The wagons that comprised the caravan from Bluehaven to Hambara entered the ford that crossed the Brundella River. Carthinal and Mabryl were sitting next to the driver on the leading wagon and chatting amiably about this and that. Just as they neared the farther shore Carthinal heard a roaring sound and looked upstream. There, rushing towards them was a wall of water.
He immediately jumped off the wagon into the river, shouting at the same time to Mabryl to jump and landed just as the floodwaters hit the caravan. He managed to pull himself to his feet and grab the branch of an overhanging tree to prevent the water from sweeping him downstream. From there he pulled himself to the shore.
As soon as he felt dry land under his feet he turned to look back at the river to see if anyone else had escaped the rushing water. A scene of devastation met his eyes. The river was rushing past taking with it the rest of the caravan. The air was filled with the screams of terrified people and horses. One horse’s side had been penetrated by a shaft and the river was red with its blood as the terrified creature tried to escape its harness. Heads appeared and disappeared, never to rise again. Children screamed for their mothers, wives for their husbands, all against the background of the roaring water.
Carthinal stood helplessly watching the swirling water to see if he could help anyone who had managed to escape, and especially Mabryl, his adoptive father, when he spied a young elf in the white robes of a cleric of Sylissa. She was miraculously struggling towards the shore, but was suddenly swept off her feet. As luck would have it, a wave seemed to push her closer to the shore where Carthinal could safely wade out and help her to dry land.
The floodwater seemed to subside as quickly as it had arrived, leaving a much wider and deeper Brundella with treacherous currents. There was no chance of re-crossing. Shortly, Carthinal spotted Mabryl. He was tangled up in some bushes on this side of the river.
The young mage strode out into the floodwater and managed to pull the older man to the bank. He then reached into the bushes and, with a wince, pulled Mabryl’s staff out. It had hurt his hand because it was a magical device that knew its owner and resented anyone else touching it. He placed it next to his teacher.
The elven healer bent over the injured Mabryl. She looked up as Carthinal spoke.
‘There must be something more you can do.’ He snapped as he came to crouch by her side.
‘I’m doing all I can,’ she replied wearily. ‘He’d been in the water for too long in this cold before we found him and he has taken a bad knock to his head from being swirled along in the freezing water. I’m not yet an expert healer, just a novice, and have only simple healing abilities. Nor have I the strength required to perform the healing that he really needs. He needs the expert care and attention of at least a vicar of Sylissa.’
The mage got to his feet slowly. ‘I apologise for my curtness. He’s my teacher, but also a father and a dear friend to me.’
He gazed towards the northeast. Somewhere over the horizon were the Mountains of Doom, where the Brundella rose amidst those snow-covered peaks. He remembered the prophecy on the paper that he’d found in Mabryl’s book. Kalhera, goddess of death, had indeed come suddenly from the melting snows. Who would have thought that the snow would be melting as early as this? It was not spring for another month.
He looked behind him at the swollen river. The Brundella was flowing swiftly and with treacherous currents. There was no sign of the ford that their caravan had been crossing when the melt-waters caused the river to become a raging torrent. Normally, the Brundella was a peaceful river, and the ford one of the safest ways to cross on the road from Bluehaven in the south to Hambara in the north. However, once a year, when the snows melted in the Mountains of Doom to the east, it became impassable as the melt-waters rushed down on their way to the Inner Sea, creating deep water with treacherous currents.In the flood times the caravans took the much longer route to the west, over the bridge near the Mistmere and skirted the Dead Marshes with all its dangers.
The young mage approached the elf again, holding out his hand. ‘We’d better introduce ourselves if we are to continue together,’ he said, ‘I’m Carthinal.’
The elf stood, wiped her hands on her white robe and took his hand in hers. ‘Asphodel.’ she replied, reaching out her own hand and grasping that of the other. She looked towards the unconscious man lying on the bank. ‘Our patient cannot be moved yet, so we will have to remain here for a while, but you are right, we will have to travel together. I only wish there were more of us. My knowledge is mainly healing, and I don’t suppose that you have much magical power as you are only wearing the tawny red of an apprentice.’
Carthinal appraised her. ‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘She’s right, but I must try. Mabryl must get to a healer. And then there’s the prophecy. Maybe this is the meaning of the first part and now is the time it was referring to.’
