Remnant: Book of Xiandol Chapter 7
After a night of rest in Rallig in the same stable lodgings that the second captain had taken up, Carlyle and Kensley packed up their meager packs of gear once again to begin the search east of the town. The Ebb River that ran parallel to the town would be their guide deeper into the Xiandolan lowlands. The road heading east was less traveled, but the dry dirt made for easier traversing by the horses.
Kensley had been focusing on the trickling flow of the river, and the muddy bed revealed by the low waters. “I wonder how they are doing out by the coast.” He remarked suddenly.
Carlyle glanced back at him. “That’s right, you’re from those parts, aren’t you? The mouth of the Ebb?”
Kensley nodded in response. “I can’t remember when I last saw the river this low.”
Carlyle slowed his horse just slightly, allowing for Kensley to pull up beside him. “It’s been a dry season. Back at the end of the summer, a few of the towns to the south had trouble meeting their quota.”
“What… do you do, then?” Kensley asked, a slight hesitation in his voice.
“Generally, it’s no more than an admonishing. We can’t leave them with fewer stores than they need to survive the winter with. But we also can’t risk the people in the capital going hungry, either. Hmm, next spring, we’ll likely offer them some of our seed stores to help them plant with.”
Carlyle ground his jaw back and forth in thought. “The King- some of the elders, too, from his time would tell you of the struggles they went through before the unification. They say it was every man for himself, with few, if any allies, to reach out to for help.”
“People are selfish,” Kensley said, shrugging. “I mean… it’s a given they want to assure their own survival first, before that of the others.”
“Absolutely.” Carlyle returned with a satisfied nod. “That’s why the job of an enforcer is important. People will take more than their share if they are allowed to do so- oftentimes without realizing it.”
“Back at home… I remember… in times our harvests were poor, we would get supplies from the capital.”
Carlyle nodded and glanced back to the horizon to check their heading. The rhythmic pounding of the horseshoes on the dry mud and grass competed with the silence of the expanse of empty land. The captain finally spoke up again. “One day, it may be you returning home to your people to share with them the Kingdom’s bounty.”
“I doubt I would be recognized.” Kensley shrugged. “From atop a horse, and covered in fine garb.”
Carlyle rolled his head back and forth, before letting out a low chuckle. “Perhaps not. I take it homesickness has not affected you greatly?”
“Each day there… how do you say it… felt like I was simply repeating the same thing day after day. The capital was a relief from that.” Kensley sighed. “I am… thankful you arrived that day to take me away from there.”
Carlyle’s breath caught in his throat while formulating a response. “Well, I knew that from the time I first spoke to you, I suppose- that you had a good head on your shoulders. People like yourself are suited for bigger things, to challenge and be challenged.”
Kensley tugged the reins of his horse and forced it forward with a slight jog. “Though… I think, that if it were that other man to show up that day… I may have thought twice.”
“Mandabus?” Carlyle asked, repeating the name of the captain they had met the day previous. “I might imagine so. Though, don’t take his seriousness as a lack of compassion. He… Mandabus is a very intelligent man, but he forgets that his presence alone is often sufficient. Well, when we return to Rallig, we may see the man he was supposed to seek out.”
Kensley nodded, his shoulders and back tired from the long hours of riding, that day and previous. His eyes followed the length of the riverbed beside them, then finally up to the horizon, dominated by the mountains before them. “Incredible…”
Carlyle glanced at the young man. “Huh? The mountains, you mean?”
“I’ve never been so close…”
“You almost forget about them, especially all the way in Xiandolia.” Carlyle conceded.
“They never looked so impressive, but now…” Kensley hummed, his eyes still pointed off in the distance.
“They are quite grand.”
“What’s beyond them, do you ever wonder?” The long-haired man pondered.
Carlyle clicked his tongue. “An interesting question.” His finger traveled out before them, pointing to a gap between two crooked sections of mountain peak. “A land called Tulefore, the elders say. There’s a meager pass up that way, and another to the south. Not quite safe or convenient for travel, I’ve heard.”
“There are others, on the other side of the range, that is? Towns and cities like our own?”
“And they’re like us?”
Carlyle bit at his lip. “Perhaps. Some say it’s a land richer than this one. Greener. The people live more prosperous lives.”
Kensley hummed with a dull tone. “Would it be so difficult to share that prosperity with us?”
“No need to be pessimistic. We do quite well for ourselves.”
Carlyle let out a series of short laughs. “Prosperity can also be a measure of how content a people are. It shall be your task as you continue to take on more responsibility to see to the prosperity of our people. Comparing our own to that of some estranged land will do us no good.”
Carlyle nodded and smiled back to Kensley, before turning his eyes to the path once more. The normal markings left by travelers were all but vacant on the road, leaving behind only rock and thin bunches of dry, yellowed grass. The muddy riverbed reflected the low autumn sun overhead, and the gnats and flies swarmed about around them and the faces of their horses.
Far off in the distance, the bare ground bore strange markings where the earth had been disturbed. Carlyle perked up and glanced to Kensley, who had also taken notice. “Footprints, you see? A lot of them, too.”
The enforcers slowed their ride forward and kept close watch upon the area, as well as the nearby surrounding of flat, rocky land. As they came upon the marred area, they dismounted and crept closer. The footprints of various sizes and shapes went about the area in vague patterns, some moving back and forth, others leading to the center of the area to the nearby riverbed. In certain spaces remained matted dirt, surrounded by bare pits dug into the ground.
“A fairly big camp,” Kensley spoke up. “They had several shelters laid out, too.”
Carlyle stomped through a patch of gray and black embers and hastily strewn stones from an old fire pit. “They left in a hurry, I would imagine.”
“Sir, what do you make of this?” Kensley spoke up, hovering over a heap of debris closer to the edge of the river.
Carlyle stepped beside Kensley, over the hump of dried and crumbled clay, colored the same earthen shade as the mud from the riverbed. Beside it were crumbled bits of gray slag, partially mixed in with loose dirt from nearby. “No doubt, these are our folks. Looks like they were running a sort of bloomery here.”
“For melting down the metal?”
“Separating the crude iron from whatever stone it was brought in with.” Carlyle stroked the whiskers upon his dry cheeks. His gaze moved about the area, finally traveling up to the low stretches of mountainside nearby. “There are signs of them digging away at the mountain there.” He jutted his nose outward.
“I see,” Kensley commented. “How are they doing so with just a meager amount of men?”
“That,” Carlyle shoved his hands into his pockets, “is something for us to find out.”