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chap. 9—The first step.



The weather around Wynpen had grown to be calmer than the storms that had drawn on for days, and a light breeze blew around the castle, relieving everything and everyone for the time being. The gray sky had not let up, however, and heavy slurs of stormy clouds lay overhead.
The council had readily agreed to Jaden’s idea of traveling to the hidden library within the Carrion Mountains, and was appreciative of Solomon’s agreement. They spent times during the dull days making arrangements for the journey, when it would be appropriate to leave, and who would have the gumption to go.
Most surprisingly for everyone, they had decided both Solomon and Gregory to stay behind, something they objected to, saying, “Who else would go then?!” though they had a very faint, frightening idea of who.
It was chosen by the council that Matthias and Jaden were to go (perhaps due to his captivating speech the other day), and a reluctant decision to allow Bree to follow after her filibustering protests. All three were taken aback by the decision, and they could only imagine what it would be like now, on their own, without the older ones they had depended upon all their lives.
Solomon and Mr. Basil tried their best to congratulate their children, suppressing what they thought was rejection, and anxiety for their travels without them. The hard part on the members of the council was to make plans and decide what preparation was necessary, enough for them to avoid starving, but not too much to slow their progress. They wanted this journey to be a short one, quick that would end with as least dangers as possible.

A few days had gone by since the council had decided on this, and on an evening that presented a magnificent sunset through the window, Jaden was talking with Matthias in his room. Both were trying to hold back what excitement was possible, as they unsheathed their swords and were cleaning them somewhat absentmindedly.
“Jaden, you really think we’re up to this?” Matthias inquired of him, unsure of this choice, as he ran his finger along the patterns on Avenfern’s hilt. Matthias had always been the one who was afraid of venturing out of Wynpen to other places, and now that they were getting prepared to set out for such an ambitious objective, he had his second thoughts.
“Hmm…” Jaden thought, holding his sword up in the air, and watching the red of the dying sun reflect curious lights across the room. He had, however, a rather disappointed look on his face. He needed a new one.
“Well, Matthias, if you’re really wondering, I think we are. No doubt every one of us is quite frightened to be on a dangerous excursion for the first time, as anyone would be, mind you, yet I have confidence that we can handle it….” He said, coolly, and it appeared as if he had prepared it for when he knew Matthias would question him.
Matthias considered his words, and eventually sighed heavily, trying desperately to release some of the gathering fear, growing deep inside him. “So…where do you think our first destination will be, anyways?”
“First destination?” Jaden looked up at him. “Oh…well I couldn’t help but overhearing the councilors today…sounded as if they wanted to give us enough provisions to last us to Ereth Londale where they plan to have us stay for a bit and replenish. You’ve wanted to travel there before, haven’t you?” He suddenly remembered Matthias mentioning before his desire to visit Ereth Londale and the Bruishire.
“Well,” Matthias began, looking away and sheathing his sword, he was apparently blushing to some extent. “Yes, I suppose I have…well, really, I’ve always wanted to. And I can’t seem to figure out why…”
“Is it because that’s where you think you really come from?” Jaden went further with the conversation, delving into Matthias’s past and personal matters without so much as a thought of consideration.
Matthias saw no reason to hide his feelings and admitted readily, “Yes. Yes that is why…I’ve had the story of my discovery told me to over and over when my mother, Gwendolyn, still lived,” he strangled slightly on these words. “A-and…well I can’t help but to think it’s true. Well I’m sure you could understand it if you’ve never visited the place you figure is where you’ve come from.” He took a deep breath as if it took a lot of effort to say those things, and looked fondly around the room with a glazed expression.
Jaden nodded his head, and in sheathing his own sword, suggested they go back down to find everyone. Night was approaching, and tomorrow would be their last day in Wynpen…for the time being, leastwise.
Back in the great hall, they found the council having their own meal, conversing in hushed voices, and thought not to disturb them. Jaden and Matthias thought next that everyone else might either be in the halls around, or out in the courtyard.
They decided to try the courtyard first, and fortunately they had guessed right, for everyone was indeed there. Solomon and his wife, sat next to the Basils, and Jaden could not help but comprehend what was on their minds to possibly show the sadness on their faces. Jaden wondered why this adventure they talked so vigorously of just a few days ago had now become a cheerless reminder for everyone.
Bree sat in between her mother and father, holding her knees, as they each had a hand on her shoulder and talked of they-knew-what. Jaden took a deep sigh, trying to return Bree’s weak smile, and he retreated over to his own mother and father, not caring to be near them any longer.
Matthias knew not what to do in this situation, for neither families were his, and he failed to stifle a look of pain and sorrow on his face, as he climbed a flight of stone steps on the inner side of the wall and walked silently through an archway, disappearing to his own remote place.
Jaden wanted to call him over, but frankly did not have the voice to do so and merely let his parents lay their hands firmly on his own shoulders, as the Basils had done with Bree. He glanced over, exchanging a reassuring look with Bree, though they were weak, and both could note the apprehension in the atmosphere. No one spoke a word, and gazed upwards at the red sky, watching the beautiful light slowly die.


