The Dominator // Novel // WIP
Updated: Feb 1
Year 1181: Kindlage
The first flakes of snow were falling through the trees as Master Belwyn and his squire Aeron trotted along the moonlit forest path, an escort of soldiers rode ahead and behind them. Aeron pulled his cloak in tight to ward off the cold. He watched his master ride alongside seemingly immune. But then it was Aemons first placement as a Guardian and not his masters.
"Master" Aemon said.
"Apprentice" Belwyn said. The two rode in silence for a while as the cold wind gusted around them. An owl hooted in the distance, it's cry soon eclipsed by the wind howling through the birch trees.
"In the rift war..." Aemon began before being cut off by a curt hand motion.
"I smell smoke," Belwyn said ignoring his apprentice. He kicked his horse into a trot, the Templar trained horse didn't baulk at the moonlit path trotting as if it were daylight. The soldiers matched speed without question, swearing loudly as the path opened to a scene of ghoulish slaughter.
Hagwauld was burning. The flames had died down yet it still reeked of a funeral pyre. The bodies of its inhabitants lay strewn around the streets as if tossed by an angry god. The sickly, sweet scent of death rose around the corpses shrouding them with the stink of death. Aemon gagged, a handkerchief swiftly rising to his mouth whilst Belwyn grimly rode on.
"My god..." Aemon began.
"No god did this..." Belwyn said. He reigned in his horse at a crumpled, pile of armour. "This is the work of man." Glancing around he pulled his face from its usual taciturn expression to a grimace "and Fey. Explain why I know that."
Aemon pointed at scattered, empty piles of equipment. "When Fey die their bodies return to the spirit world, they leave the mortal world behind."
"Yes, the Fey are back and meddling again." Belwyn scratched at his beard. "We thought we'd killed the last of them." Glancing at the armour pile once more he snorted "Still, less of them now thanks to the villagers."
"Don't worry Master," Aemon loosened his blade within its sheath, "this is what I was born for".
Belwyn sneered. "Then you were born a fool. Nobody seeks war. War only benefits kings and priests. You haven't seen war. You didn't see the skies rain blood as the Fey ran riot across Aegypt like a plague."
In the distance, a cricket began its grating sound, alarmingly loud in the night's silence. "You don't know what it is like and I thank the mists for it. We all became more, yet and also less in that campaign."
"I don't understand?" Aemon said. His horse's hooves crunching through the ash of dead timbers lining the road.
"I pray that it remains that way," Belwyn said, his eyes fixed ahead immune to the horrors of war. "Come on, with luck we can make the Gilded Dragon before daybreak. A hearty meal will improve matters somewhat."
"You can think of food at a time like this?" Aemon asked.
"Especially at a time like this. If this is war then a soldiers priority is always the next meal." Belwyn said.
A damp drizzle had just started when torchlight from the tavern became visible in the distance. Even Master Aemon spurred his horse onwards at the welcoming sight. Within minutes they were camped out on a table with foaming mugs of ale and steaming cuts of roast pork on route to their table. A nearby table spontaneously burst into song belting out a horrifically, mutilated version of 'The Wench with One Leg'. The straw at their feet was already drying off their riding boots and the heat from the fire was pervading deep into Belwyns bones. The last of their guards, a stocky, hirsute man called Diedrich came in from the cold, he dropped Captain Gruber's money bag onto the table and swiftly grabbed a tankard. The horses had been left in the care of the stablehands. They'd be well cared for tonight.
As Belwyn downed a hearty gulp of ale, Master Aeron thudded a copy of Whicker's Everyday Cantrips for study. A small price to pay for the luxury of a cooked meal. The thick, slabs of pork arrived next, steaming gravy coated the meat. A wooden bowl filled with wedges of thick black bread thudded down next to it and Belwyn tucked in lustily. As his fingers warmed up and became more limber he began practising the complex weaving required by Master Whicker's cantrips. Soon enough he had an audience as the locals watched him weave shadows to perform complex tasks. The night was a glorious one even when his ale supply was cut off by his master. The applause from his admirers filled him with confidence and spurred him on, the guards kept them from getting too close.
It was deep into the night when Belwyn finally got to collapse into his straw cot. His sleep was deep and undisturbed even when Master Aemon got up in the night to relieve himself in the rooms bucket.
