The weird dreams returned.
I saw myself upon a tower's battlement, the blade raised high, brow encircled with the golden band. A witch light flowed up from the tower's roots, and strength and energy poured into me. In shifting dreamscapes, demons melted away into the earth. Lightning came at call, and all worshiped me. An eclipsed moon rose over head. Powerful urges surged through me to turn aside, to retrace my path and recover the Corm-Da.
"You will be invested with my eternal presence. You will rule in my name. We will bring peace to this land forever. Worry not about the petty affairs of my people. We can solve all with a wave of our hand, and all will be as I had ordained!"
I woke to the sounds of incoming workers and forced the bizarre dreams from my mind. It worried me that dreams, vanished since I abandoned the sword, had returned. We made a light meal from the supplies in our packs and went out to say goodbye to Stenn Orehammer. The Nublin chief saw us off magnanimously, if not warmly, although I noted a firm handshake exchanged between him and our trader, Brann.
Brock lead us north over the surrounding steeps and rills, and the community was soon lost to my sight. Brann seemed to walk with a lighter tread than before, leading his porters with all the attention of a mother quail.
Thavis took point at Brock's direction, preceding us with his usual effortless grace. This left me central to the troop, with only the stony countenance of Gort for companionship. I said nothing about the visions, and kept my attention on the mission at hand, scanning the rock and scrub for ambush sites and evidences of the passage of others. By evening, our trek had taken a mostly downward cant, and below us spread the lowland flats and the city of Tark.
Brock pulled me aside. "It's time to consider what's to do with Yer teapot again," he said, nodding toward Gort. The self burial and resurrection had worked fine before, so I had Gort repeat the process. There was little sense in staying the night in the hills, so we continued on towards town, even though we knew our arrival would be well after nightfall.
The place did not seem the bustling center of commerce Corbell had proved. Here, clay brick seemed the material of choice, and though some wood supplemented this, the net effect was military and un-decorated in aspect. I asked Brann about this.
"Oh, there is a great deal of commerce here. Freight ships through it and onto the eastern shores. Just, most of the profit is absorbed by the Duke, who taxes the fife heavily. Traders do well though. Things are different here."
By mutual agreement we had approached the town from the north, avoiding the roads that led from town directly toward the southern mountain pass. We saw fewer stranded caravans and disgruntled business ventures on our approach. More time had passed since the mountain route had closed, so less hopeful traffic of that kind was expected.
Still, Tark seemed a poorer community, and the lack of civic energy and bustle depressed me. The streets were narrow and empty; only a sparse handful of taverns and buildings showed lit lanterns. While Thavis felt sure he would not be known here, as his business usually took him well west of Tark, I had him keep his hood up and head down anyway.
Brann seemed sure of his direction, and we wound quickly through the black and bewildering lanes, stopping at last before the door of an inn. A single weak lantern swung above the door with a parsimoniously shortened wick. Barely glowing with a blue florescence, it emitted just enough light to spot from twenty feet away or so.
The establishment's commons had a low ceiling and was lit by a banked open hearth fire and little else. The place was uncomfortably warm and close. A short counter opposed the street entrance and stairs lead up from the left of it, presumably to the lodgings we sought. Brann approached the innkeeper and negotiated for rooms. One for us and two for the porters with their bundles of merchandise. There was no warehousing facility here.
Our host, a dark haired man of middle age who seemed to have trouble looking anyone in the eye. His glance constantly drifted off to the darker corners of the commons as Brann negotiated. I was about to approach Brann to suggest we look at the proposed lodgings first when a hollow creaking of treads announced arrivals down from the second floor rooms above.
Four stocky men appeared in the shadowed stairwell. All wore tabards, similar to those I had seen on Wayland's arms men, although a different device was patched to the breast, an escutcheon featuring a mace above two Burlies set I believe, in what is called addosse, regardante, or back to back, heads turned away. The tallest motioned the other three to a table, then went on alone towards the innkeeper.
Brann, having concluded his arrangements, returned to us. I kept one eye on the arms man, as Brann gave us the room assignments and ordered his bearers to the stairs. The arms man passed only a few words with our host before turning to rake us with suspicious eyes. I suppose being the most muscular member of our group, I acquired his attention first. "You are not known to me, where are you from?"
