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Everman and Uriel: Segment III

C Withey's picture

Chapter 2

Caleb Everman crouched down behind the tall grasses, keeping a close eye on the enemy encampment just ahead. Around him were some of the bravest soldiers he knew.
To his left, Gabriel knelt behind a bush, an excited grin on his face and an easy confidence about him. His blade was drawn halfway out of its sheath as he waited, anxious to begin the attack. And he would take out many of their numbers, Everman knew. Gabriel was one of the best swordsmen fighting under the banner of the Unicorn.

Beyond him, Taneth stood behind a tree, a sinister look written onto his face. He would take no joy from this upcoming slaughter, Everman knew, but his loyalty to the Unicorn was unwavering. He would perform his duty.

As they all would perform their duty: Archer, kneeling behind a stand of trees just a few feet away, Atherton, a few feet beyond. All good men, steadfast in their loyalty, and Everman was comforted in knowing that he was surrounded by men that he could trust with his life.

Looking back at their objective, Everman reached down and felt the leather-bound handle of his blade, protruding from its sheath. He gripped it reassuringly. Serve me well this day, thought Everman, drawing his sword.

He rolled back onto his feet from a kneeling position and elevated his stance. He stole a glance out at the enemy encampment one last time over the weeds. There they were: twelve soldiers of the Dragon, meandering about their business. Oblivious. They were soft, weak, and would be caught completely unaware. They would fall easily before the might of the Unicorn.

At last, his body racing with adrenaline, his heart beating hard against his ribcage, Everman signaled to his squadron. He raised two fingers up to his temple, then pointed at the encampment. It was the signal they had all been waiting for. Without a word, over a dozen soldiers of the Unicorn sprang from concealment and charged.

The Dragon were taken by surprise. They rushed frantically, panicked, a few to claim their swords, others to flee. Everman ran forward, into the clearing, targeting his nearest foe. The soldier looked dumbly back at Everman, his arms full of the firewood he had been gathering. Everman’s blade found his chest, below the logs, and he and his load collapsed to the dirt.

Everman changed course, scanning the scene quickly, assessing a new target. The nearest Dragon was scrambling to his feet, waving a stick at him in sheer terror. Another, further away, had grabbed a sword and was scanning all of the invaders, selecting a target.

Everman ran towards the soldier, making his choice for him. Everman swung his sword down at the soldier, who deftly caught it with his own blade. Everman drew back, then thrust forward, only to be parried aside. They continued to spar, exchanging blows, all the while Everman mindful of the others around him. He paid close attention to his peripheral vision, keeping his head moving.

His squadron had spread out around the camp, engaging opponents. One of the Dragon soldiers was running at Everman with sword outstretched. Everman tensed his legs ready to jump aside, thwarting a blow from the soldier he was currently attacking, when suddenly Taneth bashed him with the flat of his blade, sending him sprawling to the ground.

Everman watched yet another soldier run, enraged that their enemy did not have the honor even to fight back.

Everman’s enemy lunged once more, and Everman caught his strike with his own blade, locking together both blades above their heads. The two stood there, locked in battle, staring each other down. The soldier had a desperate, furious look on his face with eyes bulging and teeth clenched. He desperately pushed against Everman with the last of his strength, but Everman held fast. He looked back, his face unchanging as it always was; even now he wore a mask of solemnity, of silent strength and an emotionless cold.

Then, suddenly, another blade skewered the soldier through his chest, and he collapsed limply to the ground. Gabriel pulled his blade back out, looking disapprovingly down at the bright red stain upon his steel.

“You took my kill!” Everman accused him, taking a step nearer. His voice was harsh, and his face unreadable: few besides Gabriel would know that he wasn’t being serious.

“Well, if you’d been able to do it yourself, I wouldn’t have intervened!” Gabriel jested back, his manner light and his voice high, piercing the chaos of battle around him. He danced back a few steps, spinning around as he did so, his movements graceful and aerobatic, before plunging headlong into another skirmish.

