Deno was panting as he crested the hill, the path had taken all sorts of directions and they were all uphill, and his pack only seemed to get heavier as he went, not lighter. He hoped that this town he was heading to was worth it. He had been told there was work for the local Lord, he had been walking through the forest for five days now, and going up all these hills using game trails was almost more than his city on a plain upbringing could cope with. He did question in his mind why there were no roads though these hills if there was a town, surely there would be trade, and he could not see horse and cart using these trails. His own foolishness had put a stop to his life there, he would be more careful about what he said about Munta when a priest was close by in future. He looked down the valley and could see a scatter of buildings – but not enough to call a town, there were maybe five in total, but he could see there was a road heading away from it in the other direction.
He was in need of a warm bed off the forest floor, so he hoped that there would be someone willing to let him use a stable for the night. It took him two hours to stumble down the side of the hill and he arrived at the little hamlet after the sun had dropped behind the hill line. He was in luck, he could see one of the buildings had a sign hanging above a door, grapes and barley. He slowly walked up and pushed the door open, there was a small tavern with only three benches, only one of them had anyone sat, it was occupied by a group of five men; a small thin, almost skeletal man stood from his perch near the large open fire pit.
“Hello stranger,” his voice was a deep, low growl, the group turned as one and watch Deno as he closed the door behind him. The smoke in the room gave it a dark murky light, the stench of rotting food and reeds on the floor was over powering, he swallowed to stop himself from retching.
“Do you have any food and ale?” he asked, trying not to let his fear show and come though his tone. There was something about the way the men at the table were looking at him, he could see they all had swords leaning on the table next to them.
“A copper for both. Ale and the last of the broth.” said the innkeeper, he waited while Deno fiddled with his purse and got one of his last coppers out, Deno could feel the eyes of the other men on him as he did so, as he handed it over the coin was almost snatched from his hand before the little man scuttled away and returned with a mug and bowl after a few moments, there was a chunk of stale looking bread floating in the broth. They were almost thrown onto the shoddy looking table where Deno had sat with his back to the wall, making sure he could see out into the room, something made him feel uneasy here, but he couldn’t work out what it was. He sat eating what he’d been given, the taverns in Celith would have thrown this to the dogs rather than serve it. He took a sip of his ale and leaned back into the wall and he felt the bench move and wobble as he did, he would have to ask about a bed for the night when the innkeeper came back.
The door slamming woke him from his doze, he could see someone in a dark hooded cloak, a large hunting dog at his side, standing and making no move to take a seat. The five men at the other table hastily hunched in on themselves and made to take no notice of this new customer and his hound. Deno could feel something, he wasn’t sure what, emanating from the hooded figure. A presence.
“My Lord!” the little innkeeper almost screamed as he hurried over to the man.
“Kelpt, you weasel.” The intensity of the voice behind the hood had the innkeeper pull back a pace, “You five” he pointed at the men at the table, a gloved hand emerging from the folds of his cloak “Leave. I don’t want to see your kind here again, bandits and thieves have no place in Enkull. You have been told before, next time you are here you will be hunted down like the game you are. My men are in need of some sport. They grow restless and impatient.” As if to emphasise the point the sound of a group of riders could be heard outside. The five scrambled up and made to leave, “Leave your swords here.” commanded the figure, “honest men have no need for them.” There was a draft as the door opened and the men ran out, though the door Deno caught a glimpse of at least ten mounted men, sat waiting. The figure turned back to the innkeeper, “Kelpt – if you give those bandits food and shelter again we will burn you out.”
Kelpt stuttered “But My Lord, I was scared for my life when they came, had I not they would surely have killed me!”
“Send your boy to me next time!” It was then that the figure seemed to notice Deno, “Stranger. Welcome to Enkull, you are welcome if you are honest, not if you are scoundrel. Which are you?”
“I am a disgraced scribe my lord. Traveling looking for a new life.” Deno paused, he didn’t know exactly who this man was other than he commanded fear.