* * *




Night had fallen, and everyone within Wynpen had retired for the night, half-ready to face the entire ‘goodbye’s’ the next day. It was a starless, moonless night as the clouds had refused to let up any at all, and they even appeared to look stormy once again.

The morning seem to come almost nearly as quickly, and some woke before others, these particularly Jaden, Matthias, and Bree.
They all knew the reason for waking so early, though each one tried to conceal it by presenting their refreshed and renewed side. They had their meal quietly, talking of how exciting the adventure would be…these three really seemed to be the ones who weren’t afraid (save Matthias), and delighted in talking about how grand the journey ought to be.
Matthias tried to join along in the enthusiasm they showed, though it was harder for him—kindly, both Jaden and Bree understood, and tried their best to relieve Matthias without showing that they knew of what he feared.
“Really, you think we’ll come across anything awfully dangerous?” Bree remarked half-excitedly.
“Well I suppose it all really depends on how seriously we take our task…I believe we can make it as dangerous as we want, or reduce unnecessary risk if we keep our heads together.”
“Alright…and say what if there was danger out there: how are we going to handle it when it’s too late?” Matthias wondered aloud.
“Well, the worse case scenario, I guess, would be that we encounter a being highly violent, and unable to communicate with us…it honestly is best to sort complications out with the opposing beings through logic and compensation!”
Bree and Matthias considered this, looking at the table with faraway looks, and nodding their heads slowly.
“Oh dear, I do hope this awful weather won’t hold up for very long....” Bree sighed. “It’d be dreadful to begin a great—our great—adventure with a stormy impression!” She leaned on her elbow, chin resting on a fist.


“Yes, Bree, it would be indeed. But I’m sure it can only get better from here! The horrid rain is finally over, and now the clouds have a whole day to dissipate before tomorrow morning….”


“O yes, by the way, when are we leaving tomorrow? Has it got to be so very early? I don’t particularly do well in early mornings.” She and Jaden chuckled softly, however Matthias still remained silent.


“Say we did encounter something like that,” he began again, randomly bringing up the conversation the other two had left behind. “Do you imagine us to have to use our—well—you think we’ll have to fight?”


Jaden sighed and smiled at his friend. “Matthias…I’m sure we’ll be fine! And if it did come to that, I promise—nothing is going to happen to you.”


“Well I don’t want anything happening to you, either!” Bree exclaimed, looking seriously at Jaden, who bit his lip and tried to avoid her stern gaze.
He did not reply.
An awkward silence held then for only a moment, when they decided they’d find the supply lists from the council and perhaps begin packing.





It was not long before the council had come forth from their small room, and Jaden took the responsibility of speaking to them, requesting the provisions list. He knew they had made one, and wished only that they’d give it to him.


“Well,” the Lord Cindain began, and he seemed to be in a very good mood for whatever reason. “I suppose it is high time we handed it over, wouldn’t you all agree?” He looked for opinions from the other councilors. They all agreed in the same, and he reached deep within one of the pockets in his deep purple robe, and drew up a parchment that had been rolled into a scroll-like fashion.