Everman gave the back of Gabriel’s head a cold stare, as if trying to pierce his skull with daggers of ice. Then he turned away, concentrating on the task at hand.

Finding himself without a skirmishing mate, Everman rushed over to assist Atherton, backstabbing the soldier he was locked in combat with. Another fled into the woods, and Everman gave pursuit, catching him just a few yards outside the meadow and slaying him.

Everman ran back to the encampment, wiping his blade off on a handful of foliage, to see the others ambling about. The enemy had all been slain, or chased into the woods. The remaining Unicorn were inspecting the bodies, rummaging through their persons for valuables, or looking for goodies in their belongings. Gabriel’s lower half was protruding out of a small tent. Everman presumed that his uglier half was filling his pockets with useless trinkets.

Everman walked up alongside the tent and, as he strode by, slapped Gabriel’s posterior with the flat of his blade, never breaking stride as he walked away.

“Your mother is a goblin, Everman!” Gabriel called out, his voice muffled from within the canvas tent.

“My mother is a sweet, old lady and you know it,” Everman said in his monotone drawl, seemingly uninterested. Inwardly, he smiled to himself, but it did not spill through to his lips.

Everman strode the full range of the encampment, scanning the nearby perimeter for aggressors in hiding. His allies ranged around him, more careless than he, interested only in personal gain. He saw no sign of concealed attackers, but he did take a moment to note a few things of interest to him. Firstly, as he walked, a single bird fell out of a nearby tree, suddenly and inexplicably. Everman walked over to the fallen creature to find it dead, whether from the fall or another source, he could not be certain. Secondly, the enemy's stock of wood, for the short time that they had been camping here, was piled much too high. How was it that so few could accumulate a stack of dead wood, for indeed all of it was dead and withered, as tall as a grown man?

And, thirdly, a single doe hung suspended by its legs over a cold fire pit. Everman knelt down to inspect the creature as Gabriel meandered over wearing a woolen scarf, dyed red, and a black hat of absurd proportions.

“Look at this neat stuff I found!” exclaimed Gabriel just before his new hat tipped down and swallowed his head whole. He pushed it up his face just enough to see out from under. Everman looked up at him and just shook his head. He looked less like a formidable soldier and more like a young child playing in his grandmother's wardrobe.

“Are you ever serious?” Everman asked flatly, who was clearly not amused by Gabriel's antics.

“Are you ever not?” Gabriel shot back in friendly retort. Then he turned to study the doe Everman was kneeling by. “Looks like she was on the menu for tonight.”

“Of that, there is no question,” Everman replied. “But I ask you this: how did they down this creature?”

“Arrow?” Gabriel hazarded.

“Look again.”

Gabriel did, studying the creature intently on all sides, holding up his enormous hat as he did so. He turned a circle about the creature, then returned to Everman's side.

“No entry wound,” Gabriel concluded.

“Precisely. It was not shot, nor stabbed, nor even trapped. Not a bone is broken in its body. So I ask you again, how did the Dragon down this creature?”

Gabriel shrugged, causing the large hat to wobble upon his crown. “Perhaps it fell dead from their looks?”

Just then, Archer, whom Everman a moment ago had noticed was missing, appeared at the edge of the clearing. He held one of the Dragon by the collar, his sword held erect dangerously near the enemies’ neck.

“Looks like I found myself a new pet!” Archer cried out, gaily. Battle lust still coursed through his veins. He looked half-mad with the desire to plunge his steel into the enemy's chest.

The others were alerted to the prisoner’s presence, and gathered around. Everman left his discovery behind, and Gabriel followed, abandoning his new wares upon the ground. Archer marched his prisoner forward, then threw him down to the ground in the middle of the encampment. Surrounding him were twelve Unicorn, swords drawn and at ready.

