The Gauntlet Thrown Chapter Nine
 

 

Chapter Six 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Chapter Eight

CHAPTER NINE
 

THE SEARCH

     Brydon took the lead as they rode east.  They all knew it was the most likely place for the bandits to have taken Alyn.

    Davin speculated as they rode.  “They will not go anywhere near Akarska and there is no way to cross the Abyss into Penkangum.  They’ll have to cross from Kaneelis or board a ship to Silver.  Redolians do not buy slaves, as far as I know...”  Davin looked at Toryn for confirmation and the Redolian goggled at him.

    “Are you kidding?  Our women would kill us!”

    Davin nodded.  “So, they would not go north.  The only place for them now is the coast.  From there, they can take her by ship to Penkangum, Silver, or even to the Corolis Islands or G’Neel Across the Sea.”

    “We will just have to catch them before they get that far,” Toryn said grimly and Brydon agreed.  If Alyn had not been escorting them to the Waryn Highway, she never would have been captured.  Brydon felt responsible for her, but it did not prevent him from feeling relieved that they traveled in the direction he needed to go.  He was not entirely sure what choice he would make if the direction had been otherwise.  He would like to think that rescuing an innocent girl—well, maybe not that innocent, but a girl—took priority over his Quest.

    They rode until they reached the reedy banks of a sluggish river few hours later.  It flowed east, so they followed it, sticking to its southern bank.  By that time they had descended several hundred feet and the ground became less firm, especially near the river.  The foliage increased and Brydon occasionally had to get down and hack a path with his sword.  They dismounted often to lead the horses through thickets of trees whose branches hung too low to ride beneath.

    “Welcome to Terris,” Verana said as Toryn sank nearly up to his boot-tops in mud when he stepped into a deceptive-looking puddle.

    “Thanks,” he said dryly, pulling his foot out and looking at his once-black boots, now covered in a brown sludge.  “The land of a hundred-thousand mud holes.”

    “We’ve been lucky so far,” Verana stated.  “It hasn’t rained.  Yet.”

    “That’s comforting,” Brydon said and Toryn gave him a dismal smile.

    It was fully dark when they finally stopped for the night. They camped near the river on a small rise that had to be cleared of brush, but at least the ground was dry.

    Verana and Toryn prepared a meal while Davin and Brydon tended to the horses.  While they ate, Verana insisted on fixing up the scratches and bruises that Toryn and Brydon had received in the village.  They all spoke little, nearly overcome with exhaustion.

    Toryn stood watch as the others lay down for a much-needed rest, claiming he was too wound up to sleep.  An hour or two later, Brydon awoke.  He tossed and turned for a few minutes and finally resigned himself to the fact that he would not easily get back to sleep, so he decided to rise and relieve Toryn.  The darkness was almost absolute; the fire was a bare ember and the full moon was mostly hidden by the thick branches and gathering clouds.  He went over and laid a hand on Toryn’s shoulder.

    “Time for some rest, Toryn,” he said.  The Redolian sighed wearily and nodded, but did not rise from the log on which he sat.  Brydon sat down beside him and looked into the depths of the forest.

    “How did you know where Alyn was?” Toryn asked after a moment, “When she was first kidnapped?”

    Brydon did not have to ask what he meant.  He thought about his reply, knowing Toryn would not be put off by partial truths or evasion.  That suspicion was confirmed when Toryn went on, “Don’t tell me you knew the village was there, either.  You could not have known.”

    Brydon had to admit the truth of it.  “I’m not sure.  I just know, sometimes, when people are around.  Like when you tried to kill me.  I knew you and your friends were there and what you were planning before you ever got close enough to attack.”

    “So that’s how you did it!” Toryn exclaimed.  “I always wondered why you were not sleeping that night.  What about Alyn?  Why didn’t you know the men were there before they took her?”

    “I wasn’t paying attention until after she was taken,” Brydon explained.  “I have to at least be thinking about it before it works.  When you and the others came for me I was half-expecting an attack.  It was easy to sense your presence.  After Alyn was taken, I mentally... I don’t know, searched for them.  I concentrated on Alyn and impressions came to me—not thoughts, exactly, but feelings and images.  She was afraid and angry with the men who had taken her.  I sort of kept a mental hold on her presence and could determine what direction they had gone.  I could also sense the men who had taken her, but only in a vague way—like man-forms with no essence.  I think I need to actually meet someone in order to clarify an image of them.”