Jaden received it gratefully, and bowed respectfully to the full council. He walked back to where Matthias and Bree were standing, waiting for his answer. He held the scroll in the air prior to reaching them, and they smiled, knowing he had got it.


They proceeded to walk to somewhere solitary, it being dressing chamber where maids would adorn nobles with posh clothing before important events within the castle. Of course now there were no maids, no nobles, merely the chamber, and the clothing it carried.


And there was tons of it. Bree and Jaden loved this room, for they’d only been here a few times. Shelves were piled high with robes, dresses, hard leather vests, wool top pieces, and soft silk accessories. On the floor all types of soft leather boots were places in rows, patterns on most, some with the toe ends turned up, others ends covered with a solid iron layer.


“Well then,” Jaden began, tearing his eyes away from the magnificent scene before them. “Shall we have a look at this?” He held up the parchment, and unrolled it. On it was a rather crude handwriting, as if it had been done hastily, and much unlike the formal letter he saw received by the Lord Gilroc. Black ink blotches dotted the page in random areas, and some parts of the writing were rather hard to decipher. It read:



Provisions required, making load as manageable as possible:
1.

New pairs of boots for each one, three suits of clothing intended for cold weather, and three animal skin rugs. And three cloaks of the color black.
2.

One mug each, one knife, four large loaves of bread, three slabs of cooked meat, and a jar of butter.

Jaden, bring your amulet for you-know-what in case weather does not permit fire making to be easy. And bring your swords along! I have heard that Bree Basil is a fair archer, and we advise her to bring her bow along as well.

Note: Use your weapons as little as possible! Unless it is a life-threatening situation, do not attempt to threaten, exhibit, or show off your weapons in any manner. It is crucial that we go as unnoticed as possible, and these are some of the greatest ways to get yourself known!

The letter was most strange, and Jaden furrowed his eyebrows, scrutinizing the barely readable words. Bree however, had already been scampering around the room, picking things up off the shelves as Jaden had read it aloud.
“Hmm…I wonder why he emphasized the word ‘black’ in the color of what our cloaks should be—it’s underlined.” Jaden held the letter farther away from him, as if it would change at different distances.
“Black,” Matthias eventually spoke after thinking for a time, “is to conceal ourselves at night; make us harder to spot. I remember hearing it from a game hunter I used to know here in Wypnen…he taught be some valuable skills…now I think we have some black cloaks around here somewhere…” he wandered over toward the shelves, rummaging his hands through some of the higher ones.
“As manageable as possible, they say!” Bree exclaimed, holding a pile of clothing, and stumbling back to Jaden. “This load is already quite heavy, let alone the food items we have to handle!”
Jaden laughed aloud. “And, Bree, it says here that I have to bring my amulet for “you-know-what”. He winked at her. Suddenly his face went quite blank and his fingers strayed to the amulet at his chest.
“Bree,” he said softly. “The council…one of them…my amulet….” he spoke in severed sentences.
“What is it, Jaden?” Bree set down the large pile of clothes, and looked at him concerned.
“The council,” he repeated. “One of the councilors here in Wynpen was the one who gave me my amulet…I mean, how else would he know what it was for unless he was the one who had given it to me?!” He exclaimed, clutching the oaken talisman under his shirt, and squeezing it gently.
Bree smiled at him and said quietly, “Surprises do happen you know…” Her grin grew larger and she continued sorting out the piles of clothes.
Matthias had succeeded in finding three cloaks of a pitch black color, and he brought along three pairs of boots as well. “Well, I’ve got these here,” he said, dropping them on the floor next to Bree’s collection of provisions.
The three spent all of the morning gathering what they needed on the provisions list, and only when noon had come, did they finish. Each had gotten a meal and they took it outside to the courtyard to eat. Everyone else, save the council, had come to join them, and the feeling was much more jovial than that of the previous evening.
Both families spent much time telling the three of how well they would do, and how proud they would make the home of Wynpen. Jaden, Bree, and Matthias all accepted this gratefully, hoping inside that they would really be able to succeed and come home unharmed….

