Dassais Chapter 6
A steady rain fell on the muddy earth. The Fillindyl estate had been in a state of unrest as the whole place was readying for the departure of the Companions. Aneirin was on the lawn with his hood up. Dassais stood before him crunching a piece of carrot. The two had been training most of the day until the rain had started. Aneirin was glad that he had had the experience of training animals when he trained Rosie for Farmer Grae. Dassais was a willing learner. Aneirin taught him how to respect his space, to yield to pressure, to come when called, and how to accept being led by a rope, and to accept a saddle and bridle and a rider. The day had passed rather quickly. As a reward for working so hard, Aneirin had begged a carrot from the cook to give to Dassais. He was certain Dassais was ready to leave in the morning, as Lodamir had announced at noon earlier that day. He looked round to see the others preparing for the imminent departure. Salomir was practicing his archery over near the edge of the wood. Aneirin watched as the young elf raised his bow, aimed at the shimmering leaves waving in the wind, released the poised arrow, and a single leaf floated down to the earth, split from the end of the branch. Salomir was ready. Aneirin felt a slight tugging on his cloak. He turned back to Dassais to observe that the large black horse had the edge of the cloth in his teeth. Jackob ran up just as he removed his cloak from between Dassais’ lips.
“I have gathered loaves of bread and apples and cheese and meats and lots of carrots. Do you think that will be enough for all the way to Mirathon?”
“You know we will stop at different cities and towns and villages along the way.” Aneirin looked incredulously at his friend.
“Yes, of course.” Jackob turned to Dassais and admired his glossy coat. “Do you think that anyone can ride him now?”
“No.” Aneirin stroked the velvet nose. “I don’t think he’s completely tamed yet.”
“Perhaps not.” Jackob looked slightly disappointed. But he cheered up quickly. “I’m going back to the food cellar to raid the apples,” he called over his shoulder as he headed back towards the estate.
Eanor stepped into the library. The stately bookcases lined the walls in the large room. A round wooden table graced the center of the room with a book laid open on its surface. Eanor skimmed the shelves until he came to the upper righthand corner in the far side of the room. Reaching up, he slid a large, well-worn volume off the bookcase. Moving to the middle of the room, he laid it open on the table. He carefully flipped the long pages. Map after map he glanced at, but none were the right one. He flipped through the whole book. Finally, on the last page, was a map leading from Glennwood to Mirathon.
The lamplight shimmered in the dining hall as the inhabitants took their places. The dining hall was silent as each individual partook of the elegant display. Roasted fish, candied apples and carrots, and fresh baked rolls graced the tabletop. Aneirin and his companions filled their plates to near overflowing. Everything had been packed and was ready for departure. Everyone was relaxed and waiting expectantly for dawn the next morning. Yet, Aneirin couldn’t help feeling a nagging thought in his mind that they needed to leave earlier.
As Aneirin was preparing for sleep, he lingered by the window in his room. Dassais was not there tonight. He was spending the night in the stable in the stall next to Luna. He wondered if he should voice his thoughts to Lodamir. He couldn’t shake the doubts that had crept in during the meal. He turned to his bed and pushed back the quilt. He glanced back at the window; the sun’s low rays filtered in through gap in the curtain. A quick rap on the door made him jump. He opened the door and there stood a servant. He handed him a note. He had barely glanced it over before he through on his clothes and fled to the gathering room.
“Time is of the essence. You must leave tonight.” Lodamir stood on the balcony looking out at the sunset above the tree-line.
“But we have prepared to leave for the morning. We are all tired from working today.” Jackob ventured.
“No, Lodamir is right.” Eanor stood. “I can see in Aneirin’s eyes that he agrees. We leave now.”
The air was filled with the sound of tree frogs and crickets as the four companions took the small road away from Glennwood. They travelled west, following the rapidly departing sunlight. Eanor rode in front on his brown horse, Jyro. He scouted the road ahead, ever watchful for dangers. Aneirin rode Dassais in front of Salomir on Luna. Jackob brought up the rear, riding his stocky pony, their pots, pans, and food strapped onto the animal’s broad sides. Eanor had arranged this lineup himself, explaining that between Salomir and himself was the safest place for Dassais to be. The horses’ hooves squished in the thick mud. Glennwood’s storms had nearly washed the road away. As they galloped, the only sounds were the forest creatures and the clanking of the pans on Saucy. No one spoke as they fled. All their hearts were too full of fear and anticipation to stop at all until the light was gone.
A few hours after their hasty departure, they stopped for the night several miles away from Glennwood. Gentle moonlight filtered through the leaves, puddling on the mud and grass. The trees dripped from the slight rain. They wiped down the horses with rags and then tied them all, giving each room to graze and lay down.
