For those of you who missed it, or who simply don't care about me enough to have seen the last post, here's post 2 of a YA fantasy novel I've started. Read it. Love it. Seriously. Love it. (You might want to read part 1 first...)
Dominions of Glory: 2
An amber sun was setting over the jagged line of the Desper Mountains. Baelin was ambling through the woods in the foothills, foraging for whatever he might find.
Seven years had passed since he’d first used Magic. Seven years of experimentation where he’d been unable to duplicate his first, results. Magic seemed to be a fickle thing, and Baelin still felt years away from any true mastery of its use. And so he still lived, in many ways, a very mundane life, filled with a few friends, and many long, hard hours of physical labor.
Over his shoulder was a sack a mix of nuts, small berries, three apples, and a few mushrooms which he’d collected on today’s mountain journey. He wore his leaf shaped sword at his waist, as always.
Lush aspens and oaks clogged the forest, their branches tightly packed and leaving only tilted rays of sunlight streaming through. Beneath the green canopy, the forest floor was overgrown with ivies and honeysuckle and a hundred types of bushes, each and every one making a trek through the woods a dangerous affair for unguarded skin.
A startled doe appear in a rustle of brush. The small creature turned its head back and forth. Its eyes were wide, looking for danger. The doe’s gaze matched Baelin’s for an instant, as if it was trying to tell him something, and then it bolted down the mountain, neatly bounding a thicket back to a game-trail.
Baelin looked after the doe and wondered what predator had it spooked. An unskilled woodsman might say Baelin was the source of the doe’s fear, but many solitary years in the mountains had taught Baelin how to travel without causing alarm.
A shift in the breeze brought the sound of whistling to Baelin’s ears, a clear answer to doe’s behavior. He perked up and looked around. Mountain cats that would scare a doe were rare enough in the foothills at this time of the year, but people were almost non-existent, not including himself, of course. The farmers in and around Shadyridge had little cause to venture into the mountains come late fall, since the valley was farm land with plenty of cattle, sheep, and pigs.
Baelin abandoned his foraging to find the source of the whistling. In the back of his mind Magic was begging to be used; he hadn’t needed to use it for a long time, and as always happened, Magic’s pleas grew louder and more frequent the longer it sat idle.
Currently, Baelin was surrounded by nettle brush and sweet sugar vines, leaving only a handful of game trails that could be easily traveled. He followed the whistling on one of these trails, around a stand of oaks and found a boy, roughly his own age, sitting in scale armor and pulling off thick boots with thin metal plates atop them.
“Oh, hello!” the boy said. “I didn’t hear you coming.” His words came out in careful control, flowing and sweet as music, as if he’d practiced exactly how to speak them.
“Years of practice,” Baelin replied, and then continued bluntly, “Who are you?”
“I, um,” the boy scratched the back of his head and looked away and then turned back with a bright, if somewhat crooked, smile. “My name is Dilirian Malistar, of Silverbrook.”
Silverbrook was a town on the opposite side of the mountains, Baelin had heard of it, but had only ever met traveling peddlers from there. “Dilirian,” Baelin mused. “Interesting name. I’m Baelin, from here. Well, just over there.” He pointed down the foothills in the vague direction of his farm. “Just outside Shadyridge. What brings you over the Despers?” Then Baelin noticed the thin long sword at Dilirian’s side, not that he was surprised, since Dilirian was wearing armor.
“Ah, my sword,” Dilirian said, following Baelin’s eyes. “Beautiful, isn’t she?” He pulled the sword from its sheathe and held it up. The handle, pommel, and hilt were carefully crafted steel in the shape of a maiden, her hair swooping out to create the guards.
“Remarkable,” Baelin agreed though it was too fancy for his tastes and too long and light by far. He preferred his leaf shaped blade.
Dilirian’s eyes caught on Baelin’s sword. “You have one of your own. I didn’t know they made Baristan swords anymore.”
“They don’t,” Baelin said abruptly, though he didn’t know if that were actually true. “It’s an heirloom. What brings you here?”
“Interesting story,” Dilirian said, putting his boots back on and standing up. “And at the same time, very boring. Suffice it to say that I grew weary of my life in…” he hesitated for a fraction of a second. “Silverbrook. And decided to make a new life for myself, see what adventure I might find.”
“You’re a noble’s son?”
Dilirian looked taken back. “What, no! Of course not. Why would you think that?”
Baelin shrugged. “Expensive sword, full suit of armor. Most people can’t afford to spend money on those. So either you’re a noble’s son or you’re a deserter.”
“I’m not a deserter,” Dilirian said firmly and then turned the topic. “What brings you into the mountains?”
Baelin pulled an apple from his bag and held it up. “Got tired of bringing in wheat.” He put the apple back.
