Art by Mackenzie Hollman, 2021.
They began their journey again early in the morning. Despite the heat of the previous day, the sky was filled with dark clouds swelling in anticipation of rain. Perhaps it was a sign of their cloudy future that awaited them at Arabouth, or simply an omen of misfortune. The Historian seemed quite amused by the prospect of an approaching storm as they made their way through the crashing waves of the river.
The creature still remained unconscious, to both Eitra and Taris’s surprise. In fact, they thought the thing might be dead. However, The Historian insisted that the “beast would awaken when least expected,” so they decided to tie it to the back of the boat with spare ropes.
Just before noon, as The Historian drifted off into a restless sleep, Taris pulled Eitra aside, “Listen, this guy is an absolute lunatic. The council hates people like him. They’re not going to believe him.”
“We can’t abandon the quest out of fear,” Eitra said. “We still have a duty to warn them.”
“Eitra, just know that when we get there… the council might not want to see us at all. Whether we have a creature as evidence or not.”
Eitra thought for a moment, “We still have to warn them.”
“I know we do,” Taris sighed. “But maybe it’s better that the ignorant just… die ignorant.”
Eitra glanced off into the distance as structures started to appear on the horizon.
Taris saw them too. “Looks like we’re almost at the outskirts of the city,” he said. “Are we really going to go in there only to be turned away?”
Eitra took a moment to think, the buildings in the distance beginning to grow larger as they approached. The city was large–larger than anything Eitra had ever seen. The outskirts of the city were nestled against the river, stretching around a ring of walls protecting Arabouth’s noble castle. Its towers scraped the bottom of the clouds, ascending the council to the stars.
“Wait,” Eitra had a realization. “What if we force our way in?”
Taris laughed, “Alright that’s funny. What are we supposed to do? Become so humiliating that they make us the council’s jesters?”
“No, we need others. Other people that would be willing to defy the will of the council for the greater good of Arabouth’s people.”
Taris immediately understood what she meant, “Oh no no no. We are not calling them in for help. You heard the old man, they hate me! I’ll be killed on sight!”
“But with me, they’ll at least have to listen.”
“Oh yeah, like you’re so great at negotiating.”
“Taris,” Eitra said, “they’re our only hope to get into that place and warn the council, or at least warn the city’s citizens before the creatures start attacking other helpless people like–like my village.”
Taris sighed, “You just had to play that card, didn’t you?” He stood, staring at Arabouth’s city sprawling ahead. “Fine. I know a guy that might be able to help us. If I get killed though, it’s your fault. Understand?”
“Understood,” Eitra agreed.
“Alright then,” Taris pulled the ropes on the sail, directing the boat towards the eastern side of the city. “Let’s meet up with the Bowmen of Uriv.”
* * *
The three travelers docked their boat next to a seedy-looking inn. An old, battered man with a long beard greeted them as they arrived, insisting that they pay a docking fee. Taris told him off, and the beggar hobbled away down a nearby alley.
The outskirts of Arabouth were nowhere near as nice as the kingdom’s inner streets. Most of the shops and merchant’s stalls were boarded up or abandoned. The streets were covered in soot, coal, and grime, and the smell in the air reminded Eitra of the stables back home. Only a few people roamed the quiet streets. Most people stayed in their homes, shutters closed and tattered curtains drawn, as they avoided the streets of thieves, con-artists, and opportunists.
Taris took Eitra and The Historian down a narrow street opening up near the docks.
“If you’re wanting to find anyone in Arabouth, you’ve got to look for the alcohol first,” Taris remarked as he led them down another narrow street.
He opened a door to a tavern advertised as The Shallow Cup and beckoned them in. It seemed to be a fairly clean establishment compared to the other buildings Eitra had seen lining the streets. A small band played music in the corner. The bar was built out of a dark, smooth wood and was occupied by various patrons enjoying drinks and conversation. The walls were lined with various tables and stools that were also occupied by patrons, many of whom gave Eitra and The Historian suspicious glances.
Taris led them to the back of the room and slid open a thin wooden door revealing a hooded man clothed in leather. He sat in a private room his feet up on the table as he smoked from a small wooden pipe. He had a large broadsword propped up against his chair.
“I thought I’d find you back here,” Taris smiled. “You always like dark, secluded spaces.”
“Taris…” the man’s voice was deep, yet quiet and calm. “Didn’t think I’d see you in these parts after the Hunters threw you out. Do you have a death wish?”
Taris gave out a good natured laugh, “Not exactly. Borivin, I’d like you to meet Eitra of Razu.”
“And who is this?” Borivin gestured towards The Historian. Eitra noticed him reach ever-so-slightly for his sword at his side.
