Marcus woke in a cell. He opened his eyes, feeling a bit drowsy and sore. He rubbed his head and looked around. He was in a small chiseled stone room. It was lit with a single candle. He lay on a bed padded with pine needles. The room was bare, except for his bed. He sat up a bit. Everything felt fuzzy, but he was able to sit without falling over.
There was a door across from him, made of pine, with a simple wooden handle. Marcus noticed that he only had his trousers on, and he shivered. A few cuts and bruises on his arms and chest smarted painfully.
Marcus sat silently on his bed. He closed his eyes, focusing on nothing. He cleared his mind. The door opened. His eyes shot open. A man walked in. He looked perturbed. His black hair was swept back into a pony tail. Marcus watched him, expressionless. The man wore a dark blue tunic.
He cleared his throat.
“You killed three of my men last night.”
Marcus sat silent.
“They were good men. Strong, stealthy, but above all, honorable, and for our cause.”
Marcus raised an eyebrow, his first sign of expression. “We acted in self-defense. We were set upon in the night. Anyone would have done the same.”
The man nodded. “I respect that. But it will not make it any easier for you.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Is the man your father?”
“He’s still out cold.”
Marcus nodded. “Kallan?”
“The other boy? One of my men is taking him food at the moment.”
The man looked at Marcus carefully. “We are taking you to our headquarters as soon as the other two are ready to travel.” He turned to walk out the door, then looked back.
“My name is Morgen.”
A few hours later, Marcus was led out of his cell, into a narrow hallway by a guard in a dark blue tunic wearing a mask that covered his face. Morgen stood in a large stone room with a fireplace. It held many barrels and crates of weapons and supplies. He turned to Marcus, holding his shirt, jerkin, hood, cloak, and belt of supplies. He stepped forward, passing them to him. Marcus quickly donned his clothing. Morgen came towards him, holding a piece of cloth.
“We must blindfold you, so you will not know the location of our hiding place.”
Marcus frowned, but nodded.
Morgen covered his eyes, and took his hand. “Follow me.”
Marcus followed him, trying to tell where they were. They walked out of the room, and then down a long flight of stairs. He avoided tripping but heard someone else, probably Kallan, trip and almost fall, cursing. He smirked a bit.
They finally came out into the open air, and he could feel the chill on his face. The wind was blowing harshly, and he could hear it whistling off the rock.
“Watch out, this is steep.” He heard the man say, as he led him onto another flight of stairs. These were much steeper, and they went slowly. Marcus reached to his left side, and felt cold stone. It was smooth, and he could feel where it had been chiseled out.
He followed Morgen down, until finally the stairway stopped. They walked a little further. He heard a creaking scratching noise, like rock on rock. He followed out. He could feel the spray of water on his face. “Keep to the wall.” The man’s voice spoke softly again. He put his back against the wall, and inched along. He could feel the light spray of water, and hear the dull roar of the water fall. He thought he knew where they were.
The spray stopped suddenly, and the man led him down another flight of steps. They leveled out, and walked along a narrow passage for a minute. He heard the creaking of a door opening. He followed, and heard the crunch of fresh snow under his feet, and he felt the wind on his face. He was led a bit further, and then the blindfold was pulled away. It was dusk, and the sky was growing dark. A single cloaked and masked man stood in front of them, holding the bridles of several horses, including their own. He noted their weapons, strapped to the saddles of the unfamiliar horses.
He turned, and looked back. Three men, plus the leader, stood there, all clad in dark cloaks, deep blue tunics, and masks. One of them pulled off Kallan and Keegan’s blindfolds. They blinked for a moment, and then looked around.
They all stood on a slight hill. Marcus looked back to where they had walked from, but saw nothing but a cliff, with a single tree growing right against it. He looked back. They were in a moderately dense forest. It sloped downward. Fresh snow covered the ground.
Morgen looked at him. “Get on a horse.” Marcus mounted, while one of the men held the reins. Keegan and Kallan, also, were helped onto horses. Morgen mounted his own horse, along with one other man. They took the reins to their prisoners horses, and started down the hill at a walk. Marcus looked back, to see the other two men disappear into the shadows.
They rode on for most of the night. The moved southward, along the very edge of the mountains. It was still dark when they turned into a valley leading westward. They walked in a small creek up the valley to cover their trail. Eventually, they cut off, and headed into a rocky offshoot, narrow and steep. The horses stumbled several times, and Marcus feared that they would fall. When the sun rose, they found themselves high in the mountains. They rested in a high meadow. Marcus, Kallan, and Keegan sat on the snowy ground, while their two guards quietly conversed. Marcus looked around. The sun glistened off of the snow, and the pine trees shook quietly in the wind. He could hear the rustling of the aspens. A hawk called in the distance.
After a few minutes, Morgen and the other guard got back on their horses, and Marcus, Keegan, and Kallan followed. They continued on their way.
They rode for about a half hour, when Marcus heard the cry of a hawk again, this time much closer. He looked up. A dark shape circled down toward him. It glided down. By instinct, he put out his arm, and it landed on his gloved hand.
