Friday, October 10, 2008

Faith: From the Shadow of Death

(Part of a continuing series. Previous post here, first post here.)

When we left them...

Jared, exiled from his valley home in the mountains at the centre of the world, had found employ as a soldier in the service of the Prince of Ostek. Upon averting an assassination attempt upon the Prince's life – and subsequently identifying the assassin as having some connection with the Beckoners, Jared's former tribe – the Prince gave Jared new employment as a royal advisor. Jared related to the prince his story of the Beckoner plot: a scheme of worldwide genocide against all non-Beckoners, subterfuge in service of which was likely the cause of recent turmoil around Ostek and in nearby lands. Alarmed, but knowing that the Beckoners were few in number, the Prince ordered an expedition to find and crush the Beckoners in their home territory. Two full companies of the Prince's finest marched into the mountains, their trip uneventful until they crossed a long and narrow pass into the first of the many valleys between them and the Beckoners. In that first valley, the expedition stumbled upon a vast encampment of mercenaries, doubtless in service of the enemy. Electing to retreat, resupply, and try an alternate route, the expedition moved swiftly back down the pass from whence they had come – only to be all but annihilated by a sudden rockslide. Jared rose, terribly injured, only to find the others either crushed by rocks or – in the case of several soldiers and, notably, the Prince and his military commander – brutally beheaded. He found only one survivor, buried beneath a layer of boulders and sheltered by corpses – Evelyn, the Prince's niece...

Evelyn woke some time after nightfall. She was lying on the ground, in the middle of unfamiliar woods. The only person she could see was Jared, tending an unidentifiable chunk of meat on a skewer above a crackling fire. His clothes were ragged and torn, and any part of his flesh that was not bruised was cut or scraped – or all three. Despite this slightly gruesome sight, the smell of the meat made Evelyn's mouth water.

She couldn't move.

With a commendable calm, considering the cirumstances, Evelyn asked Jared, “Where am I?”

Jared looked up from the meat, surprised. “Oh. Don't know.”

Evelyn thought. She asked again. “Where are we going?”

“There's a village I know in the region, called Fir by the locals. Stayed there for a while about half a year ago, did some trapping, learned the language. They don't have many strangers there. Too remote. Thought we could rest there, heal before we traveled back to Ostek.”

“We could take the wagons,” Evelyn suggested. “It's probably slower going through the wood, even if Fir is closer-”

“Wagons were smashed,” Jared told her. “Horses are dead.” He gestured vaguely toward the spit.

Evelyn was confronted with three unpleasant questions. She paused, then spoke. “What happened?”

“Rockslide. Fell. Hit the expedition. Me, you. Everyone.”

“Natural or artificial?” Evelyn asked, her voice uneven.

“Artificial, I'd guess. Don't know. Don't know how they'd have gotten past us, either – we rode pretty fast out of the valley, and I don't know how anyone could have overtaken us off the pass, on the slopes.”

“Probably signals,” Evelyn suggested. “Some of the men saw lights at night, on the mountainsides. Probably the enemy lighting fires to warn sentries already in place we were coming.”

Jared offered a noncommittal grunt.

Again Evelyn paused before asking her next question. Uneasily: “Why can't I move?” She could lift her torso, awkwardly – though it hurt to move – but her lower body was covered by a rough brown blanket, and she couldn't seem to move her legs.

Jared, too, paused before giving speech. “Rockslide,” he said. “I found you buried. You got hurt pretty bad.”

“How did I get here?” Evelyn asked.

“I carried you,” Jared told her.

A third pause followed, the longest yet. Then Evelyn spoke, the words spilling out one after another with increasing speed: “Why didn't the others help? Where are the others?

“In the pass,” Jared told her. His words came out slowly, filled with some unidentifiable emotion.

“Dead,” Evelyn whispered.

Jared could not have heard her over the sound of the fire. Still, he nodded.

“The men – all of them. von Erik. My – my uncle.”

Three times, Jared nodded.

For a time, neither said anything. Then, quietly, uncontrollably, Evelyn began to sob.

Jared comforted her, as best he could.

Eventually, they ate. Both devoured the meat voraciously, as though to spite their sorrows- Evelyn especially. She didn't ask where the meat had come from. She suspected the answer, or knew, as she had the other questions – and for a time, she had enough of answers.

[Note: This post was last edited two and a half months ago. Poor blag.]

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