Owen awoke early the next morning to Commander
Redwill shaking his shoulder.
you are wanted at the command tent.”
sat up and slid out from under his blanket. He wrapped his cloak tightly around
himself, and then followed his commander.
sun had not risen, so it was still cold. They walked through silent rows of
tents, no one awake but a few sentries. Owen yawned, and Redwill looked back at him
with a bit of a smile.
going to need to wake up, lad.”
looked at him. “Just a bit tired, I’ll be fine.”
continued walking. “You’ll need to be fully alert on this mission.”
continued to follow him through the camp until they reached the central
pavilion. The guards moved aside for Redwill, and they ducked into the tent.
was lit by a number of candles. The commanders and General Corwin sat all
around, along with several other soldiers. Corwin looked up with a smile.
Owen. Very good.” He looked around at the five soldiers. “A few of you have
been chosen by your commanders to do a mission for us.” He pointed at the map.
Owen bent over to see it.
are here.” Owen squinted in the dim light, but could see the lines of ink
showing the Moron hills. Several markings showed the known enemy watchtowers,
and in the top right corner, just beyond the hills, was a small village. The
great road was marked down the middle, and fresh markings showed the rebel
moved his gloved hand up into the hills. “There are several watch towers over looking
the road here, here, and here.” He pointed them out. “There are several well
used passes in the hills.” He traced each on out with his finger. “If imperial
forces are on the move, they will most likely move through these ravines and
passes in the hills.” He looked up at them.
of you will be scouting a different area of the hills.” He brought out several
small pieces of cloth. “Each one of these has a map of the hills on it, with
the main passes marked out.” He handed one to each, then moved back to the main
map, and began to tell where each man would go. Owen listened carefully as
Corwin outlined where he would be going, and what passes he would look at.
will find horses just outside. Take a small amount of supplies, and light
weapons. Dress lightly and quietly. Move out before sunrise.”
men stirred, then turned and made their way out of the tent. Several men stood
there, holding horses. Owen was handed reins, and he mounted, making his way
back across the camp to his own tent. He shivered a bit. The moon was still
high in the sky.He slipped into his
tent and brought out his old leather jerkin and his brown rebel tunic and
slipped them over his head.He strapped
on his daggers and slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder. He slipped on
leather gloves and bracers, than wrapped his cloak around his shoulders and
slipped back out of the tent, climbing into the saddle and trotting toward the
camp entrance, where there was an opening in the trench.
horse nickered quietly as they moved through the rows of tents. Finally, Owen
reached the trench. Several guards sat around it, talking quietly around a
small fire. He trotted past them with a small salute, out onto the plain.
pushed his heels lightly into his horses sides and it began to move a bit more
quickly. The thin layer of leather shifted under him, moving with the horse. He
pushed his heels down in the stirrups and straightened his back, lifting his
head as the sky began to slowly lighten, the deep blue of night beginning to turn
to a sea blue, and the stars began to vanish. Owen looked north, and set his
eye on the Arrow Star, following it north as it slowly faded into the blue of
trotted up the steep slope of the ridge, zigzagging so as to avoid tiring his
horse too quickly.He glanced back at
the camp. He could see the flickering campfires begin to make the camp come to
life. He looked out on it one more time before reaching the summit. Before him
stretched the hills of Moran. The ridge sloped downward before him into a large
basin, then thinned into a valley that disappeared into the hills. He rode down
into the basin. The wind blew lightly, and he wrapped his cloak more tightly
around his shoulders, and then lightly kicked his horse into a fast trot.
Frost lightly covered the dry grass, causing
the world to shimmer as the sky began to grow lighter. The frost crunched under
his horses hooves, breaking the silence of the early morn. Owen scanned his
surroundings, but the valley was still and quiet. He caught a glimpse of a
small cottontail rabbit, but that was the only sign of life in the basin.
He made his way toward the pass, but instead
of entering it, he rode up the hill next to it. He made sure not to outline
himself against the sky but got a good position so he could see the surrounding
hills and into the pass. The sun began to let a bit of golden light over the
distant horizon, breaking into the blue. He could see more clearly across the
hills now, including two of the tall watchtowers off to the east.
They were distant, and small, but he could see
them, and he knew that the road was just on the other side of them. He looked
to his left, west, up toward the mountains. The hills grew steadily steeper and
taller, until they became rocky and covered with trees and merged into the
mountains. He looked across the pass, and then pulled his horse to a stop.