Asphodel was very young and was most certainly what she said, a novice only. Her almond-shaped grey eyes however had a steely glint that suggested a strong determination. Carthinal looked at her. She was, like all elves, slender and beautiful and about five feet five inches tall. Her long black hair was tied back with a scarlet leather thong so that it did not get in her way when healing. She wore the white robes that denoted her calling as a cleric of Sylissa, goddess of healing, tied with a scarlet sash, which showed that she was a novice. Around her neck hung the symbol of Sylissa, a silver triskel, that three-armed figure which denoted life.
‘We must have a fire if we are to stay here for a while’ said Carthinal. ‘I can manage a simple spell to light one, but first I must go and gather some wood, if there is anything still dry around here. Will you be all right? I won’t go out of earshot and you must call if you hear or see anything. The gods only know who or what might be around seeking plunder or dinner from the aftermath of that flood.’
‘Go then. I have some food in my pack, albeit precious little. We can share it when we have a fire.’ Asphodel began to rummage in her pack, glancing back at Carthinal as he went to the woods.
He was certainly a handsome fellow, auburn hair, worn shoulder length, and a closely trimmed beard. He was around six feet tall she estimated, and she had been unable to avoid noticing his eyes, which were a deep, almost indigo, blue. She busied herself with finding the food and pushing aside thoughts of the handsome stranger.
‘Water will not be a problem, at least,’ she thought ruefully.
Asphodel kept her eyes and ears open as Carthinal had suggested. Her sight and hearing were well above those of humans, being an elf. To the south, through the trees, she could hear the rushing of the still swollen river. She sighed and put some dried fruit and nuts carefully to one side while she reached into her pack to retrieve the dried meat she had. It would not go far, and they would have to ration it carefully. Carthinal no doubt had some of his own in his pack, as would Mabryl, but the journey would take longer now. They would be very hungry when they arrived—if they made it at all.She hurriedly squashed those thoughts also.
Glancing over at her unconscious patient to ensure he was all right, Asphodel walked through the few trees towards the river, a mere dozen or so yards, with a metal container in her hand. It was her intention to get some water so that she could begin to soak the meat and vegetables to make into a stew. She was just bending to dip her pan into the water when she heard her name called from the camp. She straightened up and looked back to where Carthinal was striding towards her through the trees.
‘I thought at first that something was wrong,’ he snapped, looking down at her. ‘Where did you go? Why did you leave Mabryl? You should have waited until I came back so that you could tell me where you were going, and I could have stayed with Mabryl. You could have been attacked here, and so could he!’
‘I went to get some water so that I could prepare some food for us. Don’t begin ordering me around. I’m as likely to be attacked in our camp as here with you out of sight gathering wood, and if I had been, Mabryl would have been easy prey then. Anyway, I’m not completely defenceless. We clerics are taught the arts of self defence as soon as we enter holy orders, and before we are allowed to begin to travel, we have to learn one other weapon.’
‘Oh, and what “other weapon” have you learned then?’ Asphodel looked down, her defiance seeping away. ‘Well, I haven’t actually learned one yet. I was just changing temples and travelling to the one at Hambara. I’m not officially on the road as a healer, just another traveller trying to get safely from one place to another.’
Carthinal’s anger seeped away as quickly as it had arrived and his expression softened as he looked at her. This elf was the only hope that Mabryl had, and Carthinal’s only other companion for the continuing journey. He would try not to anger her as he just had. She was right. It was not his place to order her around; but the girl certainly had spirit. Not many stood up to him when he was angry.He wondered who she was. Novices did not usually change from one temple to another, as far as he knew. She seemed to know some healing, and she had certainly managed to stem the blood flow from Mabryl’s wounds, but then he was a mage and not a healer so what did he know of true healing?
He turned and followed Asphodel back to their camp where he found her laying the sticks and kindling that he had brought back to make a fire. Carthinal used an apprentice spell, known as a cantrip, used to teach beginner mages. He called for the mana and wove it to bring energy from the surroundings and increase the heat of the wood until he had a fine blaze going.
After she had checked once more on her patient, Asphodel began to prepare the stew. She glanced across the fire at her companion. ‘He isn’t making any progress,’ she said, nodding towards Mabryl. ‘I’m very worried about him. His blood loss was severe and the blow to his head very bad. On top of that, there was the severe cold in the river.’
