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The weather had finally granted the three travelers with no rain, though the heavy clouds of gray did not move. Droplets of water still splashed them, however, dripping from the tops of the trees above. Strange shafts of a purple light filtered through these trees, and threw eerie spots on the ground before them.
Their footsteps could be heard silently trampling the grubby earth as they trudged slowly on. None of them felt very much like speaking, and only gave little remarks and inquiries of where they were at random times.
It suddenly seemed to never end, the passing of green trees, and the constant sound of rushing water. They were shadowing the river Fenrien, and they walked alongside the flow of water. Jaden reached in his pocket and smiled at the biscuit he had hidden there. Gratefully biting into it, he looked ahead, as if waiting for something to happen.
The air was richly sweet, and the three inhaled deeply to the fresh scent of after-rain and pine.
“Jaden what are we looking for. I say, we should stop, I need to rest….” Bree said suddenly, taking a deep breath and looking pleadingly down at her feet.
“Yeah,” Jaden replied absentmindedly. “Yeah, we will once we reach Firman’s Ferry.”
“Who’s Ferry?” Matthias and Bree asked in unison.
“Firman’s Ferry…the one place my father said was here in the Lum woods that would help us. He said we could get a boat to travel down the river in…should help you there, Bree.” He said, smiling at her. She smiled back, and kept walking.
“And how far is it?” Matthias wondered aloud, not exactly looking where he was walking.
“Shouldn’t be too far, I think…perhaps another four or five miles.”
They reached a glade in the forest, and for some unknown reason stopped where they were to look around. They each looked to the border of trees where the wood continued, as if this clearing were somehow familiar.
“Well, let’s keep going…” Jaden whispered and continued walking in the same direction. It was all beginning to have an effect on the three, and they wished that they could be out of this wood in the air, not cramped up between trees and bramble.

* * *




The “four or five” miles had come and gone, and Jaden, Bree, and Matthias reached a portion of the forest where a hill began, sloping upwards. It was a rather large hill, though the three decided to walked over it. The river Fenrien had gone around, though they figured it would take them off course from Firman’s Ferry.
And true enough, when they reached the top, the first sight they saw was a small cabin at the base of the hill, and a man reclining in a wooden chair, a fishing pole in his lap. Matthias had been right to suppose the river Fenrien would appear on the other side once they had crossed the hill, for there it was.
Neither of them called out anything to the man, and merely surveyed their surroundings. Next to the cabin, bordering the river, a large stake had been driven into the ground; tied to it were ropes that connected to a series of dirty looking ferryboats bobbing slowly in the river.
“This must be it.” Jaden stated, starting down the hill toward the man, followed closely by Bree and Matthias. He walked up to the aging man, and in seeing that he was half dozing, didn’t know what to say at first. He grunted something loud, and it aroused the man fully.
He turned his head slowly and looked at the three young travelers. Then smiling he rose, tossing his fishing pole carelessly to the side.
“Ah,” the man rose stiffly, one hand on the chair. “What might old Faolan do fer’ you young trekkers, eh? Don’t see many folk around these parts, let alone people yer age…” He squinted at them.
“We’ve come to get a boat.” Jaden said firmly to the old man. “…You are—Firman, of course?” He asked suddenly not sure.
“Aye, that I am…Faolan Firman…and I carry the best of ferryboats yeh’ll get anywhere around here. So! Ye say you’re lookin’ for one of my boats, huh? Well follow me, and we’ll see what bargain we can make…” He turned and began hobbling toward the bunch of boats at the river shore.
Matthias turned to Jaden and hissed. “Bargain?! What…we’ve got to pay for one? But we’ve no money!” He exclaimed quietly.
“Yes we do…” Bree said just as softly. “Remember the bag of coins the council gave us in Wynpen…you’ve got it, don’t you, Jaden?” She asked, abruptly worried that they’d forgotten to bring it along. Jaden nodded confirming it, and patted a part of his pack, indicating the sack of coins they had brought along was inside.
Down at the riverboats, Firman turned to them and stretched out a hand to his collection. “So…what boat will you want? Higher quality, higher price, I’m sad to say.” He spoke this gravely, as if it were a tragedy for other’s to pay a high price.
The three looked around at the seven ferries and came to an agreement on one. “We’ll have that one…” Matthias pointed to boat on the far end. Firman looked at him then back at the boat for a second.
“Oh…I’m much afeared that one will cost ye a high price, lad…it’s the best I’ve got.”