Morgen glanced back, and then started in surprise. He stopped his horse, and turned. The bird squawked, and looked at him with a piercing eye. He petted its soft head, speaking softly to it. It crooned and closed one eye. Marcus reached down to his small pouch, and pulled a small bit of jerky out. He gave it to the bird, which promptly swallowed it down.
Morgen watched in surprise, then walked over.
“What… where… did you get…”
Marcus smiled. “Sharp-eye. We’ve been friends for a long while.”
Suddenly, he noticed the small piece of parchment tied to the wrinkled, scaly leg of the bird. He pulled off one glove with his teeth, and untied the small note. He looked at it, and read it to himself. He looked up. Kallan and Keegan watched him. He glanced at Morgen, before looking back to his father and brother.
“Owen is safe. He is with Nai and some slaves. They are in the red rocks.”
Keegan breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”
Morgen looked at Marcus, and frowned. “You have some explaining to do. Who is Owen, and why does this bird come from him…”
Marcus looked at him. “He is our brother. Do you really wish to hear our whole story now?” Morgen raised an eyebrow. “Keep that bird with you.”
Kallan watched their two guards carefully. They had ridden in silence since Marcus’ blasted bird had arrived. He had had no chance to speak to Marcus or Keegan since they left the rebel outpost. The grim looking leader of the two glanced back at him. Kallan flashed a wide smile. The man scowled, then turned back to the trail. Kallan chuckled quietly.
They made their way through the mountain meadows and valleys. Kallan grew tired. He began to doze off in the saddle, as the sun grew warm overhead. He suddenly awoke at a sharp whistling sound. The sound came again, and this time he realized that it was coming from the leader of their expedition. He watched carefully. A man in dark blue emerged from the tree line nearby. His face was masked, and he wore warm clothing, and gloves. He replied with the same high pitched whistle.
He motioned, and began to walk ahead. They followed. He led them down hill for a while, into a narrow canyon. They made their way through it, down into a hidden valley. It was devoid of trees, except for a small aspen grove on one side. They rode ahead, to a sharp rock face at the far side. It was craggy, and rough. They stood there for a moment, until their guide let a high whistle echo across the stone.
With a grating sound, an opening began to form in the craggy rock. It was roughly shaped, but serviceable. It was in complete shadow. They rode into the darkness. When their eyes adjusted, they could see several men standing nearby. They pulled the door, and it grated shut. They were left in complete darkness. A horse whinnied nervously.
Kallan heard the sound of flint scraping against steel. A few sparks came, casting a tiny amount of light. Finally, they caught a wooden taper. It was used to light the wick of a lamp. It cast a glow on the tunnel. Three men in the same dark blue tunics and masks stood in the glow of the lantern, their eyes reflecting the light eerily. They began to walk. The horses hooves made a clicking noise on the hard stone.
They were in a crudely carved tunnel, tall enough to admit a horse and rider, and wide enough to admit at least five men comfortably. Wooden pillars stood along the edges for extra support of the stone above.
They rode along for a while longer. Soon another tunnel branched off to their right, going downhill. They continued straight ahead. They rode for a while, although it was hard to keep track of the time. Then they reached two large wooden doors. Their grim faced guide turned to them.
“Keep your peace until you are spoken too.” He nodded to the four masked men on foot, and they pushed the doors open.
They were bathed in light. Kallan blinked for a few seconds, before he realized that he was looking into a massive cave. Marcus bird let out a small squawk of surprise. Several large holes in the ceiling let in light. A wide avenue led down into it, winding through the stalactites and stalagmites. Small structures of wood stood everywhere. After a quick glance, Kallan realized they were houses. People stood near them, cooking, cleaning weapons, and going about their daily lives. They were in an underground town.
The small company began to ride downwards on the chiseled stone road, into the settlement. People looked up at the sight of the prisoners and watched them pass. Smaller roads branched off of the main street, off into other chambers of the cave. Kallan looked ahead, and saw a massive lake at the bottom of the cave, disappearing out of the light, back into shadow.
They turned, and went toward a fortified looking area near the lake. It had a wall surrounding it, and Kallan could see a keep built into the stone. They went toward the gate, until they came right to it. Several large braziers of fire stood near the gate.A man sat nearby, armed, with a pike. His bright mail glittered in the firelight. He stood.
“Who goes there?”
“Captain Morgen Flintshield.” Their guide answered.
The man nodded. “The city burns.”
Captain Flintshield nodded. “The tyrant will rue his wrongs.”
With this, the man turned, and whistled up to the gate. It slid open. They rode inside. Torches lit it entirely, as most of the sunlight from the openings was shaded. They rode forward. Captain Flintshield turned, as soldiers surrounded them.
“You will leave your horses here.” He said. “Do not worry; they will be well cared for.”
The slid off warily. Keegan looked around, watching the surrounding soldiers carefully. Kallan looked forward. Flintshield motioned for them to follow.
They followed him forward, up to the keep. Two soldiers pulled open the doors. They entered a large hall. Two windows high on the far wall let in sunlight, which came down on a long table. Two large fireplaces roared on both sides, and braziers on the walls kept the room well lit. Standing around the table were many men. They were speaking earnestly. Maps and diagrams were spread across the table before them.
They turned at the opening door, and watched them come in, looking surprised. Then one young man came forward, with a grin on his face.
“My friends!” Said Noren.