“Ah, escaping the boredom too,” Dilirian said. The he reached for a small sack he had tied on the back of his belt. “Well, here’s something to think about.” He opened the sack and pulled out a little, black head, barely bigger than a rabbit’s head, but with leathery skin, little barbs spread about the face, and a single polished, crimson horn jutting from the chin.
Baelin tripped backwards over a vine and nearly fell. “What’s that?” he asked, curious more than anything.
“It attacked me about an hour ago,” Dilirian said, holding up the head and looking at it before putting it away. “Thing was fast, big razor-like claws.” He motioned to the scrapes on his armor. “It looked like nothing I’ve ever seen. Like a devil from the Old stories.”
“Yeah,” Baelin said, running through in his mind what type of creature it might be, and how it fit into the natural order. “What do you think it is?”
“Who knows? It’ll make a good trophy, though. Not a bad start to my adventure.”
“How’d you kill it?”
Dilirian smiled. “I took its head off on my second swing. Pretty easy, actually. It looks much more fearsome than it was. I could have easily taken half a dozen of the little devils.” He stuck his chest out as he put on a smile that was all bravado.
Baelin frowned. A little bragging might be in order, but he got the feeling Dilirian wasn’t about to be the humble type, regardless of circumstance.
He needed to change the topic, wanting to avoid disliking Dilirian too quickly. “You’re short on supplies,” Baelin said after a frank appraisal came up with only a small pouch and a mostly deflated water skin.
“Ah, yes,” Dilirian looked abashed. “I was hoping to buy more once I reached the other side.”
“Bad luck,” Baelin said. “Duke Daraden’s men came through just yesterday, bought up near everything there was to spare. That’s the other reason I’m here; all the apples were taken.”
Dilirian’s face tightened momentarily at that. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would the Duke send men out this way? And why hasn’t anyone on the other side of the Despers heard of it. There wasn’t even a rumor of mobilization in Silverbrook.”
Baelin thought there was something odd in the way Dilirian mentioned the Duke, but what it meant, he couldn’t guess. “Forden mentioned something about Gaulder,” Baelin said with a shrug. “None of my concern; I’ve got my winter stores in place.”
Dilirian cleared his throat and looked off into the distance, roughly in the direction of Gaulder, Baelin figured. “Don’t think you’ll see anything,” Baelin said. “Gaulder’s another fifty leagues off, still, give or take. On the other side of the Toothed River.”
“It’s got sharp rocks shaped like teeth, or so I hear,” Baelin said, growing restless and ready to continue his wandering, but unsure how to excuse himself, and knowing it was impolite, even if was what he wanted. “I don’t mean to be rude but I need to get going. Still would like to see if I can’t find more. Winter stores will last, but they’re bland. I’d like to find what’s left to find while it’s there to be found.”
“Well I’ll come with you!” Dilirian said with a grin. “Yet another adventure! Foraging in the wild wood. Who knows, maybe we’ll run across another devil!”
Baelin felt like putting up a protest, but his better social judgment stopped him, that and the little black head tied at Dilirian’s waist. Baelin had had his sword for years, but he’d never used it for fighting. He’d swung it around of course, what kid wouldn’t, but practically, he doubted he’d be of much use if serious danger arose. “Alright,” he said, then thinking himself clever added, “But you must stay quiet.”
“What for?” Dilirian asked, looking genuinely puzzled.
“Don’t want to draw attention to ourselves,” Baelin said. “There’s all manner of animals that’d love to have us for dinner.”
Baelin nodded. “Bears, mountain cats, the like.”
“Why didn’t you say something sooner!” Dilirian asked in a whisper. “We might’ve been attacked already.”
Baelin wasn’t actually worried, but the threat worked well enough to quiet Dilirian a little. Of course he wouldn’t know that he’d been in far greater danger of those animals as he’d crossed over the mountains than he was in the foothills. Baelin didn’t rightly know what Silverbrook was like, but the rich of the area were not schooled in many of the basics of wood lore, it appeared.
The silence lasted all of a minute before Dilirian promptly dove into whispered, idle chat about the girls he fancied back home, none of which sounded the least bit appealing to Baelin, all idle nonsense with not a shred of practicality. He nodded and made little noises in response, but otherwise tried in vain to enjoy the solitude of nature.
Foraging went relatively well. He ran across another stray apple tree that still had several of the fruits which hadn’t taken to rot. Most of the berries they found were withered, but still edible. The big treat was a trove of sour nuts, which, despite their taste, were actually quite edible and would make an excellent addition to a few stews.
The sun was a sliver over the mountain’s edge when Baelin led the way out of the foothills. He opted to bypass his farm, figuring one of his friends in town would be more suited to offering hospitality.