“Kelpt,” said the figure, “Give him board, and send him to me in the morning.” He turned to leave, “We will speak again stranger, I have need of a scribe.” and he was out of the door and the sound of horses faded into the night.
The directions Kelpt had given had been clear, follow the path down the valley for ten miles, ford the river and turn to the left. Keep going and he would soon find the town of Crogent, on the side of the lake.
Deno had not been prepared for the size of the town, it almost rivalled Celith, he could see the walls and beyond the large keep that sat atop a hill in the centre, overlooking the town, the lake and the valley.
He entered though one of the main gates, the arch was tunnel like in its fifty feet of depth. He followed the main road as it twisted round and steadily climbed up, it seemed to take him hours to come to the wall for the keep, here there were guards watching as people entered and left, making no move to stop anyone. Deno carried on, he approached one of them.
“Hi there,” he began, “I was in a tavern run by a man named Kelpt when a large fellow in a cloak came in, he said he had need of a scribe and I was to come here.”
The guard looked at him for a moment, “Seb! Get here!” a young lad of about ten came running, “Take this here man to the keep, he needs to see Chamberlin Treil.” The boy nodded and motioned for Deno to follow. He lead them into the keep by way of the servants entrance, there were chickens and pigs roaming about, pecking and snuffling, the hunting dogs did not seem to be interested as they sat lounging in the sun as it poked through the clouds. The door Seb lead Deno though took them into a dark hallway, there were doors off to either side, and they went through the third on the left, up a short flight of stairs where Seb knocked on a plain wooden door. It was opened several moments later by an aging man, short and stocky with pure white hair, he had a crimson robe tied about his self. “Yes?” he asked.
Seb nodded and indicated the Deno should introduce himself. “My name is Deno, I’m a scribe and I was told by a man in a cloak with a large dog to come here.” The words tumbled out, almost incoherently.
“Yes, I was told you might be coming, my name is Treil, I’m the Chamberlin for Lord Strivrut. Said he found you in a den of thieves and outlaws. Care to explain that? We cannot, will not, have thieves and outlaws working for the Lord!”
“I did not know that, I have travelled from Celith, I followed that paths that I was advised and ended up following game trails over the hills for five days, then last night – just as the sun was setting I came across the tavern that I met the Lord at last night.”
“Very well then,” He looked at the young lad – “Seb – thank you. Go back to the guard house.” the boy nodded and scurried off. “Come in Deno, come in and let us talk.”
Treil showed Deno into the chamber, there was a large writing desk, and a shelf with a whole ten books on them, along with some scrolls. A wealth of writing that Deno had not even seen in Celith. “Sit, please” said the old man indicating a chair, as he made himself comfortable on its mate opposite. “You told our lord you were a disgraced scribe, we can work round that, but only if there is not going to be trouble from it, are there going to be any relatives pounding on our door demanding we hand you over? Or will there be a Lords men marching here demanding compensate for us taking you in?”
“Neither Master Treil, I did blaspheme within ear of a priest and he did make complaint to my employer. I was thrown out and could not find anyone that would hire me in Celith. I left with just those things in my pack and spoke to people in taverns and following word did make my way in this direction.”
“Very well. We will have you do some small bits, our current scribe has taken to the drink and is no longer able to work, which has left me doing most of it. We will get you cleaned up and presentable.” Treil stood, “Follow me my boy,” Deno followed him out of the room, Treil paused; “Up that way is the Lords rooms, I will show you that later, this other way, and up the stairs on the left is where you will be sleeping, with the page boys and other servants. There is a wash house out the back. Food is what is left from the main meals, you will know when and where – all of the others will kinds of pull you along. First we will go and see the cook. She always has a long list of things we need to send for.” Deno followed along, and for the next two days was handed about from the cook to the blacksmith to the armour to the kennel master. He found the pages did not speak to him much, the other servants spoke briefly, giving nothing way. He was the outsider, he could tell everyone that worked in the keep was either born here or related to someone else.
