dead woman groaned in pain, so Marin, surprised, showed Anita the wounded woman, and told her to go help. Anita shrugged, visibly worried, "I can't...I don't know...what I can do."
Then Anita fidgeted, and glanced around, looking for Drindell, that was nearby, examining some strange red plant closely. She went to him, and told him something that made him look behind his back, to the fallen woman. He walked toward her and cast a healing spell, pressing blue leaves on her wounds, before taking an old bread from his bag and giving it to her.
The ragged woman ate the bread furiously, caring not about its horrible taste, while profusely thanking her benefactor. After glancing at her with pity, Drindell, turned to Anita. "I tell ye lass," he told her, "That's one of the reasons I became a mage. What's the use of needing less training, if you can't do anything without those 'artefacts'? When ye have time I'll show you something even a 'sorcerer' can do, using some herbs. Ye don't need magic fer that, lass. Dun worry."
Marin didn't move once for the whole time. And only watched, disgusted, the scene unfolding. After it was done, and before Anita went to her side again, Marin reflected her own actions. She asked herself why she asked Anita to do something, instead of simply looking elsewhere, since she was so disgusted. It was an impulse. The woman groaned and she couldn't help but to ask for someone to help her.
But she, herself, she didn't move, maybe because she was disgusted. ...Was she? She had felt disgusted before, when she looked at gross food, or the small, crushed rats, she found in the palace, crushed by someone that was too lazy to put the corpse out of the corridors. She felt bad for the rats, but not so much as she felt for that woman. She saw wounded people before, and felt bad for them...in the hospital of Pulti, for example.
It was not disgust what she felt there, it was not disgust what she felt now, and it maybe was not disgust what she felt for the crushed rats in the palace corridors. Or it was, but with another feeling mixed in...Pity. Pity, that was what she felt. And she couldn't help it anymore. She felt bad seeing people being hurt for the sole reason that they couldn't protect themselves.
But before she could reflect anymore, the five seconds between Drindell talking and Anita thanking him had passed, and Marin's attention was taken from her inner monologue. "Are you okay?" Anita asked her, as she got out of her reverie. "Y-yeah...I'm...alright," Marin answered, stammering.
Anita looked like she would say something, but stopped, as Hobenrûd and Gilbert left the establishment, followed by the owner. "Okay people, we got ourselves a ride to Jyptia, so get on one of those dragons," he said, pointing at some lizard-like quadruped animals nearby.
"Those are dragons? I thought they could...fly," Marin asked him. He dragged her by her arm to one of the scaly beasts, and told her that "Some do. There are various kinds of them. Now, get on it. We'll have a looong road ahead."
Chapter 24 Edit
"The sun is our friend, the cobras are our rivals, the water is our savior. We are the people of the desert, and the desert is our father, and home."
---Chieftain Gagembe M'handi
After several days of travel, the group reached the edge of the Juma desert, and started the long traversing of it. They had stocked enough water for the seven days of travel, but one of the urns fell to the ground and spilled its life-giving contents all over the scorching sands. And now, they needed to find an oasis soon, or they would not ever reach civilization again.
After the fifth day of travel, they found a tall rock formation, and a flag stuck on it. "Kalimbes! This be the symbol of the Gumbis! Gargaue! They know this desert better than Iself. They can give us water...they should be close," said Nfar, climbing the rock and looking for any signs of a Gumbi village on the horizon. But by the way his face went from gleeful to desperate, whatever he saw, it wasn't good.
"I see smoke. Too smoke for an firepit. I think they was attacked, and their zalus was burned," said Nfar, before quickly climbing down, mounting his dragon, and riding toward the village. The others followed closely behind, no one daring to say a word. The horned steeds carried them over the scorching sands, their heavy tails scurrying behind. Getting closer and closer to the source of the smoke.
It was not until they reached the village that they understood the destruction the village had suffered. Only one hut was standing, and even then, the roof was partially burned. Bodies were scattered throughout the ground, men, women, elders and children alike. And survivors were nowhere to be seen. The only thing that survived the destruction intact was a crude clay well.
"A well! Bring the vases!" said Gilbert, enthusiastically, while running towards it and drinking from the bucket. "What?" he asked, "It's really bad that this happened to them. But we can do nothing about it, so we better think about ourselves," and then he turned the bucket over, swallowing as much water as he could, and letting much splash on the ground.
The others decided to search the burnt remains of the village for any signs of survivors. And after minutes of fruitless search, they gave up and went back to the well. That is when they heard a soft sob, from a nearby debris, inside a broken cabinet. Gilbert went over and opened it, and the sobs became screams.
