[I’m late again! This is part three of “Equiroth“, a story set in a fantasy world. Part one of the story can be found at SSS: Betrayal and part two can be found at SSS: Journey. Keep in mind that while the stories are related, they’re not necessarily continuous.]
The journey felt long and exhausting, their supplies dwindling each day and leaving them with barely anything to fill their stomachs with by the sixth day. If we’re lucky enough we will reach our destination today, thought Bryoth the horn-blower. He was riding alongside Kolsyn, the captain of the army, and three mounted soldiers followed behind them. Despite the lack of food and the exhaustion, Bryoth thought things went well, they didn’t have any unpleasant encounters and the weather served them well for the most part. There was a day or so of rain, but it was a very light rain.
“Look up ahead!” shouted one of the soldiers. Just beyond the trees, up high in the air one could see the top of the high stone doors that marked the entrance to the central elven cities. The group urged their horses forward to complete their mission sooner and hoping their journey will end with a hot bowl of broth and a soft bed.
They reached the gate soon enough, but crossing it wasn’t going to be that easy. The area outside the gates was completely swamped with elves from all cities close and far. There were lines and lines of them waiting to enter, and quite a number of traders had set caravans or tents up as an attempt to profit from the situation. It almost looked as if a whole elven city has been moved to the location. Bryoth and Kolsyn left their horses with the soldiers, it was clear that moving with a mount would be next to impossible, and they slowly started making their way through the crowd.
“You two, not a step further!” They had almost reached the gate when someone got in their way. The man was wearing clothes identical to all those serving in the elven army, but for a weapon he had a glaive, a long polearm from dark wood inscribed with decorations on top of which a sharp sword was located. The glaive signified that he was part of the royal guard whose purpose defending the king and keeping watch on the famous elven doors. This poor fella had obviously gotten the shorter end of that stick so Bryoth could understand why he was in a foul mood. “Do you not see the formed lines around you? Get in there and wait your turn.”
Bryoth thought of telling the guard of their mission. “We need to see someone from the royal family.”
The guy gave him a good look, as if he trying to remember if he had seen Bryoth before. “Well I haven’t been notified that they need to see you so it appears the feeling isn’t mutual. Now get in line!”
“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Kolsyn tried to explain the situation, “We’re here on an important mission under Lord Marioth’s orders, we have news we need to deliver in the capitol.”
“It seems to me you don’t understand you have to get in line and wait.”
“It’s okay,” another elf stepped toward them, “I’ll handle this.” He was wearing fully brown attire, trousers and a woolen tunic with a shirt underneath, while behind him flapped a silk cloak of the same brown color. He was a servant, but one who works for the royal family as given away by the cloak. The guard made some grunting sound and walked away.
“I heard you mention Lord Marioth. Would that be Marioth from the city of Briswift?”
Feeling slightly irritated by the whole situation, Kolsyn replied with a simple “Yes.”
“I apologize I haven’t presented myself, my name is Faoth and I’m one of his grace’s personal servants.”
“I’m Kolsyn, captain of the Briswift army, and this is Bryoth..” he pondered on the title for a bit, “who does quite a bit. Look, we need –“ Marioth’s waving hand interrupted his talk.
“I’m well aware of your mission. Some of your men arrived from the east a few days ago.”
Bryoth cheered up at the thought. “So Marioth has already met with his grace?”
The servant opened his mouth, but no words came out. He looked to the ground for a moment as if searching for his lost words. “I’m afraid not everything has gone according to your plans. I do not have all the details as I’m going on based on a letter, but come, follow me to our encampment, I’ll explain everything on the way there and we’ll use one of our caravans to go meet the rest of your party.”
Bryoth would later realize that Faoth should have probably stared at the ground some more as apparently he hadn’t found quite the right words. The rest of the party meant four remaining elves from the group of forty-seven which departed toward the gate on the east. Two of them uninjured, the third was hit with an arrow in his left arm, and the fourth was barely alive. Faoth told them that it was their leader Marioth who was battling for his life. His whole body had been burnt badly, every inch of skin turned a shade of black and red.
