ᛃ Scene One – Keep Up
ᛃ Scene Two – Patchoot Stew (02/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Three – Here’s the Plan
ᛃ Scene Four – Face to Face (07/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Five – Ahtesher’s Pass (09/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Six – The Suthrav Cliffs (11/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Seven – A Bonding Moment (14/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Eight – The Athim Glaciers (16/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Nine – What Did I Say? (18/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Ten – The Winding Way (21/11/16)
ᛃ Scene Eleven – Almost There (23/11/16)
Approximate Reading Time: 14min (current)
Ylethus should have brought horses. The words soon became a resentment-filled mantra that echoed throughout Ghelta’s mind as she continued to walk forward over the barren and rock-strewn lands of the Jolash Plateau.
Never in her life had she rode a horse, nor ever seen one for that matter. She had no idea what kind of demands it would take to care for one, and she honestly didn’t care about such things at this moment. All that kept that thought alive was the ever-present soreness in her feet, the exhaustion in her back, and burning fire in her shoulders from carrying her equipment for days, upon days, on end.
If it was exhaustion from warfare or hunting as she would begin to ruminate on in her mind — the roles she was meant to play in her caste — she would be delighted and overjoyed. Instead, she felt this was menial work with no bloody reward at the end. No bursts of adrenaline to keep her going. This was the clean and strenuous work of laborers, not of warriors. There was no glory in trudging across an almost endless expanse of deserted nothingness, carrying heavy packs, and enduring the whining of other warriors around her.
All of the vhulkovyr around her, as well as the skaldt that they had to drag along, carried their own burdens while trudging along together. Ghelta had turned behind several times over the last few hours to check up on Istobin, the youngest member of the party. Although she was not related to him by blood, Istobin was the nephew of Ylethus, and given that Ylethus was in some sense her adopted father that made them some kind of family. A strange, messed up kind of family, but one nonetheless.
Ghelta was surprised at how seemingly stalwart the young man acted while he carried his pack and continued to move forward with the rest of the warriors. He was trailing behind, of course. Every few hours, his older brother Taybald would fall back to try and motivate him to pick up his pace.
Taybald could take care of himself, he had been training under Vuthul Morayk for most of his life, a most stern and demanding sort of mentor. There was no doubt that he would pass his kollishi thaulp and become a full-fledged warrior. Istobin, however, despite the stalwart silence, didn’t seem like he belonged in a group of warriors set out for adventure. He looked like he would be more at home in a jhukollen-skappf with other scholars, reading books by candlelight, and being continually startled at his own shadow.
Ahead of the group were the three perpetually drunk warriors that Ylethus had hand-picked for this expedition. There was Buethom, the loud and bald one. Whelam, the roguish one who refused to wear a beard and would only keep a long mustache with muttonchops along his jaw. The third was Amsthyn a man with sun-bleached hair, almost white, and an excessively long beard with shortly-cropped hair.
Following behind the first three was the ever-morose Nathbhurn, who continued muttering to himself and remaining completely oblivious to the world around him. Soon after was the hulking form of Ylethus, covered with bags and satchels over every inch of his form, yet seemingly unphased by any burden at all. Beside him was Phrim, who would occasionally try to talk to Ylethus throughout the day and would be promptly told to ‘shut his damn mouth’. Ghelta would frequently lose track of the authrakallin that was sent along with them, as he refused to walk in stride. Occasionally she would catch sight of him walking along far ahead or off to one of the flanks. He carried nothing more than his staff which he would only use to steady himself should the expedition ever reach an slight incline in the plateau. He must have left his belongings with the ahlketh laborers who made their way a few dozen yards behind the warriors.
Many of the ahlketh who had joined them, managed to bring with them beasts of burden to help carry the extended supplies, shelters, and rations. A few brought with them robust jolashi herdsmoll who were able to store water for months on end, and whose bodies could provide milk to the expedition. Some brought herdulth; large beasts of burden with armored plates on their back and the strength of a hundred men. These were good for carrying supplies and if ever the expedition needed to use them as beasts of war should any interlopers attack. Finally, even Master Verran managed to bring with him three young authrocs, cared for by several falconers in the ahlketh who were currying favor with him to perhaps join or do work for the order of authrakallin after their return home.