    “How long have you had this ability?” Toryn asked, obviously fascinated.  Brydon found it something of a relief to finally be able to confess his abilities.  He had never told anyone about his odd talent.  Not even his mother, who would not have loved him an iota less for it.  Not even his best friend, although Brydon had known little of his abilities when Kellyn had been alive.

    “I first noticed it when I was a lad,” Brydon said.  “I had broken the leather on my father’s favorite scabbard while pretending I was a Knight-Priest.  I was terrified that he would come home and discover it before I could fix it.  I was rather frantic until the realization came to me—quite clearly—that he was in a neighbor’s barn some two leagues away.  I found a similar piece of leather and managed to replace the broken strap.  I worked without panic because I knew where he was.  I had finished long before he came home and my casual questioning that evening revealed that he had, indeed, been at the neighbor’s all afternoon.”

    “Did he notice the strap?”

    Brydon grinned.  “A week later.  He could not recall if he had replaced it himself, so I was never questioned.  The deception ate at me, however, and I later confessed.”

    Toryn clapped a hand to his forehead.  “Why am I not surprised?” he moaned.

    “After that I sensed things sporadically over the next few years—strangers approaching, a bright flash of pain from my mother when she burned her hand on a hot kettle, the impression of contentment coming from the cattle while they munched their hay.  The feelings came to me when I concentrated on them, or sometimes when I was near to sleep.”

    “Do you know where Alyn is right now?” Toryn asked.

    Brydon shook his head and sighed. “There seems to be a range to this ability.  They moved Alyn while we were unconscious.  I don’t know where to look for her.  I am trying, though, scanning in all directions.  If we ever get near enough to them, I should know it. I just hope we are traveling in the right direction.”

    “How will you know it is Alyn and not some other woman?”

    Brydon refused to get in to that.  He was not sure himself.  “I just do,” he said evasively.  Knowing Toryn would pry, he asked, “Why are you so eager to find her, anyway?  I thought you two did not get along.”

    Toryn cleared his throat.  “She is a comrade, of a sort.  I do not like to leave comrades in trouble.”

    Brydon grinned.  “I thought you might be falling in love with her.”

    Toryn snorted.  “With an Akarskan?  She would sooner cut my throat than kiss me.”

    “Probably.  I’m sure you get that reaction from a lot of women.”

    “Watch it, Falaran.”

    “You should get some sleep. You’ll need all your wits to stay dry when we start again.”

    “That is an unfortunate fact,” Toryn said and wrinkled his nose.  He got up and crossed to Brydon’s vacated bed where he covered himself and lay still.


~~ O ~~



    Toryn felt groggy when they continued on at some ridiculous hour before dawn.  Redwing decided the river had to be crossed and Verana agreed, so they forded it on the horses.  Toryn hissed and muttered at the coldness of the water as it climbed up over his thighs to his waist.  The horses began to swim, forcing them to dismount and swim, also, which gave Toryn the opportunity to remember how much he hated water.  He plucked at his sodden clothes once they made it across and looked around.  The alternative side of the river did not seem much different than the original side.  They mounted and continued on.  Their clothing was just about dry when it began to rain.

    “This is just great,” Toryn snarled.  Verana smiled.

    “Now this,” she stated, “is Terris.”

    “How do you people stand it?” he asked.

    She held up a corner of her pale blue robe.  The droplets of water that hit it did not soak in, but ran down in clear streams.  “Waterproof.”

    The observation did not improve Toryn’s mood.  “Wonderful.  I don’t suppose you have any more of those lying around?”

    “Sorry.”

    Toryn pulled at the green shirt Redwing had given him long ago.  It was drenched.  The Falaran did not seem to fare much better, even though his leather vest shed some water.  His wool cloak probably soaked up more rain than it discarded.  Davin looked worse than any of them in his once-white shirt and faded brown trousers.  Thank Adona the weather was warm or they all would have suffered from exposure.

    “We need to find a town or a village,” Redwing said, riding close to Toryn and Verana.  “Soon we will all be wearing rags.  Are there any settlements hereabouts?”

    “I don’t know.  I usually don’t wander far from the merchant trail.  There are villages scattered about, but unless we discover a road, we may never find them,” Verana answered.

    The rain continued as they trudged on under the partial shelter of the large trees.  The land grew more difficult to traverse and their progress slowed.  The terrain went from slightly boggy to true swampland.  Verana took the lead, as she was more familiar the mechanics of swamp-crossing.  She led them from one slightly dry hillock to another and seldom did any of the horses sink more than knee deep in the mud and water.

