Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Forrester's Quest - Chapter 2, Part II

...The Conclusion to Chapter II    

     Along the way, many familiar faces greeted the three travelers as they passed by. Robert Trenchant, Quint Motfire, Mr. and Mrs. Sutton and little Sarah Billingsley, chasing after their cart with excited jubilation, hoping to get the attention of Horsfall whom she adored so very much. The young lad turned away, his face flushed with red, and Fenn laughed heartily at his discomfort. Crossing the small bridge across the tiny mountainside creek near his house, Fenn had the sudden inclination to visit his Grandfather Roth deep on the mountain road before they left the village. The thought held his mind captive for the briefest of moments as Alden hurried Scéam along the village road past the quaint bridge. Fenn sighed in melancholic anticipation. He had not seen his grandfather for some time, what with the farming season in full bloom – the work in the fields required all his attention. Fenn would visit Grandfather Roth almost every day as a boy. He loved the daily walk to his house on the mountainside, exploring the hidden paths that ran along the side of the small village creek. Many times he would get lost exploring the extent of each trail, sometimes finding himself wrestling branches of a thick cluster of trees; while other times the path would end at an old abandoned well or farmstead.
     Before long they had reached the periphery of the village and steadily approached the long form of the ancient Asharan road. Behind them, Ealdmoder could now be seen in its full glory, the mountain stretching towards the clear blue sky. Consciously, Fenn tried to refocus his thoughts – the long road awaited. Turning Scéam effortlessly to the right, Alden directed the cart’s bearings to the south as it squeaked under the normal strain of its load. Horsfall was daydreaming next to Fenn, staring out across the field of gold, the morning summer breeze soothing his wandering complexion. His eyes seemed to have drifted towards the small forest of Ilfen, on the edge of the field. Something had caught his attention. Fenn looked.
     Approaching the mouth of Ilfen at a great speed was a dark horse. He could not see the rider but he knew from the frantic pace of the steed that it was in some sort of distress. Fenn followed the path of the horse from whence it came, watching ever so closely for any minute detail or change – then he saw them. Two more riders at some distance behind were in close pursuit, undeniably gaining on the isolated horseman. Now looking ahead of the three riders, Fenn noticed something that alarmed him considerably. Near the entrance to the forest was the horse-drawn cart of the Mottershead family. He recognized their distinct white horse and knew his friend Lynne and her father were surely gathering vegetables today, directly beside Ilfen on their plot of land. He could not see them yet but he knew danger loomed.
     By this time, Alden had also spotted the dramatic chase and had surmised Fenn’s thoughts almost immediately. There were strangers in their lands, unwelcome and very much threatening. Neither he nor Horsfall had ever witnessed such a sight before. Curiosity took hold of Fenn, as did his desire to help the unknowing Mottershead family.
     Without a word, Fenn glanced at Alden with purposeful intent and leapt off the cart hurriedly. With the help of the silent guardian, he quickly untied Scéam from the cart. Alden had already mounted the horse and was reaching out to pull Fenn on top as well. Within seconds they galloped away north on the Asharan road, leaving Horsfall to watch over their supplies.
     Fenn’s heart was pounding with anticipation and concern. He had known Lynne his whole life and desperately hoped that nothing ill would become of his childhood friend. He could now see the three riders just approaching the mouth of Ilfen, their haste unceasing. The pursued horseman suddenly slowed down then veered off into the forest itself, the trees swallowing him up. The other two riders were right behind and within moments darted into the forest themselves. Fenn still saw no sign of Lynne or Mr. Mottershead. They were approaching the field of gold rapidly and the adrenaline he felt was unceasing.
     Through the field Scéam galloped, the tempo of his breathing increasing with each stride. The Mottershead white horse was just ahead of them now, their cart resting silently beside him, seemingly abandoned. Alden gently pulled on the reigns as they came to a stop by the lone cart. It was filled with tomatoes, peppers and cabbage, gathered together without any disarray. Alden jumped off Scéam to take a closer look. Suddenly, there was movement. A visibly perturbed Mr. Mottershead emerged from behind the cart clutching his right arm – it was bleeding. He saw Fenn and Alden approach him.
     “Fenn!” the older man exclaimed wearily. His voice sounded weak. Alden reached out to help Mr. Mottershead’s injured arm, tending to it quietly in order to stop it from bleeding any further. “Those cursed marauders. They came from the northwest, probably from the direction of Dearthe. Gods, I tried to warn Lynne. I was shouting for her but she could not hear me. I called out to the riders but one of them struck me as he passed.”
