The Garrin Cobble, Interkingdom Road, South of Marrowshire
2 Bells, Payday, 16th of Postharvest, Year 1126
The shrill cry of a guard whistle and the sudden lurch of the carriage brought RoseA alert, forcing her to catch hold of the cab door to prevent being dumped on the floor. She heard the draft horses nicker and heard the driver trying to calm them. Brushing at her lavender travel habit she leaned out the window to get a better view of where they were. Gnarled anvil gray rock framed most of the unpleasant view. Nowhere, as in ‘middle of’, was her immediate determination. In the distance, she heard something let out a rumbling bellow that echoed through the canyon. Her skin prickled, that was definitely not made by something house trained…
She noticed the cab driver had stepped away from the carriage and was speaking to a pair of heavily armored men carrying crossbows. Both wore tabards with a stylized tree insignia over a yellow and black background. If she wasn’t mistaken that was the crest of Marrowshire. What were city guardians doing here? They seemed nowhere near the place!
The two guards were shaking their heads and pointing to the north. To punctuate the gesture, the creature, whatever it was, bellowed again, this time the sound seemed closer. The cab driver looked toward the noise with a nervous twitch. He pulled a kerchief from his pocket and daubed his brow. He turned back and came to the side of the carriage.
Taking his hat off and holding it by the brim he spoke to her with an apologetic expression. “Milady,” he said. “We have to turn back, the road is closed.”
RoseA frowned, leaning out to glance north down the unobstructed path. “It doesn’t look closed.”
Somewhere on the hillside to their left, a beast let out a roar. Just at the edge of hearing, steel clanged and low sub-audible thuds made the air vibrate. The cabbie winced. “Yes, but the guards say it’s closed.”
She sighed. “I know this is terribly complicated, but I paid to go to Marrowshire.”
The cab driver’s face reddened. The corner of his eye twitched. “Milady, can’t you hear that…” He pointed up into the rocks.
“What I hear is whining!” She snapped. “I have an important engagement. The sound is that way,” she pointed to emphasize. “The road goes that way.” She indicated north. “I’ll throw in an extra gold for your trouble.”
He gritted his teeth. “That’s generous of you, Milady. No. Not going.”
She growled. She knew she should have brought the roadies. “All right, five gold!” Did she have five gold? That last dress had really hit the concert funds hard. The hair and make-up had been absolutely essential. She simply couldn’t bear the long trip without a few bottles of oh-six Dom Dragon’nom to keep her throat from drying out.
The cab driver abandoned all sense of politeness. “Not only no, but frell no.”
With a huff, she thrust open the carriage door and stomped down the steps and stood precariously perched on spike-heel boots. She patted her dragon-swoop hairdo to make sure the pins didn’t come undone. “All right, all right—TEN! And I’ll throw in an autograph.”
“Are you even listening?” The cabbie yelled back. “The guards say there are monsters,” He gestured with his fingers pantomiming fangs. “You know monnnsters, the kind that eat you. There’s a whole flipping army of them between here and Marrowshire. I’m not heading into that for ten measly gold! ” He rolled his eyes. “With or without an autograph.”
RoseA put fists on hips and glared up at him. “Are you being snippy with me? That’s good coin.”
He snorted. “It’s a bad deal. Get in, we’re leaving. We can overnight in Trundhelm. When they say the way is clear I’ll bring you back.”
She folded her arms. “I will not. I have a contractual agreement and so do you! You will take me to Marrowshire right this instant!” She stomped her foot. She glanced to the two guards who were silently watching. They seemed amused.
He made a dismissing gesture and started climbing up to the carriage seat. “Suit yourself Lady, go or stay is your affair, I’m heading to Trundhelm.” He thumped down and started guiding the horses around.
“You come down from there,” she yelled. “You have my bags!” She indicated the stack of trunks on the top of the carriage.
“I’ll bring them back when it’s clear,” he said.
“Stop!” she screamed.
The driver ignored her continuing to turn the coach around. This lowbrow excuse for carriage man actually intended to strand her!
“Halt.” She ordered. “Halt or you’ll hear from my litigation trickster!”
The coach didn’t stop. With a frantic lunge she dashed over and leaped onto the side of the carriage. She opened the door, grabbed her lute, hat, and the last bottle of Dom before stumbling down to the dusty roadside.
With a frustrated huff, she blew a strand of auburn hair out of her eyes watching the carriage recede southward.
Miscreant. Peasant. Coward. Didn’t he understand her career was on the line? Damn him. She winced hearing the roar echo in the rocks.
Lifting the hem of her traveling habit, she stalked over to the two guards.
“I really must thank you for scaring my driver!”
“Missy, it ain’t no exaggeration,” the bigger of the two guards said, a burly easterner, with a pocked skin and dark eyes. “The Marrowshire guard has some of the best fighters in Sharikaar and they’ve got their hands full to be certain.”
