The morning was clear and pleasant. Fawnlum felt the warmth of the Spring sunshine as the chills of winter continued to recede. It was a perfect moment to be about and take in the beauty of the world around her, just as she had done seven days ago, on the first day of the Spring Festival. But a great many things had changed since then.
A couple miles away, that festival was coming to an end; and the people who had come to attend would be leaving the town of Dumian and going back to their homes. But for Fawnlum, the departure was right now.
She could not shake how strange it felt, to be going somewhere without all of the members of her battle-group – who she had trained with since childhood. Nobody could ever replace them. But for this trip, she was confident as she glanced over her shoulder, at the choices she had made, as she stood here on the road leading out of Dumian before they crossed the ocean channel to the foreign land.
And they were all as anxious to get started as she.
Balrick Bearkin stood tall, ready and able. More than 10 years Fawnlum’s senior, he was a good friend and mighty warrior, who had seen countless battles and felled many monsters all over the land of Garnor. Having travelled to the greater continent of Calador before, he was wise to the road and worldly. He was also a friend who had been among Fawnlum’s mentors when she was younger; and had understood the wandering spirit in her – the need to go out and explore the world – even better than some of her closer kin.
As stalwart Balrick represented the experience of their group, to Fawnlum’s way of thinking, her other two choices represented the energy of youth, even though they were only a year younger than her.
Sandy-haired Dreighton was only 18, and a distant cousin of Fawnlum’s. A strapping young barbarian man standing well over six feet tall with powerfully-developed muscles, Fawnlum had seen his fighting ability and bravery in the face of many enemies, and knew he had more potential to be brought out. He also had a bit of the bard in him, and was always quick to take up a song or a bit of story-telling for the delight of those around him.
Notoriously, he saved his sweetest talk for the young ladies, and spent much time in their good graces and warm company. It was enough that Fawnlum knew she could trust the wild-eyed boy by her side no matter where she led; she did not mind that part of his enthusiasm that centered around his wish to meet a few foreign girls and see what pleasure he might enjoy in their company.
Blonde-haired Caitlyn gripped her bow and pack, keeping her feet still and keeping her excitement hidden. But Fawnlum caught the gleam in her sharp blue eyes that told of her eagerness to start. The same age as Dreighton, she was another friend of Fawnlum’s. Even though she had a smaller build, much like Honee, she had faced orcs and other monsters much larger than herself, and held the line in the face of superior numbers.
Although she was not as stealthy as Honee, she could scout out an orc band and their own scouts to either report to her leader; or to eliminate with bow or blade. She was deadly-quick with each. Fawnlum looked forward to seeing more of Caitlyn’s own potential coming out on this journey as well. She just hoped the girl did not burst from pent-up energy.
And that brought her eyes back forward, to look at the person she did not want to leave.
Basil stood before her, stoic, and clearly pained. “You shouldn’t have to do this.”
“It was necessary to keep you out of irons.”
His eyes glinted in anger at her lack of upset, for the thing he had done - in his recklessness - nearly delivering the mysterious power of WinterMore into Felldrake’s claws. He still had not forgiven himself for Fawnlum’s act to save him from imprisonment. As the victor over Felldrake and hero of the nation, she could ask a favor of King Dregor, but it would not do to get something for nothing. So she had asked the king to revoke the title and rank she had earned with her victory, in exchange that Basil not be imprisoned.
The rank and independence she had worked so hard for, for four years, was gone, because of him. He felt lower than a boot heel; he could only with difficulty bring himself to look at her, despite knowing that her feelings for him would never change. But he had not forgiven himself.
Now, to make her fortune, she was going to the foreign land as a mercenary fighter, helping to defend the kingdom of Humboldt Brut from the monsters spilling over their borders.
He held her hands with so much to say, but lacking the words to say it.
So she spoke first. “We’ll have our own place soon. You’ll have your own forge, crafting your own items in your own name. I’ll empty King Boldun’s coffers for the numbers of enemies that I’ll slay, and the piles of bodies I’ll leave behind will cast shadows that will reach to the ocean.