“How is he still alive?” A puzzled Bryoth had asked in a rush, which earned him a clout on the head from Kolsyn. Faoth answered that it’s had to say but based on what was said by the healer who was taking care of Marioth, it’s likely there was an enchantment which forced the fire to burn only the outer layers of their skin. He told them while they’re hopeful that he will survive this, it will be many moons before he can move any part of his body and he would never truly recover from the injuries.
They reached the encampment and got on a very large caravan lead by six Elphorses, large but slim horse-like creatures with long tusks and a very thick mane. Due to its size, the caravan provided a lot of comfort and space for movement, but with the news they had gotten Bryoth and Kolsyn felt they would have preferred a different type of comfort. The worrying news didn’t end there; they learned that Rhissa was the one who attacked their leader’s group, and they learned that most of the elven doors that lead to the capitol have been closed off because there have been repeated attacks over the last few weeks. But worst of all, they learned that the royal family is not here and neither Marioth’s group neither they can deliver the warning message to his grace.
It was a specific time of the year, a festival which lasts almost as long as a whole moon cycle and during that period the whole royal family along with their guards and most of the capitol’s army visit the moon pillars. They are in fact stones which looked like pillars, all of them having specific sizes and arranged in a specific manner in such a way that when one looks through them he or she can see they perfectly match the moon’s progress on the sky during the course of a whole year. No one truly knows how the stones were constructed but there is no record of their construct while they’ve existed as long as any elf can remember. With all that had happened they had forgotten about their race’s culture traditions.
Bryoth concluded that this was the reason why most of the heavy stone doors had been shut off — there were not enough guards and soldiers to arm and defend all of the locations. The elven capitol has never been weak and no type of petty attacks would force them to close those doors, but this was different. The capitol was hosting feasts every day till the royal family returns, and at a time like this it was important for them to regulate who goes out and who goes in. It wasn’t just about protecting the entrances; it was about ensuring no one finds their way inside unnoticed.
Yet Bryoth found the whole thing to be quite disturbing. Rhissa’s betrayal, her attack on Marioth, the royal family being away, and some random attacks on the capitol gates all happening at once. He thought either it was all a scary coincidence or a frightening ploy where all of these things are part of someone’s plan. But what could they hope to achieve? It doesn’t make sense to have the doors closed, it only strengthens the capitol’s defenses till his grace returns. Is this part of Rhissa’s plan and a way to prevent us from warning the royal family? His mind went on and on, running every thought in all possible directions. While he was racking his brain trying to connect all the things and figure everything out, they had arrived at their destination.
Faoth pointed to the house in front of them. “You will find your friends inside. I’ll be a bit behind as I need to take some things from the caravan.” They didn’t need to be told twice, they run off inside. The house had no rooms with the exception of a bathroom, the rest of it was all put together with no walls or doors to separate any parts of the house. Thus, as soon as they were inside they could see their four fellows, three of them sitting on chairs around a fireplace, while Marioth was laid in a very low pool of water at the other side of the room. In the middle of the room was a table where an elf was mixing some herbs.
“We’ve been expecting you.” She gave them a small smile, and the three soldiers stood up but could not bring themselves to say anything. They didn’t have to, you could read all the horror on their grim faces.
Bryoth and Kolsyn went next to the pool to see what had become of their leader. His flesh looked like something from a nightmare, weirdly painted black and red, uneven with apparent burned dead tissue on the surface. It wasn’t a sight one wants to see, and Bryoth figured maybe that’s why the soldiers are sitting over there and not here.
“I’ve managed to clean most of the burned clothing which had melted into his skin,” the healer went on, “he can even open his eyelids pretty quickly now and we managed to feed him today. However, he still has trouble with moving the rest of his body but hopefully the healing water with help him recover more quickly.”
Just about then Bryoth noticed that Marioth, who was wide awake at the moment, appeared to be trying to move his lips. It was a poor attempt which produced an undistinguishable whispering sound, but he was persistently trying to do it even though it clearly pained him as his eyes were red and watery. “Can you understand what he’s trying to say?” He looked at Kolsyn, hoping he was better at that task.
“I can’t be sure, but I think he’s trying to say Stupid.” As Marioth’s lips movement stopped right about then the two men smiled to each other. His body may be scorched but his spirit’s as strong as ever.