Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 17
The sound of the horseshoes hitting the wooden deck of a bridge was enough to snap Shiloh out of the his daze, continuously staring out into the distance. He quickly shot a glance behind him to confirm Zethurus still atop the horse. The guard quickly turned his gaze downward to the man-made structure underneath him.
The bridge was wide enough to carry at least a wagon with a horse alongside. It was in a short arch over the river running below. The water flowed quickly with an icy gleam. The road on ahead twisted in meandering curves around the thick trunks of the trees. Any sign of snow had disappeared, but the cold wind continued to blow, sending shivers up Shiloh’s spine. In the distance, he could make out a few small buildings perched at the bases of several trees.
“Get to attention, Mage.” He yelled back.
“I’m rather attentive, Mr. Shiloh. Nothing like the ropes rubbing my wrists raw to put me on edge.” Zethurus mumbled back drearily. “Not to mention how I’ve been thinking about the words I should say when the guard comes to pick me up and throw me in some cell to await my judgment.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re ready to repent for your wrongdoing.”
Zethurus scoffed back and leaned back against his reins limply.
The horse stumbled for a brief moment as it crossed from the bridge and onto the hard, dark dirt of the path. The ground was littered with long wavy green and brown leaves from the trees above. Shiloh stared back at the trunks, harboring thick layers of moss pointing them in the direction of their destination.
A loud flapping entered Shiloh’s left ear. He recoiled from the sound, pulling his horse to the side. He looked up just in time to see the gray and white owl fluttering back away from him. “Spooked ‘ya?” Zethurus snickered. “The Arkadian Owl. They’re native to this forest specifically. The magi consider them good luck, even having some of them tamed.”
Shiloh glanced up to see the bird quickly disappearing into the treetops in a flash of gray feathers. “Luck is nice, but I think you’re out of it if you think that any wishful thinking will help you.”
“I don’t see how Kiaren can think of you so highly, being such a sourpuss as you are.” Zethurus taunted.
Shiloh bit his lip and continued to look on ahead. The first thing to catch his eye were the paved stones embedded in the ground ahead. Next was the sound of the river, roaring more loudly than the previous. The guard blinked his eyes slowly to distract himself what seemed like an illusion, turning out to be the structures of a city among the trees.
The deep reddish brown of the buildings nearly seamlessly blended in with the surrounding trees. The structures seemed effortlessly intertwined with the natural features. Many were built in multiple tiers that decreased in size with each level, but allowed for them to hold several levels. The roofs were of the same reddish wood, divided up neatly into uniform looking shingles that draped just over the edges of the structures.
The main area of the city was surrounded by a low cobbled-stone wall that rose up to a level only slightly taller than a man. The road lead between two trees, forming a natural gateway that welcomed them to the dreamy looking city, illuminated by the dimming sunlight. Two guards in leather garb perked up as Shiloh and Zethurus approached.
Shiloh brought his horse to a stop and slid off the side before they had a chance to approach. “State your name, your business.”
“Shiloh.” He announced. With a tug at the rope in his hand, Zethurus’s horse trotted a few steps forward. The mage struggled to stay upright, avoiding eye contact with the gate guards.
“Good, from the Tuleforian mining camp.” The first guard nodded at him and looked up at the mage perched atop the horse. “We’ve been expecting you.”
“He didn’t give too much of a fight coming here.” Shiloh said, looking listlessly back at Zethurus.
The second guard held out his hand to grab the length of rope away, before pacing back to the horse. “C’mon, get down.” He ordered brashly.
The mage slid down lazily off the horse, trying to balance himself with limited use of his hands. The first guard’s eyes followed them as Zethurus was tugged off through the wide entrance, before turning back to Shiloh and waving his arm in the direction of the city.
“We’ll handle him for now. Head inside, you can stable the horses in the little place to the right, down this way.”
“And for me to stay the night?” Shiloh raised his eyebrows. Looking up, he could see the light filtering through the tree branches starting to slowly disappear.
The guard rubbed at the back of his neck and looked back at the city. “Forgive me, our preparations are lacking thus far. You may want to look around. Do not worry, our people are very generous.”
With a sigh, Shiloh scuffled his feet back against the stone pathway and grabbed the loose rein of the second horse. With the animals on either side of him, he dragged them past the gate and down to where the guard had pointed.