Bree looked at the old man sternly for moment and then spoke. “That ferry…is just as in good and bad condition as all the others…what higher price might you be talking about?” She spoke quiet yet unyieldingly to Firman who had now begun to spring a sweat.
“Well uh…yes…yes, I suppose…very insightful, dear! It was merely a test to see if you would catch that! Merely a test…” he tried to sneak his way out of his guilt. He lowered his eyes under the harsh glare of all three companions.
“That’ll…that’ll be eight arcs, no less.” He muttered under his breath, so it was barely audible. Jaden slowly lowered his pack and revealed the noticeably large sack of coins, and opened it. For the first time, all three noticed how much it carried, and wondered how the council had come to gain this.
Jaden removed eight small, but shiny golden coins and dropped them in Firman’s hand. It gave an odd tinkling, and an even odder silence followed, the rushing of the river Fenrien echoing strangely. Faolan Firman nodded remorsefully and turned to untie the requested boat.
When he had done so, he handed the end of the rope to Matthias, and stood still. “May I ask,” he suddenly piped up again. “What might be your destination in my boat?” He raised an eyebrow and looked chiefly to Jaden for an answer.
Immediately they were all reminded of the dire warning not to let anyone know of their doings. Jaden was smarter than to tell him where they’d go and simply replied with,
“We’re on our way to stop Him.”
“Him?”
“The Dark Apparition.” He said openly. Bree elbowed him, and tread on his foot, both to try and stop him from saying more.
“What…” Firman’s voice grew suddenly cold and it trembled. “What do you mean? You jest with me! He is no more…He has been gone for the last how many hundreds of years. This is mean joke!” Firman spoke angrily, clenching his jaw.
“No, I’m not,” Jaden continued to speak gently, “He has returned. The Dark One is a threat once again…and we’re out to stop him.” Bree was about ready to jump on Jaden to stop him from going further.
“Oh, are ye?” The old man challenged Jaden, looking him straight in the eyes. “And who are you youngsters to think that you can stop the Dark One all by yerselves, eh?” He asked harshly. “Mere children settin’ out to do that kind of work. By golly, I don’t even know if you’re tellin’ the truth of His return!”
“Mere children…” Jaden echoed what he had said. “I should have you know that I am a knight of Arndain!” He spoke back with a severe voice. “And it is for your own good that you keep silent of your insolence, henceforth!” Jaden seemed to grow taller, and it was so unlike anything that he had done before, that Bree and Matthias took a step away from him, looking at him in awe.
Faolan Firman was brought to silence immediately, and he could not speak for quite a time, though when he did, his voice trembled much more than before, and his eyes were wide. “A k-knight? O-of Arndain?! Oh, my lord, forgive me, I beg of you. How could I have been so foolish, here, standing and talking in such a manner to you?” He looked at the ground nervously, wishing for it to swallow him up.
“Standing! Oh, dear me, forgive me once again…” Firman got down stiffly on one knee. He reached for Jaden’s hand and stuffed all eight coins back into and closing Jaden’s hand tight around them. “It is not right for me to deprive this of knight of Arndain. Keep it, and once again forgive me of my impudence!” He trembled at Jaden’s feet.
Both Bree and Matthias were even more taken aback by the ferryman’s reactions, and stood stock still, staring incredibly at the scene taking place before them.
Suddenly Firman rose and turned to his home. “You will, of course,” he said, bowing his head lightly to Jaden, “Take rest in my humble home? I have not much to offer but it is all. And your companions will be made at home as well…” He looked worriedly at Jaden, unsure of what this knight was about to do to him.
“I have pity on you and the state you’re in…” Jaden’s spoke with a made up contempt, he figured all knights possessed, and spoke disdainfully down at the old man. “I’ll accept your offer, for the lady here is in need of a rest, and I shall spare you much…” He motioned to Bree.
It took her only a second to catch on, and she began to act as thought she really were tired and in need of resting. Firman nodded his head vigorously at once, and led the way to his small cabin. Really, Jaden, nor the other two would have liked to stay at this rundown place at all, though they figured to play the game right was more important than real comfort.
Firman’s home was just as musty and dirty as they had expected, and more. Bree made all sorts of faces at the dust covered furniture and couldn’t decide if she wanted to sit down or not. But Jaden gave her a look to say she must, and she did, uneasily seating herself at the edge of a small wooden chair.