“We must not stay long. We will eat and sleep, but we must make haste to leave before dawn.” Eanor quickly laid out blankets on the few dry spots on the ground at the base of the trees. Jackob grabbed some bread and cheese from the large pack on the pony’s saddle. Aneirin, Jackob, Salomir, and Eanor each ate their portions in silence. The solemnness of their flight hung over them like a heavy cloud. Eanor sat, wrapped in his cloak, on a log at the edge of the small fire. The other three Companions laid down on the hard forest floor wrapped in their blankets, careful to avoid the sharp roots in the ground.
Each Companion took a turn watching throughout the night. Aneirin had the last watch. He wrapped himself in his cloak and wandered over to where Dassais was laying. He sat on the ground and leaned against the warm black animal. His life had changed so quickly from what it was a few days ago. He could hardly believe he was here fleeing from the place he had ever known his entire life. Was it all a dream? Yet the gentle breathing and warm body he was leaning against said otherwise. Aneirin cuddled closer to Dassais and smoothed his shimmering black hair with his fingers.
The night passed uneventfully and before he knew it, Aneirin saw the brief signs of dawn peeking through the trees. Jumping to his feet, he awoke his Companions. They all quickly packed up camp and saddled the horses. They started out at a very quick pace. The road became less and less winding as they approached the foot of the mountains. The tree thinned until they became more of a wood than a forest. On they galloped, further and further from Glennwood. They slowed their pace to a walk as they neared midday. The sun wasn’t quite cutting through the chill in the air, but the golden rays on their heads was very welcome after being under the dripping trees so long. Aneirin pushed his hood back. They ate their midday meal as they travelled. Aneirin gently stroked Dassais’ black mane as they moved along in a line. The large horse was a gentle giant. He could hardly believe this horse was at one point aggressive and spreading bad things wherever he went. Dassais did whatever Aneirin asked of him. He welcomed any of the four Companions to touch him. Aneirin hadn’t let anyone else ride him yet, though. He wasn’t sure how Dassais would react to someone else riding him. If he let anyone ride him, it would be Salomir. The elf knew quite a lot about horses. Aneirin turned slightly in his saddle to look back at the blonde Companion. Salomir sat astride Luna relaxed and comfortable. Aneirin turned back around to the front just as Eanor stopped Jyro.
“We’ll reach the edge of the wood by nightfall.” Eanor explained as they dismounted for a quick break to stretch their legs. Aneirin didn’t wander far, then remounted Dassais. He sat until the others had remounted.
“We have a full day tomorrow before we reach Mirathon. We will rotate watches again tonight.” Eanor led the Companions as they continued down the road.
“I can’t wait to sleep in a real bed.” Jackob complained. Aneirin rode quietly. He was worried how they were going to keep Dassais safe with so many hunters after them. The horse did not deserve to die. The evening descended as they travelled along the widening road. The trees had grown so thin now, they could see sunlight glinting around the trunks. The orange glow deepened into red. As the rays were disappearing below the horizon, the edge of the wood came onto view. The weary Companions dismounted, ate a meager supper, and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. Aneirin was the first to wake in the early morning light. The sun had yet to arise, yet its warm rays were beginning to chase away the darkness of the night. He gathered up his blankets and saddled Dassais. He was ready to make the last part of the journey.
The early sun shimmered on the waving grass. The road across the plain stretched on for miles. The plain met the horizon in the distance and appeared to flow on forever. Aneirin pulled his hood partially over his face to protect his eyes from the glare. After the darkness of the forest, the sun was brighter than he’d experienced since they had left Glennwood. The plain made them felt exposed, so for quite a while, they galloped quickly. The sound of the hooves pounding on the dirt road that parted the green sea of grass was the only audible thing.
A few starts dotted the sky as Eanor, Aneirin, Salomir, and Jackob approached the gates of Mirathon. The city sat on the edge of the plain with hazy mountains visible in the distance behind it. Gray stone walls surrounded the outside of the city. Mirathon’s iron gates stood as a solid defense against any enemy. Fortunately, the Companions were not an enemy. Eanor cautiously approached the gates.
“We come seeking lodging in your inn. We have just had a long journey.” Eanor explained. The gates smoothly swung open to allow the companions entrance. The horses’ hooves clattered on the cobblestone street through the center of the city. Mirathon stretched out and rose up before them. The castle loomed in the back of the city. They would be making a necessary visit to the castle in the morning. Aneirin turned his attention back to the road in front of him. Street venders lined the edges of the road. The merchants haggled prices with end of the day buyers, their small din filling the ears of the Companions. Different aromas filled the warm air. Leftover aromas wafted from a vacated bread and pastry booth. The odor of horse droppings on the street was inevitable. As they approached the inn, the smell of food met their senses.
