Chapter Twenty-Three

on March 5, 2010 in Evermist

© 2010, Patrick Hester.  All Rights Reserved

Chapter Twenty-Three

“You look nervous. Are you nervous? I’m nervous,” Narut asked.    Eli tried to smile at Narut, but he couldn’t quite manage it.  He did feel as nervous as his friend, more so thanks to a night filled with strange dreams and little rest.  His head throbbed just thinking about that.

To take his mind off it, he started rechecking his horse and gear.  It seemed a fine animal, better than he thought he would get; a bay dun that frisked while he checked the straps for the fourth time since saddling her, almost as if to say to him, ‘Leave it, already’.  Honestly, he was simply looking for something to do with his hands.  Forget the Wall for a moment, he was nervous about riding, as he’d never done a lot of it before, and most of that as a child.  During training, he’d gotten a refresher course, and then it was only enough to keep him from falling out of the saddle.  It seemed a silly thing to worry about now, yet he did.

He had his saddlebags in place, stuffed with extra clothes to layer on as they made their ascent.  For now, the sun was warm enough that he had only his uniform jacket on with his shirt unbuttoned.  His sheepskin gloves were tucked just under the saddle near the pommel where he could grab them quickly if he needed them and his bedroll and water skins were behind the saddle, tied to his duffel.

There were a lot of nervous looks shared between the squad members he knew, and knowing glances between the ones who had been here for a while and were only present to see the rest safely up to the Keep.  He rechecked that his saddle was good and tight, realizing that he’d just done that a second ago.  The horse gave him another look.  Blushing, he looked around to see if anyone had noticed…

“FORM UP!” Sergent Klen shouted.  “This is your first ascent up the Wall, so stick close to the veterans and don’t do anything stupid.  Everyone keep your eyes and ears open – an attack can come at any time, even here.  If you even think something is wrong, speak up!  It’ll take the better part of the day to make the keep.  Now, mount up!”

Elias swung up into his saddle, the dun frisking again before he reined her in.  Klen, followed by another, familiar man, approached.

“Elias, have you met Jaycn?”

“We’ve met,” answered the older man.

Elias nodded to the man riding beside Klen.  In the light of day, he was no less grim than he’d been the night before.  Eli noted two rifles in holsters on his saddle along with the saber on his belt.  Eli’s own rifle rested in a saddle holster and his saber was on his belt, suddenly feeling heavier.

“Like you, he wears the Marksman’s patch – that makes you both my scouts,” Klen smiled tightly.  “This man will teach and you will listen.  Like him, you will ride ahead of us and you will do whatever he tells you without question, clear?”

“Yessir,” Elias replied.  As Klen moved off, Jaycn moved closer.  “About last night-”

“You’ll do fine,” Jaycn talked over him.  “Being a scout, it’s up to us to protect the squad.  We look for anything that might be coming before it comes.  He didn’t tell you before this, did he?”  Elias shook his head.  “Didn’t think so.  Didn’t tell me your name, only that I was getting a new recruit.  Here, I got this for you,” Jaycn handed him a leather case with a strap.

“What’s this?” he asked, opening the case.

“Scope.  Let’s you see farther than normal – ever used one?”

“No.”  Elias gingerly took the scope from the case – it looked like a cylinder about the length of his hand with glass on one end and a tiny hole in the other.  It was very worn; the leather cracking in some places with areas that were stained and darkened spattered here and there.  Looking closely, he decided that those could be spots of blood.  Fumbling with it, he nearly dropped it.

“Like this,” Jaycn said, snatching it away from Eli.  With a quick motion, the older man pulled on the ends to extend it another hands length or more.  “Look through the small end.”

Elias took it back and did as instructed.  Sure enough, everything far away appeared closer now.  Turning, he swept it across the Wall.  From here, the top looked like it was just a few cubits away.  Amazing, he thought.  He could actually see the road they would be taking up, hidden though it was against the dark stone.  It snaked back and forth at a steady incline.

“Scouts!  Head out!  Company, fall in at the base of the ramp!”

“Let’s go,” Jaycn said as he clicked his tongue and reined his horse around.  Elias put the scope back in the case as quickly as he could manage, then tried to be as smooth with his own horse, clicking his tongue and tugging on the reins.  She just looked at him and ‘whuffed’.  “Please?” he whispered, and she started off after Jaycn.  If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn she chuckled first, but that had to be his imagination.

With Jaycn in the lead, the pair headed towards the ramp he couldn’t see from the pier.  Squinting, he followed the subtle line of it, zig zagging higher and higher, back and forth until it crested the Wall where he would get his first glimpse of the interior of the island.

That thought sent his stomach churning.  He thought he might vomit.

One Response to “Chapter Twenty-Three”

  1. Clifton Hill says:

    Nice characterization for the horse.

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