After taking in the details of the motley crew one more time, Ghelta turned her gaze forward to stare off at the distant horizon. She let her feet flag to the right a few strides so she could see past the cargo-heavy and muscled bodies of the other warriors ahead of her.
Ahead, deep into the horizon she could see the mist-shrouded cliffs of the Sulath Tablelands. She had heard that those cliffs — shrouded in clouds, jagged as a wall made of spears, and almost impossible to climb — towered over the already high lands of the Jolash Plateau by several thousand feet. Those few who had mentioned stories of those cliffs to her in leiggen-skappfs between slurred words and thirsty gulps of booze mentioned how any who had tried to conquer them would die of exhaustion both from the climb and from the thinning air. Despite these stories of their height and precariousness, they seemed like nothing more than an cloudy step upon the distant horizon.
Atop those cliffs stood a very slight haze of green foliage, not lush by any stretch of the imagination, but seeming like the fuzz that would gather on old men’s balding heads as they aged into decrepitude. Above this thin line of vegetation were the glimmering, frost-laden peaks of the Athim Mountains. Those frigid peaks that encircled and sustained the great Athim Glaciers that provided most of the clean water to the land around the Jolash Plateau. Although that life-giving run-off was often trapped below ground, or cascading its way through ancient chasms, canyons and crevasses. Much like the chill waters of the Alsirav Ghaen-minas that flowed through the bottom of Alsira Thaenat, and flowed its winding way to drain into the Jol Minas to the south.
She stopped for a few seconds, making it look like she was adjusting the load on her back. She could only grab a few short seconds of rest before she knew that Ylethus would belt out a threat and tell her to keep moving. She let her eyes trail from the north to the east. Following the darkness gathering on the horizon that was soon following after the dimming light of Dhaulm off to the west. There she was able to see something that seemed altogether surreal for her.
For several dozen miles, the plateau to her side stretched on and dipped downwards until finally breaking into an immense cliff’s edge. Beyond and below that cliff was a vast sea of trees that stretched on into the horizon to the east. Clouds of moisture roiled and shifted throughout that sunken area, but the immense forest, known as the Thotevash Nohlstrath, remained like a quiet green stain upon the world.
Ghelta had never seen a forest before, the closest to any sort of trees she had seen growing up were the thin and withered sultchwoods surrounding Haaken Vaulthaen to the south, or the watery willows of the Alsithom Valley that they had just passed three days ago. For her to see such a lush forest, with such tall trees, that stretched on into the horizon almost unbroken save for a few meadows and glens, was strange in the extreme.
“It’s a damned forest! Keep moving or I’ll throw you into it!” The voice cracked through the dry air of the plateau towards Ghelta’s ears. “There are things in that place that would strip the flesh from your bones in a matter of minutes. Move now or you’ll get to meet them!”
Ghelta gave a wheezy groan and continued moving forwards, it took a few steps for her to break a stride again. The soles of her feet were screaming to her to stop and rest, so the blisters on her heels could finally heal. She trudged forwards, picking up pace and catching up to Istobin. Once she met his slow pace, she gave the young man a hard push to the shoulder with her free hand.
“Ever been this far north?” She leaned in and grinned at him while asking her question. He kept his eyes trained on the ground before him, slumping forwards with every tired step.
It took a few moments before he lifted his head to look at her in the eyes. “No.” He gave a long breath in that took far longer than Ghelta had patience for. “My father took me on a few trips with him, but they were always to the south.” He gave a cough to clear the dust from his lungs. “Mostly to some Haakuenth settlements in the desert. Furthest was Chresthom in the Tolubrin Riverlands.”
“Did you ever see something like that before?” Ghelta slid the straps of her water canteen up on her right arm to free her hand, then pointed off to the sea of trees.
Istobin raised his head a few inches and pivoted slightly to look beside her and off to the distance. “Yes. There are forests in Tolubrin. It’s mostly marsh and swamp, though. Those look like brinwood and cedars to me. Must be dry land beneath that canopy.”
