Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 16
“Keep moving.” Shiloh grumbled, his patience wearing thin. The mountain trail wavered back and forth, following the curvature of the rocky hills and crumbling outcroppings. The frozen snow crunched loudly under the heavy tread of the horses as they trudged slowly onward.
Zethurus slumped forwards against the mane of the animal. The rope bonds wrapped around his wrists had been tied down to the saddle, with one end trailing off for Shiloh ahead of him to hold onto. The mage’s horse moved as if reacting the the rider’s own apathy.
“Excuse me if I’m not eager to head so quickly to my incarceration, and likely worse.” Zethurus sneered. “Do you have any idea what they’ll do to me here?”
“Not a clue.” Shiloh mumbled, keeping the rope just taught enough for the horse behind his own to stay at attention.
“Me neither.” The mage grumbled. “But it can’t be good. Are you willing to bear the weight of your guilt after having brought me to some horrible fate?”
“Me, I’m following orders. It’s you who sealed your fate long before we set out. Why take up dark magic if you know the consequences will be so dire?”
“One does not take up dark magic, it’s the magic that draws itself to you.”
Shiloh sighed and tapped at the side of his horse to speed up its gait. “Trying to discard the blame from yourself will do you no good. I assume your… Arcanus, you called them, will know how to respond to your wordplay.”
In the distance, the sharp, triangular shaped canopies of towering timbers began to come into view. Arkyan was a small city, wedged in between the northern stretches of the Sing mountain range to the west and the sea to the east. In this part of the province of Tulefore, the trees grew like no other; bark rugged and thick, surrounding trunks that were as thick as wagon wheels or greater. It was deep in the forest where the city had been built atop the Aegien river that flowed down from the North.
The path met with another in a fork that continued under the wide canopies and eventually towards the city, where the group of two horses and two men were headed. Under the shelter of the thick intertwining branches, the ground had escaped the thick deposits of snow.
On the opposite side of the mountain, there laid a small pass through the peaks, unfortunately now buried in snow. Chin guided his horse on ahead, leaving deep ruts where the animal fought against the deep, thick powdery snow. The storm, though mostly abated, had continued to deposit the cold precipitation from the dark clouds above. Bently watched as the engorged flakes stopped and tumbled away from the spherical invisible aura that the mage had cast around himself. Bently remained warm himself inside the protective enchantment of the armor, but the reins in his hands had become encased in brittle shards of ice. The horse below him trudged on in the fresh tracks made by the first.
The slope continued upward, leading the men along a gap between a group of two rocky peaks stretching even higher into the sky. “Be careful.” The mage gave a brief warning.
“Your horse may spook when we begin our descent back down the slope. They don’t much like the sensation of slipping downward.”
Bently gripped the reins more tightly and wiggled his feet deeper into the stirrups. “I’ll keep that in mind. If this trip takes as long as you say it should, I must assume you have a location where we will set down for the night.”
“Yes.” Chin nodded. “The opposite side of the mountain is steep. There are many switchbacks that can not be avoided. We’ll make camp sooner than later so that the horses may rest. But you will be able to see our destination, the forest.”
“I take it you’ve made this trip before, then?”
“Several times. Never in such snow, but… it can not be avoided right now.” Chin sighed. “After the creation of the treaty, we took it upon ourselves to organize the guild into what it is today. It was no easy feat. But it exists now, for the better.”
Bently tugged at the reigns slightly to keep the horse attentive and moving, despite the cold.