Rhann 8, 1423
The day wore on as the two of them made their way to Nacenium. Eiremis rode along the road with a slight smile on his face, and Ellyria was right beside him on her own horse. While Ellyria helped him fight off his feelings of loneliness, Eiremis missed the rest of the Hart’s Cross Company. He’d grown accustomed to the company of his comrades beside whom he’d risked his life to bring down Marius. Absent-mindedly, Eiremis said aloud, “I’ll have to be sure to buy them all a round of the best drink at the best tavern we can find when we meet again.”
Ellyria looked over, giving him a puzzled look. She pointed to herself and gave an expression that asked, “Are you talking to me?”
Eiremis cracked a smile and shook his head gently, “Ellyria, I promise to teach you to speak properly the first chance I get.” This was probably around the tenth time he’d said those words to her in the past two days. Her lack of the ability to speak made it difficult for them to communicate at times. The first few weeks of their time together had ultimately led to quite a few awkward situations. The way she clung to him like a scared rabbit for the first several days since he’d rescued her had quickly poured salt in old wounds. He felt guilty for allowing her to get so close. Branwen was gone now, but Eiremis’ heart was still hers. Eiremis looked over at her again. He’d been quite careful to help her select clothes that would drive a wedge between her appearance and his memories of his fiancee. Her traveling clothes consisted of garments in various shades of brown and black along with his feather-mantled cloak that she seemed to depend on as a sort of security blanket.
The girl’s green eyes stared forward at the road as Eiremis watched her expressions. Her head bobbed up and down with each step of her horse and occasionally her face would tense up from the sudden impact of her mount’s steps. Catching Eiremis off guard, her eyes shot open wide and her right hand whipped forward pointing ahead of their horses.
Off in the distance Eiremis spied a plume of smoke rising into the air. With as much as a meeting of their eyes, Corvin was given his orders. The raven abruptly fluttered up into the air and toward the gray pillar at top speed. Within a few seconds, Eiremis felt Corvin’s message hit him. Danger.
“Let’s hurry,” Eiremis said to Ellyria as he clicked his heels into the sides of his mount, spurring it into a gallop. Ellyria’s horse followed quickly. The two of them reunited with Corvin halfway to the site of a bandit attack. Corvin landed gently on Eiremis’ stooped shoulder and they hurried the rest of the way there.
It didn’t take long before the bandits noticed the two horses coming. There were a total of six men, all clad in leathers and armed with shields and short swords. One man carried in his hands a shoddy longbow. The biggest of the men gave a sinister smile as the forms of Eiremis and Ellyria came into view. “This ought to be fun.”
Once they were in range, the bowman loosed an arrow at Eiremis. The arrow was of similar quality to the bow that launched it, but it flew true nonetheless. Just as the arrowhead was about to make contact with the top of Eiremis’ shoulder, a powerful burst of wind hurled it to the side. A twinge of fear shot through the bowman’s spine as he watched electricity hop across the outstretched blade Eiremis had drawn from his hip. The bandit had little time to react before a bolt of lightning arched through the air toward him, striking him at center mass and sending him flying through the air backward into the undercarriage of an overturned wagon. A charred circle now rested in the middle of his chest. The man was not dead, for Eiremis had learned from his past mistakes. He throttled back his power enough to simply injure the man and knock him unconscious.
With an astonished look on his face, the bandit leader sheathed his sword and stepped forward waving his free hand. Eiremis and Ellyria shored in the reigns of their horses and skid to a halt some thirty feet from the remaining five bandits. “Please friend, you must forgive my colleague, he has a tendency to leap before he looks,” the bandit leader said, casting a glance to the rest of his cronies signaling for them to put away their weapons.
Eiremis’ eyes narrowed, “Though I’m afraid I already know the answer…what are you doing here?”
The bandit looked over to the burning caravan, “Oh nothing in particular. Just taking donations.” The bandit’s eyes locked on the sword gripped firmly in Eiremis’ hand and then to his speechless companion. “May I be so bold to ask why you two…youthful…travelers are headed?” he said, giving Ellyria a more thorough look.
Having already grown tired of the bandit’s nonchalance, Eiremis replied, “I suggest you and your men gather up your friend there and be on your way before I set you straight.”
Eiremis’ words rang heavily in the ears of the bandit’s henchmen, but the leader only smirked. “Why, yes of course, m’lord. I was unaware that you were the law in these lands.”
“I’m not. But I’ll be happy to serve in its stead for the time being,” Eiremis said, casting his gaze to the other bandits, who were all but shaking in their boots.
The bandit leader let out a snide laugh, turning his back to Eiremis and bringing his arm up to motion to his men. Before Eiremis knew it, a dagger plunged into his bicep and the bandit let out a nerve-rattling battle cry to rally his soldiers.
The pain was terrible, but the accompanying rush of adrenaline allowed Eiremis to ignore it long enough to throw up his free hand and unleash another blast of lightning at the bandits. The bolt bounced from one bandit to the next, instantly dropping three of them to the ground. In an instant, one bandit was charging toward Eiremis’ horse just seconds before having his jaw smashed by the iron-shod hoof of the animal. The sudden movement of his horse caused Eiremis to inadvertently slide out of his saddle. Eiremis hit the dusty road with a heavy thud, which knocked the breath from his lungs. Terror filled Ellyria’s eyes as Eiremis looked up to see his horse’s back hooves rearing up to kick. He couldn’t blame the animal, it wasn’t every day that bolts of lightning shot out from its rider’s hands and the incoherent roar of the bandit leader didn’t help matters.