Nfar started talking in gibberish to the child inside the cabinet. And the kid ran towards him and hugged his lower body, talking in gibberish too. Nfar took the kid in his arms. She was skinny, probably being hidden in the cabinet for at least two days, only leaving to drink water, she was wearing only crude garments made with animal pelts, and her upper body was uncovered.
"A rival tribe attacked the village, with the help of white men. I think they was Sardinians...The Gumbis sometimes raided Sardinian outposts. But they don't gone back from where they came. They kept going, the direction where we want to go," said Nfar, still making sure the kid wasn't hurt.
"Sardinians? Is it possible that..." started Drindell, only to be quickly interrupted by a "I knew we shouldn't let them escape! They probably fled to another port, and are trying to cut our way," said by Hobenrûd while kicking a bucket on the ground, and cursing the sardinians loudly.
Anita seemed worried, "Do you think they know where we're going?"
"Probably," answered Gilbert "Otherwise they wouldn't go our way. We must find another way into Jyptia."
Nfar entered the conversation at this point "There's not other way. Jyptia only managed to be the xenophobe bastards they are thanks to that. There is only two ways in their kingdom, through canyons. One is two, three days from here, other is five, six weeks."
"We could climb the hill," Anita pointed out, "and go around them."
Gilbert nodded, "It'll take more time...but yes, it's probably the safest way. I haven't seen their army, but we're probably vastly outnumbered...and they're Sardinians, above all. Nothing we have can be compared to their equipment. Even with Drindell and you...I don't think we have a chance."
"Alright, Kalimbes. But before this, let's stop at Jambagunda and make sure this kid will be taken care of."
Hobenrûd looked at the kid, "Sure. And we need to do something about the Sardinians in Sumdo, after the king is taken care of. I mean, this place is in shambles."
Anita looked at him, impressed. With all the problems he had, he still cared much about all the people around him, everywhere he went, even more than himself. He may be crude, arrogant and not very smart, as she herself put it a few days before, but he still did everything to help everyone, selflessly. And as he went back to his dragon and mounted, Anita followed him, still impressed.
Chapter 25 Edit
"I have been in other nations, and I have seen foreign lands. And after this, I can certainly conclude that we are the only light of civilization in this dark, barbaric world."
---Frenciano Rochell, Gran Mayor of Ginalia
Jambagunda's streets were dead, and the city was inhabited only by ghosts. No sound was heard anywhere, no window, and no door was open in any of the buildings, no living soul was seen on the streets. But there was no fire, no blood, no corpses. It was as if the whole population simply disappeared overnight.
That is what the group noticed while traversing the city on their dragons, observing the buildings around them, looking for a stable or at least a place where they could tie their horses, before they could start a thorough search for any signs of life.
Unfortunately, before long, heavily armoured soldiers, and tribesmen with leather armour poured out of the buildings on both sides of the street and surrounded them. Moments after this, a familiar red-haired man calmly came out of one of the buildings, saying, "Why, you here? What a remarkable coincidence!"
His sword was repaired since the last time they saw him, and it now had a T-shaped blade, apparently made from a lesser material than the sturdy sardinian steel. It was probably reforged with one of the tribesman weapons, a half-circle blade with a handle.
Nfar yelled at the tribesmen angrily, something that sounded like "Rabakabua," and one of the blades furiously embedded itself in his leg. The man gave a piercing scream and collapsed, miraculously managing not to fall on the girl.
Rovias chuckled, and said, in a low, amused voice, "Barbarians," before ordering the members of the Freedom Army to be captured and brought into a building nearby, where most of the town's population was imprisoned. Only, instead of being put together with the others, they had their own cell.
And it was inside it they passed the next three days. Apparently, Rovias didn't wish to kill them. He would capture them and transport them to Sardina, where they would undergo trial for high treason. They knew they had no chance of surviving the trial, so they asked why didn't he just kill them right away, instead of giving himself trouble.
"Isn't it obvious? What will be the fun of killing you now, when I can see you squirm in the courts? Day after day of hopelessness as the justice officials pretend to give you a chance. Day after day of waiting for the inevitable. Then a slow agonizing execution. Standing in the line, walking towards the executioner's axe. Seeing your companions heads' falling to the moist ground. One by one. Slowly and surely, like death."
Hobenrûd groaned. the vines binding his arms were too tight. And not by accident, probably. "Then let Nfar go," he said.
Ruann did not sneer, nor did he snicker. It was something in-between; indescribable. And yet, it indescribably caused both fear and loathing on all that saw it. The dark servants of Kiros, from the forgotten north, would not strike so much terror, or anger in the hearts of their enemies as did Ruann Rovias at this moment.
Changing from that expression to a simple scowl, he said, "This...barbarian?" and kicked his groin. Hobenrûd tried to tackle Rovias, but lost his balance and hit the wall on the other side of the room. Anita stood still, but her eyes went from Drindell's calm face to Marin's indignant expression, glancing at Gilbert's scheming eyes. She wanted someone to do something.