The soldier was ugly, Everman decided. Long, dirty hair, glistening with sweat, spilled down around a dirt-strewn, misshapen face. He sat huddled over on hands and knees, his face turned away into the dirt, unwilling to look at his captors.

“Scum!” Atherton sneered. “Dragon Scum! We should kill him now.”

“Let’s end his pathetic life!” agreed Archer, still crazed from the heat of battle. He lifted his blade into the air over the soldier and swung it down, but Everman narrowly lifted his own blade to catch Archer’s.

“No.” Everman said, his voice its never changing, emotionless calm. “We shall take him to fair King Elwyn. There his fate shall be decided.”

The mentioning of their king disrupted their demands for bloodshed, just as Everman had counted on.

Archer withdrew his blade, sheathing it before he was tempted to use it once more. Everman did the same. The others, reluctantly, followed suit.

“Soldier!” Everman commanded in a raised voice. “What is your name?”

Their prisoner did not reply. He just remained huddled up, unwilling to face or speak to them.

Everman shot a look over to Archer, who read his mind with a sinister grin. Smiling coldheartedly, Archer brought his foot back and drove it forcefully into the soldier’s thigh.

Everman was pleased that Archer had chosen to plant his first kick in a place that was less likely to break. The prisoner would perhaps be even less willing to talk writhing in pain than he was now. Plus a shattered leg would have prevented them from taking him to King Elwyn.

The prisoner recoiled, sobbing, grasping his freshly bruised leg.

“What’s the tears for?” Archer exclaimed exuberantly, full of cruel malice. “That was just a love tap!”

Everman assessed Archer with a cool gaze just then. Archer was an intimidating figure, of that there was no doubt. He was as tall as a tree and built like an ox, with arms thick as barrels. He kept his head shaved bald, and his square jaw line could sharpen steel. His cruel dark eyes were always full of malice, and he had a face that could never truly be trusted.

Archer sometimes scared Everman; other times, he worried him. While Archer was but a child growing up, he loved tormenting weaker children or even smaller animals. He, unlike the others that fought under the flag of the Unicorn, found no thrill in life like the thrill of persecuting and tormenting his opposition.

Everman looked away from his squad mate, turning his attention back to the prisoner.

“Soldier!” Everman repeated, his voice unchanging. “Give us your name.”

“Saunders!” cried the soldier, fearfully, his face still buried in the dirt. “My name is Saunders.”

“Saunders, is it?” asked Everman, disinterested. “Now that you’ve proven that you can speak, tell us why you’re out here.”

“No!” cried the prisoner. “I mustn’t! He would kill me!”

Archer reflexively raised his foot for another kick, but Everman stopped him with a shake of his head. He was already broken, Everman knew. Breaking him any more would not aid them.

“You will find that ‘he’ is the least of your concerns at the moment,” Everman observed.

He? Everman mused. We he perhaps referring to his king?

“We’ll kill you if you don’t talk!” Archer threatened, his voice positively dripping with hostile intent and unspoken promises of pain.

“The Traveler!” cried the prisoner. “The Traveler! He will know! He will kill me!”

Everman’s eyebrows raised in surprise. It was only that one quick movement that belied his inner emotions. He had heard nothing of any ‘Traveler’ before. An ally to the Dragon would be vital information for his majesty, the king.

“Who is this Traveler?” asked Everman.

“The shadowy one,” ranted the prisoner, talking so fast that his words were beginning to spill together. “The one who practices dark magicks. We all shun him. We fear him and his magicks. But we need him! He can help us win the war. But his will is his own, and I do not trust him! He is not for the king! We do not know where he is from. He just appeared as if from nowhere!”

“Why have you come into the wilderness?” Everman demanded, speaking more forcefully.

“We came seeking more like him!” squealed the prisoner. “He will turn the tide in the war! He will bring us to victory!”

Archer, unable to restrain himself further, slammed his foot into the prisoner’s back, causing him to cry out in pain, ending his droning prattle. Everman did nothing to stop him.

