"Higbridge" giggled Haylie "we are supposed to find a great warrior in Higbridge? It doesn't sound like the most obvious place to look for a legendary hero!"
The two of them were standing side by side on a country lane the outline of a small town silhouetted against the dyeing sun; spindly trees at the edge of the Garroden Forest behind them waved them on their way toward the small village, the sun casting long wiry shadows along the road in front of them showing them the way towards their quarry.
"Well that's what Rafael said, even though it may seem odd but of course it's the last place any of his enemies might look for him" replied Elera. They strolled along the short dirt track until they reached the rickety, rotten wooden gates of the feeble town. The town itself couldn't have been more than a street lined with a few houses, like in one of those old westerns where there only seems to be one main road through the centre of the town with around ten buildings either side.
Cautiously they entered the village; passers by took no notice of the two girls, although Haylie received some rather odd looks from a group of elderly women who were standing in a small huddle speaking in hushed voices: she assumed it must have been because of her white jumper, black jeans and trainers. The pair of them wandered up through what seemed to be the main street, the town was gloomy and there were only a few lit windows that cast pools of light onto the muddy track; a cat ran across the street in front of them its sleek, coal black body caught the moonlight as it ran.
An inn sign creaked in the gentle breeze, swinging on rusty black hinges, the splintered winged horse carved into it seemed to dance as the wooden sign swung back and forth. Suddenly the door of the inn was flung open and a jolly group stumbled out over the threshold, hanging onto each others shoulders and cloaks they sang merrily as they snaked up the road falling over each other as they went. Haylie saw Elera make a dash for the open door and followed her in.
"I have a feeling we may find Ringmore in here" she whispered "don't talk to anyone; go and find us a table oh and …"she began
"What?" Haylie asked
"Never mind just get yourself a drink" She handed Haylie some money and left her standing by the bar. Haylie walked over to the far side of the room and sat down at an empty table near the window, outside the last of the sun was disappearing and the weather was still as bleak as it had been when they arrived. At the bar, Haylie saw Elera standing talking to a rather rounded man who she presumed was the barman, he pointed to a cloaked figure sitting in a worn, crimson armchair by the fire, beer tankard in one hand and feet upon a simple wooden foot stool.
Elera walked over to him and sat down in a nearby chair. She had been talking to the figure for only ten minutes when Haylie became bored of staring blankly at them; instead she turned her attention to the other individuals in the inn. At the bar two elderly gentlemen, with large beards and bellies roared with laughter as their slightly slimmer comrade poured his tankard of ail down his front; in the corner sitting at a large round table, a young group of friends were locked conversation with each other, from what Haylie could hear over the clamour of the other voices they were discussing the advances of Merdocks armies over the previous weeks. Elera had been talking to the dark figure for well over half an hour and Haylie had already had at least two beers, but just as Haylie was about to nod off they stood up and walked over to where she was sitting, Elera gestured towards the door and the three of them left the inn.
They marched down the street in silence, Haylie attempting to peek under the hood of the man walking beside her at every opportunity. They began to head away from the town towards a small, round thatched barn on the outskirts of the village. When they reached the limp, tired barn the dark man lowered his hood, the moonlight touched his dark auburn hair and Haylie could see his face. It turned out that the cloaked figure by the fire was Ringmore Rider and Haylie's expectations of him were almost entirely, wrong: she had pictured a hard, stone faced warrior but Ringmore was soft, strong but his features were rounder than she had imagined. He was almost a head taller than she was and he wore a sleeveless, tan leather jacket that was held together with large black clasps, over a white linen shirt; dark brown trousers and thick black leather boots that creaked slightly when he walked.
The barn had belonged to Ringmore for a few years now and inside the barn it was cosy, warmed by a small fire in the centre of the huge domed round room and once Elera had lit several lamps with her powers they could see the sparse interior. There were a few pieces of miss matched furniture huddled around the pit where the fire sat, two large very worn armchairs and three odd wooden chairs. Pressed to the back of the room was a large, king-sized bed, assembled from pieces of old and new wood, planks and bits of branches it looked rather precarious but Ringmore insisted it was safe and that the two girls should share the bed while he slept in the larger of the two armchairs. Once they had agreed upon the sleeping arrangements Ringmore and Elera prepared the three of them a meagre supper: Haylie hadn't eaten since she had left Earth.
As they ate Haylie asked question upon question about Lardinia, the Ventura Sword, Dracon and Merdock, although Ringmore seemed to shy away from that area and allowed Elera to tell her tales.
"What's this Black Castle like?" Haylie had asked, thoroughly fascinated with their stories.
"Ringmore?" Elera asked requesting that Ringmore answer this question, but when he shook his head she continued, "The Black Castle is a fortress built, not just from stone, but black iron, solidified lava and dark magic; Merdock made sure that his stronghold could not be penetrated by any force on this earth." Elera enjoyed telling her tales: having someone knew to tell them to was a real treat, soon however Haylie seemed to have run out of questions for the moment so they retired and rolled into bed.
In the pitched roof, high above Haylie's drowsy head there was a hole, through which she watched the stars staring down at her and she wondered just how far from home she really was; was she staring at completely strange stars, stars no one on Earth had ever charted or given strange names to. She tossed and turned on the straw mattress listening to it rustle and squeak, thinking over and over about the prophesy and whether she should let Elera and Ringmore handle it themselves after all they seemed pretty capable of doing so.
"No I'll help them and if things get out of hand I'll go home it's as simple as that."
In the morning sunlight streamed through the small hole in the roof and fell upon Haylie's content face, the bright light of dawn seemed to wash away the stars, brushing them away. A bang echoed around the room and Haylie rose from her slumber, Ringmore stood, pot in one hand, wooden spoon in the other and a small smirk curled the corner of his mouth, his warm brown eyes grinning. Haylie put two and two together and assumed this was her unscheduled wake up call.
"I don't remember requesting a wakeup call!"
"Come on Haylie, get up we need to get a move on" Ringmore chuckled, a tone of urgency underlining his humour. When Haylie had washed and wolfed down her breakfast the others were ready to go.
"Right then lets get going" said Elera raring to go; she had been dressed before dawn and had conjured up three bags of supplies, a thick warm cloak and small dagger for Haylie to wear. Ringmore had found three tents for them to use at night to keep them warm and some extra food to keep them going, three horses waited outside.
The three of them mounted their horses and prepared themselves for the long journey ahead.
"So, where to first?" Ringmore inquired
"First we seek out Dracon and retrieve the Ventura sword, the prophesy says that we will need it to defeat the darkness, and then we just see where this expedition takes us and hope it leads us to reinforcements because personally I don't fancy attacking the Morgantian army with just two soldiers." Elera informed them.