Dragon Fire: Episode 16

As he rode toward Eruheran’s Grove, Aric remembered. When he was a boy, he would sneak away from the monastery to the grove and run, his arms held out, feeling free as the wind whipped through his hair. In The Alehouse, Balemoss had said there was an estate in the grove from which the order on Aric’s life had come. Aric knew of no estate, but he had not returned to the grove since the day he ran away from the monks.

After they left The Alehouse, followed by the dead, Aric had searched for his horse Colby only to discover him grazing nearby in a farmer’s field. Because he had lost both his horses to disease and had no others, the farmer was willing to sell his cart. When Degan came near, the dead horses sprang to life. The terrified farmer begged him to take the cart and go. Aric paid him, and he and Degan headed out with the dead men trailing behind.

They had been riding most of the night following the lead of Balemoss and his local gang of black arrows. Aric was one step closer to finding out who ordered his death and that of his friends Rassiun and Arissa.

Glancing backward, Aric saw Degan driving the cart pulled by the dead horses, their rotting flesh falling away as they trotted through the wilderness. Pulling back on the reins to let Degan catch up, Aric looked at the horses and the three skeletons that waited in the back of the cart.

“A frightening sight,” he said.

“You wanted to get to Eruheran’s Grove on horseback, did you not? Is it my fault that animals are afraid of me? The magical aura that surrounds me and animates the dead reaches out only so far. These dead men climbed into the cart before we left, but the others who followed must have fallen behind. Once beyond the aura, they fell into the dust,” Degan explained.

Colby began to whinny and stomp the ground, moving back as though to rear.

“My horse grows restless. I cannot get close to the estate if he is not calm. Your dead are. . .” Aric began.

“It is not the dead, my friend,” Degan interrupted, his face watchful. “Something hunts us.”

Suddenly, a cougar broke through a nearby thicket of oaks and charged at the cart. The dead men leapt out of the cart and raised their makeshift clubs to attack.

“Hold!” Aric ordered.

“They will not obey you,” Degan explained.

“I was not speaking to them,” Aric said.

Degan watched as the cougar abruptly stopped and waited patiently beside the cart.

“Hold!” Degan commanded the dead. The lifeless men immediately halted and stood in place.

“What is that?” Degan asked.

“She is Tolora. She has been tracking us since we left the city walls,” Aric answered.

“That belongs to you?” Degan asked.

“She is a cougar.  If you insist on calling her “that,” I cannot guarantee her behavior,” Aric said.

“She belongs to you?” Degan asked surprised.

“She has been my companion since only a cub,” Aric said.

“Let them go,” Aric ordered the cougar.

Tolora quickly darted past the cart and ran up alongside Aric.

“That is remarkable,” Degan said.

“This from a man who can summon and control the dead,” Aric said.

“For me, a man with a pet cougar is far more remarkable,” Degan replied.

When Tolora growled, Aric explained,

“She does not like your name for her.”

“My apologies, miss,” Degan said.

Tolora seemed satisfied for she grew quiet.

“We must continue our journey,” Aric said.

Degan began to ride forward but slowed when he saw that Aric was not moving.

“What is wrong?” he asked Aric over his shoulder.

“You forget something,” Aric said, nodding toward the dead who were scrambling to catch the cart.

Looking at the road behind him, Degan asked, “Must I?”

“We may find that we need them,” Aric explained.

In resignation, Degan pulled back on the reins, “Hold.”

When the cart came to a stop, the dead climbed back in.

Aric prompted Colby, and their journey resumed with Tolora close at Colby’s side and Degan behind hurrying the horses onward.

After a few miles, they reached the edge of Eruheran’s Grove. The trees were overgrown and unable to bear fruit.

“This is not how I remember it,” Aric said.

“Someone has likely neglected the orchard to provide cover,” Degan said.

Slowly they entered the grove, the trees and brush blocking out all light. Degan whispered a few words into the breeze and his cane lit up as if it were on fire. A bit further into the grove, they came upon a large house surrounded by a high stone wall.

“Wait here,” Aric said as he dismounted.

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Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 7:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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