     “Mr. Mottershead, for goodness sake, where is she?” Fenn exclaimed frantically.
     He pointed to the entrance of Ilfen forest. “There boy. She was in there picking some berries and having a quiet walk. She must have been quite deep within if she couldn’t hear me. Please Fenn, find her, find Lynne!”
     Alden was watching Fenn the whole time during this exchange of words. He had not yet fully bandaged Mr. Mottershead’s arm. Without another word or any hesitation, Fenn turned and dashed off towards the mouth of Ilfen. As he ran, he reached for the inside of his tunic and felt the cold steel of the short dagger he always carried with him on journeys far from the village. Swiftly drawing the sharp blade from its scabbard, Fenn held it firmly balanced in his right hand as he quickened his pace. The gaping mouth of the small forest swallowed up the young man as he broke through the first layer of leaves, barks and underbrush. He was in Ilfen now, running along the faded path within, trying desperately to follow the track of hooves he saw before him. All his thoughts, focus and presence were in this moment, taking one steady step after the next. Fenn knew there were creatures scurrying around him in the undergrowth, watching him dart by. The leaves, rocks and twigs scattered as he passed. Nevertheless, the sounds of the forest were lost on the young man’s ears. All he could hear was the thudding of his burning footsteps. He was beginning to tire when he heard shouting amongst the trees up ahead. Fenn could also discern another very distinct sound as he approached the source of the commotion and anger – the clash of steel swords.
     Fenn could see the three horses now in front of him. Two of them were wandering aimlessly close by while the third lay on the ground, seemingly injured. He stopped his hurried run. It was then that he saw the three riders engaged in a passionate struggle of violence. They seemed to be fighting with each other. Two of the marauders appeared to be surrounding one of them – the solo rider who was being pursued earlier. He wore a heavy hood that covered his face considerably. One of the pursuers lunged with his sword, a direct stroke to the heart. The lone rider parried it deftly and swung his blade around for a fatal stroke on the back of his attacker’s neck. The first marauder fell stone dead.
     At the moment the sword was raised to strike, Fenn had noticed a bloodied patch of dampness in the lower abdomen of the hooded rider. As he brought his sword up to defend himself once more, he stumbled backward, grasping for his wound in obvious pain. The other marauder now moved in for the kill. Fenn could not watch any further. He burst forward with heartfelt spirit, raising his dagger to defend the injured rider, now barely holding himself up on one knee. Fenn called out to the marauder to distract him. He was so very close to him now, approaching at a great speed. The attacker spun around in surprise, not expecting the appearance of the unknown intruder. Fenn was only a few feet away when he brought his dagger down for a critical strike.
     In one swift movement, the marauder lunged forward with his sword hand to deflect Fenn’s dagger strike harmlessly to his right. He caught Fenn on the wrist with a firm hit and sent his dagger flying to the ground. A sharp pain erupted in his hand. But the marauder had not finished his motion yet. With his free hand he swung his fist up and right onto the right ear of the off-balanced Fenn. The blow toppled the young man to the ground. Disorientation took hold of his mind in an instant.
     Dazed, Fenn barely managed to look up at the lone marauder, looking rather satisfied with himself. He was saying something to Fenn, but he could not make out the words – his ears and head were ringing, but from the look on his face Fenn could tell it was neither friendly nor pleasant. Desperately trying to get up and protect himself, with glazed eyes, he could see his dagger just a few feet away, but not within his reach. It was futile. With a cruel grin, his face covered with scars and aged with malice, the marauder slowly raised his sword, ready to bring down fury once more.
     And in that futile moment Fenn saw blurred movement from the trees behind the marauder. The form of a man appeared, emanating with intense purpose and focused aggression. He was holding a magnificent sheath of silver, from whence a great sword emerged. His speed was extraordinary for a man of such strength and size, and within a few strides he had closed the distance between himself and the astonished marauder who had also heard his arrival. He tried desperately to prepare himself but his body refused to respond, his sword barely raising itself. Then with a flash of steel, the great force cut his man down with unrelenting vehemence.
