“My lord, please reconsider.”
“Shut up already.”
Those were the words, which echoed lightly in the long wide corridor, where a red rug with a yellow romb pattern covered the stone cold floor and banners with various coats of arms decorated the walls. There, on the upper edge of one of the pillars, leisurely sat Skye and below him had gathered three people, two men and a woman, all of which were responsible for his wardrobe and were currently fighting one of hardest battles in their simple lives - to persuade the young man to dress himself properly.
After the conversation with his adoptive father had ended, the dual-mage had headed to his chambers only to find several people preparing his traveling garment. Ignoring the busy servants, he had merely taken off his coat, put on a black vest, draped the first back on and started walking towards the door. This naturally caused a fuss and one of the more daring men, who had gotten used to the routine, had grabbed one of the prepared pieces, a black fur cloak, and thrown it on the unsuspecting youngster. Skye had the intention of pulling every drop of air out of the person’s lungs, however, when he turned around, he saw his attendants had prepared themselves with mops and other items to knock him unconscious. Albeit using a wind spell to blow them off their balance, the magician had remembered his adoptive mother’s request to stop inflicting damage to the servants inside the building after an unfortunate incident that had ended with several broken bones, fortunately not his. As bothersome as it was, the only people the lad took orders from were his parents, thus he had reluctantly taken his leave and flown down the hallways, until he picked a suitable spot on a small platform at the top of one of the pillars. But the help had no intention of ceasing their assault, not when they had gotten over one of the walls. Indeed, their master had not taken the cloak off, despite his distaste for the few restrictions and weight of it, due to the inside being kind to the touch, but he rejected everything else that was suggested.
“Please, my lord. Spring may be upon us, but the mountain paths are still cold and covered with snow.” pleaded the woman.
“Yes, please, think of your health! If you were to become ill, your mother would be struck by worry and the circle of magi will be lacking one of their key members.” the older man of the two reminded.
“And what if you’re attacked unexpectedly? You are an excellent mage, your lordship, but surprise is not to be underestimated. Please, at least wear some mail or leather armor.” the other called.
“You’re all so irritating.” Skye sighed whilst staring at the ceiling. He then looked down at the peasants with his icy blue eyes and told them in a simple manner, as if he was having a daily conversation with a friend: “I’m a Ferronian. No cold can freeze me. And it’s not like I’m going to run around naked. The only reason you idiots are dancing around like those stupid jesters in Valeal is because, if I do somehow get ill, your pay will be cut or your sorry excuses for hinds will get kicked out of this place and you’ll be left to shiver in the cold like the sorry muts you are.”
No one could respond to his words in a way other than looking at the ground or to the side, for it was the truth he spoke, harsh as it was.
“Now, scurry off before I call the cats to eat you.” he ordered.
With the little dignity they still held, the small group walked away from the scene, yet it was not to remain peaceful, for a guard passed them and came to stand under the pillar.
“My Lord, your party has gathered and ready to leave. Please, follow me.”
“It’s about time!” Skye exclaimed and leapt from his position, in order to fly after the guard as he lead the way.
Five soldiers were awaiting the young mage at the south entrance, one of which was acquainted with Skye.
He was Jorah Solberg, a loyal subordinate of house Blaumond and one of the few guardians in the capital above the age of thirty. A man of a muscular build, with bright hazel eyes and hair that was on the border between brown and red, he had survived the War of the Dark Arts and had the experience and scars to prove it. Not a giant among his comrades, but definitely half a head taller than the average foreigner, his voice contrasted his appearance with its soft and calm tone. He had come to know the youngster ever since the ceremony of his adoption into the household and was ofttimes present in the mage’s outings. Out of the many that had attempted to stop the boy from doing anything reckless, Jorah was among the little whose words reached Ryan’s ears. He viewed him as his young lord, who he had to protect just as he had to protect his homeland, for it was this person, who would most likely become the next Archmage.
On the other hand, Skye thought of Jorah as a babysitter, as someone meant to supervise and guard him even when there was nothing to fear. Naturally, he was annoyed by his presence, since he couldn’t have his way around him as easily as he could with others, but it can not be denied that there was also a pinch of contentment whenever the guardian was placed by his side. The magus did think of their kind as brainless strenght-lovers, yet he could tell which ones were competent enough to be serviceable.
Today, their interactions would be no different than before.
“Welcome, my young lord. We will be leaving immediately.” Jorah greeted by bowing his head as he sat in his saddle atop the back of his steed.
“Took you long enough.” was the only comment Skye made, without so much as a bow.
The rest of the team; a spearman, a crossbowman, a bannerman and a woman knight; also bowed their heads in greeting, but he gave them nothing in return. The most useful from the hounds he was given was, obviously, Jorah and the most useless of them all was the third mentioned. In Skye’s opinion, such a position lacked any reasoning whatsoever, unless they were in the middle of a battlefield or declaring peace. To carry a flag above your head in broad daylight, in situations other than the mentioned, was the same as signalling your position to your enemies, according to him at least. The other three were of some value, the crossbowman ranking above the swordsman and woman, for he could hit their feral target from a distance whilst being out of sight, not to mention his armor was made out of leather, light and adequate for quick soundless maneuvering. The rest wore blackened steel plates over chainmail and would come in handy in case of a mindless attack by thieves. Overall, the young master was not too content with this grouping, but what made him even more displeased was their manner of transportation.
Standing at about eighteen hands in height, Ferronian horses were huge in comparison to their lowland brethren. Massive, with a strong musculature to pull or carry any load, their lack of speed did not come in the way of being perfect for journeying through the mountains. With feathered feet, strength and endurance on their side, they succeeded on the trail where other steeds fell. On top of their physical properties, most animals were docile and friendly, so it was uncommon to hear of one biting or kicking its owner.