‘Maybe rest will help,’ replied Carthinal, ‘but I think that we must get him to a temple as soon as possible. The only thing that I can think of to move him is to build a travois. I read about it once. The Horselords of the plains use them to move things and injured people that are too heavy to carry. Of course, they have horses to pull them but I think I’m strong enough to pull one. It will mean frequent rests though, and progress will be very slow. Instead of four and a half days, I reckon that it will be at least a sixday with luck. I know that you’re not happy with the idea of moving him, but you can do little more for him by your own admission. I don’t see we have any choice. We’ll run out of food before long and so we must start to move if only because of that reason. We’ll be hungry before we get to Hambara, but hunger’s better than death by starvation.’
‘I suppose you’re right. We must press on, but let’s give Mabryl the rest of today at least before we move.’
Carthinal nodded. ‘Yes, of course. We both need time to come to terms with what’s happened, and anyway, I need to build that travois.’
Sometime later, Asphodel looked across the fire at Carthinal. They had each been sitting with their thoughts for a while. She reached out, put another three branches on to the fire, and stirred the broth that was hanging over it on a branch suspended from two other forked branches pushed into the ground. (Asphodel had wet the branches well in the water of the flooded river to prevent them from catching fire and depositing their meagre fare into the flames.) When it was cooked to an edible texture, she spooned some out into the wooden bowls that they each carried.
‘Some bread would have been nice, but a pauper must not hanker after the banquet of his lord.’
They ate their meagre rations and drank some of the water that Asphodel had boiled. It had cooled quickly in the cold air, but was far from pleasant, as it was still slightly warm. Asphodel walked over to where Mabryl was lying.
‘Please will you hold his head up while I try to get some of this broth into him, and some water?’ she asked Carthinal who walked over and gently lifted Mabryl’s head. She hoped that some of the broth at least had managed to trickle down Mabryl’s throat when she massaged it to persuade him to swallow.
‘I’ll go and get the necessary branches to build the travois. There are plenty of them lying around after the flood and I’ll not be far,’ said Carthinal after they had eaten, and he once more went into the trees looking for wood, but this time, rather larger and stronger pieces.
He walked carefully in the trees, hardly making a sound as he picked over any promising pieces. He had found two branches, long and strong enough to make the main part of the travois and then searched for some smaller but strong ones to put as cross pieces.
Asphodel was boiling some water to take with them, to ensure that it was clean of disease when Carthinal got back to the camp. Dirty water was known to be able to carry disease, but it was not known how it did so. The clerics of the healing arts knew that boiling it helped to reduce or eliminate the problem. The rest of the day they spent sitting and talking, Asphodel tending Mabryl from time to time, and Carthinal working on the structure of his travois until the daylight was beginning to fade. It had been a long and tiring day from the morning when the water had swept down on their party from the hills and left them in their current predicament.
He had a little more left to do on the travois so he told Asphodel to get some rest and he would take first watch. They could then get on their way early in the morning, as they would not be able to make fast progress with Mabryl on the travois. Asphodel sank gratefully down by the side of the fire. The healing had been very tiring on her as well as all the stresses of the day.
Carthinal made sure that there was a pile of wood ready to keep the fire burning, both for the warmth and to keep wild animals at bay, and then settled down to his task.
The first part of the night passed without incident. Just before midnight, as he was about to wake Asphodel, he heard a sound from the direction of Mabryl. He looked over, and saw that his mentor’s eyes were open. He went over and Mabryl spoke in a voice that seemed to come from a long way away.
‘Carthinal,’ he whispered, ‘I’m dying. I know that. I must say a few words to you before I leave you.’
‘No! You will be well again, Mabryl. I promise you…’
‘Make no promises that you can’t be sure to keep. I’ve taught you that, Carthinal. This would be one that you could not keep. It is too late for me,’ Mabryl paused for breath. ‘The light and warmth of this world is… fading even as I speak.’
‘I’ll move you closer to the fire if you’re cold. I’ll try not to hurt you.’ There was panic in Carthinal’s voice as he thought of his mentor and adoptive father dying.
