"Halt!" the voice rang out. Fred and the others turned round. A group of
knights on horseback galloped
toward them. After leaving Cest-by-the-Bend Fred's group had finally
reached the very borders of
Allaria. Fred's long journey home was almost at its end. After so many
delays and detours, Fred could
not wait to walk upon his native soil. But now this band of horsemen
sought to stop him. Fred's first
impulse was to draw his sword and warn them off. He was in no mood for any
more delays. But he did
not, for even with his ensorceled armor he could not withstand their
superior numbers and he refused to
use the magic of his cursed blade against them. But as they drew near,
cantering to a stop, Fred's eyes
grew wide with wonder and recognition. The knights were from Allaria. In
fact, they were Knights of
Suffex, the golden gryphon waving proudly upon their unfurled standards.
Some hours earlier...
Captain Locke reigned his horse in and gazed out at the Plain of Toulaine. His quarry was finally within his grasp. After over two weeks of riding, he was just about to catch up with the errant daughter of Duke Dredrik D'Honaire.
The path he had followed in pursuit of her had been a strange one, and his initial assumptions had cost him much time. The Lady Rowena had slipped away from her father's castle three weeks earlier and, once her absence had been discovered, the Duchess had sent Locke and his men to bring her home. The foolish eighteen year old had decided to search for her brother, a man everyone knew was dead. Locke had immediately ridden down the King's Way, straight for the Shreken Mountains and the Southern Caves. But he soon realized that Lady Rowena had never gone that way. Forced to backtrack, he discovered her true trail and followed it until it had finally led him to Tumbar's Road.
But at Calamden Keep he discovered that he had just missed her. Surprisingly though, it was not because she was moving further south, but because she was now returning north. He also learned of the diabolical attack upon Batlan Keep just days before. And it seemed that the locals thought that Rowena had been the cause of it, that she carried a curse. Locke had almost laughed when he had heard that. The people of the Tumbar were an ignorant and superstitious folk. But then what could he expect, they were of southern blood and though they were beholden to Allaria they were not of her people. In fact, Allaria had little to do with the Forts of the Tumbar, except in times of war. And war had not visited that region in over two hundred years.
But, of all that he had been told, the news he found the most interesting was that Rowena now rode with a man-at-arms. Some said he too was cursed, others that he was a mighty fighting man with the blood of giants, and still others that he was a scion of Hel who wore the blood red skin of demons for armor. Calamden's Commander was less lurid in his description, but just as suspicious.
Who is this man? Locke wondered, From where has he come, and what was he doing with the Lady Rowena?
Captain Locke was filled with many questions about Rowena's impetuous journey, and he hoped that he would find the answers soon enough. But he kept in mind that his orders were to find Rowena and escort her back, not interrogate her. Perhaps though, the presence of the man in the red armor would require a slight deviation from the accepted protocol. Even a Duke's daughter could not simply do as she willed without there being certain consequences.
But first he had to catch her. From atop the last rounded hillocks of the Shreken he reigned in his horse and gazed out at the Plain of Toulaine. This was the southernmost of the plains of Gelda. It was perfect country for horsemen who needed to be swift in their errands. And somewhere down there was the Lady Rowena. With a short bark he and his men once again galloped forward. He followed the Tumbar until its end where it forked into the Na'wynd Hove and the Crest Road. He sent a small detachment up the Na'wynd, just in case Rowena had decided to travel deeper into Gelda, but the main party rode straight for Allaria.
And then they reached the point where the Crest Road met the Longspeer. Locke halted. If Rowena was returning to Allaria, would she have chosen to follow the Crest or to move up the Longspeer? The Longspeer meandered westward before it struck back into Allaria, it was a longer route back to the Kingdom. But it was the quickest way back to the Duchy of Suffex and Locke hoped that home was Rowena's destination. So he split his group once again, sending one half up the northern route of the Crest Road and the other half westward along the Longspeer. He chose to command the latter group.
And so it was that he found himself passing through Cest-by-the-Bend and once again he picked up Rowena's trail. He hurried his men forward and before long he spotted a small band of travelers up ahead. They were nearing the Bridge-over-the-Bend. Once over that bridge they would be in Allaria and less than five days travel more would bring them to Suffex. Locke spurred his horse forward and commanded the travelers to halt.
8/15/2000 8:09:27 PM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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