Dirkennion and Marvella, on horseback, follow Mahkyel’s party through the darkening woods. From a distance, they watch the party signal and ride past a small stone structure.
“They have passed the eastern stronghold,” Dirkennion says.
“Even with a scout, they ride quickly for men who have left the safety of their own kingdom.”
“Exactly. This Uncle Mahkyel must control those eastern hills. This is rather suspect.” Dirkennion hurries on on foot.
Soon, Dirkennion and Marvella sit across from each other at a small campfire, eating beef jerky.
Marvella asks, “Are you certain we can catch them in the morning?”
Dirkennion nods. “Tracking with haste is part of my Muurizza training.”
He shrugs. “Elite warriors, you might say.”
“Oh.” She glances at his scythe resting against the log he sits on. “Tell me about your kind?”
“Hmm. Some say we are cursed. Bad spirits painted us with tiger stripes. Or that we are sent from Gerji itself to take over all of Verisye.” He scoffs.
Marvella smiles, shaking her head.
“I am glad to see you are a woman of reason.”
“You don’t appear very demonic to me. I have heard everything, I think. The stories…” She shakes her head. “So, Ehara hail from the southeast. Is that correct?”
“Yes. Vast tropical regions. Likely the cause for the striping and different colors. Effective hunters.”
“Is it pretty there?”
“Lovely. The Farrell trees have white bark and bear tangy purple fruit called kee-shra. Huge trees, forty times’ my height.”
“Wow. I should like to see that.”
“You are adventurous, to be sure. The journey takes years, however. Perhaps three thousand miles from here.”
Marvella frowns. “Did…did many of you leave your homeland?”
“We were called, you might say. The Sentinel Dragons, who keep watch over all, said we should share our altruism and skill with the rest of Verisye. That is why I am still in service in Green Hump.”
“Service? I don’t understand.”
“Ah, three years of labor. No pay, no possessions. But…friendship and education. It is a thorough way to learn about those I will protect as a constable myself.”
“Oh yes,” Marvella says. “The world of law-keeping shall welcome you.”
“I will be in Sealth.” Noting her reaction, he adds, “Where I will certainly be needed.” He pauses. “It was my father’s wish before he died.”
“Oh. From illness?”
“No, no,” Dirkennion says, smiling bittersweet. “He perished with his brother at Arsys. Along with everyone else.”
“Arsys,” Marvella breathes. “The Battle for Our Time. Against Kalimoraith.”
“My brother, Polannion, is a scholar of history. He can tell you anything you want to know about Arsys. How the demon’s sorcerers and their black rocks drove everyone mad. The absolute slaughter of that day.”
“Many thousands died that day.” Marvella shrugs, looking troubled. “Beyond that, all I know is that, thirty years later, there are still many villages without grown men from that day.”
“Perhaps it was only luck that the demon chose to march his exhausted army on to Dunhaven, where he was stopped and imprisoned.”
“And killed, right?” she asks. “At Joorveez Prison?”
Dirkennion nudges a log with his boot. “I suspect not. Great power was on his side. My brother is plagued by such thoughts. Obsessed, one might say.”
“Then the Knight Wars happened.”
“And everyone blamed the Ehara. We, who have no use for power or property, had to wrest it from six orders of knights. Grand estates became orphanages and farms. The chance to rebuild after Arsys. And yet…my face is still that of the enemy to many people in the west. An error.”
“Yes it is.” Marvella thinks about something. “Do you believe…this child-napping is about a power grab? This uncle? I-I have only heard of such things.”
“That is the most likely reason. Quick paths and cowardice often serve rotten purposes.” Dirkennion stands and looks about. “You should rest. I will take the first watch.”
To be continued…