     Incredulous beyond words, Fenn looked up at his savior as his vision slowly began to clear. There standing before him, his gentle green eyes looking down at Fenn, offering his outstretched hand to the young man, was Alden Ewart – his eyes, ears and hand; his silent guardian.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Forrester's Quest - Chapter 2, Part I



DAWN’S irresistible rays of light cast their beauty upon the dewy rooftops of Lower Mire. All the excitement of the previous day had melted into serene bindings of duty – the mid-summer tending of farmlands awaited all the early risers on this bright day. All but those chosen few.
     Fenn Eaeldred rose from his warm bed, only to be greeted by the cool draft of his small room. He knew the day would get much warmer by the time he set out for Ernvale with Horsfall. Casting his eyes beyond the window of his room, he could see the sun slowly rising past the peak of Ealdefaeder in the east. There lay Upper Mire in the shadows of the old mountain. He had not visited their neighbours by Ealdefaeder for many years. As a matter of fact, he recalled being in their village only once as a young boy. Fenn knew he had several cousins and relatives who dwelled in the ancient village – even older than Lower Mire – that had stood in the same spot for centuries. There seemed to be a drift that had formed between the people of Lower and their distant relatives in Upper. Fenn remembered asking his uncles about it many years ago, as a child, but recalled the indifferent and muted responses he had received. Resolved to discover the origins of the hushed behaviour, he decided to ask his father about it. Ignatius pulled his son aside that day and spoke sternly:
     “Listen here Fenn. Our family left the peeks of Ealdefaeder many years ago, before you were born. Once we lived together with the Eaeldreds and people of Upper Mire in harmony, each kin holding a bond stronger than this here mountain. We were one. There came a time when our bond was tested, tried to its very limit.” Fenn nodded quietly. “When a person goes through a hardship such as that, there comes a moment when difficult decisions are made and, once made, you must live with the consequences – whatever they may be. Until that time comes for you, and it will come, I want you to think of our cousins by Ealdefaeder with respect and a good heart. You understand boy?”
     Fenn never broached the topic again. He did not fully comprehend his father’s words at the time, but knew it was not his place to question them. Perhaps one day he would ask again.
     Shortly after the rising of the sun, Fenn heard Horsfall’s voice outside his window, chattering away with his sister Rhoda just by the gate. She had gone to draw water from the well nearby and encountered the vibrant youth on her way back. His cheery disposition made Fenn smile and he called out to him to help him carry outside the supplies they would need for their journey.
     The Eaeldred home was bustling with activity from corner to corner. Ignatius was gathering some wood for the supplies, while Beryl set the table for a hearty breakfast. Rhoda was busily bundling up as much food as Fenn and Horsfall would need for their two-day stretch to Ernvale. By the time breakfast was concluded and all the supplies gathered outside, the quiet rumbling of an approaching horse-drawn cart could be heard coming from the far end of the main dirt road.
     Steadily pulling the cart while making his way to the front gate was the loyal horse that belonged to Ignatius and the family. His name was Scéam. Once, many years ago, in the full bloom of his youth, Ignatius rode Scéam’s father, Celeritas. Both horses were pale gray, and where the older horse was once renowned for his speed, the younger was known for his strength and courage. Guiding him on top of the cart was a silent form of a man. A quiet watcher, yet he possessed a rather large and strong form. Very little hair remained on his head, but something told Fenn that the man did not regard personal appearance as slightly important. He wore a loose brown hooded tunic which he would cover his head with on warm sunny days to protect his heavily bearded face. Emotionless he seemed at times, but Fenn had seen him slightly grin on the odd occasion.
     The man’s name was Alden Ewart. He was an old friend of his father’s – Fenn knew that much. He did not know where Alden came from – no mention was ever made of it – but Fenn gathered that he was born in Lower Mire, or at least in a village nearby. Ignatius always entrusted Alden with the safety of his son during these infrequent travels outside of the village. They had an unspoken bond and deep trust which Fenn saw the moment he met the man when he was a young child. Like old comrades, they showed immense respect for each other. Ignatius would always welcome Alden into their home with open arms, offering food and drink aplenty. Although Alden spoke very little, his father would regularly lead the conversation, telling tales of olden days, while steady Alden would nod his head in approval, brandishing the smallest of grins every so often.