Rovias glanced at Hobenrûd, who couldn't get up after hitting the wall, and chuckled. "Well, tomorrow we depart. I hope you like the trip," and left, locking the door behind him. Seconds later, after he was sure Rovias was away Drindell muttered some words and ripped the vines that bound him, right in front of the others' surprised eyes.
"What? Oh, those are Kiliophiles vines. They are very useful for physical augmentation. I suppose those fellows don't know much about it," he said, getting up. After he freed the others, he admitted he had no idea how to escape the town.
Gilbert thought for a moment, "Well...if we manage to flee the town, and reach the gates to Jyptia, that are about...one day from here...well, the jyptians allow no living foreigner on their land."
"...except mages...so the sardinians...they can't enter Jyptia."
"Fine, now that we're through discussing, can we go before they open that dammed door!?" said Marin, a little impatiently, starting to leave through the narrow window.
Hobenrûd was rummaging through the pile of metal and wood on the corner, apparently Ruann didn't have time to find a good place to put them, and trusted that the vines would leave the group powerless "By Sallund's Holy Light! They took that expensive armour Hollen gave me. But luckily they left my sword. I guess they didn't have somewhere safe to put it on hand, with all the unrestrained people out there."
And taking most of their gear with them, the members of the Freedom Army and Nfar left their imprisonment in the warehouse. Nfar told the others he knew a nearby village where a relative of his lived, and left the group. Western Sumdonians were specially not welcome in Jyptia.
"They have no reason to kill the girl, someone will take care of her in the town," were Hobenrûd's parting words to Nfar. And with nothing more than a nod, the other man ran away.
"We hafta hurry, lads," Drindell said, after some time. Marin followed Drindell's gaze to Jambagunda, where torches were being lit. The sardinians already found out that they had escaped. And they still had one day of travel in front of them.
Chapter 26 Edit
"No matter how dark is this night, tomorrow, the sun will surely rise again."
---Old Jyptian proverb
For one day they fled east, going through plains, woods and swamps. For one day, they evaded the Sardinian search parties, and going as fast as possible, to enter the safety of Jyptia. For one day they walked, ignoring the pain and the fatigue. And now, as they traversed the bogs of eastern Jahag, a group of Sardinians drew near.
"Are you sure we're going in the right direction?" asked Marin, breaking the silence. Drindell answered, without stopping, "Yes. The Rubix Cube constellation is always to the south, navigators use that all the time."
Marin looked at the sky, there was a group of very bright stars, forming a square inside another. Luckily they had Drindell in the group, since no one else knew navigation apparently. The only thing Hobenrûd managed to do was getting his cape ripped by bushes.
Suddenly, her feet dipped into the mud that seemed firm. They reached another swamp.
"Yes! We are already halfway through the bogs, we should reach Jyptia within minutes."
Marin could see the top of two very tall cliff sides above the trees. She realized that they were near the canyon entrance of Jyptia.
"Come on, just a little...bit more," she could see that Gilbert was struggling to keep walking, even with Hobenrûd's help. And she knew that somewhere behind them, the Sardinians were coming closer and closer.
They managed to keep walking through the mud fast enough to keep ahead of the Sardinians, and the colours of the sky changed, telling them that the sun was raising.
Suddenly, they were out of the bogs and there were only clean, featureless plains from the point they stood and the enormous sand-coloured gates to Jyptia. Atop the gates, archers saw the people leaving the bogs and running desperately toward them.
One of the little people at the distance turned around and launched three fireballs into the bog, before continuing running. After some time, many other people appeared from the bogs. One of the archers called the others and pointed at the commotion.
"They are being chased! We need to..." but another archer, older, stopped him, "It's none of our business. Our only duty is to stop anyone from entering."
"No, son. Our duty is the only thing that matters. When you finish your training, you might understand."
They saw the little people running, and the chasers closing in. Soon enough it'd be over.
Suddenly, one of the summoners rushed onto the roof, from one of the lower rooms. "By Geres! What are you people doing? Drindell is going to be killed!"
Hearing the name of Drindell, the archers immediately prepared their bows, and arrows rained from the wall onto the Sardinians. Panicking, and being attacked by an enemy they couldn't reach, Rovias roared in rage and ordered the retreat.
The members of the Freedom Army didn't stop until they finally, battered and exhausted, reached the mighty impenetrable gates of Jyptia, where they, without exception, fell to the ground. Seconds later, the summoners started the ritual of opening, and the gate magically dissolved.
A single summoner appeared from behind the gate, "Long time no see Drindell, I trust your voyage was enjoyable."