Dark Eyes

"Ten long ass days, and ten longer colder nights," the rider next to him said.   Cal looked at the man. It was Derrick, a lad from Querenth, and a long time friend of his. His long coat draped past the sides of his horse, and a heavy steel arbalest hung on his back.   Derrick grinned at him. He and his group had been escorting a nobleman for months now. They had picked him up a little bit north of Querenth in his manor, and for quite a large sum, they were supposed to bring him all the way to Ostaras, the capital of the north.   He and his gang did things like this for a living. Escorting and an killing for small-time nobles who were rich enough to afford a band like them, but not rich enough to afford a drake or dragon for transport. Good money to ride along with a wagon, on which Cal was currently sitting, and look scary.   No small band of highwaymen would attack the group of fifteen heavily armed men. Some of them were in the business for close to twenty years. There was the Querenthi Dauol, his second in command, the two friends from the islands of Jislker, Svengel and Norgel, the exotic game hunter Curani from the southern cities, and of course the dharian Koremer, and the wood-malen Caevir. Especially the last two were dangerous in a fight. And who could forget the two traveling companions his gang had for a few weeks. The snow- and wood-malen girls. Friends of Caevir who were also traveling to Ostaras. They were a welcome sight and not bad in a fight too, Cal had noticed the one and only time they got attacked.   The wood-malen, she called herself Red after her fiery and beautiful red hair, shot a bow like he had never seen before. Even Caevir, who had been shooting for the full 1500 years of his life, couldn't even closely compare to the speed and precision of the girl. And the snow-malen, Celia, who was from Ostaras, could twirl her long-bladed spear so fast, her snow-white dreads danced in the backwind like a kite on the beach.   He didn't want to guess how old they both were, but Celia had a single long dread on which rings were fastened. He could more than a dozen, and he knew that the rings represented her age. How many years each ring represented he didn't know, but he was sure it was more than a decade.   "Quit your whining Derrick," Celia said, her accent was strongly northern. "You might annoy our grand lord."   She nodded at the cart.   They were riding in formation. Cal was driving the cart, in which the nobleman, a thirty-year-old man named Stauferoll, was riding with his two wives. The rest of the group was riding around the Wagon.   "Ten days without a warm bed is not that long Derrick," Cal had to agree.   "It is still material to complain about. You know me, I always have to have something to complain about," Derrick said.   "Don't worry Derrick," Red, who had ridden up to the cart too, said. "Winter's pass is only a few hours away, And then it's only a few hours until we pass the blue gate."   Next to him, Cal noticed movement. It was Stauferoll who had come up to sit next to him. He did that quite often. His wives tended to stay back, while he came up and enjoyed the morning sun and look at the surrounding. At least that is what he said. In reality, he did come up to watch the view. It was just not the countryside he was interested in. It was Celia.   Cal didn't know if it was the fact that the man already had two wives, or that he was so incredibly sly, that annoyed him more about it. Celia had been their travel guide for the past week or so. The landscape had gotten cold and winter was approaching. She knew what was worth looking at and how they could make it to Ostaras in time for the Luna festival.   "Ah Stau, how are you?" Celia said overly nice.   The nobleman, not noticing the jesting tone, nodded.   "It was fine, I had a little too much to drink last night though," he said while rubbing his head. "In fact, I'm surprised you were up so early."   Celia laughed.   "Well somebody has to get you to Ostaras."   Stauferoll smiled and his little black neckbeard looked even more stupid than his curly hair.   "Where are we now Celia?" he asked.   "We are close to winter's pas. I'd say an hour or two before we reach it," she replied.   The two-hour ride Celia had predicted, turned out to be indeed two hours. They entered the pass at mid-day. Mountains spread out before them, giving way for a snowy road with a few watchtowers along the way.   "So do you know how the blue gate got its name?" Celia asked when they had finally reached the end of the pass.   Stauferoll shrugged, "I guess its not just the blue paint you guys put on it?"   "Well yeah that's exactly it actually," Red said.   Cal frowned, "I thought it was because of Tiara the blue, who held the pass against Mesantian forces."   "No," Celia said. "That's a myth. It's really just named after the color of the gate. When queen cenyis built the gate a few centuries back, she thought it would be best if the gate had an epic myth surrounding it. So she made something up and within a generation it was a well-established myth around these parts."   Stauferoll seemed genuinely impressed.   "And that queen is still ruling the north? She seemed so young when I met her back in the capital."   "She is quite young," Red said. "Do you know the story of how she came to power?"   Stauferoll shook no.   Once they passed the gate, they took the road to Sanctuary. Celia told them about it. An invisible source of energy that warmed up a forest of massive trees. Trees like they had in the woods of Ell'fyka. How they ended up here, even Celia didn't know.

Cover image: by Pimenefusarund


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