|Dulce Bellum Inexpertis
Author: Dreamers-Requiem PM
A Sharn warrior fights for the land she loves. A tribes-girl runs to her destiny, and a Tarkan boy is sent to discover the meaning behind the horror-filled dreams of the princess.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure - Chapters: 30 - Words: 86,338 - Reviews: 92 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 05-19-13 - Published: 05-25-11 - id: 2917734
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
His thoughts constantly drifted to Flood and the other pirates, as he wondered if the High Priestess would be able to tell them if their friends were safe. He rode beside Cay, glancing at her every so often, studying her face, deep in thought. They rode through the night, eager to get to the temple as soon as possible.
Silence reigned over them, and he decided not to break it. Cay needed time to think.
Was Alda missing him?
"Stop," Cay said, her voice low as her eyes darted around. Jackson did as she said, feeling the sweat dripping from his skin. His palms were wet as they gripped the reigns. The horses seemed tense, as did Cay.
She reached to her waist, gripping the sword that hung there. Jackson grabbed his own weapon, feeling his heart begin to race as he did so. To his right, he thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye. They had been riding through more trees. The wood began not far from the village they had stopped at, and ahead of them was a valley.
Perfect for bandits.
"I said shut up."
He could sense something around them. There was movement in the trees, only slight but it was still there. Whatever it was, it moved with too much purpose to be an animal.
They had brought the horses in the village. The one Jackson rode snorted, as Cay's grip on her sword tightened.
Before any of them could move, Jackson's horse reared up, throwing him off. He tumbled to the ground, barely able to register the horse racing off into the distance as shapes moved out of the woods around them. He spotted three, all wielding swords or daggers as they charged for them. Jackson leapt to his feet as Cay scrambled off her horse.
Her horse was more stable. It tossed its head, stamped the ground as the men charged towards them. Cay moved forward, as Jackson swung his sword, blocking the first blow heading his way. The clash of steel filled the air.
She moved like a dancer, sliding around the men as two more came from the trees. One, with a dagger, lunged for the boy. He darted to the side, meeting one with a sword. Preoccupied, he lost track of the dagger until it cut his hand.
The sword nicked his cheek.
Jackson spun around, waving his sword through the air as he tried to block the blows. He barely knew what was happening as something crashed into him, pushing him away from the bandits.
Cay stood where he had been, sword moving through the air like an extension of her hand.
One of the others lay dead. Another was inured badly, unable to get back on his feet.
"Go!" she yelled, blocking another attack. Her voice left no room for argument.
Jackson whirled around, leaping onto the horse. Blood fell from the cut on his cheek, dripping down towards his neck. He urged the horse forward, resisting the urge to look behind as he rode forward.
X X X
He didn't realise the horse was injured until he stopped. Bending down near the river, he scooped his hands together and splashed the cool water over his face. The horse whinnied, and he looked back, staring at the trail of blood leading to where he had left Cay. The animal was in a bad state. One of the bandits had cut her across her flank, and blood fell, clumping together where it had dried.
She pawed the ground as Jackson made his way back to her.
"You've had it rough, haven't you?" he whispered, stroking her neck. She whinnied again, tossing her head. He stepped back just in time to avoid getting hit, and eyed the wound as the light in the animal's eyes began to dim. She was growing weaker; the cut was too deep.
He guessed the urge to run had got her this far, but it would carry her no further.
With a deep breath, he drew his sword.
He left the horse near the river, knowing scavengers would soon smell the corpse and come to feed.
ackson carried on his journey, feeling more alone than ever.
X X X
Tears sprang to his eyes when he saw the temple. It rose upwards, guiding any making the journey. Relief filled him, along with the knowledge that he was close.
He was determined not to think of the journey home.
Not yet, anyway.
Focusing on one thing at a time, he pushed himself onwards, eyes fixed on the temple. At the base of the hill were a few small huts, and from these came strong, sweet smells. He paused at the edge of the huts – not quite big enough to be a village – and glanced around. Outside one was an old woman, wearing white as she bent over a large cooper bowl placed on a fire. Every so often, she stirred whatever was inside.
The woman looked up, smiling softly in his direction. Her eyes were white, and Jackson approached slowly.
"Welcome, lad," she rasped. "You seek the High Priestess?"
She nodded, slowly, before drawing a large wooden spoon out of the bowl and holding it towards him. "Taste. You seem hungry."
He slurped at the stew, surprised at how good it tasted as it slid down his throat. He had never tasted anything like it. Delicious and sweet, just the one mouthful was enough to fill him.
"What is this place?" he asked, glancing at the other huts.
The woman laughed. "This, my dear boy, is where we come when the gods no longer have a use for us. We are the former priests and priestesses of the land."
Slowly, he nodded, kneeling down in front of her. "Your eyes..."
Another laugh. It was a strange, almost strangled sound, like she had made the noise many times over the years and was slowly losing it. "I'm blind, boy."
"But how did you..."
"Just because the gods have no use for us, doesn't mean they don't look after us. We gave them our lives, after all."
Her hand was suddenly holding his, squeezing gently as her unseeing gaze locked on his face. He felt his breath catch in his throat, as she tilted her head to one side and nodded slowly.
"You think your journey here was rough, boy, then you won't like the journey home." She let go of his hand, before stirring the soup again. "But you're stronger than you think. You'll be fine. Head up to the High Priestess." She grinned, turning away from him and focusing on her stew. "Your true test is approaching. Just remember to follow your gut – figures in authority's clothing don't always have our best interests at heart."
He backed up, turning his back on the woman and heading for the stairs that would led him to the temple.