Around mid-afternoon on his second day one of the pages told him that Treil wanted him in his chamber.
“Well Deno, you look smarter clean!” Said the old man as he opened the door. “Come in. Lord Strivrut has a task for us.” Deno entered and saw who he took to be the lord sat, relaxed, legs crossed and arms folded, looking to be asleep. Treil turned to the figure in the chair; “My Lord, our new scribe is working out well, his letters are well formed and he is quick with the quill.”
Lord Strivrut stood, “Can you ride Deno? We have to travel, I need to take a scribe with me.”
“Yes My Lord. Not well but I can stay on a horse.” Deno mumbled with his head down.
“Treil, make sure he has supplies, we leave at first light.” and the Lord marched out of the room.
The next morning Deno was awake early and made sure to carefully check the ink block and quills that Chamberlin Treil had given him, then he slowly unwrapped and stared at the fortune in parchment he had also been given. He carefully rewrapped it and stowed it in his pack. Stepping lightly he made his way to the courtyard where everyone was gathering before leaving. He was given a horse by one of the stable hands and stood waiting for a signal to do anything.
“Scribe! Good to see you!” Lord Strivrut strode over, “Got all your supplies from Treil? Good!” He didn’t wait for a reply before talking on, “We have a short ride today, only about ten leagues and we will be at the fort of Lord Lamogue, he’s getting on a bit but he mentored me when I was younger. We will be going to council and will require your services as soon as we arrive there.”
“Yes My Lord.” said Deno as Lord Strivrut walked away and spoke to one of the guards.
It was a small party that left Crogent, along with Lord Strivrut and Deno were five guards, a stable hand and a single page, they went at a brisk trot and covered the miles quickly. The roads were good and clear either side for at least ten meters. Deno asked the stable hand who rode beside him why that was.
“There was bandits, and our Lord took action when he inherited, oh ten years ago when his father passed, the Lords mother was killed by bandits a week after see, and he took it badly. He had the roads cleared and then went and destroyed a lot of the little bandit holes and the like. The local merchants like that as it makes their journeys easier, quicker and safer so they don’t mind the taxes to pay for it.” The hand returned his attention to his horse. Deno rode in silence for the rest of the journey. Other than his brief introduction he had spent no time with the Lord and did not know what to make of him, he looked to get on with his men well, Deno just assumed with him being new it would take some time before he gained the Lords favour.
The arrived at the fort of Lord Lamogue an hour past noon and Deno followed Lord Strivrut as he was welcomed into the keep.
“This is my new scribe.” Lord Strivrut was saying as Deno caught up with them at a nondescript door. “He seems solid and reliable, honest about his background when asked.”
“My Lords” Deno managed to mumble out as he followed them through the door. He made himself comfortable out of the way, he had a slate and chalk with him to make notes before committing to parchment.
“What’s so urgent Lamogue?” asked Strivrut, “Your messenger didn’t give me any details.”
“It looks like Palaidh is making noises. He’s hired an army from the southern guilds – my spies say close the twenty thousand men.” Strivrut nodded at this information, Deno was gobsmacked – he didn’t know you could get an army that large. Lamogue continued, “We are not sure his target yet, but we are sure to be on his list somewhere. I have more spies heading there now, I’m investing my best men on infiltrating his command structure. It’s a long way from Durent to Brichreake and I’m hoping the odd waylaid messenger will come to our aid. I need you to go back into the world Strivrut. We need to know what he’s upto, even if it does not involve us directly, anything that man does is our responsibility.”
“I will head to Brichreake, if he is hiring that’s where I need to start, if I go anywhere near Durent he’ll know we are taking an interest. I’ll take a couple of men with me, it’s time I paid a visit to Briackle, it has been a few years since we last spoke. He may even still owe me a favour or three.