Ghelta stared at the young man for a moment. She hadn’t a clue what a brinwood or a cedar looked like. She’d never been to the Tolubrin Riverlands and Ylethus had never taken her on any trips except out into the plateau or into the desert for survival or endurance training. She began to feel jealous of the young man but didn’t want to say anything. She pressed forwards, taking faster strides to get away from Istobin and catch up behind Ylethus. Once caught up she gave a swipe to one of the packs dangling from the warrior’s back.
“Good. You caught up. Now I don’t have to abandon you.” His head looked over his shoulder to her and a smile broke through his mustache and beard. He took in a long breath and yelled with enough force to make Ghelta want to wince. “Two more hour’s walk you scoundrels! Then we make camp! Buethom, because you seem so talkative and full of energy up there, you’re first watch!”
The stride of the group picked up once the promise of a rest was given. The only complaint came from Buethom at head of the group, who turned on his feet to face Ylethus behind him and grab the crotch of his trousers while yelling a garbled profanity back. Ylethus, not letting the offense stand stooped for a second to grab a decent-sized rock from the ground and hurled it at the bald warrior ahead. Buethom ducked under it nimbly and gave a laugh before returning to his walk.
It was going to be another night of rich food, hearty mead, tall tales and possibly a few fist-fights. Ghelta was slowly getting used to this kind of lifestyle as a full-fledged warrior, but she still was itching for some action. Maybe a band of thieves would attack them in the night, or some foul beast crawled up out of that wood to the east. Something other than soreness, sleep, booze and dreams of home. Something to make her blood boil once again.
“Watch your corners!” Ylethus gave a quarter-volume shout over his shoulder to the rest of the group that were huddled up behind him. “Whelam, you take point, up through those scrags to the left. Amsthyn, Buethom, Nathbhurn, you take up the flanks and rear behind us.” Ylethus reached out a hand to grab Nathbhurn by the fur-lined collar of his armor. “You watch our arses. You got it?”
Nathbhurn pushed the elder warrior’s giant hand from his neck and gave a slow nod. He lifted the index finger and middle finger of his right hand above him, pointing his hand to three locations at the back of the group. He, Buethom and Amsthyn moved away and down the incline.
“Taybald, Ghelta, Istobin…” Ylethus looked over to the younger members of the party. Ghelta could see worry in his eyes despite the decisiveness and command in his voice. “…You stay close to me and you watch after each other. Don’t lose sight of each other, but don’t bunch up on my arse, got it?” The two young men gave an exaggerated nod. Ghelta held her eyes on her mentor for a moment and then gave a slight nod as well.
“And where should I be?” The voice was a harsh whisper from a darkened alcove of rock to the left of the group. It was the silver-tongued voice of Phrim. “Also, what should that oracle be doing as well?”
Ylethus pushed through the group towards the voice. He reached out a large hand to grope at the rock before grabbing the arm of Phrim and pulling him into the group. “You shot your mouth off about how great you are with a bow a few night’s ago, right?”
Phrim gave a nod and pulled away from the warrior by a few inches. “Yes, I did.”
“Good. Take the extra short-bow that Amsthyn has and go point with Whelam. You see anything that moves which isn’t us, and you fill its corpse with arrows. Got it?” Ylethus gave a shove to Phrim who took a few moments to fix his armor and then look down the incline towards Amsthyn. A bow and tied quiver with arrows was tossed up by the blonde man below, which Phrim caught and prepared quickly before pushing forward. “As for that damned oracle…” Ylethus stopped for a moment and looked around the group, pressing down his hands on the heads of the younger warriors so he could see over them. “Where in the blazes of Trallt’s weeping lhipossa are you?”
There was silence for a few moments before a shaky voice whispered up from the right of the group. “I told you all that I should have gone with the Ahlketh. I have no business here with you ruffians.” Two hands holding a staff came from around a pillar of rock, soon followed by the dust-covered green robes of Master Verran.
“You’re right in some sense.” Ylethus gave a harsh tone that sounded more like hissing than a whisper. “I don’t abide useless cowards in my war-parties.” Ylethus didn’t touch the authrakallin ahead of him, instead he let his feelings be known by squinting his eyes with anger. “But, I have to put up with you here. You better be of use. I don’t know what kind of twisted sorceries your kind can do, but you better use some of them for our benefit.”
