Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 8
The forest was cold with a piercing wind. The moon had just begun to peek over the horizon, and the final moments of dusk were beginning to fall. The three soldiers marched in single file while their feet crunched the gray and brown dead leaves from the trees above.
“Ugh, what I wouldn’t give for a nice hunk of meat beside a warm hearth right now. Though… after today I’m surprised I can still move at such an hour.” Scarborough remarked. He shook his head and stretched his hands out in front of him. “It can’t say that it’s just my imagination… that I haven’t felt a single ounce of fatigue.”
“Now that you bring it up…” Kensley said with a nod as he lead the group. “You’re right. We haven’t eaten all day, carrying around these sets of armor, weapons.”
“You think it’s an effect of the enchantment?” Scarborough asked. “Or you think it could be the adrenaline… the rush from spilling blood?” His devilish grin was hidden by the helmet.
“We’ll see if it catches up to us when we return home and disrobe.” Kensley hummed. He glanced back at Bently, who remained in between the two of them. “You’ve been quiet, Ben. Is all the action finally hitting you?”
Bently marched in stride quietly with his right hand resting atop the pommel of the sword that hung at his side. “You really okay like this?” He answered gruffly. “Returning home, one man down?”
Kensley slowed to a stop mid-step. Scarborough looked up just in time to follow suit. The sound of crunching leaves ceased, and the deafening silence began to consume them. “The commander gave us an order. That was to head home and make the report like he told us.” Kensley explained slowly. In the distance, a sole cricket began to sing.
“Do you really think Mandabus was in his right mind?” Bently challenged.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” Scarborough spoke up.
“Nothing stood out as strange to you?” Bently continued. “When he was lying there, and you looked into those cold eyes, and felt for his breath, and knocked at the armor, you didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary?”
Kensley sighed a long sigh and peered up at the stars that had just begun to show themselves in the sky. “Is it really the right time for this?” He urged. “If the cloud covers rolls in again, we won’t have any light to navigate by.”
“Did you not smell the odor of death on him?” Bently butted in again, louder. “Like on the battlefield after a week-long siege? When the bodies start to become more maggot then flesh? When the rats finally depart the grains and head towards the more enticing sources of nourishment?”
Scarborough shifted uneasily in the pile of leaves.
Kensley shoved his face Bently’s way. “What about it?!” He sneered.
“Scar, what you described today… with that wizard.” Bently asked slowly. “You said you saw… felt… some sort of dark magic.”
“I don’t know what I saw.” Scarborough admitted with a shrug. “He fled just as you showed up.”
Kensley flexed and stretched and his armor creaked around his limbs. “You think the captain was hit with some sort of death magic… Not even Tulefore would stoop so low so as to employ the powers of something like necromancy.”
“It would explain why the spell was able to penetrate his armor…” Scarborough noted.
“What you’re describing is…” Kensley pondered aloud. “The captain would be a dead man, walking around under the power of these enchanted shells.”
Bently tapped his foot loudly while he continued to scan the darkening forest. “Why else would Mandabus choose to go after a puny wizard if not to attempt at reversing a curse?”
Kensley grunted loudly and looked up at the moon that had begun to creep slowly into the sky. Overhead, the wind had begun to pull clouds from the east over Tulefore towards them. “You know there’s no turning back.” He muttered through clenched teeth.
“There would be no way to track him, especially with how much leeway we’ve offered. Besides, the original orders trump the captain’s.”
Bently begun to clang the hard leather scabbard against his thigh restlessly.
Scarborough cleared his throat. “Ben, you know that we went to find the artifact. There were no signs of it.”
“No.” Bently said in agreement. Impatiently, he pushed ahead past Kensley. “You’re right. The general will want this information. Who knows when Tulefore will make their move- spececially after today.”
Far far away, Mandabus marched quietly through the underbrush. The dark road pointed towards the capital of Tulefore dipped and rose with the uneven ground. He had kept an eye out for any soul that would happen to pass by in any direction. Nothing besides the low hooting of an owl could be heard for the last kilometer.
Many years previous, his father had taken him past the Sing Mountains all the way to Tulefore on business. At that time, the two countries had yet to be torn apart, and the port of Tulefore City still provided a source for many unique and lucrative imports for the continent. Mandabus vaguely remembered the winding of the road that hugged the rough and rugged countryside.
Just before the sun had set, Mandabus had found fresh prints of horse shoes made in the mud. The wind whistled around him, but he could no longer feel the cold.