I’ve been working on a new (short?) story with two characters I’m quite enjoying. I thought my faithful followers on my blog or facebook might enjoy reading it serial-style. The more comments, the faster the next part comes out.
Chapter One – A Cold Winter’s Night
Warmth and light in the middle of a snow-choked wilderness, the fortress was an ember tossed by a far away fire. It would not burn with life forever. Some day the deep cold and snow would consume it in darkness and silence.
Its smooth walls spoke of careful, ancient craftsmen not the hasty work of Amji slaves one saw in the south. Snow clung to its walls in places but it was still an imposing structure of dark grey stone. It was an unusual design for the region but the Olifs were never castle builders. Others had placed it here long ago.
It had been breached in several places, likely long ago, and crude remedies had been wedged into each failure. Commanding a view for miles around, it sat on the hill like a crown, a garment of snow-covered wheat fields arrayed about its feet. Blunt towers rose above the outer bulwark while the inner keep was all torn and broken stone.
“That it?” asked Corso. His friend merely nodded. Their horses shifted in the cold, their sweat freezing. It had been a long day and the light was already failing in the recesses of the woods. A sparse snowfall had been drifting down all day with promises of much more soon.
The two men looked out from their cover in the woods, across a mile of open land, up the rise to the fortress. Corso saw the watchfires on the walls and a larger glow in part of the interior. The higher inner keep was dark and cold. Hard to make out but perhaps the keep wasn’t usable.
The heavy flakes of snow kept falling. Soon only the distant road would be passable. By midnight only people with wings would be leaving this place.
Bern’s horse whinnied softly. Fear.
“They still back there then?”
Corso stretched in his saddle, his back aching. “Then we had best get inside where it is warm. I say we wait for dusk to deepen, charge from that nearish copse over there, scale the wall and…”
“We could ask,” interrupted the heavier man quietly. Corso turned to him and watched the snow grip the heavier man’s beard.
“Well, right, we could just ask,” he said in the tone of a child whose great idea has been forbidden by his nana. He turned back to face the castle and urged his horse forward.
They could see that they were crossing fields as they approached the fortress. Unharvested stalks of wheat lay moldy and frozen under the snow. Light was truly failing as they met the slight improvement of the road and neared the gatehouse.
“Haillu! Veso tu Compan?” called out Corso in Amji.
“What?” came a voice from behind the battlements. Corso counted two arrows aimed at them from well-designed arrow slits, but also two other slits unoccupied. The voice spoke Capellan which was good. Corso’s grasp of Amji wasn’t great.
“Hail! What company are you?”he repeated in the more flowing lilt of the Capellan tongue.
“Who by Errelsen’s balls are you?”
“Corso and Bern, Order of the Wolf with a warrant from the Olif.” Bern raised an eyebrow slightly at this but said and did nothing.
There was a pause. Corso’s horse shifted and he felt the gaze of several eyes upon them. Instinctively he touched the ring to reassure himself that it was alive.
Corso cringed. A bad guess would mean a very cold and exciting night.
“Jhamun, of course.”
More silence. Corso heard the creak of bowstrings tightening, shifting; arms getting tired. He began to wonder who was being consulted or if the gate guard was just dithering.
“Open the fucking gate before our horses come lame!” snapped Corso. Another minute passed and finally he heard heavy bars lifting and the gate opening just enough to let them in single file…