Friday, August 30, 2013

Just when things were going so well. That's the proper time to knock the protagonist on their butt. Here I inject another tiny clue of the impending climax, but for now it is still not even noteworthy. As the lesson on plots pointed out, there is a need to stack the plots like a set of nesting dolls. Each one carries a theme to connect them all, but each is unique as well. I'd tell you to find more of the clues within Uiyah's Paw, but I keep tearing that book apart to rebuild it. I just love it too much to shred it and start over.
So, here is rest of chapter 5.

     The men knew their task, and had rested all afternoon as she worked. Now they had a visible goal to spur them. Soon they began pulling bodies from the snow. Human bodies. Every one of them displaying the marks of a violent demise. Horses and Humans alike had been slaughtered by some large beast. Both wagons had been smashed, and the large chest in the lead wagon, had been torn open. The prize was stolen.
     As the search widened beyond the massacre, one of the scouts found a line of tracks heading Northward. Here the snow was a mere foot deep, as though the subsequent storms had missed this part of the trail. All they could tell from the tracks was that several Humans had gone toward the summit of the pass. Lightly burdened.
     Spurred on by the tracks, a score of soldiers charged forward before one of them thought to look back to the foreman. The foreman started to voice his command, then stopping mid-sentence he cast a glance at his prince. Prince Moffatt waved his hand at them, giving them his permission, though they seemed ready to go regardless. Seemingly an afterthought, he called one last directive.
     “Bring me word of the relic.”
     Aeriona looked up at the prince. “Just what was this relic?”
     His eyes had lost much of their warmth as he looked down at her. “That’s an affair best not meddled with by the Crystal Towers. Herrin, had deciphered enough of the tablet to know that concerned Dragons talking to Humans. I need that tablet to secure peace with the Northern realm.”
     A thrill went through her that such a tablet existed. She had spent years searching for clues such as that, and very few seemed to still exist. Everyone knew that Humans had crafted the runes, Elves had copied them, and Dragons were just some rare beasts that caused great problems. Everyone that is, except for the authors of some ancient scrolls that she’d found by accident.
     If a clever student dug deep enough into the restricted shelves of the vaults, she could find one that clearly stated how a Dragon named Delienth drew the bending shape for a group of Elven earth sensitives. Of course the student also had to be fluent in ancient Elvish to get that far. In all, Aeriona had found five such notations of Dragons being there for early magic; a time before Humans could wield the power.
     “Could I talk to Herrin?”
     The prince gave a short laugh. “You could, if he hadn’t vanished at the first sign of trouble. I sent him off to clear this mess, and he never reached the camp. I’m not sure how much a dirt mage could do against this, but I had just as much doubt about your abilities too. Thank you for showing me different.”
     Aeriona found herself pacing back and forth at the edge of the snow, anxious for the first news of the soldiers. As she rounded about on one of her transits, she nearly bumped right into the cook holding out a bowl of potato chowder. Thoughts swirling in her head about Dragons, and missing soldiers, and thousands of years old tablets had kept her from realizing how hungry she was. The bowl served the second purpose of warming fingers that had grown painfully stiff in the frigid night air.
     Returning the bowl gave her a chance to sit and talk with one of the soldiers that had remained to guard the camp. She lost track of the words somewhere between his favorite horse, and the drudgery of walking the wall. His words distracted her from fretting over the soldiers that had gone ahead, and let her exhaustion creep in.
     The world was a little brighter when the shouts woke her. Blinking helped to clear her eyes enough to see the returning soldiers making their way into camp. Her spirits rose as she realized that there were more faces returning than had marched out last night. The early dawn’s light showed them carrying about half a dozen wounded and starving survivors.
     Aeriona grabbed a bowl, and filled it from the still simmering stew pot quickly carried it to the men stumbling into camp. A shiver went down her spine as she looked closely into these faces that bore the blank look of exhaustion. Most of them sported make-shift bandages. Unsure where to begin, a thought struck her.
     Glances back and forth between the faces. “Kyle? Kyle?”