“I’m a loner seeking travel with these kind wanderers,” Taris gave him a quick glance of confusion, and The Historian nodded in return. Eitra understood right away: The Historian had met Borivin before.
“Since when does Taris allow stowaways on his precious boat?” Borivin snickered, his hand still hovering over his broadsword.
“Oh, very funny, Borivin,” Taris turned to Eitra. “See, I told you this guy’s got a good sense of humor. Anyways, so um, Borivin… we are here on important business. We need someone to watch the boat. Do you think you could help us out, for old times sake?”
Borivin puffed a cloud of smoke out from his pipe, “Taris, do you mind if I have a word with you? Or just you and the girl?”
Taris glanced at The Historian.
Eitra turned to the old man, “You’ll be fine. You can wait for us at the boat.”
The Historian smiled and made his way out of the private room.
Borivin gestured to the seats across from him, “Sit, please.”
Taris and Eitra sat down. Taris started, “Borivin, I know that he’s strange, but you’ve got to trust me. This is–”
“This is about those creatures, isn’t it?” Borivin interjected.
“That man. I saw him a few nights ago, talking with them.”
“He what?” Eitra could hardly hide her disbelief.
Borivin leaned across the table, “I was out hunting, decided to get some good meat to trade on the market. There I was in the woods, and I saw them. Two creatures. One was standing over him. The other was crouched down. The man was lying on the ground. At first I thought they were hurting him, but no. I heard the old man. Said something about thieves taking him down, stealing his things. One creature talked back to him.”
“You mean actually talked?” Eitra asked.
“Yes, in our same tongue,” Borivin puffed more smoke out from his mouth. “It said something about a deal. ‘You’ve broken our deal,’ it said. Real deep voice. The old man just said ‘I know what you are.’ Then the first creature told the other one to go out looking for the thieves. Of course, I was standing there watching and hiding. It thought I’d robbed the old man. It chased me with that lightning weapon they have. I lost it in the woods.”
Taris turned to Eitra, “I told you we couldn’t trust him.”
“Borivin, you’re sure it was the same man?” Eitra asked.
“The very same,” Borivin assured. “Now I don’t know why you’d want to help these ghastly things. Nearly killed me. To be honest, I’m not in the business to help their cause at all, whatever it–.”
“No,” Taris interrupted. “We’re trying to warn the Arabouth council about these things. Not help them. The man with us, he was supposed to be evidence for them that these things are deadly.”
“Oh,” Borivin leaned back in his seat. “I see. And how do you plan on getting into the castle with you being a criminal and, well, you being a village girl?”
“We’re going to be asking the Bowmen for help,” Eitra answered. “We’re planning to have them get us inside.”
Borivin laughed, a deep hearty chuckle that erupted from his chest, “You’re planning on starting a rebellion?”
“Yes,” Taris said.
“And you’re going along with this?”
“Well,” Taris said, “I have nothing to lose.”
“And it’s the only way we can get into that castle,” Eitra added, “and warn them about the creatures before it’s too late.”
Borivin thought for a moment. “Alright, what’s in it for me?”
“Eitra and I need to buy a new sail for my boat. Well, she needs to buy a new sail for me. I need you to tell me where the Bowmen’s hideout on the outskirts is and I need someone to watch the boat and the old man.” Taris added, “We’ve got a creature tied up on the boat too. The old man and the creature need to be watched.”
“You still haven’t gotten to a payment,” Borivin noted.
Eitra sighed, “The truth is, we’re low on supplies as it is. The only thing we can offer you is a chance to live.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he questioned.
“It means if we pull this off, Arabouth and its surrounding settlements will be safe,” Eitra continued. “And if we don’t, it means the creatures will take over until we’re all wiped out.”
Borivin grumbled, “That seems very cheerful, doesn’t it?”
“She’s like that,” Taris said. “Now, do we have a deal?”
“Fine,” Borivin puffed out a small ring of smoke, “but I’m only doing this because I owe you after what happened in Tirumith, understood? After this, we’re even.”
Taris smiled, “Sounds great.”
The two men shook hands.
“The Bowmen’s hideout is in the Ashen Woods. The place right near the outskirts, away from the river. They’ll be holed up in a cave,” Borivin smiled. “The place shouldn’t be too hard to find. They aren’t the most subtle folks.”
“And the creature and the old man?” Eitra asked.
“I’ll watch them,” Borivin assured, “but no promises they’ll be alive when you return. If that old man tries anything funny…” he sliced a finger across his throat.
“He deserves it anyways,” Taris muttered.
“Fine. Just keep the creature safe at least,” Eitra said.
“One more thing Taris,” Borivin grinned as he rose from his seat, “Punch one of the Bowmen for me, will ya?”
Taris laughed, “That was probably going to happen anyways.”