The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 4 (v.2) - The Emerald Tent

Submitted: June 17, 2019

Reads: 120

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Submitted: June 17, 2019

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-4-

The Emerald Tent

 

 

My stomach was desolate, a statement likely truer of my horse. We'd been traveling eastward towards Kelworth in the hopes of starting a new life, but there were still several days between us and there. Making matters worse, my stock of gifted goods was running dry and in the rush from Abdera, I hadn't grabbed any food of my own. The only things left in my bag were the few provisions packed for the occasional scouting trip gone awry. Even after having lost it, my occupation held me afloat. This would only be for a short time though, making the distant groups of pitched tents quite attractive. I wasn't entirely sure what settlement I'd found, but I had passed the point at which I could be picky and was anxious to restock wherever possible.

As we strode closer it was evident that I had happened upon a wealth of traveling merchants and artisans. Why they had constructed an outpost so remote was beyond me, but I wouldn't dare question such a blessing.

I guided my horse with lead in hand to an area behind the nearest bulk of tents, fastening it to a peg in the soft soil. While configuring the rope I took sharper notice of the surroundings. The environment had varied quite drastically in my days of riding. Unlike the lush and lively emerald I was accustomed to seeing in my homelands, the ground was carpeted in a deathly brown with scattered traces of pale green. Reflected by this was a change in climate; the air had grown noticeably frigid and heavy with the threat of precipitation. These were the central northern plains, a peculiar place for an establishment it being so far from any more conventional hamlet.

Before exploring the town in more detail I thought it best to clean my filthy and bloodied clothes. A small nearby brook would serve the purpose well enough. As the densest of the blood left the cotton fabric and trickled into the water, I reminded myself that this was my chance to start anew; whatever stained my past no longer mattered and was, therefore, best left forgotten. Stooped over the shallow stream, I continued to remove what I could.

It became obvious as I approached that the place was absolutely bustling for a population that I had first thought to be solely made up of craftsmen. Children chased one another in youthful bliss, harder looking salesmen dealt from their enormous packs, and still others roamed from tent to tent. It was its own society in effect. With precious little idea of where to start, I was led to a humble blacksmith's tent by the sharp cries of steel being tempered.

“New face 'round here?” A large smith had stopped me in my tracks when I had only just noticed him. His thunderous voice startled me. "What can I do for ya"?

“Would you have any hunting traps?” Beads of sweat dribbled from his chin, evidence of his hard labor. His bald head similarly shined from working over the smoldering furnace for hours on end.

He thought to himself a moment before answering, “I have a few of these small clamping mechanisms here. Good for small game but nothing more.” He described them to be quaint but proceeded to pull out hulking metal traps that shook the wooden table he had set them on. Maybe they were small as compared to him, but they were much to large for my purposes.

“Well,” I began, “Maybe I ought to buy some arrows instead?” Without judgment, he nodded and pulled out a dozen and a half iron-tipped arrows. I pulled out the specified coinage and neatly laid them out on the table.

“Ah, a town man are ya?”

I nodded, not feeling the need to lie about such things. I thought back to leaving Abdera and remembered my need for a new weapon, as mine was lost in the flight from Abdera. “What do you have in the way of weaponry?” I inquired.

He looked me up and down and turned to sort through his stock. I could hear his grunting as he ran through a stack of what I imagined were massively over-sized instruments of savagery just like the traps. Eventually he laid out in front of me an array of weapons.

“Would any of these work?”

Short-swords, daggers, anything I could dream of needing for whatever distasteful situation I might happen upon in my travels. To my eye all of them were of phenomenal make, each shining in the midday sunlight as if freshly polished, however, whenever I scanned the assortment my gaze always fell upon a particular long-sword. It had a long reach but was streamlined with a narrow blade; the rest of the selection seemed eclipsed by comparison.

“It's well hardened and lightweight, I'd imagine that'd be of particular use to your sort,” he said gesturing to my garb, still slightly dirtied with the traces of blood that I couldn't expunge.

I shot him a guilty smirk as he handed the sword to me. I took it in both hands: it was well balanced, light enough for frequent usage but with enough weight to efficiently supplement each slice. The look on my face was enough of an answer for him. I paid him proper.

“Come find me should this blade be tarnished and I'll be more than happy to restore it,” he said while wrapping my purchase, “Free of cost even.” When I didn't offer words of thanks he spoke again in a more subdued tone, “Listen, having practiced this trade as long as I have, I know better than to judge the quality of men who pass through here. Whatever life you fled from, you'll find acceptance among this community.”

“Thank you,” I finally said relieved.

Before I left he stopped me one last time, “There's a large green tent on the eastern edge of the outpost. If you need work, that'd be the best place to look.”

Again I thanked him in earnest and left with the new blade in tow. Next was the issue of food. I bought a few scraps of meat and apples from one of the vendors, along with grains for my starved steed. Afterward, I stayed at my small camp for a time to nourish the both of us. The apples were sweet and fresh despite the time it must've taken for their transport.

After having eaten a good third of the meat and multiple apples, I was nourished, and my horse was quite content as well. With my right hand I rummaged into the small pouch of goods held on my waste. The cool metal faces of the coins were easily distinguishable from the fibrous strands of lent accrued over who knew how many years. There was still a decent amount of money, but it wouldn't buy me all the food I needed for the next leg of my journey. That smith had mentioned the tent earlier, perhaps a couple of odd jobs would be just what I needed. I gathered my things and set out scouring the settlement for the aforementioned green tent.

I edged my way around the outside of the stands and tents working my way eastward until a sizable, deep emerald marquee stood out among and far above the others. I walked around the front and ducked underneath the loose hanging flap of tarp.

The tent’s size was deceiving, even more spacious than it had appeared from the outside. There was even enough room for it to house multiple kegs of ale and a makeshift bar. Pushing through the mass of people that had thronged the entrance, a heated argument was taking place. In the middle of such a commotion were a few men, the first of which was a gaunt man in archers' apparel.

“I swear by my life I saw it. Escaped within an inch of my life I did!”

His claim was met with the guffaw of a shorter, heavy-cut man. “Hogwash! In all my time in Ethelburrow I never saw one such beast. I’m sure what you saw was nothing more than your own shadow.”

“Might I ask what kind of beast?” I asked them amidst their squabble.

“This fellow claims he saw a dragon, the very same one reported out west of here. I tell ya, all it takes is the cry of one loon before a thousand more crawl out of the woodwork.”

Having just been indirectly insulted I ignored the man and turned to the archer. More than anyone I knew better than to dismiss his claim, however; there was no way the same wyrm would have strayed so far from its last perch. “What you saw, can you describe it in any greater detail?”

“Ay, only laid my eyes on it for an instant but it was magnificent. Even under night's cloak, its blue scales shone as the stars themselves. If I'm telling ya the truth friend, I worry that thing may attack us at any time.”

“We can't be attacked by what doesn't exist,” chimed the other man, face-deep in his tankard.

Indeed, if the man was to be trusted then I was correct in my reasoning, as the wyvern from Crodmill was red in coloration. Either he’d mistakenly classified another form of drake, or there were multiple of the same kind. I chose to believe the former. Soon enough I was caught in between their argument once again.

“How would you explain the state of those villages then? Do you think their incineration was some godly wrath?”

“Bah! It's all a cover. Haven't you noticed how Abdera stands unscathed among the wreckage?”

With the dispute having taken a turn for the outlandish I disengaged from the conversation; I wouldn’t intervene in such a preposterous conspiracy. Loudly and miserably I sighed before taking an empty seat at the bar.

At the sight of me the barkeep sped over, “Ale good sir?” I contemplated it and then rejected the notion. It wouldn’t be the best idea to get sloshed when trying to get myself hired.

“I actually came here looking for work, would there happen to be any mercenary requests?”

“ ‘Course there are,” his eyes glossing over my attire, “Though it depends on the kind of money you’re lookin' for.” He murmured something inaudible to himself. One after the other he slogged through the requests. “Hog hunting...Crop tilling...Town watch...” Admittedly, I was having trouble keeping up when a woman took a chair a few spots over from me. “Give me just one moment ma’am,” the man said.

I nodded him off, signaling that he could tend to her. With the number of options available to me, I needed a short time to mull them all over anyway. In doing so I unintentionally overheard the woman’s request from beside me.

“Has anyone asked for an escort to the city?” she asked of him with a hopeful tone.

The man denied her sadly, “You have my promise that I’ll tell you when someone pops in though.” With a displeased yet understanding nod she stood up and pushed her way back through the crowd. The man waved to me again but I raised a hand in response.

“I think I have what I need to decide, I'll be back here soon after some trading.”

“I’ll see you then!” He said and shuffled down to help assist another customer. What I assured him of was a false promise, as I had already reached a decision. Rather than finding a job, a guide would hasten my arrival and thus alleviate the issue of food to begin with.

“Ma’am!” I called over the mass of people as I chased her down in a last-ditch effort. When I escaped the tent I looked in each direction, but she was nowhere in sight. I rubbed my eyes in aggravation. My only chance at a speedy passage may have just passed me by. There wasn’t much time left in the day so I’d have to look again in the morning.

