Durren and Gaddle had been very resistant to the idea of crossing the migratory path of the wild-elves. In fact, for a day or two after they had started heading south towards the other Bowder, Parli had been worried that they would leave him. Or worse, rob him of his weight and abandon him, wounded and dying in the wilds. He had slept very little during the three nights after they had left the military camp.
Exhausted, he pushed onward, really what other choice did he have? If his guards attacked him there would be little he could do about it, certainly any such confrontation was unlikely to be a face to face fair fight. Parli also had no doubt about how such an encounter would go, even if they did confront him openly. Parli was an acceptable duellist and had in the past faced challengers and twice had issued his own challenges to people he felt had wronged him. He had won four of the five duels he had engaged in. The blade he carried was made from Maldorn steel, designed similarly to the straight-bladed Maldorn air-sabre, a quality weapon to be sure. Parli knew that duels were not real fights, not the murder-death kind of fight he would likely face.
They rode through open country, none of them had any idea where the migratory path actually was or how wide it might be. There were plenty of dulmak in the area, with new leaves reaching towards the sun. In the distance, eastward, there was a herd of plains deer, too far away to tell which breed. The sky was mostly clear, the sun bright and warm.
Suddenly he heard his men shouting behind him. He turned in the saddle to glance back. Both men were galloping towards him, Gaddle was waving violently, Durren had drawn the big war axe he carried. Without even thinking about it, Parli put heels to the flanks of his mount, hopefully he could stay ahead of them. He did not want to die, murdered for a few coins.
Moments later, when his mount had reached its best speed he glanced back again. Durren was closest, axe held high. Gaddle had dropped behind and seemed to be struggling with equipment on the back of his horse. He also saw a long form, vaguely reptilian, racing through the tall grass, a dozen paces behind him. A wyrm! Parli nearly fell off his mount when the horse made an unexpected jump, he pitched forward, nearly slammed his face into the horses neck and almost tumbled out of the saddle. His horse had stumbled and slowed briefly, screamed in fear and resumed its break-leg pace a moment later.
Parli pulled himself back into the saddle, his horse would not heed the reins. A quick glance behind showed that the wyrm still raced through the tall grass in pursuit, though it seemed to be slowing. Durren was closer now. Parli faced forward, tried to get his horse to turn, there were dulmak and rough looking terrain ahead. He yanked hard on the reins, leaning back. His mount screamed as it came to a sudden stop and bucked. Parli was launched forward.
“Fuuuuck!” He hit the ground and rolled through the grass, coming to a stop, a couple paces from a dulmak tree. His sword hilt had lodged painfully into his side.
Parli scrambled to his feet, staggered in a circle and saw no immediate threats. He drew his sabre and looked for the others. Durren was coming to his feet, his horse was down and the wyrm was on top of the poor creature, clawing and biting in a bloody frenzy. Gaddle was further back, stopped at the point where the land dropped slightly and was loading a crossbow, still mounted.
Parli strode towards Durren, watching the wyrm tear the horse to pieces. It seemed to be all claws, teeth and long spiky bits. Durren picked up his axe, glanced in Parli’s direction and then faced the wyrm, which was distracted, ripping the horse’s throat out. As Durren came closer, the wyrm responded by climbing atop its prey. It looked at Durren and its long tongue flicked out as it hissed. Parli saw that it had six legs. Gaddle’s crossbow bolt slammed into the creature’s side. Durren raced to close the distance as the wyrm thrashed wildly, his axe came up, the wyrm lashed out with tail and claw, the axe came down in a swooping arc. Durren let go of the axe, shielding his face with an arm, backing away. He was bleeding from a number of wounds. The wyrm thrashed off of the horse and onto the ground, the axe was dislodged.
Gaddle shouted, “Stay back, my lord!”
Parli paused a few strides away from the dying creature, Durren also stayed back. Gaddle dismounted, letting his nervous horse run off, back the way they had come. After reloading the crossbow, Gaddle put another bolt into the wyrm. A moment later it stopped thrashing and lay still.
Parli was going to ask if Durren was alright, but he was having troubles talking, he felt dizzy and woozy. Everything went grey, Parli stumbled to his knees, he vomited, then collapsed to his side, he was shaking uncontrollably. The grey faded to black.
He woke with a start. He sat up, confused to find himself wrapped in his blankets. He was sore and his chest hurt, he may have broken a rib or two, there was heavy bruising from where his sabre hilt had lodged into his side. Gaddle looked at him from the other side of a small fire, sticks of horse meat sizzled over the flames. “I was able to retrieve your horse, my lord. There’s a water skin beside you, I’d recommend you drink a bit.”
Parli glanced at the nearby water skin then picked it up. He looked around and saw Durren not too far away, he was making a frame from the crooked branches of a dulmak. Parli could see the man had taken a number of superficial cuts, but he seemed hale enough. He drank some water.
They spent a few days camped out on the plains, eating horse flesh. Durren stretched the wyrm hide, securing it to the frame he had built. Neither of the men made comments about Parli’s post combat episode. It seemed they were more concerned by the wounds Durren had taken. By the third day there was no sign of infection, so they decided they would move on. Parli was happy that his ribs were not broken and the bruise was now purple and yellow, beginning to slowly fade.
They redistributed the extra supplies and Durren rode the pack horse. Gaddle lead the way southeast. They were still unsure about the migratory path and had no idea when they crossed into it or when they left it behind. They saw only a couple primitive homesteads, the residents lived in earthen houses and they remained distant, wary of three armed men travelling through the isolated wild lands. Though Parli would have paid a small fortune for a bath or a meal that was not horse flesh and mashed grains, he was reticent to approach these people. Were they the wild-folk? Parli had no idea what an elf looked like.
They never actually found the other Bowder, but eventually came to an area of lightly forested hills. They were two days into the hills before Parli spotted a very tall, very phallic looking tower in the distance. The next day they came to a stone road, superior to the Green Road, nearly as wide as the Green Way. They followed it eastward and came to a mighty fortified gate in a massive wall. Soaring towers rose above it. Surely they had come to the town his brother had built.
After making a few inquiries they were directed to a strange tavern made of living apple and pear trees. The trees were displaying spring bloom, summer growth, autumn fruit and the coloured leaves of late autumn all at once. The rest of the town was no less wondrous, with large buildings, beautiful gardens, fountains, stone roads and walkways. Though sparsely populated it was hard to fathom that his brother had built this place in a three year period. When they entered the tavern they asked for Baron Saivad, who was behind the bar serving drinks, as it turned out. Saivad was obviously from the Principalities and Parli wondered how he had become baron of his brother’s town.
He introduced himself, “I am Lord Parli Probancruq of GreensBridge, brother of Lord Jander Probancruq. I have urgent news.”
The southerner looked him up and down, the beautiful woman at his side leaned in and whispered to the man. Baron Saivad smiled, “Welcome to Janderton, Lord Parli. Sadly your brother is unavailable, gone for over a year now and no one seems to know when he might return. May I offer you some cider?”