Firman was tending to a large cauldron hung over a hearth and flames licked the bottom of the black pot. “It’s not much,” Faolan remarked, tasting a bit of his own soup. “But otter stew’s all I’ve got…I say, sir, you must seat yourself and make yourself comfortable…aye, that’s it, now you just stay put until I’ve got your meal ready now, huh?”
Matthias preferred to stay back a little ways, leaning against the corner of the cabin and surveying everything before him. Jaden, on the other hand, set his things to the side of the room (whispering for Matthias to watch over them) and easily seated himself at the table.
Before long, a bowl of steaming stew, undoubtedly larger than the other two, was set before him. Firman handed the others to Bree and Matthias, who looked at the bowls with uncertainty. Eventually they all decided to eat, and felt uncomfortable under the hungry gaze of Firman as he watched theme eat.
“So,” Firman began “is there anything I can do for ye? Perhaps tell tales while you eat…I’ve known knights to always have keenness on recalling stories of old…or perhaps I could play my flute to your liking? What would ye like?”
“Uh…well…perhaps you could tell me of old stories you know.” Jaden stuttered slightly, preferring to choose what he said about knights having a so-called ‘keenness’ on stories, rather than a music; and besides, he had a faint idea that Firman was no real musician at all…
The old man readily agreed and began with ancient tales of the times when Edelon had great power, and the Dark One was still at large. He recalled the great battles that Ardain fought when it was a great civilization, mentioning once or twice the name of the grandfather of Solomon.
Eventually these subsided, and Firman asked them all, “So is this honorable little visit for the afternoon, or am I to expect you all to stay the night?”
“Oh, I believe it’s only necessary for us to remain for the afternoon, thank you very much…”
“Are you sure? I’m more than happy to lend my…”
“It’s absolutely alright.”
Bree and Matthias nodded their heads vigorously in agreement, and Firman did as well. “Whatever you say…whatever you say…”
“And I think it is high time we departed now,” Matthias spoke suddenly from the shadows in his corner. Bree and Jaden readily agreed, eager to leave the filthy cottage and be on their way. Firman regretted not being able to be more of a host, though let them go easily.
Out by the boat, Firman explained how they would be keeping it no doubt, and was in no need of a return. Jaden figured it had to have been a gift concerning him being a knight of Arndain. The three thanked him, and tossed their packs in the ferryboat.
“Ah, might you be an archer of a sort?” Faolan asked of Bree, warily eyeing the bow she carried, slung across her back. “Well then,” he continued, not thinking to even let her answer. “I’ve got a little gift for you too, m’ dear! Ah, if you’ll just let me fetch it in m’ house real fast…” He dashed as quickly as possible back inside, and returned to them carrying a bundle full of arrows; with these, he snuggled them firmly in Bree’s quiver himself.
“Aye, there ye are! Fine arrows made of willow shafts…should do you good. Well now, young Matthias, I’m afraid I’ve nothing for you. But I can say I hope you fare well under the protection of this mighty knight.” He bade Matthais good luck, and gave Jaden another grin.
Jaden nodded back and hopped nimbly into the boat. It rocked at first, and gave a slow moan, though that all ceased and soon all three were seated comfortably inside.
Matthais, placed in the rear of the boat, picked up the wooden paddle he saw lying on the bottom, and stuck it in the water, driving it deep to the ground below. “Well, we’ll be off now…” Jaden said to Firman, nodding another thanks, and motioned for Matthias to push off.
“May you—uh—catch many fish...” Matthias gave his own good tidings to the man, and Faolan Firman broke into a peal of merry laughter. “I will young one! I will!” He replied happily and waved as they boat set off down the river.


* * *

“A knight of Arndain?!”
Bree could not stifle her mirth, and laughed at Jaden for a good twenty minutes after they had left the sight of Faolan Firman. She thought it to be such a hoax and could not understand how Jaden kept a straight face through it all.
However, Jade, on the other hand, was not appearing as one to laugh about it at all. “It’s really not a joke…I’ll explain it to you, Bree…perhaps tonight.”
“Oi, Jaden, where are we to camp the night anyway?” Matthias called to him from the back of the boat. None of the three had given it much thought all day long as to where they would be spending the night; but now as they were confronted with the question, Jaden answered, saying they’d find a decent spot near the river shore.
They had picked up a rather rapid pace now, and saw now how well-built Firman’s ferryboats actually were, effortlessly maneuvering the stronger rapids. Jaden now got often thoughts of the sea, and each spray of river mist came in contact with his face. He really knew not why, but had a strange longing to travel the seas on a great ship at that point.