After making sure their horses would be well tended to, Aneirin, Eanor, Jackob, and Salomir entered the inn just as the sun dropped below the horizon. After finding a secluded table in the corner, the four Companions sat. Jackob wearily laid his head on his arm while Eanor, Salomir, and Aneirin surveyed the dim room. A few heavy, unkempt men hunkered around a table; their round girths squeezed into their seats. The rest of the patrons of the inn appeared to be travelers as well. A group of four small folk sat in another corner of the room. Aneirin had always wondered about their quiet ways. He thought about what kinds of stories and tales they could tell. After a while, the bar tender brought them a hearty stew and pints of ale. While they ate and drank, they carefully made their plans for the morning. For now, they were safe, behind the guarded walls of Mirathon.
Aneirin woke the next morning from the deepest sleep he’d had in a while. He felt more alive and hopeful than the last several days. Early sunlight pooled on the rough wooden floor. Eanor, Jackob, and Salomir all were softly snoring. Could I possibly? Aneirin slipped a foot out from under the sheets and stepped onto the cool planks. He threw on his clothes and silently closed the door behind him. The morning breeze caressed his face as the sun peeked above the horizon. Walking rapidly, he came to the small stable behind the inn. Entering, the sound of horses munching on oats and hay reached his ears. The stablemaster had been up already, but that was no surprise. Aneirin walked down the aisle until he came to the third stall on the right. A black nose peeked out the top of the stall. Dassais seemed none the worse for having spent the night in a strange stable. He had not destroyed anything. Aneirin had not even heard whinnying during the night. He slid the bolt back and entered the large box stall, careful to latch the door behind him. In the short time they’d known each other, Aneirin and Dassais had formed a strong bond. The black horse’s coat was like velvet as he ran his hand along the glossy hair. As he stroked the majestic animal, He realized he had not thought about Farmer Grae or his parents in a long time. With one hand, he pulled the worn letter out of his cloak and read the familiar words again. He wondered if he would ever get to meet his parents, if they were still alive. He was still pondering over the words when he heard a slight noise at the door.
“Are you going to stay in there all day?” Jackob stuck his head over the half door to Dassais’ stall. “We can’t go without you.”
“Oh!” Aneirin jumped up from where he sat on the edge of the salt block in the corner of the stall. He followed Jackob out into the bright sunlight. The morning sun was now fully above the horizon. The four companions made their way on foot inwards into the city towards the castle. The stone structure towered above them, its spires reaching up as if to touch the sky. The road widened as it led towards the heavy door of the king and queen’s residence. Two guards with swords and bows stood on either side of the door. Their gruff demeanor exuded a sense of power and fortitude.
“What is your business with the king and queen?” The right guard addressed the Companions.
“We have an important matter to discuss with them of utmost urgency.” Eanor spoke for the four of them.
“You must leave all weapons here at the door. No weapons are allowed in the king’s presence except for the guards.” The right guard gestured towards Eanor’s sword, Salomir’s bow and arrow’s, and Aneirin’s dagger. The three of them hesitantly discharged their weapons to the guard on the left side of the door. The two guards pulled open the heavy door. Eanor, Aneirin, Salomir, and Jackob entered the castle and the door slowly shut behind them leaving them in the cool air of the marble and stone arched hallway. Their footsteps echoed as they quickly made their way towards the Great Hall. More guards stood outside. The dark wood doors were closed. Inset in the wood was an intricately carved horse. Eanor spoke to one of the guards. The guard looked over the Companions and then nodded. They were then led to a small room down the hall.
Aneirin explored while they waited admittance to the Great Hall. The small room appeared to be a kind of study. Sturdy wooden chairs upholstered with scarlet velvet and a rectangular table were in the center of the room while a few bookshelves lined one wall. The marble floor was covered with a gray animal skin rug. Hanging over the window were scarlet curtains with the image of a horse printed on it. He ran his fingertips over the inlaid horse on his belt. Aneirin wondered how Dassais was doing in the stable. Was he being looked after properly? Hopefully he wasn’t making a nuisance of himself. Then his thoughts turned to the king and queen. Would the king and queen believe them? What were they like? The stately condition of the castle gave the appearance of prestige and care. They certainly were good people and rulers. Aneirin hoped they would support them and protect them from the Ghalis hunters. Just thinking about them made him shiver. He had not seen them before, yet their reputation preceded them. They were ruthless. They didn’t care who got in their way. They only cared about catching Dassais and destroying him. Aneirin stood pensively at the window. Could they protect him?
After a long while, a guard entered the room. Everyone looked at him expectantly.
“The king and queen are ready to see you all. Please follow me.” He turned to Aneirin. “They are specifically looking forward to seeing you.”
© 2019 Tori Leumas