Once it was clear they were into the valley and presumably clear of danger, Dilirian switched back to a normal volume. “Where exactly are you leading me?”
“Town,” Baelin said.
“But you said there were no provisions there, and I’m hungry. Perhaps I could share what you’ve collected. I could pay you.” He jingled a purse on his hip.
“I don’t need the money,” Baelin said, thinking of the full purse he had hidden beneath his shirt.
“Of course you do!” Dilirian said. “You’re poor.”
Baelin stopped and turned to face Dilirian and size him up. The boy was a good three inches taller than Baelin and probably had an extra twenty-five pounds on him. But, he wasn’t likely to have the sinewy strength of someone who lived off the land, like Baelin. Then again, there was the matter of the devil he’d killed and the sword at his waist. “I’m not poor.” He said at last, then turned and continued on.
“Yes you are,” Dilirian insisted. “Why else would you dress like that?”
“This is how everyone dresses.”
“Hardly!” Dilirian said with a snorting laugh. “The lower peasants, maybe. Even the poor villagers in Silverbrook wear cleaner clothes of a finer cut. Yours look like you’ve made them yourself.”
As it happened, Baelin had made the outfit he was wearing. After dozen of attempts, this was the first suitable set. But, once he knew how to make the clothes, he could replicate it with Magic, easily. Unfortunately, Magic didn’t improve upon the quality any. “We can’t all dress like dandies,” Baelin muttered to himself.
“Who says I’m dressed like a dandy? I’m wearing armor, if you hadn’t noticed.”
Baelin rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t saying you dressed like a dandy. I was just saying, ah never mind.”
“Ho, Forden!” Baelin shouted. He’d led Dilirian to the outskirts of town, to the back fence of Forden’s property, avoiding the roads so he wouldn’t have to be seen with Dilirian. The last thing he needed was gossip.
Forden was a withered old cobbler, spritely for his age, or older than he looked, Baelin wasn’t sure which. He had a full head of white hair and a thin frame that had never been thick to begin with. He opened the door with a quizzical look and held up a lantern to the growing darkness. “Baelin? You honor me! Twice in two days. I never thought I’d see the day. Decided to take me up on my offer of a room for winter?” his last word was noticeably cut short and he paused to take a breath. “Who’s this, then?”
“Forden, this is Dilirian of Silverbrook. He’s not prepared to spend much time outside at night and I thought you might give him use of Becca’s old room. He can pay.” Then he added, “Quite well.”
Dilirian smiled at the last bit as if Baelin hadn’t just cost him an extra penny.
“Of course, of course,” Forden said, motioning for them to come in. “Any friend of Baelin’s is welcome,” he said, looking to Dilirian. “Honestly, didn’t think he had many aside from me.”
Dilirian gave Baelin an odd look before responding. “I can’t imagine why you say such a thing. He’s made an excellent companion and we’ve had some rather intriguing conversations.”
“That so?” Forden replied with a chuckle. It wasn’t. Baelin hadn’t actually been a participant in the conversations to which Dilirian was referring.
“Oh yes,” Dilirian insisted. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve had such a good conversation.” He quickly turned the topic before Forden could reply. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I am quite famished and in need of sustenance.”
Who talked like that? Baelin wondered, definitely born rich. Not a deserter then. That still left noble or rich merchant’s son. “I’m heading home,” Baelin said before crossing the threshold.
“Not going to stay and chat? I hear you’ve suddenly become quite the conversationalist.”
Dilirian frowned, clearly missing the humor. Baelin wasn’t a mute by any means, but he certainly was of a quieter nature. He attributed that to the long time he’d spent alone after his mother had died.
“I ought to get home,” Baelin said. “Got an early morning. Still need to finish bringing in the wheat.”
“Alright, off with you! Seems all you’re good at is leaving! One of these days you’ll stay for more than a moment and humor me with one of these fabled conversations Dilirian mentioned.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Dilirian said to Baelin as he turned to go.
“Soon,” Baelin promised to Forden, though he suspected Dilirian might take the answer as meant for him. He gave a bow of his head and made for a brisk pace back to his home.
He hoped Dilirian didn’t come to find him. It wasn’t that he had anything against Dilirian, truthfully, that was why he hoped he didn’t become over-exposed to him. Dilirian’s manner just wore on him a bit. The oblivious entitlement and condescension he bore with too much familiarity ran against the tough lesson’s Baelin had lived. Of course, maybe it would be good to have a friend who knew nothing of his life. A fresh slate with no judgments, well, aside from the obvious pre-conceptions Dilirian had about poor people.
He was almost at ease with his conclusion on the topic when he remembered the black little head tied at Dilirian’s waist. Through the dim blue light of the rising moon, Baelin looked up at the Despers and wondered what dark secrets his ancient friend held.