chapter 9: The Hills of Fae
Table of Contents|
Chapter 8, part 2 appeared
in issue 128.
Andina Lerouse, Seer of Stonegate, sat in her moving carriage thinking silently. She watched through her small, square window at the morning sky. The Hills of Fae stretched as far as her green eyes could see in a sea of golden grasslands. The worn trail they used made for a smooth ride and kept her carriage riding smoothly.
Her brown hair fell about her shoulders, and her soft features were hard as she swallowed the lump in her throat. She thought of the storm that had assaulted them the night before. It was too strange to disregard. The storm had come suddenly and then hovered over her small traveling retinue. The carriage had almost been hit by lightning twice. She didn’t need to be told that something strange was about in order to feel it. The morning had greeted her with a clear blue sky, so she turned her thoughts away from the storm and gazed over the hills.
As a girl, she had heard many tales and stories of the Hills of Fae. There was no doubt the hills were dangerous. She could see why no one traveled through the area alone. She could understand the reason why creatures didn’t dwell here. The place was as empty as a graveyard, but never in her wildest dreams did she ever expect the Hills of Fae to be so beautiful.
She had passed through here only once before, on her way to Stonegate. She had fought and kicked to get a view of the fabled area more than a year ago on her way to her training. Being young and under tutelage of her master, she had not been allowed even so much as a glimpse of the golden grasslands. It had been a test of patience and will. She had lost.
She smiled as her carriage rocked slightly. She had been too young and inexperienced then. It was a wonder how much a year changed a person. She had left Geamehn in tears. Her departure from Palance had not been easy. But then those feelings of emptiness and isolation gave way to pride and expectations. She was always eager to learn, so going to Stonegate turned out to be for the better in more ways than one. The tears had dried on her cheeks, only to be replaced by smiles and warm thoughts. She knew, even then, that Stonegate would be her only passage to marry Palance.
She warmed at the thought of him. She thought of his short, black hair and his blue eyes. She thought of his slender body and strong arms. How she longed to have his arms wrapped around her. She thought of his height and how he was taller than most men without being intimidating unless he chose to be.
She turned her attention back to the grasslands. Golden hills surrounded her in every direction. She felt like a paper boat floating out in the middle of a pond. Andina couldn’t believe she was here again. That had been one of her goals once at Stonegate; to pass through the Hills of Fae unaided by anyone. She was her own master now, and nobody would tell her what to do.
Earlier the previous night, after the storm had stopped its deadly rampage, she had asked her men to wake her upon reaching the Hills. True to their order, she had woken up sometime right before dawn. The sight of having the sun come up over the horizon had stunned her. The sight had been something a little short of a miracle. She couldn’t believe her eyes when the night gave way to light and the country around her gave way to golden, reddish hues.
She could see where people saw the magic of the place. The Hills of Fae had been given their name by people before the Conquest. People had traveled through here, on this very road, to Nomen and the Six Pillars of Acrene Tarrynth. The territory was still unmarked as it had been then.
The Hills of Fae belonged to Ramendae, but not as a great prize. The hills were filled with magic and had kept people from settling it. Animals and creatures dwelled here in uncommonly large numbers, keeping men and women away. Nazarah Fey didn’t like the unused space. Andina would take the place without a second thought. She loved this place.
The hills seemed to come to life as a gentle breeze caressed the hills with a gentle hand. She stared, enjoying the sight. No matter how much she witnessed it, she couldn’t get enough of everything this place had to offer. The hills rolled on the very earth as the breeze continued towards her and blew against her cheek and through her carriage, blowing the small curtains that covered her windows aside.
“My lady,” came a soft voice at her side. “You must relax a little.”
She dared not turn her head, but she knew the blonde man would be looking at her, hidden beneath his purple robes. Even in the darkness of her carriage, she knew she would still be able to see his deep blue eyes. Eyes, she thought, that were piercing enough to be magical.
“Ah, Renson,” she said without looking at him. “Pay attention or you might miss the wonder.”
He snickered. “My lady, I have seen the Hills of Fae at dawn, at night, and even during storms more viscous than last night’s. Let me assure you the sights you were so eager for, I have seen plenty of times. Please, have this warm drink. It will do my lady some good.”
She turned to him and was surprised to find his cowl pulled back. He was a handsome man, she didn’t doubt, but it unsettled her how he made his beard appear unshaven or cut, trimmed, and shaven completely at times. This always took place in the span of three days, if he wished it so. He had wisdom lines etched around his eyes and his yellow hair flowed freely to his shoulders. He was relatively young for the power he possessed.
He wore purple robes and had a ring through his ear. As he brought the warm cup to her, she noticed the blue ring that he wore on a slender finger. It had been green the night before. “Please, my lady, drink.”
“This better not put me to sleep, Renson,” she said doubtfully, smelling the contents in the cup. “If it does, I’ll make your day very bad. Trust me.” The threat was empty and she drank it without another word.
He smiled at her, showing perfect, white teeth. Then he moved back way from her as she handed him the cup. He grinned wickedly, awaiting the response he would get from her once his concoction took effect.
The drink was warm and thick. It tasted sour with undertones of dirt as it scraped her throat. She looked at him with a dour look in her eyes. Right as she was about to curse him for putting her to sleep, she felt a jolt rise from somewhere within her and then subside. She noticed his grin and wondered what it was she had just drank. Then another jolt shook her. This time she felt a small sensation at her fingertips. It spread throughout her body like a shot of brandy warming a cold body.
Suddenly, she could feel the rocking of her carriage as it made its way along the trail. She could hear the whinnying of horses as they moved along. And all around, she could hear the voices of men speaking softly. She could see clearer, as well, after spending most of the night without sleep. With renewed sense of energy, she realized just how tired she had been.