In the morning the first glimmers of dawn shone through the windows and the scent of thick porridge began to rise from downstairs. Captain Gruber respectfully gave a knock on the door which was immediately supplemented by Master Aemons boot kicking his cot to wake him. The last vestiges of sleep fled as the old crow tore off Belwyns blankets and tossed his robes at him. Goetz was the oldest of the Guards and watched the mages antics with amusement from his position outside of their door. As they emerged he nodded respectfully as he escorted them downstairs. The porridge was already poured in thick wooden trenchers, it had been lightly salted but had crisp chunks of pork permeating it with flavour. Belwyn tucked in with gusto. Clay mugs of delicately flavoured tisanes came up next, the herbal brews blowing away the last of the night's excesses. Goetz was a seasoned soldier as such seemed immune to hangovers. His compatriots Diedrich and Schubert looked somewhat worse for wear but straightened their backs when Captain Gruber sat down at the table. Goetz was laughing with gusto as the soldiers recanted tales of the night before. From the sheepish look on Schubert's face and the knowing looks on his fellow's faces it appeared that one of the tavern maids had kept him from his sleep.
"It's not natural! He is a child, he does even have a beard!" Diedrich said.
Goetz looked up and smirked, "You've spent too much time with the farmers, your face is beginning to look like a sack of those potatoes you love so much."
Diedrich rubbed his paunch under his chainmail. "A powerful man has powerful appetites, women like that they do."
Gruber silenced them with a thump of his fist. "That is enough whelps, I want everyone kitted up and ready to leave before the tisane runs cold." To emphasise his point he refilled his cup and raised an eyebrow as the soldiers hustled to prepare. Goetz was getting supplies from the innkeeper whilst Schubert was steering clear of a pair of giggling tavern maids in the corner. Belwyn flagged down one of the maids to discretely refill his hip flask. He was sure his master had noticed, but for once he had deigned to comment.
After conversing with the Captain. Master Aemon leaned over the table. "Belwyn, I know that this seems like a simple task but do not underestimate it. We don't know if anything has come through and the Fae themselves may well be in the area. They are rarely dangerous, but they do wield magic and are intensely mischievous. Be on your guard and be prepared for anything." Belwyn nodded his consent barely concealing his excitement, every night he had dreamed of the Rift Wars. Imagining the Legions of Casteroft as they had spread across the continent joined by whole covens of mages. They had spent decades hunting down the rift spawn that had seeped through the Fae gates over the ages and sealing the rifts as they found them.
"Do you think anything has come through?" His eyes glimmering with hope.
"Don't wish for that which you may come to regret boy. The Rift Wars were a time of bloodshed and horror." He gazed sternly at Belwyn. "There are no heroes in times of war, just survivors." Master Aemon said.
The weather took a turn for the worse as the party rode On through the night. The soldiers bickered amongst themselves. Whilst their horses were more than capable of following the mages through the dark courtesy of their shadow sight, Belwyn had the energy to imbue them with shadow sight too but the looks of horror and disgust he'd received when enchanting the horses had been enough to dissuade him. Besides they had neither asked nor shown any desire to ask. By the time the party arrived at the outskirts of Kindlage tempers were frayed and everybody was both drenched and exhausted. Captain Gruber knew a tavern in Kindlage where they could camp out for the night, even Master Aemon seemed enthusiastic at that prospect. Belwyn smiled for the first time that night, soldiers always seemed to know where to find the nearest tavern, it must be another facet of their basic training.
One look at their robes and the stormy expression on Master Aemons face led the guards to usher them hastily through the gates into the city. The hustle and bustle of the city swamped them in seconds even in the rain and it took a judicious use of both Captain Gruber's bellowing and his horsewhip to get them through to the tavern. The horses clipped and clopped through the slurry that filled the cobbled streets. By the time they emerged at the tavern the mage's robes reeked of damp dog alongside other unpleasantness. The tavern wasn't half as welcoming as the roadside tavern they had stayed in on route to Kindlage and was filled with a decidedly unpleasant crowd. Their guards made sure to keep their sword hilts on display as a bar maiden with lank greasy hair clunked flagons of ale down on the table. Despite all appearances, the ale was surprisingly good. The same surprise didn't extend to the food, the roast was all gone so their meal was reduced to thickly cut slabs of stale bread with cheese and butter. An apologetic tavern maiden brought over a cauldron of thin, watery soup with a handful of diced vegetables and unidentifiable meat. Whilst Belwyn grimaced the guards showed no such hesitation and tucked in with gusto, within moments the food had evaporated.