A few ill-smelling horses peered up at Shiloh as he guided his own mounts under the roofed enclosure. The dry hay crumpled under his feet while he searched for a free post to tie up the animals to. His tired feet dragged as he began to head out of the stable, when another individual stepped in his path.
Shiloh’s gaze scaled the folds of the long lapis robe before the green eyes met with his own. The woman had shoulder length reddish hair, and a stern smile that greeted him. “Welcome to Arkyan, traveler.”
“Can I help you?” Shiloh took a half step back.
“I sensed your arrival.” She nodded. He hands grasped one another on front of her waist while she peered of down towards the gate where Shiloh had entered. “Rather, your mage.”
“And you are?”
“Forgive me.” She announced, shoving her hands back behind her back. “Penelope Charlstine. I serve the order as Arcanus.”
Shiloh took another small step back and bowed his head towards the ground. “Arcanus, I had no idea…”
The woman draped her fingers across her lips and let escape a small laugh. “We do not bow to each other here, especially if one has no obligation to our kind.”
Shiloh shot back up and attempted to make eye contact with her once again. “I apologize, in particular for making you come down to meet me.”
“Nonsense.” She was quick to stop him. “I was on my evening walk. It was purely by chance that I’ve ran into you. Though, I think I caught word that our guest was not furnished with proper lodgings for the night. Please, follow me.”
The woman strolled out of the entranceway to the stable. The long robe made it seem as if she were floating across the hard paving stones beneath. Shiloh followed a few steps behind, looking around at the tall trees and matching buildings. “But you said you felt the present of our mage.”
“Those of magical blood have a sort of attunement to magical forces, including one another.” She answered quickly.
“And what do you sense of that wretch’s?”
Charlstine gave a quick shake of her had and peeked back at Shiloh. “I must not make up my mind before we meet at the tribunal. Such things cannot go said while we still wait for those of our kind to arrive. What do you think of our city here?” The subject quickly changed.
Shiloh bit his tongue and shuffled the thoughts in his brain in an attempt to respond. “It’s… beautiful, serene. In all my days living in Tulefore, I have never once come this way.”
“We chose this location because it is secluded, sheltered. It feels safe, does it not?”
“Indeed.” Shiloh nodded slowly before peering out towards the dense forest behind him.
“Any army attempting to invade would be hard pressed to remain organized within this dense forest.”
“Tell me, how does Tulefore fair?”
“In the war, you mean?” Shiloh increased his pace to attempt to catch up with the woman.
She tutted loudly and looked over at him. “I see it is nothing but battle you have on your mind. It has been a long time since I, as well as others here, have given any thought to the wars of…” She paused, causing her even stride to falter. “To war, period. It is simply my home of which I ask.”
“You are Tuleforian, then?” Shiloh perked up. “I apologize, I know not much of you or the order. Other than the guidelines of the treaty we are expected to follow.”
“It is a shame you are here under such circumstances.” The woman sighed and continued walking. The sound of the gushing river returned to Shiloh’s ears. The path of the water had curved back around, curling through the town and heading off towards the horizon. “The last I visited Tulefore city was almost five years now, when I traveled to meet with Manek to… request that he ratify the treaty that we now live by. I wish it could have been on different terms, myself, too. Unfortunately, these things must be done.”
“You must have traveled as well to Xiandolia to meet their king as well.”
“That is right.” Charlstine sighed. “King Halmalch was apprehensive about agreeing to the terms of the treaty, but I think seeing the Emperor’s Seal changed his mind. That, or he may have feared the turmoil that it might have caused in certain Xiandolans of magical blood. They, after all, lost just as many or more magi on the field of battle. Five years ago seems like such a short amount of time, yet so much has changed for us since then.”
“Five years ago…” Shiloh reminisced. “I was just going through officer’s training. I had yet to meet Milady, Kiaren, who now commands our forces on the front.”
The Arcanus slowly guided them around and deeper into the city, where the tallest and of the most vast of the buildings had been constructed. “What else do you remember of that time?” She asked.
Shiloh bit at his lip as he stared out blankly at the structures ahead. “I remember when the Emperor sent out orders to the guard at the time to round up any of those of mage blood who refused to comply with the treaty’s terms. T’was a unsettling time, from the tales I heard.”
“I find it unfortunate that certain members of our kind didn’t agree with our vision. What your King did was a necessary act, and I applaud him for going about it so efficiently.“ Charlestine nodded slowly. “Please, you seem tired. The central hall has spare chambers where you can rest your head.”