By a Bridge of Bones - Chapter 2

Fantasy written by kidkboom on Thursday 5, July 2007

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Ch.2 of my current w.i.p.

Overall Rating: 92%

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CHAPTER 2 The morning sun was a welcome sight for young Deru's eyes as it glinted off of the very outermost part of the mouth of the little cave in which he slept. Cold, sore and battered though he felt from the previous night's ordeals, and bruised in more than a couple of places, he was thrilled to be alive, free of the clutches of the attackers that had come in the night. Deru groaned and stretched his aching frame like a rusty wagon axle in the snow. Moving gingerly, he donned his robes, which had mostly dried during his slumber. He shivered as a breeze blew into his cave from across the shore, reminding him of the chill of the night past. He walked out of the cave, into the warming light of the dawn. It was a glorious sight to behold dawn on the cliffs of the Tayhills shoreline. He had always enjoyed it, being a fitful sleeper and often still awake at dawn. Golden and flaming, O, the Great Sun, rose in the East and lit the sea afire, glittering like scattered diamonds across its rippling surface. The youth had always thought it to be one of the best parts of his home here. Former home, he thought. He let the dawn's heat shake the shiver from his bones as his mind struggled with the size of what had happened. All of his fellow pupils, all of the teachers, even the high mages - gone. It was commonly known that the study of magic was frowned upon by many throughout the Provinces - mostly commoners, town and cityfolk, who were staunch followers of O - who thought of the arcane arts as blasphemy, and feared to be the work of evil. But there had never been anything like this. Who would attack a school? It was unheard of. And to slaughter so many innocent people, most of them youths like himself - surely even the common folk would see this as a crime, Deru considered. Surely his kind weren't hated that sorely, he assured himself. Not so suddenly. Still, he thought as he stood, strengthened by the warmth of the sun, and turned toward the woods to the West, it was best to be as careful as possible. He could tell no one of himself or the school, even of the attack, nothing that hinted at his knowledge of the arcane arts, until he was sure he was safe. He did not know the school's assailants, but he also did not know their reach, whose interests they were working for. He thought of Yri again. He did not know the Tayhills region well enough to navigate himself back to his hometown, but he could seek directions along the road. Young Deru, bolstering his confidence and borrowing from the glory of the sunrise behind him, headed up the beach, toward the forest that ran along the land from the shore. Once he had surmounted the height of the rising slope of the beach as it ran into the vivid green of the land, he walked between the trees, through the forest, keeping Westward to the best of his ability as the ocean grew distant behind him and the foliage enclosed around its view. Once he was back in his hometown, the tiny village known as Grange, he knew he would be safe again. Yri could surely help him; she would know what to do. ------- The hours of the morning slid by, and the chill that the air had held in the evening quickly fled, soon fully replaced by the healthy warmth of spring sun and the salty wet of air that moved in from the sea back in the East. The forest had a wonderful scent to it, Deru had noticed as he traversed along its course through the morning. Many of the growing flora he knew from studies at the school, but many were new to him, and several of them were beginning to flower, spreading their fragrance across the length of the wood. In fact the entire forest was a beauteous sight as it awoke to spring. The canopy was light and thin, composed of small, bright green new leaves, many of which were still budding as they awoke from their winter slumber. It was all delightful to Deru, whose travel experience had been minimal, little more than the trip from his home in the village Grange to the school at Tayhill and a hazy trip to Leore when he was very young. In fact, it was so engaging for the bright young lad that he continually had to remind himself of his predicament, namely that he had no coin, food or water, and had just survived an ordeal that should have cost him his life. He tried to retain his focus and make good time on his path through the wood, though he had no idea where indeed he was heading, other than that it was West, and he had walked the length of the morning. At last, late into the warm, bright morning, Deru came upon something in the wood that caught his interest. In the distance, beyond a wall of thin, young oaks, he saw a small structure in a clearing. He made haste along the forest uneven floor to get a better look, his dangling legs unsurely tackling the burms, hills, roots and rocks of the rough terrain, tripping now and then with one leg and catching himself with the other. As he approached, the structure became clearer in his view. It was a small shack, rickety, old and wooden, with an equally rickety porch and a vacant rocking chair that sat beneath it. Behind the shack itself was a small field, marked off by an equally old, low wooden fence; within it, some crops looked like they were growing, or rather had been until recently. Deru entered the clearing, pushing aside the young treebranches in his path, and walked over nearer to the structure. As he approached, he could see the plants in the field, which looked like many different types of crop, had all