     Alden Ewart had started coming by their home when Fenn had just turned four years old. He remembered the first occasion vividly. It had been a viciously stormy night in the waning autumn season and Fenn was playing with his baby sister in the kitchen rooms. The clouds had gathered in such intensity, the likes of which he had never seen before or since. Outside, the winds were howling with rage, rattling the sealed windows immensely. However, not even the overbearing sounds of the storm could prevent Fenn from hearing the thunderous gallop of a horse outside, fast approaching. What happened next was difficult for him to remember clearly. He recalled his father Ignatius peering through the window, only to rush out in a hurried blur. There were voices outside, two men shouting loudly amidst the deafening torrent of rain. Within moments, his father came back through the front door, helping what looked like an injured man, fully dressed in armour – his face hidden by the broad shoulders and arms of Ignatius. Fenn quickly glimpsed the faint outline of a wet sword, only to see all before him vanish as his mother rushed over to their aid, swinging the kitchen door shut behind her.
     Curiosity reigned in Fenn’s mind that night, but his mother would shed no light on the mysterious visitor from the darkness. The next day his father forbade Fenn from going into the dining hall where he correctly assumed the mysterious man still lay. It was pointless to ask any questions, but Fenn knew that it was important not to disturb the resting figure in the next room. Days would pass and a quiet, somber mood descended on the Eaeldred household. The life of the mysterious visitor was on a knife’s edge. Although he was still very small, Fenn could tell from the quiet and dark faces of his parents that the survival of the man rested in fate’s hand for quite some time.
     That all changed one bright morning when Fenn awoke to find the guest room next to his occupied by the strange visitor and the door shut. Ignatius and Beryl had both gone to tend the fields while the young boy’s Grandfather, Roth Eaeldred, watched the children. He was sitting outside by the front gate holding little Rhoda, humming ancient songs to her in the morning breeze when the rising Fenn was overcome with curiosity and inquisitiveness. He remembered slowly approaching the door of the guest room in eager anticipation. The door handle was just within his tiny reach. He turned it.
     There, laying peacefully on the guest bed, his eyes shut, was the large form of Alden Ewart. Fenn had never seen a man such as this before. He appeared to be comfortable and very much alive. He had no beard at the time and there were traces of long hair still remaining on his scalp, a gruesome result of some violent affair that had brought him to Lower Mire. Various scars enveloped his body wherever he saw exposed skin - particularly on his arms and legs. His abdomen was carefully and heavily bandaged and wrapped in cloth. Venturing closer, Fenn allowed his eyes to wander to the corner of the room where a pile of polished armour rested, where there was none before. Propped up against the wall in a glistening sheath of steel was a magnificent sword of great size. Staring at it in awe, Fenn suddenly felt very much aware of his own presence in the room. He quickly turned to look at Alden and was met by the calming stare of his gentle green eyes, looking at Fenn ever curiously and very much awake. Silence reigned for a moment before, quite suddenly, Alden smiled at the small boy, his teeth as white as snow. They remained staring at each other in mutual curiosity when Fenn heard the voice of Ignatius calling for him outside. Quickly he spun around and hurried out of the guest room, forgetting to shut the door completely.
     That was Fenn’s first meeting with the gentle and loyal Alden Ewart. A week later, the quiet man would leave their home just as suddenly as he came. But that was not the end of his visits. Often he would come and see the family at the change of the seasons or at a particular feast. Later he would accompany them on their travels near and far. And although Ignatius never told Fenn the story behind Alden Ewart’s mysterious and sudden appearance in their lives, he surmised that he had a very good reason not to.
     Alden now guided Scéam to stop in front of the main gate. The cart lurched to an abrupt halt. Fenn and Horsfall greeted the large man with excited grins, petting the neck of their beloved horse with affection. Scéam nuzzled Fenn fondly as he stroked the light coloured mane of the charger with happiness.
     Ignatius emerged from the house soon after, carrying the last of the supplies. After loading them up on the cart, he pulled Fenn aside for the briefest of moments to have a word with him.
     “You be careful on the road Fenn. You know what’s out there on the Asharan route. Listen to Alden – he is your eyes, ears and hand, always. And you watch that Horsfall. He always wanders his way into trouble, one way or another.” The young man nodded sternly.
     As the sun continued its steady slope of ascendancy in the blue sky, Fenn and Horsfall climbed onto the loaded cart. With parting waves of affection from Ignatius, Beryl and Rhoda, Alden and the two lads set off towards the village square along the main road of Lower Mire. “You take care now Fenn!” His mother shouted, her parting words bringing a loving smile to his face.

To be Continued in Part II...