It was not until that afternoon that the council showed itself, and the only reason was to request the three adventurers’ audience in their keep. Jaden and Matthias both remembered the inside of that small, avoided room, though Bree was very interested in seeing it for the first time.
They took seats once again around the table, and each minister turned to them with serious looks on their faces.
“This is a meeting to discuss how you are to travel, and what roads are intended for you to take…and by me saying that, we really mean for none of you to take actual ‘roads’”. The Lord Cindain spoke first with a concise beginning.
“First off, however,” the Lord Amondil cut in, “allow us to explain where in order we intend for you to travel. We want you to take a trail along the river Fenrien, through the Lum woods till you reach the northeastern end. It brings you close to Tolphecia, though make sure you are bearing to the east, and do not trespass in that domain. From there, just bit farther up the river, it will bring you to the Bruinshire. Now the river Fenrien runs straight through this town, as the Bruinshire was built around it, and this is where you will stay for a few days and restock on your supplies. We are providing you with the proper amount of money needed, and we ask that you do not stray north to Ereth Londale,” he gave a quick glance at Matthias who’s face had sunken.
“Ereth Londale is a large city, and we want to go unnoticed. Unless,” he said, giving Matthias one more look “…unless it is an urgent matter, and would cause fewer complications, only then can you travel there. Otherwise, stay to the south of the city, and travel straight past it.”
“From there forth,” Gilroc now spoke, “there is large area of plains and prairies, something that is to your advantage. Pass villages without stopping, avoid unnecessary conversations with other travelers, and you should be quite fine. Just after these plains, however, the southern tip of the Nuorn swamp lies in your path. We have come to a reluctant agreement to let you pass around it, instead of through it which I’m sure would save complications…nevertheless, going around brings you closer to Edelon—and we can’t have that. After passing around this, we are not sure what terrain lies between that and the Carrion Mountains. Enter the Carrion Mountains, to conceal yourself better, and just northward lies the hidden Library….”
“And Solstice the dragon,” Matthias muttered. Jaden had a look of trouble on his face, and when asked what it was he replied, slowly shaking his head.
“Well this sounds like a good sense of traveling, though—I can’t possibly remember all that!”
“Oh! We will be providing you with a map, of course!” The Lord Ragmar Hramm, produced one that he had apparently been keeping on his lap the whole time. He handed it over, and Jaden took it, immediately unrolling it, and scanning the map for where each place the council had just mentioned was. After a quiet pause, he had found every area, and they all sat in silence for a while not knowing quite yet what to say.
“So…how does it look? Do you think there’s a better route?”
“No. No, this just fine…I’m sure it’ll be very easy…” Jaden replied, and none of the council caught the hint of sarcasm in his voice.
After a while longer, they had left, realizing it was their meal time, and had a sickening feeling to think of it as their last meal before they started off.
The quite table in the great hall had tried to put on its most cheerful face as they ate. Jaden’s mother and Mrs. Basil were going frantic, trying to remind of anything they might have forgotten. And when everything on the list had been checked off mentally, she went through it again. Solomon was disappointed after wanting the chance to remind him of the old days as a general. Gregory was perhaps to say the least downright sulky, and most surprisingly, he only mulled over his food.
Everyone else noticed this change in attitude, though they tried to avoid getting involved in it.
Dinner came and went, and everyone wanted to get to sleep a little early (though they doubted it was possible) as to have a fresh start, knowing they were leaving early.
And true enough, as each lay down in their beds, thoughts raged in their minds, rendering it impossible to get much sleep. No one had dozed off until past midnight, and when they finally did, all slept on thoughts of how the lack of sleep would affect them in the morning.
And their dreams were strange. Jaden dreamed immediately that they had succeeded in finding the hidden library, though the dragon Solstice was nowhere to be seen. And on the journey back, he remembered catching glimpses of the dragon flying in the sky. Bree, on the other hand, had horrible dreams of it raining constantly as they traveled. And then quite suddenly they changed to warm, peaceful dreams of them eating hearty meals and having hot baths and nice beds in the Bruinshire.
And finally Matthias had dreams more on the negative side, though they didn’t so much as disturb him. The three of them were traveling along the river Fenrien, trudging wearily alongside it. He was alone with Jaden and Bree though strangely, they didn’t seem to notice him there. Why they didn’t travel down the river by boat, as the council suggested, he didn’t know; however on the back of his mind, he had dark, vague ideas of events that had happened to them earlier to prevent this. He didn’t fear them, he didn’t care, and he had no intentions to try and converse with his companions. He merely walked silently alongside them, soaking in the scene with a blank face, like one who knew nothing, had no mind.