died, though recently enough to leave their browned, withered bodies still standing in the field. Around them, opportunistic weeds, green as the forest floor itself, had surrounded their bases and were thriving, unattended in the garden. Deru looked closer at the shack. Although there was no one visible, the door hung open. The young black-haired boy assumed that the resident, or residents, of this cozy place must indeed have been inside. "Hello?" he bellowed as he reached the porch, momentarily surprised at the sound of his own voice which he had not heard in a day. "Is anyone at home?" He paused, waiting for the response. There was no response. Deru walked onto the porch, its old wooden panels creaking below his feet which were still bare, and peered through the door into the building. The shack's interior consisted of one small room, with three beds on the far wall and a small wood stove next to a table and chairs on the other. There was a window which overlooked the small field beyond. But something was terribly wrong here, Deru could tell, even from his vantage point on the porch. For the small, white cloth curtain that hung over the little window had been torn roughly aside, and hung tattered from the window. All the clay plates and bowls and mugs had been roughly smashed through. The little wooden cupboard that looked to have held bags of grain now held a few empty canvas bags, the remains of their grain contents strewn messily across the little floor. Deru stepped inside warily. He half expected to see a wolf or a bear inside the little place, but as he gingerly stepped into the little room and looked around, he saw no one. Whoever lived here, Deru thought, is gone, either killed, taken or fled. And it looked like whichever it was, it hadn't occurred without some struggle. He looked around for any blood or anything more conclusive, but there was nothing. The black riders, Deru thought to himself with an uncontrollable shudder. If they had come to the school, which was not far from this place and was far better guarded, then what would stop them from coming here? Clearly they had taken what they wanted, for the food was gone, as were the people. Deru only hoped the original residents were not in their clutches, for whatever dark aim they might have had. Focus, Deru, he told himself. Nothing you can do about what's happened here, not now when it's clearly far too late. Keep your mind on the task at hand. All that mattered to him right now was putting distance between the Tayhill atrocity and himself. Looking around the small home, he took one of the canvas bags that had held the grain and cinched it to the belt of his robe, figuring that it would prove useful. He scanned the small room once more, looking for something which might be of aid to him. He was about to turn to go when he saw something. Turning, he lifted the small bed from its uncomfortable angle against the wall, where it had clearly been witness to some of the struggle, and removed a dull, green cloak from the area underneath it. He brushed it off and examined it. It looked decent enough, could provide some warmth for cold nights, and was far less ragged-appearing than the salty, rough, torn robes he currently wore. He wrapped the cloak around his frame, resting his hands in the pockets, proudly looking himself over with approval. "It's an improvement, at least," he said. "Wait - what's this?" Deru suddenly exclaimed, for his hands had found something of interest in the pocket of the cloak. To his surprise, the black-haired boy withdrew a small emblem, a pendant marked visibly with the symbol of O, the Sun, and meant for the faith of worshippers of O. But the item, heavy in his hand, was made of solid gold, and within the center of it was a small white gem, which had the clean, crystalline appearance of a diamond. This, Deru thought, must have been worth quite a bit of money. It must be very valuable to someone, especially someone who would have lived here, in this simple place. "From the looks of this place," Deru said, looking around the small shack as he exited it, "the owner won't need it anymore." Without further hesitation, Deru continued on to the West, the morning sun high in the sky above him. -------- The sun passed along the horizon at his back as Deru made his way through the woods beyond the little farm, onward to the West. He walked for a number of hours, and when he finally reached the first sizable clearing, he could see that it was noon, the day passing quickly. He walked into the clearing in the wood. It was a small, oval area, and the bodies of a number of felled trees had been arranged here in something of a circle. Deru half expected to see signs of a campfire in the center of it, but there was none. As he approached the center of the clearing, however, he did notice splashes of red along the green bushes that rounded the far wall of the clearing. Lampberry bush, he thought to himself, ripe with berries. This was a sight he recognized. The lampberry, and by extension the bush itself, was a requisite item of study for Deru when he was in the school at Tayhill. There are a number of the elements of magickery that were taught to the priveleged pupils who attended, and one of the first learned is that of horticulture. Herbs are used widely in the making of salves and potions containing magical properties, for a wide variety of uses ranging from healing or curing of toxins to complicated measures to combat disease and even madness. For this reason, the students of the Tayhill school (as it was informally called, for the school's location at Tayhill was only its most recent one, and had not been established long enough to be properly named) were