The features of Everman’s face were grimmer than usual. He looked over at Gabriel, who clearly shared his concern. It was written all over his face.

“Someone’s helping the Dragon,” said Gabriel, worriedly. “Someone with dark magicks. This does not bode well, my friend.”

Everman nodded his agreement, then turned away. He gave the order to move out, and Archer lifted the prisoner up and carried him slung over his shoulder with ease. They began to march away from the encampment, toward the city.

.

Anrene was a beautiful city. It had been built in the midst of a low rise of hills, strategically set between the forest and the wide grasslands. The setting sun reached deep into the forest with glimmering yellow fingers, while shadows yawned over the gentle rolling hills of the grasslands. The shadow cast from the city wall, constructed entirely of white stone, blanketed many of the outlying trees of the wilderness to the east. It encircled whole both the busy, sprawling city and the looming castle.

Everman and company, with prisoner in tail, exited the forest, squinting as the orange and yellow sun assailed their naked eyes, unshielded by the protection of limbs and leaves. They followed the path beaten around the walls, though the deeply green grass, coming back into the shadow of the city, up to the east gate. The guards atop the towers, upon seeing the advancing war party, opened wide the enormous gates of wood and steel.

The men of the Unicorn triumphantly returned to their home city of Anrene.

The city proper was an organized mess. Townsfolk lined the streets, having paused their affairs to witness the approaching war party with their captured prisoner. Several of the men saluted the party with respect, filled with admiration at seeing the capture of the enemy. The women and children mostly stared wide-eyed, as if naught more than deer enthralled by the light of a brilliant lantern. Some scurried quickly out of the way, clearing the roads, whether in reverence or fear, Everman was unsure.

Everman led his party through the labyrinth of cobbled streets and clustered huts. They passed into the market complex, constructed at the very heart of the city. A large, circular courtyard was decorated by dozens of carts and mobile shops from which wares were sold. Cloths of a hundred colors were strewn overhead for protection from the elements and to provide shade for the women. Everywhere Everman looked there were people ambling about browsing, sampling, or buying. A gaggle of women in flowing dresses stood to one side, and nearby a posse of youth ran about in wide circles. Several men wielding tankards of something dark and frosty wandered to and fro. Everman eyed each of these, inwardly accusing all of them of attempting to sabotage his mission. And the noise from such a herd of peoples was nearly overwhelming; each excited conversation seemed to run together, amplifying into a cacophony of audible chaos.

The noise and the sights of the marketplace engulfed Everman, and it made him uneasy. He slowed his pace, moving back within arm’s reach of his fellow squad mates. He kept a constant eye on the prisoner. Should one of these citizens suddenly feel brave and want to take the life of a Dragon, Everman would be there to stop him. Despite sharing the common man’s feelings toward the enemy, this man was a prisoner; more to the point, this man was his prisoner. He would not fail in his task of safeguarding him.

With Everman’s thoughts turned toward the prisoner and his protection, he accidentally brushed up against a citizen, who’s back had been turned.

The citizen, an older portly fellow, turned angrily, ready to curse any fool careless enough to disturb his peace. But when he saw Everman, with his sword already drawn, his manner changed abruptly.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” said the man, bowing. He backed away into the throng of the crowd. Everman watched him, the war party halted, still holding his blade, assessing that citizen as if he were the enemy himself. Despite having moved into the crowd, Everman kept his cold stare upon him, and he was not content until the portly man had moved onto another street and out of view.

A hand fell upon Everman’s shoulder, and he spun round, sword raised, ready to slay the assailant and defend his charge.

But it was only Gabriel.

“Lower your weapon, Everman!” Gabriel said sternly, gripping Everman’s forearm, keeping his blade firmly pointed down towards the ground. “By the gods, we’re in the marketplace!”