His eye caught movement. He watched the place
from which it had come for several minutes. Another movement caught his eye,
and he realized that there was a person standing on the other side of the pass,
on the edge of a ridge in the side. The figure turned and ran over the edge of
the ridge. Owen knew no time was to be wasted.
He kicked his horse into a gallop, moving down
into the gully as quickly as he could. His horse leaped the small stream, and
he turned, making his way up the hill to the place where he had seen the man.
His horse stumbled a bit as it made its way up the slope, but continued to
climb the ridge sticking into the pass. He reached the top and galloped down
toward the figure.
A small campsite was set. The small figure had
put out the fire and thrown a few supplies over the back of a horse, and was
readying to mount. Owen charged down toward the figure. It had to be the same
spy that they had seen before. The short figure finally managed to mount, and
expertly brought his horse into a gallop.
Owen gave chase, anxious to not let the scout
reach the enemy. The horseman headed directly into the bottom of the pass,
following the stream.Owen followed, his
horse breathing hard and tensing with the thrill of the chase. The cloaked man
turned his head, glancing back at Owen, but he could not see his face.
The valley began to turn into a ravine, the
clay and sand walls rising up. It soon towered over their heads, and it twisted
and turned. Owen could see caves off into the sides of the canyon, but he
continued down the main branch, trying to keep up with the quickly moving
rider. Owen glanced to his left and
right and could not see any easy way out of the canyon. He moved forward,
following the trickling stream. The tail of the scout’s horse skirted around
the next corner, and Owen kicked his horse, trying to catch up.
Owen suddenly pulled up as he came round the
corner. He could see the horse on the ground, and the rider was on the ground.
A large patch of slick mud was between them, and Owen could see the skid marks
where the horse had hit the slippery surface. The rider was still, not moving
where he lay crumpled on the other side. The horse struggled for a moment, then
rolled over on its side and clumsily stood. Owen jumped off his horse and moved
across the mud patch.
The horse did not seem to have injured itself,
but the crumpled pile of clothes on the ground did not seem in as good of
shape. Owen looked above the unconscious figure, and realized that he had been
slammed against the rocks directly ahead. He dropped his horse’s reins and
walked slowly and carefully toward the person on the ground. Imperial scout or
not, this person should be kept alive.
The horse was sniffing its rider, and somehow
Owen got the idea it was concerned. It started as he drew close, and moved a
few feet away.
The figure was wrapped in a heavy brown cloak,
dirty and ragged. Its face was covered by the hood. A bow was strapped to his
back. The person was clad in a dirty homespun tunic, and heavy cloth leggings.
Worn leather riding boots were up to its knees.
Owen reached down and pulled the figure into a
sitting position against the rocks. A torn piece of cloth was tied over the
bottom half of the figures face. He reached up and pulled it off, flipping the
hood off. Long, dark brown hair fell from the hood, and Owen fell back,
surprised by the face of a girl.
Owen sat there, shocked, for a few seconds,
just looking at the girl. She looked fairly ordinary, not someone he would have
picked out in a crowd for her looks, but she was not ugly. Her skin was not
pale, but a shade darker than his. There were light colored streaks in her dark
brown hair near the tips. She was dressed very plainly, and her clothes were
Once his initial surprise had worn off, Owen
moved forward, and gingerly lifted her, realizing he needed to get her to
somewhere safe. He looked around, and saw one of the nearby caves. The entrance
seemed just large enough to fit the two horses. Owen carried her toward it, and
moved inside.It was not the stone caves
of the mountains, smooth and sculpted. This was sand and clay, and it was
beautiful in its own way. He glanced back out, and saw her horse watching him, its
ears pinned forward alertly.
Owen could see where the water had rushed,
making the tunnel. For that was more of what it was. It was narrow, just wide
enough to fit a horse. Light filtered in from above in several places where the
tunnel expanded all the way up to outside.
Owen continued, careful not to knock the girl
against the sides of the tunnel. He followed it, until it came out into an open
area. The sky came in from above, and the clay overhung the edges. There were
several more caves. His arms were beginning to grow tired, so he quickly went
from one to another, looking to find the one that seemed the most promising.
The one on the right seemed to be the best choice. He ducked inside and lay her
down on the sandy ground.
“I’ll be right back.” He said, before
reminding himself that she was unconscious and couldn’t hear him. He turned
around and made his way quickly back through the tunnel. He was glad he
remembered the way, because there were many tunnels and paths. He came out of the
tunnel to find both horses waiting. His horse had wandered a little ways off,
but the girl’s horse was close by. It was a fairly small bay, with a large
white blaze down the middle of her face. Her mane was long and shaggy, and she
was fairly hairy.