Both Jaden and Bree were surprised at how skilled Matthias was in maneuvering a boat, not even giving it consideration if he knew how when they first climbed in.
The river went on and on forever, winding this way and that, with no end in sight. The late afternoon and dawned on them, and the sky began turning a light orange. Matthias suggested they stop for the day, so they’d have what remaining sunlight to set up a camp. Jaden and Bree agreed, and they pulled off the river on to the banks where in front of them lay a small stretch of land covered in naught but leaves.
Matthias attended to finding wood for a fire, Jaden to unloading, and Bree saw the dinner fixed. It all went rather quickly with three strong hearts working all at once, and soon they gathered round a decent fire with bread and meat.
These they heated against the fire along with their hands. Bree got her hands warm and then pressed them to her face to further warm her cheeks, repeating this over and over again. Matthias and Jaden left reality for the time being, staring distantly into the fire, as a fire could always seduce one to do so, and were deathly quiet. Jaden’s mind was filled with thoughts of the events that had happened on their first day, while Matthias wondered what possibly lay ahead of them.
“Um…now,” Bree broke the silence, and it sounded somewhat awkward. Both Matthias and Jaden raised their heads, returning from far away, not knowing to whom she was addressing.
“About you being a knight of Arndain…” She nodded towards Jaden and a small smile escaped her lips. Jaden tried to return it and failed—the matter was serious to him. Matthias turned to his companion, now wondering of the same thing, and waited for an answer.
“Right,” Jaden sighed, and adjusting himself comfortably on the ground. “It all happened back in Wynpen…the day before we left. I was with my father, and…well let me take you both back to Ardain some many months ago:
“We had not been thrown into exile just yet,” Jaden started, throwing Bree a regretful look. “And my father was still a well-known general in those days. He had brought me aside one night, and spoke gently to me. He explained of how some day when I was old enough, he would bring me to the cathedrals in Arndain where they officially made a knight a knight. No doubt I was very excited, and his eyes radiated pride when he spoke of it. I, even then at that age, knew the respect knights of Arndain received no matter where in the world they were. People knew of them, knew of their ranks in a hierarchy (though we never really had one) and ability legends told of them. Then it all happened, we were banished, exiled, and well—I never got the chance. I suppose my father never saw it appropriate henceforth to appoint me as a knight if we weren’t allowed to have it done properly in the suitable place. But it was then, the night before we left Wynpen, he brought me aside as he had done before, and told me that it had better be now if never; I wondered what he could have possibly been talking about, of course. He said he had every right as a general of Arndain, or so he still viewed himself as one despite his denouncing, and explained how he was capable of appointing me as a knight of Arndain. I objected somewhat, saying it really ought to be done in the cathedrals of Arndain, though I soon had no reluctance to accept his offer. We both took it no less seriously than if we really were back in Arndain, and I now for certain don’t observe myself as any less a knight of Arndain than another. That’s why it was not all that easy for me to laugh…”
Jaden explained his last bit to Bree, and she looked at him with eyes of renewed respect, and tried to mutter a soundless apology. Matthias as well was greatly staggered by hearing this story, and gave Jaden a new respect along with Bree, knowing very well himself the importance of a knight of Arndain held.
“Yes, I know I am, but honestly, you don’t have to treat me any different than you have prior to this…really, I wouldn’t say I wanted either of you to! And it’s also true for anyone else (poor old Firman)…they can’t possibly tell I am one, seeing that I don’t look it whatsoever.” Jaden gave his sword a pitiful glance, feeling more than ever now that he needed a new one.
There was a short silence, save the crackling of the fire, and Jaden saw Matthias smile at him through the orange flames whipping an inconsistent wall in-between them. “Well I, for one, do…” Matthias whispered. “Perhaps it was not that I knew you exactly to be a knight of Arndain, but when I first saw you I knew there was something extraordinary; and it’s shown throughout what little time I have known you, Jaden…it’s shown.”
“And you…” Jaden returned the comment and he meant it exceptionally.
“Oh, you boys are so stupid, and I love it!” Bree exclaimed, standing from her spot and retreating to her small tent, for what assumedly was the night. Both Matthias and Jaden chuckled together for the first time in quite a while, and (after dousing the fire) did the same. The two walked slowly over to their own larger tent in the dark, thinking of how well their first day had gone. If it all went as smoothly as this, they’d be back in Wynpen in no time….





------
Nathan D. Gage


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