     One of them coughed. “Here.. Sir..”
     Aeriona stepped over to the man leaning on a returning soldier, and held the steaming bowl out to him. It was only then that she realized his free arm ended at the elbow. A wad of cloth wrapped the stubby end. Unsure what else to do, she helped the soldier guide Kyle to a rock he could sit on. Free of his burden, the soldier rushed to help another of his comrades, while Aeriona held the bowl out to Kyle.
     He started to reach with his stubby arm, forgetting that it wasn’t whole. He switched and took it with his remaining good hand, to stare at it a moment. The good one shaking so badly that it threatened to dump the stew in his lap till he set the bowl on his knees.
     “Sorry, back in a moment.”
     Embarrassment washed over Aeriona as she realized that she’d forgotten to grab a spoon when she’d filled the bowl. She dodged around and between other soldiers getting stew for the ones they’d brought back, and grabbed a spoon. She got back to Kyle, sticking the spoon into the thick meal, like a pennant pole.
     Twice he let go of the bowl to grab at the spoon, only to have to grab the bowl again as it came close to tumbling off his knees. Seeing his trouble, she knelt and scooped up some stew, bringing it to his mouth. For the first time he looked into her face that had been shielded by the cloak’s hood, and lurched backward, nearly falling off his perch.
     “Ice Giant? No, can’t be. How did you know my name?”
     “Your mother asked me about you. I’m a mage from the Crystal Towers.”
     “How? Mum’s a maid in the keep; what’s this costing her? From Twillingspire? She hasn’t the money to pay for this.”
     “Relax, I’m here at the behest of Prince Moffatt. I just happened to meet her, and she asked me to find you.”
     “She must be worried to the bone to ask that.”
     “What happened anyway? I know you were taking a relic over the pass, but it’s too early for snow, and your arm. I mean it’s gone.”
     “It just started snowin’ thick out of nowhere, so the Sergeant pulled the wagons up close to wait it out. Like you said, too early for snow. It was ‘bout a foot deep when them guys came charging right out of the blizzard, swinging at everything. We turned for them, and two big red demon beasts hit us from the other side.”
     “Demon beasts?”
     “They gotta be. I ain’t heard tell of nothing like that, ever. Spawn of the Deep Roads for sure. Tore my horse in half while I was sitting on her. Bit my arm clean off as I were fallin’. Once they’d about killed everything, them beasts busted open the strongbox for them Black Bloods. I played dead with the horse’s head on top of me.”
     “Ebonite Elves? But they usually don’t like the cold.”
     “Ever now and then you see one come through the city, but nah, they like to stay South. There was about thirty of ‘em. They grabbed them jade tablets, and… Wait, gotta tell the Prince. They handed ‘em off to Herrin! I’m sure it were him that brung this storm down around us. Or it were you! Who else could do it, but a frost witch? Get away from me!”
     Kyle shoved her away, flinging the now empty bowl after her. Aeriona turned seeking help from anybody else, and found herself facing the Prince. The look on his face told her that rescue was not coming from him.
     “My cloak.”
     Aeriona slowly slid the cloak from her shoulders, holing it out to the Prince. He took it from her, only to hand it to the foreman standing next to him.
     “Men, seize her, but be gentle.”
     “I didn’t. I couldn’t have. I…”
     “A gag. Now!”
     Soldiers grabbed her from both sides, and a piece of rope jammed across her mouth, to be tied behind her head, muffling any further protests. A few more directions from the Prince had her mounted on her horse once more, with hands tied to the pommel. The horse’s lead rope was passed to the Sergeant that had led the way up the hill.
     In short order, the Prince was leading a small group down the hill, with one wagon full of the wounded men. The rest of the soldiers stayed to load the dead on the other wagon. Aeriona’s mare was towed along behind the sergeant as he rode beside the Prince. They were nearly at the gates of the keep before Prince Moffatt dropped back to talk to her.
     “Two things keep you from spending a very long time in a deep dark hole. First, you came as an emissary of The Crystal Towers. Everything points to their involvement here, but I’d need more than supposition to sever ties with Twillingspire. Second, those men owe you their lives, and I won’t taint that with your death. Jardelth will cut your bonds at the border. The next time a mage sets foot in my land, it better be to deliver the head of Herrin, and my relic.”

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