“All the easier for someone to launch an attack,” Everman replied, sweeping his head around, carefully scanning the area around him. He sheathed his blade, but did not release his grip upon the handle.

“Need I remind you that these are your own people?” Gabriel reasserted, his voice stern, but low. He looked around briefly to ensure that none of the citizens were overhearing their conversation. “Have you forgotten where we are? This is Anrene! No one is going to attack us here!”

“A soldier can’t afford to let down his guard, especially not in familiar settings,” Everman replied.

“You really have that soldier’s handbook memorized,” Gabriel shot back in retort. “What did you do, sleep with the thing?”

Everman said nothing, but only looked at him with his constant, unreadable expression.

Gabriel sighed, giving up on his friend for now. “Come on, let’s move out!”

.

The Unicorn war party advanced through the streets of Anrene and arrived at the foot of the castle without further incident. The castle itself was the same white stone as the walls, and stood monstrously high, casting over them a shadow that could swallow the city whole. Soaring turrets scraped the very clouds themselves, and hanging over everything were big, bright banners of blue, the color of the Unicorn. Flags of blue flew outstretched atop the massive turrets, fueled by the high elevation winds. Massive banners of solid blue, tall as houses and just as wide, hung from the ramparts, covering the white stone.

And, just like the outside of the castle, so too did blue adorn every decoration and every high corner of the interior of the great hall. Everman and party passed through the gaping doorway into the reception hall, built large enough to shelter nearly every inhabitant of Anrene all at once. Massive support columns, perfect cylinders of white stone, stood tall as the largest trees, and just as wide. A plush carpet, dyed dark blue, lead from the doorway, which was being closed behind them, past the lines of tables and pews, up to the throne itself, on which the young elven king sat.

The party approached, leaving behind thirteen pairs of muddy footprints, soiling the formerly flawless carpet. The loud clank of metal echoed through the entire hall. Even over the ruckus, Everman heard the unmistakable sound of voices hushing upon their arrival.

Ten feet from the seated king, the party stopped their advance and kneeled. So to did the prisoner, who clearly was not in a mood to seek death.

Only while their faces were turned aside, and each of them kneeling, their bodies still, did the king stand and approach.

King Elwyn was an example of beauty in its purest form. He being an elf, he was unencumbered by the mundane flaws of the average human, such as aging. Long, brilliantly blonde hair swept down past his hips. His elven bloodline was obvious, from his two long, delicately pointed ears, to his vertically slit eyes of a pale blue, to his fair skin, creamy and flawless. The king looked, in fact, radiant and full of vitality, as if he would live a thousand years.

King Elwyn was adorned in his robes of royalty. Garments of silk and satin swept down around him like his unrestrained hair. His robes were nothing short of exemplary in design, and of course bore the standard color of the city, as well as velvet, the color of royalty.

King Elwyn approached Everman, and addressed him by name, which to the common man would perhaps be the highest form of praise. Everman, however, just shrugged it off, and stood at his king’s bidding.

“As you can see, your majesty, we have returned successfully. And we’ve taken a prisoner, who has grim news to bear.”

“News of the Dragon?” said the king as he stepped nearer, concerned. “Then I must have it. Bring forth the prisoner!”

.

Everman’s war party was only but a few of the many soldiers working under the employ of King Elwyn, serving under the flag of the Unicorn. Everman and his party stood, with dozens of other men serving under the Unicorn, in a vast semi-circle in the great hall, in which the king and his prisoner stood at the center. Honor guards, dressed in full armor, wielding dangerous looking pole arms, stood to either side.

As Everman stood there, witnessing the exchange between his lordship and the Dragon prisoner, he had time to reflect, and more carefully study the men that willingly fought and killed beside him.

