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04-24-2008, 09:20 AM #1
Just squint, and follow the path, she had told him. What kind of advice was that? Squint, and follow the path? Why couldn't she have told him something useful? Like "follow the gorge until you come to a portal", or "Do not fret, my dear Halfling, I will guide you to your destination"? But, no, she had to be cryptic, the old hag! Then again, what did you expect, you fool of a Brewer, he asked himself, when you seek out a blind old Shadow Walker? Besides, he had been warned by all who knew his errand. They had told him he was mad, and a fool to boot, for going after the Baron.
He felt lost and sensed the sneaking cold of despair creeping up on him. He had been past the Veil before, but those times it had all appeared like a game to him - hiding from the Orchard Master and his dogs after stealing apples, and taking short cuts through the Pale on bright summer days. He realized that he couldn't remember how it felt to be caressed by the rays of the sun, or how a stolen apple tasted after a daring escape. Then a memory struck him like a sudden rainstorm.
She had just been at the mill to fetch flour for those honey-muffins he loved. He had been on his way to meet her, but Old Annen had asked him for help with a quarrelsome sow. It had delayed him long enough to make her start home without him, and he had hurried up the hill, preparing for a mock fight about him not being able to keep a single appointment. He remembered concocting a story about fair maidens needing rescue from a dragon, and him besting it with his wit. Even now he could see how things should have gone that day. She would pretend to me mad, and he would proclaim his innocence. She would start to laugh, and he would pretend to be insulted by her unreasonable disbelief. Then they would kiss and laugh, and she would bake the muffins while he smoked a pipe in the sun.
Then the shadows came. Not those cast by a tree, nor those of winter, or even those beyond the Veil. The shadows that had clouded his mind since he saw the Baron and his companions trotting against him that day, had darkened his mind and made him cold inside. He had known that something was amiss when he heard their malicious laughter. When he had seen blood on the white socks of the Baron's horse he had known. Still, he had screamed her name when he ran up the small hill. The horsemen had mocked his grief as he passed them, he remembered.
With a feat of will, he pushed away the memories. They had filled him with the anger he needed to do what he had to. He knew that if he allowed himself to follow the memories all the way he would be filled sorrow, and he couldn't allow himself that luxury now. He squinted, and found the path again.
After what felt like hours, or days even - time seemed to flow differently this deep - he came to the castle. He knew where the chamber was, as least the hag had told him that much. He had never seen the Shadow of the castle before, and it loomed ruinous and foreboding on the hill. The grounds outside the walls were strewn with discarded weapons and sown with arrows. He thought he could see the pale ghosts of soldiers long dead roaming the killing fields, but dismissed it as figments of his imagination. Crossing the drawbridge brought him closer to the moonlit lands of the living, and he could hear faint echoes of the conversations of the guards on the other side.
He found the chamber without any problems, and stepped through the door. The chamber seemed ghostly and deserted from this side, but he knew that this was the one. A tapestry portraying a knight and a dragon hung against one wall, casting a dark shadow behind it, and providing him with a perfect gate to the world that contained his business.
Holding his breath, he listened intently after hints of anything that could hinder him in his task. Nothing, except for the snoring of a man. When he was satisfied that no one else was in the room, he stepped out as carefully as he could. The bed was massive as a hearse, and he could barely make out the chest of the sleeping man rising and falling with every breath. Quiet as a shadow, he climbed up on the bed, taking care not to knock anything over or get snagged in anything.
He crept up to the man's chest and pulled out his dagger. Never had he believed he could be so calm in the face of danger. The Baron was renowned for his soldiering, and if he were to awake, everything would be over. He raised the blade, feeling himself smile for the first time since last summer.
This is for Alisa, he said as he plunged the dagger into the Baron's chest.-Harald
Today, we were kidnapped by hill folk never to be seen again. It was the best day ever.
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