I shrugged, acting a bit denser than usual. "Name's Fisk. Caravan guard. You need to talk to the boss." I jerked my head in the direction of Brann. The Guard's features darkened a little, and his hand fell to the handle of a slung mace at his belt, but his eyes twitched in the direction of Brann anyway. I continued to stare blank faced at nothing in particular.
He addressed Brann shortly. "You're in charge of these morons? Where are you from, and what is your business in town?"
Brann gave the man a wide smile, and stepped forward ingratiatingly, saying "Rugs, my good commander! Carpets of the finest value, for Duke Felway's estate! A delivery to Seneschal Caster Morgus, who knows me well! We are fresh from the north road, from Chyrium." Though not familiar with military status as it pertained here, I didn't doubt that Brann had overstated the man's rank by several unlikely promotions.
"And all of these," he waved his hand as if brushing away flies, "are yours?"
"Cousins all, save for my guards, hired at Chyrium, to keep me safe on the roads."
The brute slitted his stare, and returned to me. "So you are from Chyrium?"
I allowed my eyes to partially refocus, and nodded blandly. "Just now. I follow the caravans, that's all."
The returning expression resigned me to the status of a hobo in his eyes, and he spent no further time questioning me.
"You finish your business in town early come morning and be on your way. I won't expect to see you on the register here tomorrow evening."
Brann bobbed his head. "We are at the Seneschal's beck, of course commander but our, ah, his business should not delay our departure long. Thank you for your forbearance and interest, commander."
The slight prod that he might be interfering in the Duke's affairs seemed to slow the bully a bit. He turned away with a gruff "Be about it then," and otherwise ignored us. We trooped up the stairs without further comment though I saw a frown crease the innkeeper's face as Thavis passed him. The room was as dingy as the commons had been, with a smallish porthole of a window, fit only to allow some breath of air entry. Even a child would not have been able to squeeze through it.
I caught at Brann's arm before he left us for his own room. "What was all that about?"
"Likely, just a garrison dog turned out into the town to look for strangers, and not happy about it either. I have stayed here before, as he was doubtless told by Charles, the innkeeper, but decided to make us uncomfortable anyway. Chyrium has a small port in the north, and I have occasionally picked up imports there." Brann chuckled and patted me on the shoulder. " I commend your actions downstairs, sir. It would not have done to imply we might have run the Duke's blockade. No, not at all. Wisely done William, wisely done."
I traded grim looks with Thavis. Maybe Brann's outlook could be taken for a barometer of our peril, but he was a poor parakeet in a cage for us, not knowing our true mission. The encounter had left my hair standing up. The three of us matched each other to see who would get the smallish bed. Thavis won, of course, so Brock and I set out bedrolls on the wood floor.
"You will have to be quick about yer business, is my thought," said Brock. "Were the lad downstairs not thick as a turnip, he'd a been askin' where Brann had picked up a Nublin fer a guard. Ain't none O' my kin up Chyrium ways, and I'd bet an opal big as a hen's egg he never heard of one O' mine hired out to a human."
Thavis snorted. "Commander indeed. I mis-doubt his normal duties take him far from guarding the garrison hen-house."
"Brock's point is well taken," I responded. "Brock should stay here tomorrow, and the two of us accompany Brann to the Duke's keep, eyes open, mouths closed, then make a fast exit with whatever information we can find. We need to see if there is any sign of more artillery there, get some appreciation of troop strength, watch for signs of preparations as might interest Orton and Chord."
To myself I added, I'd like to ransack Veddek's and MaCaan's quarters too, if I can find some way...I bedded down, my mind roiling. Anger vied with fear over Dimanda's insistence on involving herself in Dervin. All the more painful for me, to know her so close, and not to be able to see her. Whether known here or not, I had to question my judgment, if not my rationale in deciding to walk into this armed camp; troubling thoughts that occupied me until sleep took me.
Bio: So, I write largely science fiction and fantasy, and fantasy/humor. I do novels, short stories, Serial short stories, Novellas, all that. If all goes well, I expect to be posting a good deal of both here. What else can I say? I like walks in the rain and ice cream? I sketch, play blues harp, have been known to program for fun. Gamer? Yeah, I'm a slacker. Ran Plotters of Dreams for writers before it was virtually shut down save in title by Yahoo cuts in service, for ten years and counting. Ive moderated other groups, and obviously, writing is a passion. -Want to make peoples day, send them on vacation, make them chuckle occasionally.