    Toryn’s horse shied at a water bird and plunged sideways, plunging almost instantly into a deceptive puddle of brackish water that was deeper than Toryn’s saddle.  The mare thrashed wildly, terrified.  Toryn dismounted and swam through the sludge back to more solid land.  Once on his feet, he grabbed the horse’s reins and helped the shivering mare out of the pond.  He cursed quietly and dumped water out of his boots before he mounted again.  He glared at Redwing, but the Falaran merely grinned and said nothing.

    They rode for another day and the rain continued, sometimes a misty drizzle, at other times a raging downpour that brought moldering branches down in their path and made the ground twice as treacherous.  The horses became more surefooted as they traversed the slippery ground and the travelers became surlier, a side effect of the constant rain and gloom.  Toryn found Redwing to be a major irritant and the two of them bickered almost constantly.  Their newfound camaraderie rapidly disintegrated with their tempers and Toryn grew more and more annoyed with every move Redwing made.

    “You know, if you had not dragged me all the way from Redol, you stupid Falaran, I would be warm and dry in front of my brother’s fire,” Toryn complained.

    “No, your bones would have been lying next to my old fire, picked clean by wolves.  It was only my misguided sense of pity that let you live in the first place.”

    “Pity?!  Your misguided sense of insanity, you mean!  Any normal enemy would have killed me and have done.  But no, apparently Falarans drag their enemies across country, through avalanches and places infested with crazed horse-lovers, only to torture them with constant rain and mud and muck.  Some pity!”

    “So, you prefer I had killed you?” Redwing gritted dangerously.

    “It would be better than putting up with your louse-infested company for this long!” Toryn snapped.

    “Then put up with it no longer!” Redwing yelled.  He launched himself at Toryn, who grabbed for his horse’s mane, but it was too late.  Redwing’s weight knocked them both to the ground.  Toryn shoved him off, but not before the Falaran’s fist connected with the side of his jaw.  Toryn got to his feet and aimed a kick squarely at Redwing’s smirking face, but the Falaran blocked it with a hastily raised forearm.  He grabbed at Toryn’s boot, but it was covered in muck and slipped out of his fingers.  The motion overbalanced Toryn and his other foot skid out from under him.  He sat down hard in the mud and Redwing was suddenly atop him, with his fingers clawing for Toryn’s throat.  Toryn twisted his legs in Redwing’s and flung him off, sparing a moment of thanks for the hours he’d spent wrestling with his brother.

    He crawled to his feet again and Redwing did the same, but before they could inflict any more damage, Davin grabbed each of them by the nape of the neck and shook them.  He was stronger than he looked, Toryn noted.

    “Let go of me!” Toryn yelled.  He kicked at Redwing once more and connected with the Falaran’s knee. “I’ll kill you for sure this time!”

    “Try it, you whimpering Redolian twit!” Redwing snarled, clawing the air in front of Toryn’s face.

    Verana dismounted.  “I should have known this would happen.  Hold onto them for a moment, would you, Davin?”

    Toryn calmed himself and stood stock still until Davin loosened his grip, and then he launched himself at Redwing.  He inflicted a solid punch to Redwing’s midsection, but the Falaran dealt him a solid kick to the upper thigh at the same time.  Davin managed to separate them again, but not before Toryn grabbed a satisfying hunk of Redwing’s blond hair.  He laughed and dangled the strands in the air while Redwing cursed every facet of Toryn’s upbringing.  Toryn taunted him until Verana and Davin forced some horrendous concoction of herbs and water down his throat.  He watched gleefully as Redwing received the same treatment, hoping the Falaran would choke on it.

    After a moment, the rage began to clear from his mind and he stared at Redwing, uncertain why he had felt such a smoldering need to kill.  Redwing looked as stunned and sick as Toryn felt.

    “Swamp fever,” Verana explained.  “It will pass now.”

    “I think I prefer the disease to the cure,” Toryn choked, gulping water from his water skin to force the taste out of his mouth.

    He and Redwing did not speak for the rest of the day.  The matter was dropped completely and whenever they began to argue Verana would bring out her herbs and both of them would lose all taste for confrontation.

~~ O ~~



     That night, they camped by a pool that seemed fairly clean and leech-free.  Verana had warned them of leeches, so they had yet to experience the revolting things.

    Brydon washed the mud from his body and glanced at Toryn, who did the same.  An awkward silence surrounded them.  Brydon was mortified at his earlier behavior.  He had actually tried to hurt Toryn.