After that, things improved, the ale began to flow and Master Aemon decided that Belwyn wasn't to practice tonight. A wench came and sat on Captain Gruber's lap to the delight of his comrades and to the disdain of Master Aemon, they threw coins at her and it rapidly became apparent why he had recommended this particular venue.
Downing the last of his fourth flagon, Belwyn was laughing along with the guards and mimicking their actions slapped the rotund rump of one of the tavern maidens. She yelped and the room erupted into chaos with patrons standing and kicking over stools. Gruber's men drew daggers, their swords useless in the close confines of the tavern and surrounded the table.
"Imbecile! That was a tavern maiden, not a wench." Master Aemon hissed. The revellers slowly seated themselves under the steely eyes of the guards as Master Aemon pressed coins into the tavern maidens hand and placated her, occasionally pointing at Belwyn and uttering phrases such as "Stupid, naive little boy", "bawdy, beef-witted lout" and "Precocious upstart with mud in his brain". Belwyn burned under his master's venom laced tongue and the scorching gaze of the tavern maiden. Mumbling his apologies he was despatched to his quarters with a guard as an escort. Flopping down on his straw cot, anger flashed across his face. This was hardly the stuff of legend.
An hour later, Master Aemon came up, instead of the tongue lashing Belwyn had expected Aemon greeted him with a sympathetic pat on the head. "Always mind your surroundings dear boy," Belwyn muttered an apology but was silenced by his master. "Cantrips and incantations are often the easy part of learning to be a mage. Life is something the dusty halls and crinkly tomes of the Guild cannot prepare you for. Nobody was hurt, as long as you have learned from this then no harm has been done." Belwyn smiled weakly and thanked Master Aemon. Somehow his masters support making the situation feel even worse.
In the morning Belwyn awoke to his customary alarm, namely Master Aemon ripping off his sheets and muttering about the sloth inherent in youth. He swiftly donned his dress robes, the guards at the gate would already have informed the town council and an official visit was expected.
They went downstairs for breakfast, they were treated to a cauldron of boiling water which Master Aemon swiftly supplemented with a hand full of herbs in order to brew a tisane. A loaf of bread, freshly baked this time and several wedges of cheese were laid down onto the table. The guards looked somewhat worse for wear but Captain Gruber remained indomitable ordering up a round of ales. Belwyn opted to stick to the tisane, he'd didn't want a repeat of last night.
It was midday when the guard returned bringing with him a grizzled woodsman and a smartly dressed officer who introduced himself as Captain Faulks, head of the town militia. His uniform was polished and pressed to a gleaming state but it was obvious that he had owned it for quite some time.
The tavern maiden smiled at Captain Faulks and curtsied, it was clearly not his first visit. Removing his gloves, he shook their hands. "My lords, welcome to Kindlage. On behalf of the Lord Mayor, I would like to thank you for coming so quickly." Flagons of ale thumped down on the table in front of them and there was a pause and Captain Faulks glugged down a hearty amount before continuing. He gestured to the woodsman who had seated himself at the end of the table with the guards. "Allow me to introduce you to Petré, he is one of the local hunters from a village about five leagues out." Petré nodded as they greeted him. "Perhaps you would like to tell them what you told me Petré?"
Petré slicked back a few strands of his shoulder-length, black hair. "It were in these woods three cycles ago that I came across it. We've always had a fae presence out in Lyos, but they were an annoyance more than anything. If they get close to the settlement they curdle milk, steal lambs or cause you to stub your toe." Master Aemon nodded.
Captain Faulks smiled "Luckily they avoid larger settlements, they are a pestilence." He said.
"We have a large pack of dogs who have always managed to deter them in the past from getting too close, but recently the woods have become more dangerous. I was sent out to track the fae after several dogs were found flayed and left hanging on the main road to Lyos." Petré said.
Master Aemon snorted "You can't track Fae, they don't leave footprints." He said.
"Ordinarily yes, but they wouldn't go anywhere near a dog usually either. I picked up the trail and followed it to a clearing in the woods. The morning mists were stronger than usual and I normally walked straight into it. When I recognised what I'd found I headed straight back. Elder Tomas sent me straight to Kindlage to request aid." Petré said.
Captain Gruber raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like something else came through the rift. Something that dislikes dogs?" He said.
"Yes, well thank you for stating the obvious. The rifts lead between the realms. Anything could have come through." Master Aemon said "Whatever it is, it can be tracked, that is the good news. We'll seal the rift today before nightfall and then hunt whatever has come through tomorrow at first light."