* * *


It seemed as if they had only slept for minutes when Jaden rolled in his bed, and reluctantly opened his eyes. The pale light filtering through the window was very dull, though something inside his head told him that it was later in the morning than what he really thought.
For a fleeting moment, all memory of their awaiting journey slipped his mind, and he made for falling back to sleep, though it slowly came back. He took a deep breath, and reluctantly climbed stiffly from his bed.
Leaving his room, Jaden kept feeling waves of anxiety pass over him, and he thought maybe he should wake the others. However, when he was on the main floor, he was met with his own family and Bree. Gregory and Bree’s mother were absent along with Matthias. Jaden received an unnecessary feeling of unease, and we asked where Matthias was.
Bree answered she didn’t know. “I thought I heard him for a moment, early this morning, though I’ve no idea where he might have got to…oh, Jaden, you don’t think he’s gone and hid from us now, do you?” Bree got a wild idea.
“No, no,” Jaden waved the suggestion away. “He wouldn’t back out on us now. We’ve got a job to do, and I know however—um—nervous he may be about the whole thing, he’s a loyal person…he’d never do such a thing!”
Bree agreed quietly, and they put their hands in their pockets and sort of sulked, waiting for something to happen. Solomon beckoned them in to the great hall where they would all gather together as a request of the council.
Silently walking through the immense halls, they suddenly felt very much attached to the castle of Wynpen here, and had something of an objection to leave. Before they knew it, they were standing in the group in the great hall and Matthias, seeming to appear from nowhere, joined them. They waited for a time before the council showed themselves. They had become rather notorious for their habits of showing up late for their own meetings.
Nevertheless, they did show up as they always had before, and taking their seats silently, they all began their final meeting together; either for quite some time—or perhaps forever.
“Well,” The lord Cindain spoke first, in a noticeably gruff voice. “We all know why we’re here, I’m sure…” he nodded in Jaden, Bree, and Matthias’s direction. “And I’ve one thing to say: we’re proud of the three of you.”
Everyone around was rather taken aback, for none of the Lords here in Wynpen had ever spoken something personal; they always stuck to their job of getting down to business, never thinking of commenting in such a way. And it did take a short pause, before they broke in large grins.
All of them could hear Bree inhale deeply; faltering in spots, showing clearly that it was indeed heartrending for her to leave now. And Jaden knew, knowing her for so long, that she was very keen on staying put in Wypnen, though even more willing to obey the council.
Bree smiled wide, though inside her heart was aching for every person here. And when she saw young Thomas at the far end looking back at her, she felt she could no longer hold on to the grief that tormented her. Thomas’s soft blue eyes were very much shiny, and as a tear welled up on his straight face, Bree bit her lip hard as she saw a large tear fall down his cheek.
She sat there, her smile slowing disappearing, and simply looked back at him, trying to pretend the tear on her own face was unreal. Thomas was the strongest boy she had ever seen. Though his eyes sprouted tears that streamed rapidly down his pale cheeks onto the back of his palms, his face was rigid, determined not to show fear.
Bree felt compelled to do the same, and rather than to keep her face contorted with anguish, she let it remain still, and did not even blink though the tears came, just as resolute not to show fear.
And then as if Thomas could read her mind, he whispered, “Tears are not a sign of fear, Bree; in this matter they are a sign of care…” He did not smile at all, though the light in his eyes suggested one. Bree could have hardly heard him, though strangely she could somehow read his lips, and she understood.
Jaden, right next to her, tried hard not to look at either of them, though he knew what was going on, and he put a hand on Bree’s shoulder.
He nodded his head a few times looking for something to say, and he finally gave a simple “We’re going to be alright,” as he sighed deeply.
Both Jaden’s mother and Mrs. Basil were in the most horrid state, as they were bawling all over the place, soaking their shirts, and suddenly emitting quiet but painful moans. Jaden could think of nothing to do to comfort his mother. And when he looked into the eyes of Solomon, everything else suddenly seemed to be a dream.
