NOVEMBER 20, 2015
Excerpt from Chapter 2: Ekala and her entourage are traveling along the Sol Linden River on their way to the North Ford.
Captain Susa awakened Ekala in the middle of the night.
“Oleen, Oleen.” The captain whispered urgently.
Ekala grasped the handle of the sword on the ground beside her. “What is it?”
“There are strange sounds coming from the river,” Susa replied.
Ekala heard the nervousness of the horses as they snorted and paced along their rope line. They sensed danger. Ekala Oleen threw off the blankets and felt the cold surround her. She pulled on her boots and a coat held by Susa. The moon and stars were hidden by clouds darkening the earth. Carrying her sword sheathed in its scabbard, she followed the captain and another guard to the river’s edge. Two other Oleen guards were kneeling there.
Ekala expected to hear splashing noises or something in the water; instead, over the low hiss of the river’s streaming current she could hear moans and scratching, like claws on bark. She was surprised that the sounds appeared so close, yet knew that they must be coming from the wilderness across the river.
“Wake up Maz and Camp,” Ekala told the guard.
She heard Maz’s voice in the dark. He came closer so that they could see one another.
“That is what we heard every night passing through the wilderness,” he said. “Twice we were attacked by a beast that was so quick we couldn’t tell what it was. It was fast like a deer, but much bigger with jaws of a wild hound. It growled and moaned like a dog and hissed like a snake. Despite our attempts we never touched it with a sword.”
“I’ve never head of such a creature,” Ekala said and listened to the animal sounds for a moment then slowly shook her head. “Hopefully the river will keep it from us. Still, stay alert Captain, and calm the horses. I’m going back to sleep.”
“Aren’t you worried,” Maz asked.
“No, not until whatever that thing is gets over here.”
In the morning, Ekala was up with the cooks and the changing of the guard. She shook off the cold and walked the river’s bank with Shadahn trailing her, checking for tracks and scanning the land on the other side. The terrain on the southern side of the river was a treeless, rolling plain. Whereas the northern shore was a forested, mysteriously obscure landscape. The contrast, separated by the murky river, was disturbing. The earth itself seemed to cry out that something was wrong.
“Oh, Thunder,” she said, with a deep breath. “I wish you were here to warn me of the dangers of this place. And, Bubo, you could fly in and out of that wilderness so silently they’d never know you were there.”
Shadahn bumped Ekala with her head.
“All right, tell me what you think, girl,” Ekala said in response.
The sleek, black warhorse snorted and stomped once with her front hoof.
“I agree. This place doesn’t feel right at all, does it?”
She thought of Thalmus and his companions enjoying the peacefulness at the Great Water. Maybe she could go there on their way back to Ambermal. That would be enjoyable, except for the terrible trail through the Barrier Forest. No, a side excursion was not possible. There was too much to be done, and although this journey was important, it was delaying necessary work back in the court of Ambermal.
Ekala looked one more time at the foreboding forest across the river. “Well, I’m hungry, how about you?”
Shadahn bobbed her head and snorted.
“I thought so.” Ekala said, patting Shadahn’s neck and rubbing her nose. “Let’s get back to camp.”
After breakfast, the entire Force mounted up and started west along the river at a steady, easy pace. Camp dropped back to be the rear guard while Maz joined Queen Ekala riding in front of the column. The forward scouts were already out. Ekala was relaxed. However, Maz kept rising off his saddle to view the distant terrain in all directions.
“You slept in,” Ekala said. “Haven’t seen you miss a meal since your recovery from the wound.”
“I was up all night patrolling the river bank,” Maz replied.
She looked at him curiously. “Was that necessary? We had double guards posted all night.”
“I know,” Maz said. “It’s not that I don’t trust your soldiers, I don’t trust this place.”
“Truly, you think whatever is over there can get across that wild river and attack without us knowing about it?” she asked.
“What’s over there is evil, and I don’t know what it can’t do.”
Ekala studied him. “You worry me, Maz. Something’s got hold of you. We best pick it up and get on to the North Ford as fast as we can.”
She urged Shadahn into a fast trot and the whole column increased their pace. They rode all morning without speaking further until stopping to rest and eat at midday. Maz and Camp were quite hungry by then from missing breakfast. Getting their portion of bread and salted mutton, they sat with the Oleens to eat, letting the horses loose to drink at the river and graze. Maz tried not to look in the direction of the river. Eventually, he could not help himself. The Prince of Toulon stood and gazed across the water at his homeland, at the land he had been forced to flee and was still too dangerous for him to return. Ekala noticed his yearning and decided to leave him alone.