Gabriel was his best, and truly his only, friend for as long as memory served. They had studied together in the academy, and grown together once they were of fighting age. Gabriel had grown into a rather attractive individual, though Everman’s eyes were blind to that fact. Everman did see, however, that Gabriel could turn the heads of ladies no matter where he went. He had short-cropped brown hair, soft, almost girlish features, and green eyes that always seemed full of laughter. Not only that, but he wore his soldier’s uniform well, with slender but well-defined arms emerging from under his tunic. And Gabriel was always quick with a smile, and full of charm. The only time that Gabriel ever seemed serious was in battle, which was when Everman trusted him most.

Aside from his looks, Gabriel was also fiercely loyal. He would stand and fight beside any man he called friend.

Everman fancied himself as having no such appeal to others, but neither did he want it. He preferred himself to be isolated.

Everman paid no special detail to his own appearance. His own hair, pure raven’s black in color, was not kept short like Gabriel’s. It hung shoulder-length, pulled back and bridled in a loose thong only enough to keep it out of his face. He cared not to create a proper ponytail out of it like some others preferred.

Everman’s appearance was nearly opposite that of his friend. His features were sharp and distinguished, his cheekbones high, his chin sharp and prominent, but covered in a ragged, loosely-trimmed stubble. His eyes were as mysterious as the man himself. They were magical orbs holding an infinite depth covered by an ever-changing array of color. Though few have ever been close enough to notice, the colors of his eyes changed with his mood, shifting from various shades of brown to brilliant greens or icy blues.

With Everman striving so hard to keep his face a constant mask of nonchalant impartiality, letting slip only the single emotion of anger from time to time, his eyes almost always remained a dull shade of brown or, in his anger, a piercing blue like that of the northern winter.

Everman, like all the others working under the employ of the Unicorn, dressed in standard soldier’s attire: an open tunic of dark blue, to allow circulation in the hot seasons, with rugged brown breeches, toughened leather boots, and a hooded cloak, clasped just under the neck.

Everman was slender like Gabriel, but years of service and blade handling had built him up like the others, a far cry compared to his frailty of youth. He, unlike Gabriel, chose not to flaunt his appearance, choosing instead to cover himself with his cloak whenever possible, concealing his appearance from the eyes of the common man.

Gabriel was easily absorbed into conversation and friendly with strangers while Everman was not. When it came to the interrogations of citizens, or sleuthing out clues of an escaped convict, Everman allowed Gabriel to do the bulk of the talking, while he slipped into shadow and observed, preferring not to interact.

A final shouted order and clash of metal pulled Everman from his thoughts. The suits of armor, under which one could only presume there was a living, breathing person, stepped forward and took the prisoner away. The king watched them go, then turned to the standing company, still surrounding the king and his throne in their semi-circle. Every soldier snapped to attention reflexively under the gaze of the elf king.

“Gentlemen!” addressed the king, his voice high, carrying all across the great hall. The way he spoke, King Elwyn truly did sound like a son of the gods like they all said he was. “I come to you, my faithful and loyal, in a time of need. I call upon your services now like at no other time before. We have a new situation on our hands.”

King Elwyn proceeded to tell them, his manner grim, his voice solemn, what Everman had learned from the prisoner himself. The Dragon is receiving aid, aid from a magician of the dark magicks. A single mage, come from parts unknown, has arrived and has been feeding the Dragon promises, promises of power and glory which he may or may not be able to deliver on. He calls himself the Traveler.

The mission entrusted to Everman’s troop by the king was simple enough: infiltrate Arrik, the city of the Dragon, learn more about this Traveler and, if possible, eliminate him.

“The fate of our fair city and the outcome of the war may very well depend on you and your bravery!” concluded the king. “Luck be with you, and the gods as well.”

With that, they were dismissed, and the king returned to his seat upon the throne. The company of soldiers turned to leave, but before Everman turned to go, he noticed, as if for the first time, the cloak that the king wore. It was long, hanging nearly to his feet, and weaved of a rich velvet to serve as a sign of his royalty.

Everman hesitated, giving both the cloak and its owner and peculiar look, then turned to follow Gabriel out the doors.