RoseA looked north along the road as it dipped and climbed higher into the mountains. Off the byway, the land was patches of dark jagged rock and scraggly trees. Further, the terrain rose into denser vegetation where presumably the town resided. It was nothing she wanted to walk through even if she was wearing the right shoes for it.
“Now see here,” she said. “I have an appointment. Can one of you get me to town?”
“Milady, we’re on duty here,” the other man said. He had a hook nose and a scarred lip, a rug-ugly face suitable for law enforcement. “The watch captain will be by at six bells, you can get a ride on the squad carpet then. It’s a fair hike without and given what’s running around, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“Six bells?” She squinted up at the sun. “It’s barely two by my estimation.”
The first man looked up and pushed out his lip. “Aye, a fair estimate.”
“That’s four bells!” she declared.
The two men stared at her.
“You want me to stand out here in the sun for four bells?” she accused.
The men continued to eye her as if she were some strange breed of animal.
Peasants. Surrounded by bloody peasants!
“There’s got to be another way,” she said.
The bigger guard pointed. “Walk. Wouldn’t recommend it though. Saw a couple ashbringers. There’s trollfolk, and down-under bugs.” He leaned sideways. “You don’t look too well equipped for fighting.”
“Of course not!” She snapped. “I’m here to entertain. I’m an entertainer.”
Hook nose rubbed his chin. “Well, we ain’t goin no-where. You can entertain us.”
RoseA glared at him. She couldn’t have heard that right. She drew a breath preparing to dress him down for his audacity when she heard a soft masculine voice behind her.
“Good afternoon,” the man said.
She turned to see a man of average height dressed in an open front leather harness and baggy leggings. His long black hair was tied back in a top-knot, and his swarthy eastern features showed only a few lines of age. The afternoon sun reflected off his dusky skin, highlighting his corded arms and rippling torso.
RoseA was no strong judge of warriors, but the way the man moved, the complete silence of his steps, told her this fellow was no stranger to battle.
Hook-nose dipped at the waist. “Master Skyweir! Good to see you!”
The master inclined his head in response. “Good to see you as well, Alphonse was it not?”
“Aye, Sir, aye!” the guard said bobbing his head like a fool.
Obviously, this master Skyweir was someone of great standing. RoseA rubbed her temple. Seems she had heard that name before, but she couldn’t place it.
Skyweir nodded to her. She gave him a guarded nod back.
“Seems I overheard something as I was walking up,” Skyweir said. “Has something happened?”
“Indeed Master,” Hooknose said with an emphatic gesture. “Creatures are pouring out of the delving. We have monsters everywhere. The council has mobilized all of the militia. It’s complete chaos!”
Skyweir frowned. “That is not good news.”
The two guards nodded.
The master glanced to her. “It seemed there was some dilemma…?”
“I’m stranded,” she declared with a sniff. “And these two lurkabouts won’t help me. The road is closed as far as they’re concerned.”
Something keened on the hillside above them. Skyweir made a slow scan of ridges above them. “I can see why they might advise caution.” He rolled his shoulders. “I will be proceeding on. You can accompany me if you wish.”
She looked the master up and down. He seemed extremely capable. That didn’t make him dependable though. “What about the monsters?”
He made a slow smile. “I cannot guarantee we will not be accosted.” He tilted his head, twisting his neck so the bones cracked. “I can promise you will receive no permanent harm.”
She blinked. That was an odd way to phrase it. “You mean I’ll be safe?”
He bowed his head.
“Okay.” She glanced to the guards. “How far is it?”
“A bit under a league,” the bigger man said.
“A league!” she declared.
“The air will do you good,” Skyweir determined. “A league is but a few steps. I have tread this road since Ivaneth.”
She stared at him with wide eyes. “Ivaneth? That’s three hundred leagues!”
“Three hundred and seventeen, give or take a furlong,” Skyweir corrected with a smile. “So, leave us go.” He gestured her ahead.
RoseA sighed. She needed to get to Marrowshire and this man was most likely her best chance. She pulled off her boots and pulled them through her belt, and slung her lute over her shoulder. She reached out and took his arm.
The master nodded. “Greetings, I am Skyweir of the East. And you are?”
“RoseA,” she responded. She drew a breath. For this man she would be nice. She smiled. “Just RoseA.”
“Well met, RoseA,” he greeted in response. He looked to the guards. “Take care, see you in town.”
The men bowed.
They strolled off down the road at relaxed pace. The man seemed in no hurry, and set a courteous pace to match her smaller stride. It was obvious he could move with great speed had he wished.
RoseA decided to put the irritation behind her and make the best of it. She held out the bottle she had retrieved from the coach. “Dom?”
Skyweir grinned. “Why I believe I will!” He accepted the cask, popped the cork and took a long pull. “Ah, good,” he said with a satisfied smack of his lips. “The oh six is it not?”
RoseA raised an eyebrow. She was in good company after all…