X X X
Something about the High Priestess struck him as odd. They had set up a small camp in among a few trees, and now she was leaning over the fire, adjusting the wood as she saw fit. Since they had left the temple, she had seemed to grow more at ease. It struck him that the High Priestess seemed more at home in the woods than she had done in the temple itself.
"Would you like me to do anything?"
She shook her head. "No, it's fine." Her smile grew as she stepped back from the fire. "It should burn long enough for us to cook the food and keep us warm until we go to sleep."
"I should keep watch," he suggested, as she removed some meat from her pack and set it up on the fire. "Just in case." He didn't think sleep would come, anyway. At night, he knew they would be more at risk from the sort of bandits that had attacked him and Cay.
"If you think so." She smiled gently at him, before glancing at the horse. "Tell me, Jackson; was your journey here long?"
He laughed, though joy was missing from the sound. "Longer than you would imagine."
Her smile flickered as she tilted her head, watching him carefully.
"All right." He sighed, before beginning his story. Throughout it all, she listened carefully, gasping in the right places and smiling gently as he told her about the pirates.
"You really thought they were kidnapping you?"
"Yeah. Well, it was scary, you know? Just dragged onto this boat, and..."
Once he had finished, she stared into the fire. About halfway through the tale, she had taken the meat off, and they were passing it back and forth, ripping pieces off and dropping them into their mouths. Eventually, after a short silence, she spoke again.
"Do you think Cay is all right?"
"I hope so," he muttered. "She's strong, and a good fighter."
The girl nodded. "And Alda, your girl back home, she must miss you."
"I will see her again, before long." The conviction in his voice wavered, but she did not comment on it.
"What's it like?" she whispered, still staring into the fire. "I mean, being in love. What does it feel like?"
He felt a pang in his heart. He had always known he was lucky, being able to marry someone he loved. He knew the nomads were often paired off to forge stronger ties between tribes, but a High Priestess was never even allowed to marry, to know what it was like to even try to love someone.
"It hurts," he said, shrugging. "Sometimes. It's like an ache when you're not with them. And it's terrifying when you realise just how much they mean to you."
"That doesn't sound pleasant at all."
"No, you're right. But...well, you know how the stories and ballads say that when someone is in love, it's like the world is just better? It's like that. When I'm with Alda, I feel like everything is perfect. It doesn't matter what's really going on, as long as she's at my side."
"Would you do anything for her?" she asked, slowly lifting her head to stare at him. "Like the heroes in the stories. Would you do anything for the one you love?"
"Why do you think I'm here?"
X X X
The High Priestess crawled into the tent, leaving Jackson by the fire. Even the horse was asleep. As the fire crackled, he listened to the other sounds around them. In the woods, he could hear scratching and soft calls from different animals. Somewhere above him came the hoot of an owl. He had never wanted to be an adventurer, never wanted to leave Alda and travel.
It was not something he would do again, either, if he had the choice.
Joining the noises coming from the wild animals was the sound of hooves. The telltale clip-clop echoed down the path they had followed, coming from the direction they had travelled. Every muscle in his body tensed up as he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his sword.
A brief thought flashed through his mind, but he knew there was no chance the riders would be the pirates. Jackson glanced towards the tent, knowing that whoever it was coming his way, he had to protect the High Priestess.
To his surprise, the riders who came into sight were wearing the uniform of the Shaylae Guards.
They stopped near him.
"You, boy," one barked. "Have you seen a girl pass this way?"
"A girl?" he asked, frowning as he stared at them. "I will need more to go on than that."
"She has disguised herself as the High Priestess." He glanced at the tent. "One of the maids saw her talking to a man matching your description, and realised she was not the Priestess."
"I have come from Dyls," Jackson replied, feeling a strange urge to protect the woman he knew nothing about. "Any other path is dangerous. If she had come this way, I would have seen her. If she has headed there via a different way...I dare say you need not worry about her."
"We need to find her," another man snapped. "The real Priestess is missing. The girl may have information regarding her whereabouts."
"Then I suggest you hurry along and try to find her." He shrugged, before glancing at the fire. "Like I said, someone cannot last long if they are travelling another path to the port."
"You were heading to the temple?" the first man asked, frowning as he locked gazes with Jackson. Jackson nodded.
"Yes, though I assume it is now pointless. I may head back to Dyls and postpone my visit, for now."
"You have a tent set up but you are not sleeping in it."
"Very observant, sir. I found myself unable to sleep." He sighed, shaking his head. "I am not used to the noises in these woods, and I have already been attacked by bandits." He gestured to the cut on his face. "It disturbed my sleep."
"Very well." The man did not look convinced, but the suggestion of the bandits had done its job. Any man capable of fighting a group of the ruthless was more than able to keep the guards at bay. "Good luck on your journey back home."
"Thank you. I hope you find the Priestess."
"Which one?" the guard chuckled, though it was not a happy sound. He dipped his head to Jackson, before gesturing for the men to turn around.
Once they had gone, Jackson felt his shoulders relax. He heard movement in the tent.
"I would not have been able to stop them, if they had decided to search the tent," he called over his shoulder. The girl appeared, shaking as she moved to the fire.
"Thank you," she whispered.
He gestured for her to sit down. "Now, seeing as I just saved your life, I feel you have some explaining to do."
A/N: Feedback loved and returned, as usual. Nothing makes me a better writer like getting some constructive criticism. Anything you'd like to point out would be very useful. And while you wait for the next chapter, please have a look at the poll on my profile page. Or check out my blog – .com. Cheers!