expected to memorize and be recognizant of hundreds of medicinal flora that grew throughout Iaah. His knowledge of horticulture was limited to medicines, not foods; but he was glad to see the berries nonetheless, for he knew that lampberry, in addition to being the primary component of a salve that encourages poison to retreat from a wound, also made an excellent snack. Deru tested a single berry. It was bitter on his tongue, a little less than ripe, but it would do. He ate it and several more, right from the bush on which they grew. When he had satisfied his hunger, he took the canvas sack he had pilfered from the abandoned farmhouse and, tearing off as many of the bunches as he could fit into the sack, tied it full and heavy with lampberries back around the rope that served as his belt. Satisfied with his take and thrilled to have found a meal in the wild, Deru turned to go. As he turned, something heavy met with the side of his skull, and he felt his brain swim and rattle with the force. The forest floor fell to the side, a wall of gravity pulling his loose and clumsy frame to its surface roughly with another rattle in his head. The green of the ground and the blue of the sky began to mix together. Deru strained to move his arms, to sit up. He could see two pairs of boots step into view before him, old and thick with mud. And he could hear gruff voices speaking above him. "Woddayafink 'en?" one voice cooed at the other one. Deru's arms heroically pushed against the heavy gravity of the ground, his eyes straining to stay open. "He'll do as well. Get 'im on." Deru, with every ounce of strength he had, climbed to his knees and put one foot underneath him, quelling the swimming of the forest floor. "Stay down!" the voice barked, addressing him now, loud as a horn's shriek in the quiet forest. Another blow, another sickening rattle in his head. This time the ground came right for him. And then blackness. ------- Even as young Deru fell in the vast forest Tayhill, far to the Southwest, far out into the oceans to the West of the lands of the Provinces, a ship sailed. It was not a particularly nice ship; in fact it was small, ugly, damaged in quite a few places, and made of a peculiar wood that changed its hue along its grain, and had the appearance of very old and rotten driftwood; but it was a convenient ship for the parties that sailed it. For though an average ship of its size, with two sails on its mainmast, a crew of at least eight or ten men would be needed to keep it on course. But this aging eyesore of a vessel had been oddly equipped in a very many places with a collection of odd gadgetry. A device was attached to the mast from the deck up to the crow's nest, consisting of several ropes, pulleys and weighted buckets; and some of these ropes ran along the deck, down the open stairs that led to the lower decks of the ship, and were attached there to a central set of levers, made mostly of planks of wood fixed into wooden boxes that contained old iron gears and further pulleys. This terribly unsightly, rickety, noisy and chaotic system, despite its appearances, allowed the ship's captain to sail with a crew of only two others, and make good time in doing so. The current figure claiming to be the captain of this vessel (for its previous captain had only recently vacated his post) was a tall, handsome blonde man called Davaste. He was wide about the torso, with a square chin and a curly mop of blonde hair, and he was also an experienced sailor, no stranger to the waters which he now crossed. They were in the Great Western Ocean, a good distance out from the shoreline, much too far for the local Provinicial patrols, and were also a good distance South of the port of Alouth, from which they had initially sailed, and maintaining a Southerly heading. Davaste was at the helm of the ship now, as noon passed on into the afternoon, and he was currently considering his destination with great anticipation. He considered himself to be a very lucky man today, recently having inherited both a ship and two new crewmen, fellows whose stay in the prior captain's brig having left them inclined toward new leadership. And he had also obtained one other thing. It was this last that had him the most excited, indeed. For it was the very thing to bring him the riches he had sought for ten years, now given a shape and a name. Any average fool given a chance to look upon the artifact would have called it garbage, morbid if anything, without value. But Davaste knew the ugly human skull he carried also held an incredible worth to a few certain buyers, and he knew that those buyers were willing to pay a terrible lot of money for it. His partnership, recently dissolved, had been questing after it for a considerable period of time; but now he had it, and he alone knew its value. The two crewmen he had recently hired, who were apparently former river-guards, or something to that effect, according to their accounts, both had absolutely no idea of its worth. He had told them he was going to the South, to make a terrible lot of money, and that they would get their share for their assistance, and they agreed, so long as Earvin was taken care of for them first. And so, in the most peculiar ship sailing the Great Western Ocean, a vessel dubbed "The Lady Shay," Davaste and his treasure made haste to the South, toward the great city Avi Kai, farther South than the maps of all the five crown's sailors, in a place that only few of the people of the Provinces had ever heard about. Toward riches, he told himself, looking out over the vast, rippling water. He imagined the weight of the coins in his hand. -------
   

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