“Come on, girl. She needs you to help her.
Yep, that’s it, c’mon. I’m not going to hurt ya…” he spoke like this as the
horse took a few more steps closer. He
moved a bit closer, and it stopped, looking at him. Then it stepped forward
quickly, moving toward him.
He reached out, happy that the horse was not
going to be hard to catch. It pushed on him, seeming to be looking for food. He
grabbed the reins as it nuzzled him. He laughed, and it pushed him back. He
reached into his drawstring pouch and brought out a small wafer of dry bread,
holding it out. The horse ate it quickly, and then began to look for more. He
chuckled and led it toward the cave.
He quickly led it through the tunnel, and then
let it loose in the open area to graze on the sparse grass. He went back and
grabbed his own horse, and soon they were both cropping the grass in the open
area.He made his way in to check on the
girl. She was stirring, but she was still pretty well knocked out. Owen could
see the lump on her head where she had hit the rocks.
felt her forehead. It was warm, but not too hot. He was reassured that she did
not have a fever, and then went to see what he could find in her bags. He slid
the saddle off her horses and carried into the cave. He set it up to keep dirt
out of the padding, setting the blankets down. He pulled the girl onto a blanket
for a bit more comfort.He looked
was still morning, but the sun was now above them. The morning was going by
quickly. The horses grazed outside.He
turned back to her saddle, and looked it over.
worn leather was finely carved. He brought his hand over the curling designs,
feeling the grain of the leather. A large letter G was carved into the leather,
and the symbol was repeated on the leather saddle bag. The leather cinch was
carved with a name.
He read quietly. He wondered if it was the name of horse or rider.He looked at her again. She didn’t look like
an imperial scout. He didn’t think she was. He unhooked the clasp on his cloak
and threw it over her, before beginning to rummage through the saddle bag.
was a long cloth bag. He opened it and poured it all out on the ground in front
of him. There were several packages, a long dagger, and several water-skins.He sniffed the packages. They seemed to be
food, so he opened them and looked. One held some hard tack, made of dark
wheat.Another held dried meat, and a
third held some unknown dried fruit.
quickly repacked them, and opened the water-skins. Two were filled with a light
ale, and one with water.He took a
quick sip of ale to quench his thirst, and then turned to the unconscious
girl.He moved closer, thinking to give
her a drink. He slowly brought the skin to her lips, but they were closed
tightlyHe reached out and gently pulled
them apart, letting a bit of the ale trickle between her lips.
stirred, and he pulled away awkwardly, spilling a few drops of ale. He quickly
re-corked the skin, and then shoved it with the rest of the supplies. He
stepped outside, and looked around. He felt uncomfortable leaving the girl
alone, but it was his duty to continue his mission.
thought for a moment, then made a quick resolution and readied himself to ride.
It was no longer cold, so he left his cloak with the girl, and led his horse
out of the tunnel. He pulled out his dagger and marked a large X on the side of
the cliff, next to the entrance, then sheathed it and mounted. He rode back
down the canyon, and upon finding a path, made his way out and back into the
hills. He glanced back one more time to remind himself of the exact place, and
then rode to the top of the nearest hill.
sun was now high in the sky. It was quickly growing warm again, and he was glad
he wasn’t wearing his cloak. He kicked his horse into a trot, and began to ride
along the ridge, keeping the distant watchtowers in sight. The hills were
silent except for the occasional animal. He saw a pair of tawny colored wolves,
of what kind he did not know, small, and worn, but they moved away as soon as
they saw him.
in the early afternoon, he paused and ate a bit of jerky and half a piece of
hardtack. It was a meager meal, but he knew that until he shot some game, he
would have to only eat what he had brought with him. He slid off his horse, and
dropped the reins, climbing up the nearby slope.
had been moving steadily north for several hours, and he knew he had to be
close to the middle of the hills. He sat down on the hard dirt, the dry sharp
grass poking his back. As he looked across the hills, his mind began to wander,
and he thought of his next plan of action.
his encounter with the girl, he had thought to ride north, and scout the hills,
then make a wide circle and move back south to the rebel camp. It would have
taken him a few days, and he would have had to camp at least once.Now, he was not sure. The girl had taken a
knock on the head, but he was sure she would be fine once she woke. She was
well hidden in the cave, and he saw no need to return, especially now that he
had a mission.