Verran gave out an impatient sigh and sucked in air to reply. Ylethus lifted a fist and gave a hard strike to the rock just before the oracle, sending chips of sandy rock bits into the air. The oracle straightened his stature and seized his fingers around his staff with white knuckles.
“You will follow after the children. Got it?” Ylethus raised himself up and puffed up his chest. “Use what few skills you have to keep them safe. A single hair on their heads gets maimed or tussled…” His teeth began to peek through his snarling lips. “I’ll skin your star-worshiping hide and wear you for undergarments.”
Verran held the eyes of Ylethus for a few moments and then gave a sharp nod. He took a few steps to his left and joined in with the group, moving to the back, behind the younger warriors. He gave Istobin a hard shove as he passed by, which was followed by a severe glare from Ghelta. She reached out and grabbed the young man and forced him ahead of her, away from the temperamental oracle.
Ylethus settled down for a moment and leaned forward so he could speak to everyone assembled. “There is a good reason why I sent the ahlketh and the supplies westward through the Jolash Pyl. They can’t follow us where we are going. We’re cutting through into Ahtesher’s Pass, through the Suthav Cliffs, and up into the Athim Mountains.” He took some moments to gather his breath and make eye contact with as many people as he could. The group remained silent.
“We will meet up with the supply caravan in Koelaphur on the other side of the mountain range. Understand well, we’re entering into hostile territory. We are no longer in Alsi-Kavi lands. There are beasts that dwell here and forsaken members of the Tolsi-Kavi who have turned away from human decency. You must be alert at all times. You must be ready to fight at all times.” Ylethus held eyes with Taybald for a moment, and then moved to Ghelta.
There came an interruption from behind the younger warriors. A throat was cleared. “You would have the children startled by shadows and scared of normal people.” The voice was that of Master Verran. “We are entering into the heart of Tolsi-Kavi lands. Yes, they are a different tribe than we, but they are united in brotherhood with the rest of the Hoelatha tribes. They are not our enemies.”
Ylethus winced and lifted a hand to his face for a moment. “You would have us trust in the common brotherhood of strangers? In lands we do not know. People we do not know. Are you a fool?” He let his hand drop and turned his gaze to the oracle behind the group. “Not all people are as enlightened, weak, and civilized as yourself, Verran. Many groups in this world live by nothing more than savagery and violence.”
“I’m simply letting the children know that they need not be afraid of all people they come across. Not all are bandits or forsaken cannibals out of some old camp-fire tale…”
“I’m sure you’ve seen much about the depravity of humanity, oracle. From high atop your mesas, or locked in darkened holes lit only by candles. Rubbing your thighs as you flip through pages of lore, or sit in circles holding hands with your brothers and sisters while navel-gazing.” Ylethus began to clench his fists in front of him. “How about this, to settle our differences so we can move along…” He relaxed his hands and turned to Whelam above and behind him, then back to the three at the bottom of the incline. “…Should we come across any people on the rest of our journey, it is now Master Verran’s job to parley with them. He’s the voice for our group. Hopefully, after he wags his tongue at a few blood-soaked primitives out here and they slit his neck from ear-to-ear, we can be done with his cowardice, as well as his enlightened views on human nature.”
Whelam, Buethom, Amsthyn and Nathbhurn gave smiles and deep nods from the edges of the group. Taybald, on the other side of Istobin from where Ghelta stood, gave a wry grin as well. Istobin seemed startled and looked around himself, pivoting his head in all directs, his wild and startled eyes trying to make sense of the situation around him.
“Are we going to sit around here talking about useless shit all day, or are we going to move forward. I’d like to get to Koelaphur before the ahlketh catch up to us. I know a woman there who is in need of a good fucking.” The voice was that of Phrim, high above the group, leaning on one of the pillars of rock. Ghelta appreciated him getting the group’s focus returned but knew it was the skaldt’s way of asserting that he wasn’t a coward like Master Verran.
“Yes.” Ylethus’ tone changed back from anger to what seemed almost like joviality. “We need to move forward. Now. We all need to go take turns with Phrim’s strumpet. Now move your arses, don’t get killed.” He turned his back on the younger warriors and began to climb the rocky incline into the pillars and cracks of rock above. “And for the love of Tolesh, don’t listen to damned thing Verran says.”
(Author Notes / Lexicon / Lore / Character Bios)