- 4th day of Hanotë -
Part 5 - First Camp
They turned south as soon as they left Mithir.
After discussing all the possible routes, Denar had decided that it would be safer to pass as distant as possible from the Silver Forest, since the latest reports said that part of the Northern Armies were camped deep inside the forest; which meant the possibility of scouts having been dispatched to the areas closer to Mithir’s borders was high. And so they opted to go around it, traveling south, as if they were bound to Leips, and then turn west, where the road was still considerably safe. They would cross the three Silver River affluents and then travel north to Melkar. From then on they’d enter the Ice Mountains and begin the real search.
They traveled the rest of the afternoon mostly in silence, a kind of nostalgia descending over the group. Probably because they all knew, deep inside, they’d most likely never be able to return home. And not even Arkel’s everlasting good humor seemed to have been able to escape that dark oppressive shadow.
They stopped at nightfall to have their evening meal and camp for the night. And, as per-established, every Knight took charge of a different task. Denar unpacked the food he himself had gathered, Elian and Mahel unfolded their maps, recalculating and confirming directions and distances, Elipson rode away in search of fresh water, and Lamar and Arkel took care of the horses.
Once everything was taken care of they all sat by the fire Denar had kindled and shared the food selected for that night’s meal.
“How many days until Melkar?” Arkel asked, filling his mouth with a handful of dried fruits, and Mahel peered towards the map still unfolded at his side.
“That’s what we were discussing just now. If we were to cross the Silver Forest in a straight line we’d probably make it in about five days … As it is, with our current route, it will take us a week or so, depending on how long we can advance in one day.”
“We have no time to lose! Taking into account how long it will take to regroup such a large force, I’d say the Northern Armies will probably reach Mithir’s borders in eight, ten days at most. And we have no idea of how long the city will be able to withstand the siege,” Elian told them.
“Well, taking into account the time we have left, this has probably been an impossible mission right from the start,” Denar replied with a deep sigh. “We’ll be lucky enough if we’re able to reach Melkar in time. But then we still have to find that Tower. Which means that, even if by some miracle we manage to do all this, and successfully convince the Magi to help us, I seriously hope they have some amazing magical way to get us all back home in an instant.”
The Knights looked at each other not knowing what to say when faced with such dark previsions and Elipson shrugged.
“Well, nothing we can do about that. Even if we had stayed in Mithir, that would hardly change the outcome of this war. At least this gives us a fighting chance. And if we’re not in time to help Mithir, maybe we’ll be able to help Leips, or even Harver, who knows? Right now there’s no use worrying about such things. All we can do is perform our duties to the best of our abilities, without hoping or expecting anything in return. Even if Mithir falls someone will have to take up arms and go on fighting. We’ll never have peace if we’re not able to defeat the Northern Armies. Let’s just focus on that.”
“Totally agree!” Arkel replied, standing up energetically. “And I vote that should mister dark mood start babbling about such depressing matters again we tie him up to a tree and just leave him there! This way he’ll be able to dishearten the owls and the horses as much as it pleases him!” he stated, referring to Denar with a mocking tone, and suddenly all he could see was the black sky over his head, pain spreading through his bottom and a heavy weight almost crushing his sternum. Denar smiled fiercely, watching him from above, straddling his chest, forearm pressed against his throat, and Lamar and Mahel laughed out loud, clapping and whistling, especially when Arkel tried to cough and sounded like a whimpering animal.
“You were saying …?” Denar asked in a challenge, his smile widening when Arkel’s face twisted to an expression of pain. “I believe you owe me a ‘I’m really very sorry for my thoughtless words and I was terribly mistaken, since you are, without a doubt, the most valiant warrior of all!’, right?” he told him, leading to more laughter from the other two, and even Elian managed to smile when Arkel muttered something that sounded very much like a ‘Never!’. “Oh, really?! Mahel!” Denar called, turning towards the younger Knight. “What say you? Which part of your brother you gather he could part with without too much of a hassle? Don’t want to be accused of not being merciful towards my Brothers,” he added and Mahel laughed when his brother kicked hard, trying to get free.
“Isn’t that a really easy question to answer?” Lamar asked, his voice hoarse from laughing too much.
“You’re right, of course. What was I thinking? Right, Arkel?” he implied darkly, turning back to his victim, and Arkel sighed.
“All right, already! I’ll say it! All I have to do is say it, right? So, I’m really very sorry for my thoughtless words,” he repeated in a monocordic voice, and Denar pressed his arm harder.
“Oh, for goodness sake! You’re such a child!” he croaked.
“And?!” Denar insisted, lowering his face over the Knights’, his green eyes looking suddenly too dangerous for a mere joke, and Arkel swallowed before saying the rest.
“And I was terribly mistaken since you are, without a doubt, the most valiant warrior of all! There!”
“Very good!” Denar told him ruffling his hair as if he were no more than a child, although he was still sitting on his chest. “And since you’re feeling so cooperative I believe we just found ourselves a voluntary to wash tonight’s dishes, isn’t that right?”
Arkel sighed and nodded, completely defeated.
Denar smiled happily and finally released him, reaching out a helping hand to pull him back to his feet.
“Traitors! All of you!” Arkel accused pointing to the rest of them, Mahel still laughing nonstop. And Elian stood up handing him a small pile of plates.
“Here you go,” he declared, unable to hide his amusement, and the Knight roughly took them from his hands and strode away, still muttering his displease under his breath.
Lamar looked around and, finding who he was looking for, stood up from his place near the fire and sat near Elipson, who was leaning against a tree.
“You ran away,” he accused her softly, still smiling, and she took a deep breath.
“You’re all as childish as ever. Men …!”
“Come now … don’t be so harsh! Laughing and having fun is needed, especially in this kind of situation,” he told her condescendingly and she sighed.
“When aren’t you having fun? But, oh well. Who knows? Maybe that’s why I still put up with the whole lot of you,” she retorted with a smile.
“Good!” She looked at him with an inquisitive expression. “Seeing you smile. It’s really good. Lately you’ve looked kind of … down. Before we used to talk about lots of things but lately, with the change in our schedules, I can hardly see you anymore …” he complained.
“If I recall it correctly, nowadays we only meet at the end of late night parties,” she added and Lamar averted his gaze, looking embarrassed.
“Well, yeah … The point is that we don’t talk anymore,” he stubbornly stated and she couldn’t help smile again.
“Don’t worry. I’m okay. Except for this stupid arm, of course, that takes so damn long to heal,” she complained and he did look worried.
“Does it still hurt?”
“Not unless I move it too fast or put weight on it.”
“That’s good, then. Elipson, if you ever need …” he left it implied and she nodded, gratefully.
“I know, Lamar, thank you.”