Among these gentle giants Skye not only felt short, but also chained. With the ability to fly he could reach the border much faster than if he were on horseback. There were the storms and winds to consider, but even those negatives did not make the idea appealing. Alas, rules were rules, until they were at a good distance from Snowheart, of course.
‘It better not take forever to get down to the first post. Otherwise, I’m ditching these guys and flying the rest of the way.’ he thought as he climbed onto his black steed.
Once they were assured that everything was packed, the party left through Serpentine gate and went through the many layers of the city, from the prosperous to the poor, and there was not a time when they were not observed by the many eyes of passers by. With their height now doubled, it was as if titans were marching in the streets, the sound of heavy steps of the hooves adding to the impression. The townspeople either bowed or nodded their heads and once or twice a blessing along the lines of “May the brother gods watch over you!” could be heard, namely between the middle and third wall and beyond.
Those people Skye considered to be among the crown fools of the city. The Valean religion had slowly made its way into Ferros and its lore was so outrageous to him that it made him laugh. Allegedly, there was one god, who on a whim decided to split himself in two. From those two parts two new gods were formed and those two gods created the known world. One made the absolutes, like demons and angels, while the other - the land and humanity. But the first god thought humanity was a stupid idea, so he tried to destroy it. The second god sacrificed his eternal life to separate the so called “spiritual” and “physical realms”, in order to save his creations. When that happened, that first god too gave up his immortality to give humans a soul and magic. It was so hilarious that the mage could snicker at it for days and he wasn’t the only one. The majority of Ferronians couldn’t take in this imaginary story seriously enough to accept it as a religion. They had more important things to do in their lives than pray to something they didn’t even know whether or not existed and even their own beliefs they largely took as fairy tales, as part of their culture they were meant to preserve for the sake of their ancestors and the nation’s honor and history. Yet this preposterous belief was setting up roots in the kingdom, mostly among the poorer folk that resided in the capital and bigger cities.
‘Weaklings will believe and take anything.’ was the way Skye put it in his mind. Those, who didn’t have a cause, a desire, inner strength or some common sense would think even the darkest of nights was a bright sunny day.
After exiting the unwalled areas of Snowheart, the group headed upwards on the dirt path, past the grassy hills, where sheep with faces overshadowed by curly wool grazed and shepherd dogs barked and stared at the travelers. With heavy steps the horses stepped on the rocky trail, once or twice kicking a rock backwards. It had rained, yet the ground was not quite muddy, for the earth sucked in the water quickly, which was one of the many inspirations for the Ferronian tales of the snake that could not go to the surface and had to drink from the soil. On the road there were barely any puddles, for there was barely any distance between the stones. It went straight forward for barely a kilometer and from then onwards began the curves and turns, which would be a common sight further ahead.
The higher they went, the stronger the winds blew and the few broad-leaved trees that could be seen all but vanished, giving way to the tall pines, the smell of which was just as chilling as the wind. The forest was quiet, the mist crawling on its dry needle leaf floor, but every once or twice the knocking of a woodpecker on the ashy bark could be heard. The serenity here was specific, found nowhere else, other than in the mountains. The cold that reached your very bones had a kind and gentle touch, almost making you think it was warm.
The wind was a mere light breeze in the woods, but once the party reached newer levels, where white patches could be seen on the ground, it picked up and messed with the mortals’ hair just as an elder would scratch a child’s head with their long wrinkly fingers. It was in times like these that most travelers reached for their hats or scarves, but not this gathering of six. They had grown up in such conditions and it did not bother them at all. In fact, Skye enjoyed having the wind blow in his face, since he felt as though it was cleaning his eyes and making him see clearly.
Gradually a thick white cover tucked in the land and little white stars as cold as ice started falling slowly from the heavens. The group had stumbled on a snow cloud on the upper levels of the mountain, which was no surprise. It was anticipated to meet heavy snow, but even that would not stop the mighty horses for marching forwards under their masters’ demands. Yet the clouds were broken, allowing the sun’s rays to break through and shine upon the valley below, which responded with a vivid violet shimmer from the many plants, which farmers largely grew on their terraced fields. The morning sky was visible in the open patches, its colour a light blue with ginger and pink playfully waltzing through it and staining the clouds in their shades. It was a beautiful parade of light.
The bowman and woman knight halted their horses to admire the view, which prompted the bannerman and warrior to also delay themselves, in order to glance at the hometown they would not see in the days to come, yet Skye did not pull the reins of his horse. He had no reason to turn around and look at the sight he had seen for the greater part of his life. Many times he had flown upwards and seen the valley in the colours of every season and he had grown sick of it. The time had come for a change of view, for a new place he could gaze out and wander. Every bird longs to leave its cage, be it of iron or gold.
"You won't be gone forever, we'll be back in a few months." the bannerman laughed.
“It better be a few months.” Skye resonded.
The young mage was still a bit grouchy, even after they had traveled this far. The cloak was warm and cozy, but also heavy. The motion of being on a horse for that long made him feel slightly sick and nothing had happened to spark his interest. This was a Ferronian group, after all. It was unlike them to sing or engage in a conversation for long. Skye was on the verge or freezing the ground below the horses just so he could see what would happen, when Jorah spoke to him:
"There's another soldier waiting for us at Schuyler post. He'll be our guide through the Valarian wilderness." the guardian told him.
“Another pest, huh. How annoying. We’re hunting down a feral mage, not a buried treasure. Just listen for the screams of terror.” the magician replied with a smirk at the end. “Without the clashing of swords, though. Those Valarians are killing each other down there, right? Perfect, just the entertainment we need. Once the stronger ones die out we can just move the border west to our liking.”