Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Marzipan 2: I-2

Marzipan 2 Master Post
There's not much to say about this - I was actually relatively pleased with my attempts at channelling standard, classic fantasy tropes...

Roll Randomly for your Travelling Companions

Gray am Grien waited just below the crest of the hill. He had to be very careful that he chose the right moment to make himself visible to the valley below. It would take the most fortunate mixture of right-place and right-time for the plan to be a success, and that rested on him cresting the hill at the most opportune moment available. There was very little room for error.
Gray had left the castle that morning as if to go on a hunting trip with his older brother, Gret, and had travelled for most of the day to get to where he was now. It was not that what they intended was so far from hunting in its essence, nor that they would have been looked upon badly had anyone known the truth, it was just that a certain amount of discretion was prudent, and would protect all of those involved from unnecessary hurt. It was just better this way.
They had been given a breakfast of oats and syrup to keep them going, and a selection of manly cuts of meat had been made available for the two to take with them. Everyone had been so proud that the boys were finally growing up; sixteen and seventeen and out hunting on their own. Their mother, the marques of Grien, had kissed each of them on the forehead in turn and told them seriously to beware the treacherous paths that led through the forest of Shard. Then she had bid them farewell with a smile. The marquis had shaken their hands as they had mounted up, pressed a silver hip flask filled with whisky into his eldest’s grip and then patted the horses’ flanks as they shifted in the courtyard. His smile had been gruff but was visible all the same.
They had been slow about their exit from the courtyard, a few of the servants had come to see them off and a few of those servants were girls their own ages, but eventually the hollow striking of their horses hooves against the stone had been replaced by the duller thud of dirt roads and their journey had begun in earnest.
Once upon the corkscrew road that circled down the motte upon which the castle was built, Gray had asked his brother, ‘what do we have to fear about the forest of Shard?’
The sun had warmed their backs and the air had been clear. Vibrant colours had greeted their glances and the freshly evaporating dew had filled their nostrils with its scent of night overcome. They had had sharp swords at their sides, stout bows in their saddles and plump saddlebags stuffed with supplies. They had had nothing to be afraid of.
Nothing, brother,’ Gret had replied, ‘but the stories that are told to frighten children. You know how our mother can be. The forest is deep and it is dark, but it is still just a forest.’ And so saying, Gret had swung his horse towards the distant forest, and Grey had done the same.
Their morning had been leafy and pleasant, the ride enjoyable and filled with quaint events. They had watched the first flights of young crows and the bucking of the lambs as they startled at the brothers’ approach and fled for the safety of their mothers. Within the hour they had reached the first clumps of trees, the first distant sightings of deer, that had told them that the forest approached.
This isn’t right,’ Gray had begun.
Do you sense trouble,’ Gret had asked. ‘Do you think that it’s dangerous ahead? Can you smell danger?’
No,’ Gray had sighed. ‘That’s the problem. It just seems a very flat start, you know? To my career as an adventurer and a hero. By now we really should have been attacked from out of nowhere, by goblins or a yeti. Or at least a bear. But there’s been nothing. I had hoped that it would be more interesting than this. More exciting. More like the stories.’
You haven’t met your companion yet,’ Gret had said. ‘Every hero has a companion, that’s when their adventures really start, and you know that I’m not going to be your companion so I would give it a bit of time if I were you. We’ll see what happens later.’
As they had talked and their horses had trotted gamely along the canopy had closed in overhead. The leaves had cut the light into ribbons that dappled the forest floor as well as the riders and everything else around them. The air had grown heavy, losing the freshness of dew and grass and gaining a musty fragrance – leaf litter and mould and the secretions of tree bark had filled their nostrils instead.
Maybe this will be more like the myths of the Marzipan Princess than one of the stories,’ Gret had said at last, in answer to no-one but himself. The path they were on had come to a stream.
Your words do not fill me with confidence,’ Gray had said flatly. As they had crossed the stream, via a little wooden bridge, their horses’ hooves sounded a hollow beat once moor. They had not heard or seen the creature that was below, who had rubbed its hands in glee and laid claim to the toll it was due from all of those who crossed above. They had carried on in the direction they were travelling.

Gray heard a rumble like slow thunder in the distance as he began to crest the hill. Before him the valley revealed itself in the glow of the late afternoon sun, vibrant and warm but with stark shadows darkening its many folds and contours. Within the valley’s confines Gray saw the party of young Dogstar tribesmen gathering the herbs and roots that could only be found in these parts.
The valley’s steep sides made the young men seem further away than they were, and suddenly Gray worried that he might have got this wrong, that people could get seriously hurt. He held his hand aloft and hailed the tribesmen as a lord might hail his vassals, and they hailed him back. Then, from the corner of his eye he saw the first of the wildebeest as it galloped around the curve of the valley. Now there was no time to think.
Gray started down the slope, the thundering of hooves already starting to build up in his ears and reverberate along the trapped air, amplified by high walls of rock and earth. The scent of wet grass was curiously strong, like a prelude to the churning mud that Gray could already see in his mind’s eye. There was no time to shout a warning, only time for action. Below him the young Dogstar started to panic. They would be able to avoid the first of the charging beasts but would certainly be caught by the following stampede. Gray leaned forward and hit the slope hard, and the wildebeest flowed around the corner in a tide of sweat and pounding muscle.
Amid the chaos of the stampede the tribesmen were only able to think of their own safety. One slow mover was trampled to a bloody pulp whilst his comrade, a young boy of only sixteen, tried to pull him aside. This boy would have been crushed himself as reward for his altruism but for the angel on horseback that Gray had become, the sun shining low against his back. Gray had joined the stampede, pulling his fearful horse into the press and flow of the wild animals, and born down on the boy as he cowered. With a superhuman wrench as he rode past Gray pulled the tribesman up and onto the horse and then made for the edge of the flow. It was treacherous and the press brought them much further down the valley but at last as the boy secured himself onto the saddle behind him, Gray spotted a break and powered up the steep slope and away from the horror and the confusion that the valley had become.

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