    “Ah... Toryn,” Brydon began finally.

    “Forget it, Falaran,” Toryn cut in.  “I know you apologize.”

    Brydon tried to disguise his relief.  “I was going to say I accept your apology,” he said.  Rather than return a scathing comeback, Toryn looked at him with a surprised expression for a moment and then laughed.  The tension melted away and Brydon grinned.

    Verana cooked a stew from local plants and some sort of animal that Davin had caught.  Davin had also utilized the pool and his dagger to scrape off his matted beard and mustache.  Brydon noted with surprise that he could not have seen more than thirty summers, although his silver hair glowed in the firelight.

    “So, Davin,” Toryn asked while they waited for the stew to boil, “What do you do when you’re not imprisoned in a Terrin cave?”

    “Survive.”  Davin shrugged.

    “And how do you do that?  Where are you from?”

    “Penkangum.  I survive by staying as far from people as I can.”

    “What about us?  Are we not people?” Toryn prodded.

    “I suppose.  But you are not like the others.  Not yet, anyway.”

    “What do you mean, ‘not yet’?”

    “Forget it,” Davin snapped.

    Brydon smiled, knowing Toryn would have pressed the issue, but Verana called him to help her season the food.  He went, muttering about crazed wolf-men and browbeating women.  Brydon carefully scraped the day’s mud from his boots.  He watched Davin covertly and observed the look of despair on his face, quickly masked as the silver-haired man leaned back against a tree and shut his eyes.  There was something strange about him that Brydon could not quite put his finger on.  For a moment Brydon extended his senses and then drew back, chagrined.  It would not be ethical to intentionally eavesdrop on Davin’s feelings.  Brydon sighed.  The rain had stopped, for once, but the sky was still overcast and he figured the respite would not last long.

    He half-closed his eyes and ceased his motion.  His mind touched on the horses instead of Davin.  They munched contentedly on marsh grass.  Darkling acknowledged his presence halfheartedly and then ignored him.  Brydon sent his thoughts outward.  It seemed that his awareness was sharper at night, perhaps because there were fewer distractions.

    He felt no sense of danger, although he found a number of hunting animals, which kept far from the humans’ encampment.  He extended his mind as far as he could and opened it fully to his senses.  He felt awesomely alive whenever he gave in to his ability, as the awarenesses of hundreds of creatures touched his mind.  He felt the quiet hunger of a jungle cat, the annoyance of a wet tree-dweller, the contentment of a warm squirrel, and even the rapid thoughts of a striped parrot as it called to its mate.  His abilities seemed to increase the more he called upon them.

    He was just about to withdraw back into himself when he touched something familiar.

    Brydon sprang to his feet with a cry.  The boot and scraping twig dropped, forgotten and the others looked at him in surprise.  Before they could question him, he raced into the jungle, running as fast as he could while dodging underbrush and fallen logs.  He heard someone run after him, probably Toryn.


    They ran for long minutes and Brydon’s bare feet were a hindrance that he barely noticed.  He charged on.  His mind was far away and forced his body onward.

    “Redwing!” Toryn yelled.  “Damn it, Brydon!”

    Brydon halted as suddenly as he had started.  He stood stock-still, chest heaving.  Toryn halted beside him, panting.

    “What is it?” he asked quietly.  “Is it Alyn?”

    Brydon barely heard him.  He strained his abilities to their limits.  The silence drew on endlessly, until Brydon felt Toryn reach up to shake his shoulder.  Beads of sweat dotted his forehead.

    “Brydon,” Toryn said again and gripped his shoulders gently. Brydon’s eyes slowly focused on Toryn’s face.

    “Is it Alyn?” Toryn demanded.  “Where is she?”

    Brydon shook his head.  “It’s the horses.  Darkling and Fireling.  We have to hurry! I’m losing them.”  With that, he turned and started back toward the encampment.  They had not gone ten steps before Brydon’s bay mare galloped out of the darkness in response to his silent call.  Toryn jumped in surprise but Brydon merely stepped toward the horse, twisted a hand in her mane, and vaulted aboard.

    “You will have to get everyone mounted and follow me, Toryn,” Brydon said, still half in a daze.  If I don’t go now, I’ll lose him.”

    Toryn yelled as Brydon galloped by him.  “Redwing—Brydon, wait!  You can’t get through the swamp without Verana!  You don’t know where you are going!”

    But Brydon was gone.

 

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