Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 3
The warm glow of the sun crept over the high rooftops of Tulefore City. The red tile roofs shined bright from the morning dew that had been left behind by the dissolving morning fog. The first few shopper had begun to make their way out to the market streets to begin their shopping for the day. Along the water front, the smell of smoked fish intertwined with that of the sea. Farther down the cobbled stone embankment, the fishing ships had begun to stow their sails for the day. The tanned seamen climbed up and down the mast and rigging, grasping tight as the waves slowly rocked their boats back and forth inside the moorings.
A cacophony of loud horseshoes striking the compacted earth of the streets broke the calm silence of the dawn. The sound of a young woman shrieking in surprise radiated through the upper borough as she dodged a reckless rider. Terren quickly yanked his reigns to urge the horse to a quick stop. With a quick click of his heel, the horse quickly turned back to the street where the group of other riders had stopped. With a menacing glance, he targeted the offending member of his platoon. The man timidly placed his head down and slid off the back of his horse. The soldier quickly made eye contact with the woman who glared at him and he hurriedly approached her to offer an apology.
Terren quickly rounded his horse, having confirmed his soldier’s action. The remainder of the group quickly hurried after him, their horses climbing the incline up to the castle atop the ridge. The tall, dark stone spires glowed with the light of the sun glaring on them from behind. The cold shadows crept up on the steep road. The horses slowed to a trot at their horseshoes grated clanked and clunked against the hard stone paving stones of the road up to the courtyard.
The Lieutenant glanced at the unmoving guards at the side of the archway leading into the castle grounds. Inside the courtyard, Terren quickly slid off the back of his horse. The animal snorted loudly, causing a bird perched in the tree at the center of the space to flutter away. With a gentle movement, Terren approached it’s mane and stroked with as the other members of the group pulled up beside him.
“Be quick if you wish to refresh yourselves,” The Lieutenant said as he looked back at his men. They had just begun to unmount their own horses and stretch their arms and legs. “He may wish us to return at any moment.”
“Sir.” One said with a nod.
Terren adjusted the green embroidered cape at his back to rest neatly against the back of his chest plate. The leather and brass buckles jabbed at the back of his ribs, and the weight of his greaves returned to his tired feet. He quickly composed himself and began a quick stride towards the front entrance way of the castle.
The guards at each side of the door sat in pristine armor that looked as if it had seen no time on a battlefield, let alone a dispute that would cause one to lift a sword. Terran approached quickly, hardly giving the two men a second look. Without a word, they moved from their unmoving stances to push the door open. The large, weathered planks of wood making up the structure rubbed together as the hinges held on with all their might.
The throne sat bathed in light from the wide window at the back of the structure. Terren looked out on the sea as he approached, calm, with hardly a cloud hovering above. He met eyes with the Emperor who sat up sluggishly to meet his gaze.
“Sir Terren, is it not?,” The ruler remarked with a hint of anticipation in his voice. “I take it you must arrive with good news. In fact, I expect it.” He added demandingly.
“I’m afraid that’s not the case, Emperor Manek, Your Highness.” Terren announced unfazed as he stepped up the intricate, disheveled carpet. The emperor sat back on his bloated body with a sigh.
“Well then, it can’t be helped.” The Emperor wheezed. With a wave of his hand, he called over one of the servants to bring him a plate of food; a greasy and charred fish sitting bare upon a silver dish. “Spit it out then.” He requested as he dug his fingers into the rich looking meat.
“The magical force we had been digging for… it’s disappeared.” Terren asserted quickly.
Manek forcefully shoved a mouth full of fish into his mouth with the base of his palm. After swallowing and grunting loudly, he smeared his fingers on his gown and turned his face up once again to Terren.
“Xiandol has it then?” He conjectured.
“We have not confirmed such a thing, Your Highness.” Terren responded cautiously.
“Why not?” The Manek uttered slowly as he prodded at the roasted fish’s head with his greasy fingers.
“As I left, any reconnaissance being carried out gave us no evidence that they had obtained anything. It is likely should they have gotten their hands on it, they would quickly hide or transport it away.” Terren reported assuredly.
The Emperor slumped back in his chair, placing the half-eaten plate on the fat armrest of the throne. “Then Xiandol thinks we must have it as well.” He stated earnestly.
Outside, a lone gull cawed loudly. The sun had begun to retract it’s long glow from across the rug in the castle chamber. Terren was able to look up at The Emperor more clearly in the light that no longer blinded him.
“How have you come to that conclusion?” The Lieutenant perked up.
“Are you questioning me!?” The Emperor spat. Bits of food flew out of his mouth as he sprayed the air before him. “Do you take me for some fat fool?”
Terran stood his ground, unspeaking.
“One does not sit on a throne for years and years listening to drivel about war and strategy without being able to develop a sense for the enemy and how they think.” Manek raved. His thick neck and face turned a pale crimson as the collar dug at his skin. With a deep breath, he returned to his normal tone, “If they don’t have it, they must assume it’s disappearance is the result of our doing. Did you not assume the same yourself?”
“That would be correct.” Terren nodded humbly.
“Is there word about that this is the case?” The Emperor continued. “That Xiandol now has in their hands what we desire?”
Terren bit at his lip and tugged on his dark beard uneasily. “The current situation has not been reported to many of the forces at the base of the mountain. Nevertheless, word travels fast in the settlements.”
“Go off to your commander.” Manek ordered, pointing out towards the opposite horizon. “Tell her that this whole situation will blow up should the wrong information be spread.”
“I will go at once.” Terren quickly turned on his heel and marched out of the long chamber. The emperor retrieved his plate of food, now cold, off the armrest. With grubby fingers, he plucked more of the meat from the fish and shoved it into his mouth, scowling as he chewed it down.
The horses in the courtyard had begun drinking down water from the puddles in the depressions of the court yard. “The old bastard still kicking?” One of the soldiers joked as they tore into a harden chunk of bread from their pack. Terren marched toward his horse and plucked the reins off the metal railing bordering a terrace.
“More than a little bit.” The Lieutenant scoffed. “Gather up the others, we must return at once.”