‘Also, you must still do your Tests when you reach Hambara,’ went on Mabryl. ‘You’ll remember what I’ve told you. There will be both written and practical tests but I know that you’re up to them, and also how much you are looking forward to being a fully-fledged mage.’ He paused for breath. ‘I can do no more for you at this time anyway. What I have in my pack you must have. It’s not much, but there are some spell scrolls and my main spell book. If you get back to Bluehaven, do what you will with my house and other goods. You are my only heir, my son.’
He placed his hand on his staff and tried to lift it but he was weak and the end wavered and brushed Carthinal’s arm as he said, ‘You must also have my staff. I hope it serves you as well as it has served me. Try to find a new master for Emmienne and Tomac. Also, there is a letter in my pack to Duke Rollo and a little figurine of a horse. Take them to the Duke. They are from Duke Danu and the horse is a surety that the letter is genuine.’ Mabryl paused to take some breaths and he closed his eyes momentarily. ‘Danu thinks that some grave danger is imminent and the prophecy has something to do with it.’ Mabryl’s voice was fading as he spoke and the last few words Carthinal had to strain to hear. ‘Go. Leave me here. I’ll slow you and lessen your chances of survival.’
‘Not a chance,’ whispered Carthinal to the once more unconscious mage. ‘I owe you my life. I’ll do my best to repay it,’ and after a few more moments pause to collect himself, Carthinal gently woke Asphodel.
‘Mabryl has been awake,’ he told her quietly, ‘but he’s unconscious again now. He said to leave him here; that he’s dying, but I’m not going to. I owe it to him to at least try to get him to a temple. Do you mind taking watch? I need to sleep for a while.’
Asphodel sat up and brushed her black hair from her eyes. The fire was behind Carthinal so she could not clearly see his face. She went to get some water, had a drink, then went to see her patient. He was, as Carthinal said, unconscious again. She rather felt that his coma had deepened but she was inexperienced in these things so a little unsure.She went to sit by the fire with her thoughts.
In the dim light of the early morning, they finished the stew that they had left from the previous evening and, still hungry, Carthinal carefully lifted Mabryl onto the travois. He had managed to make a harness so that it would be easier for him to pull the contraption. He was glad at this point that he had not been like many other apprentice mages and immersed himself in books to the extent of neglecting physical fitness. He had always kept fit, and was a strong young man.
He shouldered the harness and shrugged his shoulders to be sure that it was not going to be cutting into him. While he was doing this, Asphodel ensured that their fire was completely out and collected all their belongings. Since Carthinal could not carry his own backpack and pull the travois, he asked her to put it at Mabryl’s feet alongside Mabryl’s pack and staff. This she did after checking that her patient was as comfortable as was possible, and only then did she tell Carthinal that they could move out.
Carthinal was impressed by the care that she took over the injured man, and smiled at her. It was the first real smile that she had seen from the young half-elf, and she thought it made him look more handsome than ever. His startling indigo eyes lit up in the most amazing way.
‘Well, I think that’s as comfortable as it is going to get.’ said Carthinal ruefully. He leant into the harness and slowly began to move along the road, followed closely by Asphodel.
They trudged along, making slow progress, pausing every hour for a brief rest and a drink. At these times Carthinal simply rested in the harness and every two hours he removed it and they rested for about half an hour. Just as they were approaching their second longer stop of the day, Asphodel looked up at the sky. The sun was nearing its zenith and she decided that it was time for an even longer stop and something to eat. She said as much to Carthinal and he concurred.
‘If we stop for an hour at the most,’ he replied, ‘we should still be able to make some distance before dark. I’d like to get two stretches in before we have to make camp.’
‘Don’t forget that it is getting dark quite early. It’s still winter.’
‘I know, but we must get as far as we can each day. Mabryl is not getting better on the road.’
They stopped for an hour, resting by the roadside at a place where the trees retreated from the edge of the road, leaving a grassy bank where the spring flowers were just beginning to put on growth prior to flowering. Asphodel found a small stream where she replenished their water supply, hoping that the boiled water they had left would be sufficient to last until she could boil this lot. She did not want to risk disease at this time.
She went to look at her patient and did not like what she saw, but she did not want to tell Carthinal. This was well beyond what she could heal, but maybe it would help to prevent further deterioration in her patient. She prayed to her god for the strength for the healing and for the maximum healing that she could provide. She felt Sylissa’s strength within her as she closed her eyes the better to feel Mabryl’s hurt, then she released Sylissa’s healing strength into the man.
