They had traveled two days without any incident. Four days remained
before they would reach the hidden lair of the dragon. That is, IF the
horses continued on as they had so far. Master Rift had his hands on the
map, taken from Lord Fred of course. He used his finger to trace the path
they would take; north past the town of Mordnse and beyond the borders of
MalBoncton; then into the lands of the Salmonshire Confederacy, following
its eastern boundary of the Goth Mountains; afterward they would need to
tread very carefully in the wilds of the Goth where no man claimed the
land and tales of trolls and fire sprites abounded.
Six days it should take from Walants to the lair of the dragon; two had passed and only four remained, and still there was no sign of Tarin- Gazin. Rift felt torn; part of him was very worried, part of him was relieved. Still, though his life was not wholly his, he knew that the dwarf was an asset that could not be disregarded. He shook his head and looked at the two ahead of him. He remembered his idea about the little experiment, but decided that now was not a good time. He turned his eyes to the map and he turned his mind to the imaginings of a lair full of riches.
While they rode on, Fred had his own thoughts; he couldn't shake the feeling that the distance between he and Astra was growing. He knew he could not force the issue of her subservience, yet he did not wish it to become a wall between them. He knew that she was far more than he had ever imagined when he first glimpsed her shackled to a cavern passage within the Southern Caves. He knew that she was a woman worthy of many things, friendship being one.
He kicked his pony slightly and it quickened its pace bringing him closer to her. "Tell me something," he began. "What?" she answered with little emotion. Fred's mind went blank momentarily, he felt more foolish than a boy forgetting his sums in class. Then he said, without a second's thought: "Tell me about your father."
"My father? What's to tell...he began his service to the amazons as do all boys – as a grunt. When he was two and ten years of age he caught the eye of the woman who later became my mother. Heliastra took my father as her boy and made him her man. During the first five years in her house he demonstrated ability in the art of engineering and planning. He was given to Mistress Valeria for two days out of every seven and he soon honed his skills. He became something few men do in my country – he became a pupil of the arts. Seven years after taking him, my mother married him and gave to him her name. I was born shortly thereafter. Since that time he has been by her side and has been an active, if unofficial, member of the War Council. His major duty is keeping tabs on MalBoncton and the activities of the BMC. There you go, not much else to tell."
Fred was speechless. He knew that Aqualarian life was different than his own, yet the degree to which their cultures differed astounded him. He was once taught that all amazons killed men on sight, as he grew to maturity this lie was exposed for what it was. He was taught that amazons raided towns and villages for livestock and young boys, as he grew he learned that this was truth. He too was told that amazons were beautiful, strong and skilled in the bow and the blade; Astra was proof enough of this. Yet the thought of being a man in her society disagreed with him, even disgusted him, in a way he had not anticipated. His shock, however, was quickly forgotten as the voice of a man rang out in the countryside.
"HOLD!" called out the man.
The three stopped and looked at their whereabouts. They were on high ground and below them wound a river. To cross the river they needed to cross a bridge and to cross the bridge they needed to pass the man in black armour.
He stood with feet firmly planted upon the soil, he stood some six feet in height if not more, he stood bedecked in plate armour the color of the night sky or a spider's many eyes. He held aloft a sword that gleamed in the sunlight, it was large, strong by the look and black from hilt to tip.
"Hold I say!" he called out again. "I am the guardian of this bridge and you can not pass!"
8/16/1999 6:51:43 PM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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