The Long Path
Several weeks after the battle of Polisals, as snow fell on the landscape, a lone wanderer walked the Kingsroad between Inghold and Middanhal. He rarely stopped except to sleep, and he only did so for an hour at a time. Whenever he was awake again, he would walk, day or night; eating and drinking he accomplished while on the move. A heavy cloak and a hat shielded him from the snow, which lay so thick on his clothes, they seemed dyed white. A walking staff made of solid blackthorn completed his appearance.
With heavy steps, the wanderer approached Middanhal. It lay as always upon its hill flanked by the great peaks of the Weolcan Mountains, Valmark to the west and Wyrmpeak to the east. They were perennially snow-capped, but now the white colour descended all the way down the mountain slopes until reaching the paved road, crunching underneath his boots. The black banners of the Order were a stark contrast to the snow-white walls and towers of the city. Upon the fortifications, dark-clad soldiers watched with disbelief this singular wanderer walk up towards the gate, having traversed the open land despite snowstorm and freezing cold.
As he stood before the intricately carved gates, Godfrey gave a smile. “Always good to be back,” he muttered to himself.
“Looks the same,” Godfrey remarked as he stepped inside the library hall. Turning to his left, he saw Quill enter from the scriptorium.
“Sidi!” he exclaimed.
“You always name me such when we have not met in a while,” Godfrey smiled.
“Old habits die slow in old men.” They clasped hands in greeting. “But I am ever glad to see you, Godfrey.”
“You too, old friend.” The traveller sat down, releasing a sigh of contentment.
“I came from the siege at Lakon. I have had little rest since then.”
“Before that, I was in the Reach.”
The scribe shuddered. “That evil place.”
“There is unrest among the Godking’s subjects,” Godfrey revealed, “but the price is steep, and steeped in blood for that matter. Sooner or later, he will turn his full attention upon Adalmearc again.”
“Adalrik is still torn by war,” Quill mentioned while shaking his head.
“Yes. Do you have something to drink?” Godfrey asked suddenly. “I am dry beyond belief.”
“Of course, of course,” the scribe told him, quickly fetching water in a cup.
Godfrey took it with both hands and drank greedily. “Thank you. That was needed.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Yes, Adalrik. We cannot do anything about this civil war. Our hope must lie with the Order being strong instead.”
“That seems a frail hope, given that the Order lacks leadership.”
“It could be worse. I had my doubts about your friend, the young Adalbrand, but his skills as a commander are unmatched. If he is given a strong Order army, I believe he can hold the Godking at bay and push the outlanders back beyond the Langstan.”
“Gods grant you are right,” Quill prayed.
“Gods grant me some sleep,” Godfrey remarked dryly. He glanced around. “For a moment, I wondered where your apprentice was at, but I remember now. I met him in the camp near Lakon.”
“Egil? How is he?”
“Boy seems fine,” Godfrey assured Quill. “His adventures have not caused him harm. And if he is there, I assume his room is available,” he added with a wry smile.
Quill gestured towards the empty chamber that belonged to his apprentice. “All yours.”
“Do not wake me even if the tower is on fire,” Godfrey instructed him, retreating to his accommodations.
“If the tower is on fire,” Quill replied after a moment, “I would not give you a second thought, I am saving the books!”
The next day, the wanderer stepped onto the streets of Middanhal again, leaving the Citadel. He met few other people; even Order patrols were scarce. Following the Arnsweg south, he reached the Temple square, which lay open and near deserted. The weather was too poor for the peddlers to bring their stalls and goods, and any seeking to buy would have to venture into the shops in the nearby quarters for craftsmen and merchants. Despite the frost, a few others joined Godfrey in crossing the Temple square to enter the sacred building itself; regardless of weather and season, some were always asking the gods for favours or bringing them offerings out of gratitude.
The two Templars standing guard by the entrance did not seem affected by the bitter cold; they gave a barely perceptible nod to Godfrey as they spotted him, which he returned in like manner. While other visitors all went to place some form of tribute at the Alfather’s altar, even if just a copper coin, Godfrey did not. He left the Hall of Holies immediately, walking through the corridors until he spotted a priest in black robe. “Tell the Highfather that Godfrey is here to see him,” he instructed the priest, who bowed his head and hurried away wordlessly.
A brief while passed until an old man in grey robes approached Godfrey. “You are back,” Septimus stated simply.
“We need to speak.”
The old priest beckoned towards a corridor, and Godfrey followed him down the chosen path. After passing through several winding hallways, they entered the private chamber of the high priest. “What is amiss?”
“Too much to name,” came the reply. “This civil war in Adalrik does not promise to end soon.”
“It is beyond our power to influence,” Septimus stated.
Godfrey nodded, sitting down on a simple chair; the austere chamber had few other pieces of furniture. “I am hoping the Order will prove strong enough if it can marshal all its forces.”
“The Order is without leadership,” the priest pointed out.
“I plan to remedy that, though it will take me months if not longer. It seems that no matter how fast I run, time is running out faster.” Godfrey accompanied his words with a bitter smile.
“How can you accomplish this?”
“The marshals,” Godfrey declared. “I will seek out Korndale first, Ealond afterwards, continue to Thusund, Vidrevi, and so forth until I am done.”
Septimus exhaled, sitting down on his bed. “Quite a journey. You will end up in all the Seven Realms, almost.”
“What can I do?”
“I have enlisted a young commander, Sir Adalbrand,” Godfrey explained.
“I have met him,” Septimus smiled. “Very self-assured, but not without reason.”
“Along with Sir William of Tothmor, he will lead our Order forces. Sir William should be travelling to Middanhal to seek support for our campaign into the Reach.”
Septimus’ eyes widened. “You think an invasion is possible?”
“I do not think permanent victory is within hand’s reach, but we cannot simply fight a defensive war. If so, we will be whittled down little by little.”
“What do you require of me?”
“Support Sir William and Sir Adalbrand in what ways you can. With the lords of Adalrik busy fighting among themselves, our good knights will need any aid possible if they are to mount a campaign,” Godfrey instructed the priest.
“It will be done.”
“On another note,” Septimus continued. “If you travel to Ealond, I have a message you might deliver.”
“Why not?” Godfrey smiled. “The role as the Highfather’s servant always serves me well.”
The same day, the wanderer left the Temple. Following the Arnsweg south once more, he crossed the great city. Reaching the river Mihtea, he walked onto the Arnsbridge. On either side of the construction, he was flanked by statues of the kings of Adalrik; a few stubborn snowflakes managed to stick to the carved stone despite the howling wind. Walking past them, Godfrey mumbled the names of each king, sometimes smiling, sometimes twisting his face into a scornful expression.
Having crossed the Arnsbridge and the Mihtea, Godfrey reached Lowtown, the slums that lay between the southern bank of the river and the outer walls. Sticking to the main road, he encountered neither people nor trouble and soon found himself before Saltgate. The Order soldiers gave him a few lazy glances but otherwise showed no interest; there was only a toll for entering the city, not leaving it.
Passing under the stone arch of the gatehouse, Godfrey took a deep breath; before him stretched the Kingsroad all the way south to Plenmont in Korndale. “Back to it again,” he mumbled, stepping onto the path.