Momentarily she thought that she saw Mabryl’s eyelids flutter slightly as she administered the healing and his head wound did seem to become a little less inflamed. She hoped that her small contribution could stave off death until they reached Hambara and the temple of Sylissa where others more skilled and stronger could take over.
Carthinal was lying on the ground, trying to relieve his back of the strain put on it through pulling the travois. He sat up when Asphodel approached.
‘Let me try to relieve some of the stiffness.’ She spoke quietly and Carthinal jumped.
‘Keep your healing for Mabryl,’ he retorted brusquely. ‘He needs it more than I do. I’ll be all right after a rest.’
She paused and looked at the young man lying on the grass.‘Do you really think that all healing is about using the strength of the goddess, Carthinal? There is more to it than that. I can relieve your muscles by a little massage you know.’
‘Oh! I’m sorry I snapped. It would be somewhat of a relief, I think,’ Carthinal replied somewhat contritely.
‘Lie down on your stomach then, and I’ll try to loosen up those muscles.’ Carthinal turned over and felt Asphodel’s hands expertly kneading the tired muscles in his lower back. Immediately they began to loosen and feel much less painful. Shortly, Asphodel stopped her massaging of Carthinal’s tired muscles and stated that they ought to eat something and then set off again.
The sun had passed its highest position in the late winter sky and so they munched on dried fruit and drank some water. They were finding it harder to get water into Mabryl and both of them were privately worrying about this. However, their best hope was to get him to Hambara as quickly as they could, and so they pressed on.
Carthinal and Asphodel plodded on across the hills between the mountain ranges until evening. They were fortunate to find a clearing in the trees just as night was falling. There was no stream, and so Asphodel was thankful for the water that she had collected earlier. She boiled it over the fire that Carthinal had lit.
The water having boiled, she removed some from the pot and put it to cool in their water skins, then to the rest she added some dried meat and a few herbs and edible fungi that she had found earlier in the day as they walked.
After a while, when they had eaten, Carthinal yawned and stretched, and Asphodel then volunteered to take first watch while he got some sleep as he had been pulling the travois all day. He did not argue with her as he was in fact worn out with the unaccustomed effort. She went to give Mabryl some of the broth, most of which spilled down his chin, and some water too, and she performed her last healing of the day on him. Then she sat down by the fire to wait and watch. She also prayed to her goddess to keep them safe through the night. After a couple of hours, which she estimated by the movement of the two moons, both the smallest almost imperceptible slivers in the sky, she woke Carthinal.
He groaned as he sat up. ‘Is it my watch all ready?’ he complained. ‘I was just in the middle of a wonderful dream.’
He rolled out of his blankets and then sat up. He took one mouthful of water, being careful that he conserve the rest, for who knew when they might find some more, and went to sit by the fire, his back against a fallen tree. He shivered as he watched Asphodel curl up in her blankets, wishing he could go back to his too. It was cold tonight.
The two moons and the stars seemed almost near enough to touch as they appeared in the gap in the trees overhead and his breath made a mist in the air as he breathed. It was a truly magnificent sight, and he watched the constellations, remembering in his mind the names and positions of the main ones, and the main stars. All mages had to learn some astronomy as the stars and moons had an influence on the lives of people, or so it was said. In order to pass the tests he was about to take, it was one of the things that he had to learn, and to pass that Test was Carthinal’s main ambition.
As he thought about these things, he was suddenly aware of a sound behind him. He slowly turned, making it appear casual, as though he were making a routine glance around the campsite. He could see nothing, and the sound, whatever it was had stopped.
‘Majora, I don’t need more problems,’ he prayed to his goddess. ‘Don’t let it be enemies or wild beasts wanting a meal. He looked intently at where the sound had come from, trying to detect any movement, or even any heat sources from a living creature (elves and half-elves could see into the infra-red part of the spectrum) but there was nothing. It was not long until he was due to wake Asphodel, but decided to let her sleep longer in case danger was lurking. He felt that he was better equipped to deal with it than she was if only because of his physical strength. He continued to watch carefully, but there was nothing else. The moons slipped slowly away over the trees, and after his hard physical labour of the previous day and the warmth of the fire, Carthinal slowly slipped into sleep.