He seemed to have read her thoughts. “It’s a wake-up something or another,” he said offhandedly. “One never wants to miss out on anything when traveling through the Hills of Fae for the first time. You haven’t slept since early before dawn, my lady. You were about to fall asleep, it showed in your eyes. I know how much this place meant to you, so I only thought of helping you a bit.
“Mind you, it is only a limited amount of energy I have offered you. It will wear off eventually, and then you will sleep like a baby. So enjoy it, please. The scenery is quite beautiful in the mornings. Although, I have heard the best times to see the Hills of Fae is at dawn and at dusk. No matter, you’ll get to see both this day.” He nodded towards her, pulled his cowl over his head, closed his eyes, and snuggled into his seat.
She pushed the curtain aside. Outside, surrounding the carriage from front to back, rode one hundred horsemen. All the men rode dark brown chargers with white above the hooves. The men wore dark leather armor with riding boots and riding gloves. They wore ash gray pants and shirts with dark silver lining. The men rode two abreast, their horses’ hooves kicking up small clumps of wet dirt.
Their leader, a man of little words, rode at her side, next to the carriage door. The man had long black hair that covered his ears and shoulders. He wore a purple shirt with brown pants and a coffee colored cape hung at his back. He had a large silver sword stuck at his side and a brown, gloved hand held a crossbow pulled and ready to use. His other hand held the reins to his brown spotted horse. He had black riding boots. The man was an expert with horses. Andina had seen him guide his horse twice already with his feet alone.
“Kendel,” she called out. The man tuned to her immediately. He came over to her and pulled his horse on close.
“Yes, my lady?” he asked, bowing a little from atop his mount. “Is something amiss?”
“No, nothing is amiss.” She looked up at the sky. It would be noon before too long. “Find a place where we can stop. I wish to witness the sights of this place.”
As soon as she said that, he raised his hand and the whole procession of one hundred horsemen stopped, including the carriage. He didn’t have to speak a word. She had been traveling with these men since leaving Stonegate. She counted three days and she still couldn’t get used to their discipline.
“Are we to camp here, then, my lady?” he asked. He spoke directly to her, but his dark eyes never stopped searching for something or anything that might be out there in the grasslands.
She nodded. “Yes, Kendel, we will rest here for half the day.”
“Very well, then,” he turned away from her. “We will set camp here!” He yelled it for everyone to hear and instantly all the horsemen burst into action. She did not doubt that they would have the camp ready in seconds. She was almost right.
These men were from Stonegate, prepared for anything. They were formidable in protection against attack. These men could defend against brigands, thieves, and mercenaries. She was willing to bet they would be of some use against a well-prepared army.
To the east, the sun was still climbing steadily. She grabbed her gray robes and stepped out of the carriage. Her soft boots could feel the cool dirt beneath her. A cool breeze hit her face and she took a deep breath of it. It helped complete the effects of Renson’s drink. She stretched her arms and her body, then her legs. She was still tingling.
Already her horsemen were finishing setting up the last of the camp. They were set in a perimeter around her about fifty feet apart. Campfires, that didn’t release any smoke, were ablaze and she could smell the fresh meat of venison being cooked. Horses were gathered together and tended to. The men, themselves, were fast asleep as the other half kept watch.
She hadn’t wanted to stop. But she forced herself to let the men have their respite. She was already late, and she knew Palance waited for her. But she couldn’t go on without giving her men a chance to sleep. Andina was not a selfish woman, and already she had pushed them hard. She was trying to make up for the time she had lost in departing Stonegate and she knew that wasn’t very fair to her men. It’s just that she was so eager to get home to Palance and every time the time came to leave, something came up to detain her.
LeHigh Adabele is such a fool, she told herself. The Headmaster Seer of Stonegate had done everything to detain her, it seemed. It was to the point where Andina was still angry with him. He knew she wanted to leave, but the man had found any little thing to keep her back, until finally, she had just left.
She turned away from the camp. As noon came upon them, the hills rolled with the gentle breeze that lapped at her robes. She could see clearly for miles and it was all the same; just a vast never-ending sea of golden grasses. The grasses rustled softly. The camp lay quiet behind her. She looked over her shoulder and found all the men enjoying the view, as well.
She took a couple of steps away from her carriage. Andina felt an urge to run out into the grasslands, to feel the grass brush against her. She followed her instinct and went off at a dash. Kendel was at her side before she had taken more than three steps.
She hesitated. “I’m not going far, Kendel.”
“Please, my lady, enjoy this place,” he reassured her. When she didn’t move, he urged her. “I only come to accompany you. Even the Hills of Fae are not without their dangers.”
It was hard for her to think of any dangers in this place. But, nevertheless, she was made comfortable by the man’s presence. “Come along, then,” was all she said, as she continued to walk.
Kendel walked along beside her silently. He let her enjoy the sights of the place while he investigated every crack and nook. His cape flowed freely at his back and his hair whipped about his face. He didn’t bother to tie it. Andina tied her hair with a white band.
She noticed a small hole close to where she was and carefully made her way to examine it. It didn’t look like a whole big enough to be a den or a lair for anything. But she approached it with caution, nonetheless. At her side, Kendel’s crossbow clicked into readiness. She glanced back to find the camp about a hundred yards away from them.
“Maybe we should go back,” he said matter-of-factly.
She looked at him. “I don’t feel any threat from this place. As long as we don’t get any closer than this, whatever lives in there will not feel threatened.”
His only response was to turn his dark, steely eyes towards the hole.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler