The following morning was peculiar compared to the others as of late, for neither man woke until the sun was well into the sky. Gomerick was first and took the opportunity to splash his face in the cool lake. Leaning down, his reflection revealed a different man than the one whom had left Enghor. His beard had grown substantially, as he had not had the opportunity to groom it in a rather lengthy period; his eyes had a distant look about them, keener to the constantly changing environment, and revealing a mind more sound; his body had been weathered, frequently weighed down by the physical burdens that accompanied their journey. It appeared the only thing that had remained the same were his tough, callused hands that never seemed to get a break from their smithing days. It was these hands that Gomerick cupped and submerged into the refreshing water. As he washed away the dried sweat he had accumulated during the night, he was overcome with a rejuvenating sensation that woke him from the sluggish morning. The water trickled down around him, and, looking into the lake’s wrinkles, Oberon’s reflection appeared above him…
Gomerick’s eyes were now lost in the fire before him, but he pulled his thoughts together, nonetheless, “I have been a smith for the majority of my life. I am 32 years of age, and in all of that time, not once did I construct a blade to be used on an innocent man.” He turned to Wenzel and added, “How can you sit there and rejoice over the death of another? For all of those years, I slaved over flames hotter and brighter than anything your simple mind could comprehend in a hundred lifetimes. I did it to better the world one project at a time, to make anything I could for those in need, as my mentor once stressed. Not only blades, but horseshoes, tools, jewelry, armor, anything my clients asked for. When I forged blades, I made them so that those receiving them could feel secure at night against thieves and feranox, so that they could protect their families. I did not sweat, day and night, over them, so that they could be used against innocent men.” Now, Wenzel sat in disbelief. “Oh, and I rescind my comment regarding your mental capacity, for I feel you will fully comprehend the ferocity of the flames of which I speak upon meeting Enghor in the underworld.”
Wenzel was overcome with animosity and immediately rose to his feet, “Is that a direct threat against me, Wenzel, Steward of Murka?”
Gomerick jumped to his feet as well, “Did I misspeak, or are you unable to understand what it was I implied?”
The two tightened up where they stood and clenched their respective blades, for they each envisioned a swift demise of the other. “Luckily for you, your death will not fall amongst the innocent.” Wenzel rebuked as he spat at Gomerick, the saliva landing at his feet. “Your head will make a fine addition to my growing collection.” Wenzel drew his sword, and Gomerick followed suit; the sharp sounds of the withdrawn blades, accompanied by the soft crackling of the fire, were all to be heard.
…The far side of the River Xyts marked the end of Enghor’s reach, and this, in turn, was a daunting prospect epitomized by the density of the trees beyond, as well as by the darkness the forest created. One could walk but a few strides before being totally engulfed by the foreign landscape. From time to time, wood was gathered from this terrain, but it was one of the less desirable jobs the town had to offer, to say the least, for many of those who attempted it were captured or killed by the lurking tribesman that called Urstadt their home.
As they effortlessly strode across the dried terrain, Gomerick asked, “Might there be anything I need to know regarding Murka and her people?”
Oberon was overcome with a face of inquiry, “Hmm…where to start? I suppose I shall keep it brief, for you will see by midday. Murka is a smaller village, as its inception was not long ago by any stretch of the imagination. It has the potential to grow because of its proximity to the Weitwood Forest, for virtually infinite resources are at her people’s disposal. In addition, Murka is down river from Xyneth, and supplies can easily be shipped between the two. However, the neighboring village of Urstadt has taken offense to Enghor’s most recent addition, so, for now, their expansion is kept in check. In essence, the village is predominantly made up of farmland with a more dense population near the River Xyts. The man in charge is Steward Wenzel. He is a remarkably stubborn man to most, but will typically do whatever the king asks of him without resistance, regardless of the outcome. When speaking to him, stay firm in your opinion, and you will get what you desire.”
“Very good. I must ask, though…what is the driving force behind this feud between Murka and Urstadt?”
“Well, Urstadt is a ‘village’ I suppose, but it is made up of highly skilled tribesmen – a warrior class. They maintain a hunter-gatherer society, and will take up arms against anything, or anyone, for that matter, that they perceive as a threat. When Wilhelm established Murka, he knew of Urstadt’s presence and purposely placed his city beside it to counterbalance the local tribe’s growth. Skirmishes often took place initially, but those have died down from what I have heard, to a certain extent. Wilhelm’s plan was to eventually enslave the tribesmen, but, as I am sure you have come to realize, that did not exactly come to fruition. I find it amusing how Murka was meant to keep in check Urstadt’s growth, but, in reality, the opposite is taking place.”