Fortunately, Eiremis managed to roll to the side in time to dodge the horse’s hooves. Eiremis stood up as quickly as he could manage and raised the newly-bonded Soranil to his front just in time to intercept a blow from the bandit’s short sword. Soranil’s hum harmonized with the sharp clang of the two swords. Instinctively, Eiremis called out a few words commanding his magic to protect him. The bandit’s next attack bounced harmlessly off of Eiremis’ transparent shield. The deflected blow threw the bandit off balance long enough for Eiremis to unleash a smaller arch of electricity from his upturned palm, which crashed into the bandit’s sword arm, causing the man to stumble back as his muscles tensed up painfully. Eiremis let fly another bolt, this time hitting center mass and hurtling the man some ten feet backward into the tall grass. His short sword flipped through the air and stuck into the ground nearby.
Eiremis rested his weight on his own sword, giving himself a few moments to recover. It was then that a shrill scream pierced the air. Eiremis turned to see Ellyria behind him with the hilt end of the bandit leader’s short sword in her hands and the pointed end through the torso of the bowman, who had awakened in time to see his leader downed by Eiremis’ magic.
The crimson liquid from the bandit’s chest poured down over the sword’s hilt and onto Ellyria’s hands. Tears were streaming from the girl’s eyes. The sight overcame Eiremis and he rushed to her side, pulling the dagger from its resting place in his arm on the way. She fell into Eiremis’ arms and drove her face into his chest. Her sobs were muffled by the folds of Eiremis’ tunic as he held her until she stopped crying.
A few hours later, the two of them were once again on the road again toward Nacenium. Ellyria was still obviously rattled from the encounter, and Eiremis’ was thinking of how it seemed he just could not get a break lately. “There’s always an injury to tend to, eh, Eir?” he asked himself. They rode on in silence. It wasn’t until around dinner time that they exchanged any meaningful communication. Eiremis had strewn his things out across his bedroll and was busy keeping track of their funds. After they’d recovered from the encounter earlier, Eiremis had taken it upon himself to examine the bandits’ bodies for anything they could use. Between the six of them, Eiremis had collected enough to recover the gold he’d spent buying Ellyria’s traveling gear and horse. The bandit leader’s sword was an exceptional find as well and, based on her actions, Ellyria seemed to grasp the purpose of the object, so Eiremis cleaned it up and stowed it in her saddlebag.
Looking through his notes, Eiremis remembered the gruesome sight that the bandits had left in their wake once they had finished pillaging the merchant caravan. Bodies were spattered with blood and lying in awkward positions. He was sure that the bandits had intentionally taken their time when they killed the merchants, as many of their wounds were altogether ineffective “killing” blows. Shaking his head, Eiremis’ mind wandered back to his accounting notes.
Ellyria was stooped over the edge of their campfire, stirring their stew with a long wooden spoon. A proud look fell over Ellyria’s face as she had a taste of the stew. She quickly grabbed the dipping spoon lying on the nearby blanket and prepared a bowl for Eiremis. Her sable hair danced in the air as she plodded over to Eiremis’ side and held the bowl out toward him with both hands.
Looking up from his journal, Eiremis smiled and took the bowl from her hands. He pushed his pencils off to one side and sat the bowl down long enough to retrieve his waterskin from his bag. By this time, Ellyria had already returned with her own bowl and waterskin and sat down beside him. As they ate, Eiremis told Ellyria stories about his missing mentor. “And the next thing I knew, Zede was gone and in his place stood a massive bear,” Eiremis said, laughing. “The man did not know the meaning of overkill. What made it worse was when I tried to transform as well, all I managed to do was cover myself in brown fur,” his laughing subsided, “He didn’t let me live it down for at least two months.”
Ellyria, though she didn’t understand his words, knew that Eiremis was remembering these things for his own sake. She could feel him silently denying the idea that Zede was gone from the world of the living. By this time, they had both made it halfway through their third bowl of stew. Ellyria rose to her feet and gathered their dishes before heading off to the nearby stream, with Corvin perched on her shoulder.
Eiremis sighed as he shuffled his things around again, taking a moment to check on their food supplies. From what he could tell, they had more than enough food to last them until they reached Nacenium. He straightened his bedroll out once more and brushed off the bread crumbs before sliding inside. There was a strange calm that overtook him and soon he was dozing.
Ellyria slowly crept up from the direction of the stream. She smiled gently as she looked at Eiremis’ peaceful face. “Eir,” she whispered to herself before reaching over for her own bedroll, which she pulled up next to his. She smoothly positioned herself inside the bedroll and laid her arm over Eiremis’ shoulder. She could feel his chest expand and contract with each breath and the steady beating of his heart. It soon lulled her into sleep.
Eiremis slept completely undisturbed for the first time in months. When Ellyria awoke the next morning, Eiremis was already packing their things. His expression was not one of happiness.