looked down the hill in front of him, and noticed several large rabbits
nibbling underneath the bushes. He thought for a moment, before slipping his
bow off his back and stringing it. He pulled two arrows from his quiver,
holding one in his right hand with the bow, and nocking an arrow with the
other.He moved slowly down the steep
hill, keeping himself hidden behind the brush as much as possible.
sunk to one knee as he drew closer to the rabbits. They saw him, but did not
run away yet. He brought the string to his cheek, and let fly. The arrow caught
one of the rabbits in the neck, and it flipped over, writhing in the dirt and
squealing a high pitched sound, then stopped suddenly. The other rabbits
disappeared. Owen made his way down the hill toward the motionless animal, and
picked it up by its hind legs.
was quite large, much greater than any he had ever seen in the mountains, and
it had long ears, tipped with black fur. He slung it over his shoulder, and
made his way back over the hill. His horse was where he had left it, grazing,
biting at the yellowed grass in an attempt to find something worth eating. He
tied the rabbit to the saddlebag, and mounted again to continue north.
moved through the hills for a while as the sun made its way across the sky. It
became unnaturally warm for the time of year, and he looked to the northwest. A
massive front of clouds was forming over the mountains. Owen cursed his luck as
he realized what it meant. Of course. The warm weather was only being pushed in
front of the storm. He continued to make his way north, generally following the
course of the ravine.He stayed at the
top of the line of hills, giving him a good vantage point in both
sky above was cloudless, but the wide bank of grey clouds to the north
continued to grow. Fairly late in the afternoon, Owen reached one of the
central hills of Moran. It was taller than the rest, sloping down toward the
south, and descending steeply on the north. Owen trotted up the slope quickly,
glancing back down towards where the ravine sloped to the northeast.
reached the highest point of the hill, and looked across the hills. From here
he could see all the towers, and the line of the road, weaving through the
hills.Owen looked out across the hills
between the road and the large hill, but the only sign of life was a small herd
of antelope moving south. They disappeared behind a ridge, and he turned north.
leaned forward on his saddle, and pulled his right foot out of the stirrup,
resting it on top of the saddle.He
began to scan the hills ahead, looking for any sign of the red tunics of the
empire, or any flash of sunlight on metal. The clouds were beginning to move
south, towards him, and he could see the dark line of shadow where the clouds
began to cover the sun.
hills only continued a little while north, before sloping down into brush
covered plains, spreading eastward. To the west, they came right up to the
foothills, soon becoming rocky and covered in pines.Just north of the hills, he could see a bit
of smoke rising from the houses of Moransford. He shifted his eyes east again,
looking to the north of the hills.
could see nothing. He glanced up once more at the growing bank of clouds, which
was moving quickly closer. The grass blew like waves on an ocean, and the wave
grew closer and closure, until a chill wind struck him full in the face, and he
shivered. The storm was coming in, like a monster extending feelers of cloud
forward. A few thoughts raced through his mind, then his plan changed, and he
wheeled his horse back towards the ravine.
wind began to blow harder, and he decided to take cover.He quickly moved into the ravine as dust
began to blow, and continued at a fast pace as the storm overtook him.He slowed his horse to a trot, moving close
to the edge of the ravine. The wind whistled around him, and he shivered,
kicking his horse into a canter.
the time he reached the large X he had carved in the side of the canyon, snow
had begun to fall around him. He slid off the horse and pulled it quickly into
the tunnel. When he came out the other side, the snow was pouring through the
opening in the roof. It was wet, leaving a spot of water wherever it fell on
him. He quickly slid the saddle and blanket off his horse, and moved into the
took a moment for his eyes to adjust as he entered the dim room. He set down
the saddle, and untied the rabbit. It was battered, but it would still be fit
to eat. He moved back out of the cave, and looked up at the sky. Snow was
tumbling down now, and the wind was making it into a blizzard.
walked to the tunnel and went through, making his way back into the snow. He
covered his face with his hand, wishing he had brought his cloak. The wind
whipped through the canyon, whistling and blowing the snow against him. He
pulled out his hatchet, and went as quickly as he could to one of the small
stunted trees in the canyon. He began to hack off the branches, breaking them
to a smaller size. He filled his arms, and dumped them inside the tunnel, going
back a few times for more loads. He carried as much as he could back to the
cave, stacking it in the entrance. The horses were now huddled under the
overhang, attempting to keep out of the snow.
now it was almost completely dark. Owen grabbed several handfuls of dry grass
from outside the tunnel, and put it in a loose ball in an open spot in the
center of the cave. He got several of the smaller branches and made a small
structure of wood, then brought a few larger pieces in. He got his flint and
steel out of the pouch on his belt, shivering, and began to scrape away. It
only took a few strikes before a spark caught in the grass and began to
took the grass up in his hands and blew on it, until the spark caught flame,
and began to burn.He shoved it into the
sticks, which promptly caught fire, and began to burn. He added a bit more
grass, and it flamed up. He added some of the branches, until the fire was
burning. He was glad for the cave, as the wind did not cause him any trouble.