“I see.” Gomerick sat back to think for a moment. “In that case, I pray you know of a way through.” He looked over at Oberon and waited for a response.
Oberon turned to him and said, “Have I led you astray as of yet?”
“I suppose not.”
“Then trust me. I assure you, we shall make our way through peacefully.” He paused to consider the words he had just spoken, and concluded, “Strike that. Rather, we shall make our way through intact.”
Gomerick looked over in confusion, for he was unable to tell if his friend was attempting to make a joke or not, but Oberon simply rode straight and true, so Gomerick followed suit and said, “I fear I have not yet conceptualized your meaning of ‘intact’, but you know I stand beside you, for worse or, well…for worse.” Oberon grinned, but kept his gaze focused on the now visible, but distant, tree line.
Zelig was in the process of squeaking his way to the ladder when Dietrich suddenly yelled in horror as the damaged floor disappeared beneath him. All at once, there was an extremely bright flash and a bang of thunder that shook the very foundation of the cottage, and Dietrich appeared in a heap below. Zelig rushed down the ladder, hopped off half way down, and hurried to his friend.
“Holy…Dietrich, are you alright?” Zelig frantically asked.
Dietrich rose to his feet and dusted himself off, “I’m fine. I actually…”
“What did I tell the two of you?” A visibly angry Oberon shouted as he hobbled with his staff into the room from the stormy entryway.
“We…uh.” Dietrich could come up with nothing to say.
Zelig jumped in, “What are we doing? What was that flash of light, Oberon? What are you hiding from us?”
The question had no impact on Oberon’s furious face, “More than likely lightning, or is that too difficult of a concept for you to grasp? And do not deflect from the fact that the two of you disobeyed strict orders to carry on as a group. A group, I remind you, that the two of you were so inclined to create! There are reasons why I instruct what I do. My orders are not to be broken, for it is a sign of betrayal and a breach of trust. What if Gomerick and I were to be ambushed as before? I wonder how that came about.”
Gomerick walked into the room as Zelig hollered back, “How can I trust a man of such secrecy? Or should I even call you a man?” He threw his arms down in a fit of rage. Oberon stormed out into the rain and was followed closely by Zelig. “Don’t you walk away from this, I want answers now!” Oberon paused with his head down. The rain formed a silhouette as it ricocheted from his shoulders and back. “Well?” At that moment, Oberon raised his staff high in the air. It began to glow bright white, and he slammed it into the ground. A familiar, frosty mist shot out that halted the rain around them. Zelig stumbled back and fell to the ground. “Wha…”
Oberon turned to face Zelig. Gomerick and Dietrich were about to walk outside, but stopped in the doorway at the sight of the events unfolding. Dietrich was awestruck, but Gomerick grew worried. “How dare you question the likes of me? I am Oberon, sorcerer of this great world! Well, once great, until men with the likes of you came about and soiled the continent with their ignorance. I have half a mind to cleanse Friedünn of your worthless, squalid essence, but that would bring us closer than I could bear. Yes, I saved your friend, but do not seek any assistance from me in the future, for I guarantee you will not find it.”
“Let his mind stray, for it has been many lifetimes since he has seen anything outside of the city that has not been recalled from memory. The tangibility of it all must mean the world to him; feeling the crisp, cool wind in his hair, the grass brushing along his feet, and smelling the openness all around. I have only just begun to know him, and I have a lot to learn about him, but I can only imagine this is what he has been yearning for, and for countless years at that. A dream fulfilled this must be.”
The two men were about halfway through the chaos when they were approached by a midsized man with long, black hair. At his side was a longsword, and on his mind was a proposition…
The two men clicked and clacked along the cobblestone roads upon their horses until they at last reached the gates to the entrance of the city. As they made their way through, the sun appeared over the vast horizon and illuminated the rolling hills of farmland and prairie grass that stretched for as far as the eye could see. Twas the beginning of spring, and the abundant life, in the form of blooming vegetation, was a sight Gomerick had never witnessed. He was awestruck by the view, but with the light came the appearance of hundreds of camps seemingly spilt out from the city. They were set up by men of all classes leaving their homes in an attempt to win the king’s favor. Naturally, these men were accompanied by some simply seeking bloodshed, and others whom sought to take advantage of the dense gathering of men, their valuables, and lacking presence of guards.
“Let these amulets forever be a symbol of our friendship, no matter how dark circumstances may seem.”
“The next time you encounter any one of Caelus’ servants, whether it be a gargoyle, feranox, or anything of the sort, this gem will glow with more vigor than any fire Caelus can spit…”