His ears no longer worked properly, for he could not hear the soft cries around him, and it appeared that his father was the only person he could look at. There was a aching look in both men, and Jaden could hear his father speaking to him in his mind.
Jaden, you make me so proud. You always have. I’ve no doubt you will succeed…and I pray—I know—that you will r-return…safely…
Thank you, dad. And it makes me no less proud to be your son. I will come home. I will. A-and you and mother…I just…I love you both.
Reality then came back for both of them, and Solomon reached out a hand, and took Jaden’s own in it. He held it extremely tight, taking very deep breaths, and hoping to remain calm. With Jaden’s other arm, he put this around Matthias’s shoulder, and squeezed reassuringly; for Matthias, seeing both families comforting their children, grew more painfully dispirited and wish for nothing more than to have a family like that to hold on to.
Cindain continued, and it suddenly seemed quite a long time ago when he had first spoken. “My friends…we have gathered here to say our goodbyes. Usually it is appropriate for those who bid the others farewell to stand and watch them depart; though as the weather is not permitting, the council has found it unsuitable to do so. Therefore, we have come here to wish you three good luck in this…I speak for the other four here,” he gestured to them, “that you will be successful. Now, look here,”
He rose, and the council followed him in standing. “It is getting late,” he cast a quick glance over to large dwarf-made clock at the end of the hall, and grunted. “Nearly seven! I’d of hoped for you three to have received an earlier start, but this should do alright….” He led the way out of the great hall, and everyone followed.
Jaden walked proudly next to Matthias, who tried to do so as well, under the reassuring arms of his Solomon and his mother. Bree was walking with her arm around Thomas, and leaning on Gregory’s shoulder. She whispered down to the boy.
“Oh, Thomas, however did you do it? How did you leave here and travel to Arndain without so much as an objection? I feel so horrible now having to leave my home…and you had stayed here for an even shorter amount of time!”
Thomas smiled. “I finally understood why I did it so easily, Bree…and I think someday I will tell you…” he grinned wider, and looked forward down the halls.
It seemed like such a very long time to reach the main gate, though it came, nonetheless, and they were soon saying their final goodbyes. Jaden, Bree, and Matthias looked around one last time to see if they had everything. Jaden and Matthias strapped their swords firmly to their sides, as Bree swung her requested bow and quiver over her shoulder, and they looked at each other for a moment, unsure.
Though as they each slowly nodded, the gate was put down, and all were met with a heavy draft of cold wind and light rain. They all frowned back at the miserable weather, and took heavy sighs at the mere sight of it.
“I thought this weather was going to stop, Jaden…”
“Yeah, I thought so too.”
Even though everyone decided to stay inside the castle to keep away from the rain, Solomon, Gregory, and Thomas walked out with them, not caring about the drizzle that soaked them.
Bree hugged her father one last time; Jaden and Solomon each had a hand on the other’s shoulder, and they seemed to be able to read each other’s minds. Nodding solemnly, they broke apart, and Jaden turned, followed by Matthias and Bree. He could sense the apprehension in Matthias, and he tried his best to assure him everything would be alright.
Already, Jaden’s brown hair was being plastered to him, and he hung his head low to let it fall from his face. Bree had tied her own hair, though it felt uncomfortable, and (not caring) she let it go down in the rain.
The sun was nowhere to be seen, and the dull lights seem to emanate strangely from the dark gray clouds above. It felt strange taking the first step away from Wynpen, unsure of what would happen. Matthias caught up to Jaden in the front, feeling it was necessary they begin sort of conversation to get their minds off of things.
“Jaden, where’ve we got to go first?” He said softly. Bree walked up next to them, engaging herself in the conversation.
“Well,” he started with a deep breath. “We’ve got to follow the river Fenrien…in there.” He pointed towards the Lum woods, and began bearing in its direction. Casting one last glance back, he saw Solomon, Gregory, and Thomas still standing there watching them depart.



------
Nathan D. Gage


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