On my way back I passed a man who looked at me peculiarly as I started walking away from the tents. “You sir,” he began, “You don’t appear to be from around here, am I right in this assumption?”

“Indeed.”

“Then I’d have to advise against any plans of sleeping under the stars tonight. The undesirables are particularly common under the night sky.” Gesturing at the newly purchased sword on my back I smiled politely, amused at his concern. He bowed his head uncertainly and kept on his way. “I don’t know what good you expect that to do for you,” I could faintly hear him mutter as he walked away.

My horse was found fast asleep after all of the travel. I dropped my pack to the ground as I set about unfastening the numerous weapons strapped about my person. When I laid myself on the prickly grass I pulled the pack underneath my neck to keep my head off the dirt. My thoughts wondered to the dragon the man had mentioned earlier. He had been denied anybody’s belief just because of his unorthodox proposal. People’s contentment in their ignorance of the truth left me baffled time and time again.

This wasn’t what I was fixated on though, I was more curious about how quickly word of my sighting had spread this way. My actions had supposedly made way for a flood of copycat sightings, though if my earlier exchange was any indicator, these made mostly by the uninformed. On the other hand, even if what the man saw was a different different creature entirely, the appearance of a drake this far north was highly unusual. There was a chance then that these incidents were indeed connected. I shuddered at the thought of wyrm-filled skies before falling asleep under the heavens’ natural light.

[The next morning]

My eyes opened to the light of dawn and my horse's loud neighing. It must have been upset to be able to rouse me from slumber, but when I approached to see what had agitated him, he was completely serene. My first thought was that a thief had just fled the area, but we were in the open, and they'd have nowhere to hide in such a short time. Another horse perhaps?

Faced with the chill mid-morning wind I wanted nothing more than to stay wrapped beneath my wool blanket, but I had an agenda to fulfill. I stretched out my tired limbs and let out an intense yawn. Despite what had been a sound slumber, I was having a difficult time shaking away my post-sleep drowsiness.

Equipped with sword and sheathe I walked into town. The first thing that caught me as strange was the profound still by which the once lively village had been swallowed. Even though the sun had climbed well past the horizon, not one person walked among the many rows of tents. I scratched my head and decided to check back with the blacksmith from before. For all I knew, this was some kind of Sunday ritual with which I was unaccustomed.

There was no resonant metal clang as I approached the humble forge, and no smith to greet me. The hearth was similarly unlit. An instinctive tingle raced down the length of my spine as I picture the droves of merchants from only a day earlier. I nervously peered over my shoulder, half-expecting to see someone standing there. The mercenary tent then? It was the only other place I could think to check in this situation, and I needed to head there anyway.

Much to my dismay, the walk was quiet, eerie; not even the birds sang their usual melody. When the familiar green tent filled my view I rushed to its entrance in anticipation. Through the small opening I saw the mass of people within.

“Thank the heavens!” I exclaimed, though my excitement was short-lived.

Nobody uttered a word, nor did they lift the cups lining their tables. Even before I’d fully entered they each faced me with their hollow faces, eyes cold and glazed over like marbles in their skulls. Their stares were aimed not at me, only in my general direction. I quickly backed out of the tent and began breathing heavily.

“This isn't real, this can't be real!” I exclaimed, searching for some kind of reassurance in my own empty words. I regained my composure and started to wrack my brain for explanations for this terrible nightmare. It was then that I recalled the warning that man had given me the night before. From my pocket I produced my dagger and brought it to my forearm. I didn't know what could cause such vivid hallucinations, but now I was sure that the world I found myself in was pure fantasy; all I had to do was escape it. Against my skin I slid the blade, my teeth clenched in anticipation of pain.

My eyes snapped open to complete darkness. There was a suffocating heaviness that had settled on my chest. I swatted the air above me and felt my hands brush something tangible. I forcefully heaved it off of me and rolled away from it. With its weight off of me the air was able to rush back into my lungs. From my hands I produced a glowing orb, throwing a piercing light across the campsite.

Where I had thought there was some kind of creature, there was instead nothing but the imprint I had left in the grass. All this time my horse had been whinnying and bucking wildly. That must have been the sound I heard in that hellish dream, though dream didn't seem quite the right word to describe such an experience, as no nightmare could ever be as vivid as I what I had been subjected to. Rather than sitting there and further contemplating whatever specter had visited me, I hurriedly packed my things. Perhaps that man was correct in worrying after all.


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