He waited for it to heat up, warming his hands on the flickering flame. He
glanced over at the girl.
was surprised she was not yet awake, and his prompted him to be concerned. He
stood and walked over, pulling her over closer to the fire. He shivered, and
brought his saddle blanket over. He draped it over her, and took back his
cloak, clasping it on.
brought out his hunting knife, and began to skin the rabbit. He went about it
quietly, and threw the innards out into the darkness.He stuck the animal on his dagger, and then
held it out over the now hot fire. He grabbed another branch, and put it on the
fire.The rabbit began to slowly cook.
The girl stirred.
looked up at her, and her eyes eased open. She blinked, and shaded her eyes
from the fire. She tried to sit up, but didn’t seem to have the strength.Owen set his improvised spit down, and moved
over to her. She looked up at him, blinking.
She said weakly, her lips cracking. Owen grabbed one of the water skins.
a friend. Don’t worry.” He brought the skin to her lips. “Drink some, you’ll
reached up and took the skin from him. “Thank you.” She drank a few sips of ale,
and then set it down beside her, weakly putting the cork back in. Owen made
sure it was tight, and then turned to his bag. “Are you hungry?”
turned her head, squinting. “A little…” Owen gave her a piece of hardtack.
“I’ll have a rabbit done in a moment.”
ate it. “Thanks.” She closed her eyes.“Willow. Is Willow alright?”
glanced outside into the snowy ravine. “Your horse?”
She’s just outside.”
let out a sigh of relief, then wet her lips. “Water… do you have water?”
Owen gave her the other water skin from her pack. She took a long draught.
the Moran hills, very near where you fell unconscious.”
brought a hand to her head and let out a small groan. “Oh…”
turned the rabbit on the coals. “What’s wrong?”
head… it hurts… I can’t see… the light hurts…”
turned to her, wondering. She might be
hurt worse than I thought….
keep your eyes closed then.” Owen pulled the now cooked rabbit out of the fire.
“Are you cold?”
nodded. “Good. Do you want some rabbit?”
looked at her, unsure. “Are you sure?”
shrugged and ripped a leg off, slowly beginning to gnaw on it.It was tough meat, sticking in his teeth and
taking a long time to chew. He looked out into the storm. The horses had come
to the cave entrance, and he could see their dark shapes in the firelight. He
slowly chewed, thinking. He glanced over at the girl.She took another drink of ale.
grabbed his own water skin and took a draught to wash down the tough meat, then
continued to the other leg. Soon there was very little meat left, and the pile
of bones had grown.
you sure you don’t want the rest of this?”
shook her head.
shrugged. “I can’t have you dying of hunger before we get back to the
started. “The rebellion?”
are one of them?”
He said, chewing on some of the marrow from the bones.
sighed. “I thought you were one from the empire.”
He looked at her. “I am from the rebellion.” He picked up the pile of bones and
put them in the fire, and added another log, sending sparks upward. He leaned
back on his saddle, and wrapped his cloak tightly around him.
wrapped her cloak and the saddle blanket more tightly around herself, and
“Are you cold?”
went over and carefully pulled the saddle blanket she was laying on closer to
the fire.He couldn’t really explain why
he was so protective of her, other than that he wanted to get her back to the
rebellion, and he felt that the injury was his fault. He turned and began to
busy his restless hands making a comfortable seat. He rubbed the ground into a
small indentation, and then set one of the saddles up on end to make the back
of the seat. He set it against the wall of the cave, and shoved the fire with
his foot, getting it to sit better. Sparks flew out into the darkness. He laid
another piece of wood on the fire, and then leaned back on the saddle.
looked at the girl. She was on her back, her eyes closed. He wrapped his cloak
more tightly around himself, and looked out into the darkness where the snow
swirled in through the opening above them. He was glad for the shelter.