Art by Mackenzie Hollman, 2021.
Before making their way to the rebels’ hideout, Taris decided it would be best to buy a sail.
Eitra followed him once again as he navigated the maze of streets and alleys before they arrived at a large wooden building with a peculiarly shaped dome roof. Inside, a sea of market stalls and vendors advertised thousands upon thousands of goods, all of them exotic, unfamiliar, and beautiful. Eitra couldn’t help but stare at the artistic and inticut baskets, tapestries, paintings, weapons, and foodstuffs as they passed, each one looking more beautiful than the next.
Taris led her to a beat up stall in the middle of the hall selling various sailing tools and ship parts. After settling on a simple yet well crafted white sail, Eitra paid the wrinkly lady manning the shop a few of her coins.
Holding the new sail carefully in his arms, they headed back to the boat.
After dropping off their new purchase, Eitra pulled Borivin aside as he settled into a comfortable position aboard the vessel. “I know you don’t trust him,” Eitra said, making sure The Historian couldn’t hear, “but we do need him to testify before the council. Try your best not to kill him–or the creature if it awakens.”
Borivin chuckled, “I’ll do my best.”
Taris and Eitra left the docks and made their way back into the city, only to come out the other side of the maze of buildings greeted by a grey and gloomy forest. The trees were blackened into stumps, as if they had been burnt down by a fire many years ago and the mist hung low in the foul smelling air.
The trek through the Ashen Woods was both long and quiet. The day had once again turned into night. The fog imposed on their vision, blanketing the trees in a fabric of obscurity. The combination of the fog and grey surroundings made it feel as if Eitra were looking through a fogged up glass window. She could even see her breath form like steam in front of her in the cold of the night.
Eventually, the two companions found themselves at the edge of the forest in front of a large cliff. Taris signaled for Eitra to be quiet. While they could not see any sort of cave, laughter and the chatter of voices could be heard through the gloomy haze. A soft glow illuminated through the fog as they continued towards the sound of the voices. Eitra slowly drew her dagger and Taris pulled his arm back to retrieve his bow.
“Follow my lead,” Taris whispered. Then, he called out into the fog ahead, “Hello!”
The voices fell silent. The wind was the only sound left in the surrounding fog.
“Who goes there?” a gruff voice called out in response.
“Really? You don’t recognize my handsome, baritone voice anymore?” Taris replied. “How rude!”
Figures suddenly burst out from the haze, bows drawn and hoods pulled over their heads emerging from the fog as if they were once molded with it. They all were dressed in the same leather and woven hunting gear, quivers strapped to their backs and long knives attached to their belts.
“Do you have a death wish, or are you incredibly stupid?” the hunter in the middle asked, “or just both?”
Eitra could see other bowmen appearing from the fog, their weapons raised in anticipation for a fight.
“Whoa there, Valin! We just want to talk,” Taris smiled. “Just like old times.”
“I don’t talk with traitors,” he gestured his bow towards Eitra. “Who’s the friend? Another criminal?”
“I’m Eitra of Razu,” she raised her dagger. “My village was taken over, my family killed. We’ve come to you for your help.”
Valin laughed, “And what makes you think we’d be willing to help?”
“Because it’s what you do. You’re the heroes of the legends. The Great Bowmen of Uriv.”
“Heroism has no place left in this forsaken kingdom,” Valin narrowed his eyes, “only ignorance and spite.”
“You’ll be killed if you don’t,” Taris said.
“Is that a threat, traitor?”
“No,” Eitra replied. “It’s a warning.”
“You’ve seen the creatures, haven’t you? On your hunts through the woods. It’s why you’ve hidden in these miserable woods,” Taris said, “but they’ll come for your hideout soon enough.”
Valin lowered his bow ever so slightly, “What do you want from us?”
“We’re here to start a rebellion,” said Eitra. “That’s what you’ve wanted all along, isn’t it?”
Valin frowned, “And how would a rebellion benefit you?”
“We need to get inside Arabouth’s castle,” Eitra answered. “We need to warn the council about these creatures. They won’t let us in unless we enter by force.”
Valin considered the offer for a moment.
“It would be suicide,” Valin grunted.
“So would letting the creatures take over the remaining kingdoms and villages, wouldn’t it?” Eitra said. “Those things destroyed my home, took my family away from me. We can’t afford to have others suffer the same fate.”
Valin was silent for a moment. Then he lowered his bow. The hunters beside him followed in suit.
“The only reason I’m working with you, traitor, is because this girl has a quest to follow–” he turned to her. “–a duty. And I honor that. The moment you try anything funny, an arrow will be shot through that smug smile of yours, you hear me?”
Taris smiled, “Ah, such a warm welcome home…”
Valin turned to face Eitra once again, “How exactly do you plan to go about this raid? We’ve never attempted something on such a large scale.”
“I have a few ideas, but we’ll need your knowledge of the city to execute anything well,” Eitra said.
Valin turned to the hunter on his left. “Arragof, tell the hunters to prepare for battle. We’ll discuss plans through the night. I want all of the men prepared. Send a message to the factions in the north if you have to.”
“Yes, sir,” Arragof and several of the hunters made their way back into the cave.
“Come now,” Valin said to Eitra and Taris. “We have much to discuss.”