“With word of my victories on my return, I’ll earn my place of rank in our own regiments; and Garnor will stay peaceful and strong. All who threaten us will tremble.”
He could not hold his gloom in the light of her faith. He straightened his shoulders. “And I’ll make you a sword that’ll slay any and all evil, that no foe can stand against whether they be wizard, brigand, troll-kin, or dragon.”
His own oath lifted his spirits, and, to Fawnlum’s belief, reconnected him to his own purpose; and for the first time in several days, he smiled. The strength that held the hammer and had crafted the dragon-cutting sword returned to his hands as he was able to let his own sin of foolishness go, and he clutched her hands more tightly.
“Don’t win too much glory, or they’ll never let you leave.”
She gave a girlish smile. “Nothing will keep me away. When I return, we’ll be married properly, and then nothing will come between us ever again.”
They both smiled wider.
She looked over his shoulder, to the burden that she herself had felt since the defeat of Felldrake. The battle had destroyed Nepta’s magical robe. Fawnlum would have wanted above all else to have her wizard-friend and battle-sister with her on this journey. But without the robe, Nepta could cast no spells. She would not do Fawnlum any good; so she was staying behind.
To replace the robe would be a costly effort; and the longer it took, the more Nepta’s skills would dull – her role as a wizard and her place within Fawnlum’s battle-group would be endangered.
Even now, as Nepta met Fawnlum’s eyes, there was not a hint of loss or anger - - just a serene look; and gladness that Fawnlum and Basil were all right. The loss of the robe and the years of work that had gone into building its power, were more devastating than she was letting on. But her personal discipline kept her from showing it. She looked on with calm faith, and a certainty that she could overcome this setback, and would be casting spells once again.
Damn Nepta and her lack of upset. Would she always hide her emotions?
But Nepta’s faith was well-placed in Fawnlum! She had sworn to replace Nepta’s robe, with just as much power, before a year had passed, and she would be at her side again casting spells; but next time would not be in their four-girl battle-group. Next time they would be in their own regiment along with Sienna and Honee, and a greater force they would be.
She glanced at Honee, crouching on the ground, easily turning one of her small daggers over in her fingers, an expression of quiet resolve on her own face.
Fawnlum wanted her reliable scout and assassin with her as well; but she had to stay for ‘family business’ as she had put it.
Everybody knew that Honee had been ordered by Dregor to keep an eye on Basil, his newly-emerged WinterMore power, and how he used it. Or, what would happen when he used it again, for good or ill consequences. The whole country was talking about this emergence of the ancient WinterMore power – word was spreading fast. The whisper that could be clearly heard was, what would come of it? Honee was perfect for the job, since she was a long-time friend of Basil’s, could easily stay close and watch him. And true to her family’s honor to the crown, she would faithfully carry out the mission.
Which was why Fawnlum had given her an extra instruction, as her dear friend, and battle-group leader: watch over Basil and keep him safe. The king was the king; but Fawnlum knew where Honee’s loyalties lay. The look Honee gave was all Fawnlum needed to see.
That just left one little matter of concern, contained in the figure standing behind Honee: Old Uncle Torsar.
Although he was actually Basil’s uncle, he had been like an uncle to Fawnlum and the other three girls since childhood.
Possessing a wild streak, he had left the fighting ranks years ago since it had been ‘too boring,’ (although they had not been too sad to see him go) and had left the kingdom seeking adventure, fortune, and whatever else lay over the horizon. He spent nearly as much time out of the country as in it, always returning with new stories, new treasures, and frequent new scars; and always with that annoying cheese-eating grin on his face.
On the day of the festival, he was en route to Dumian from another trip overseas, and had heard about the battle with Felldrake on the road. ‘Acquiring’ a wagon with a fast team of horses, he had hurried to the home of his brother Gran-Holm, Basil’s father, and burst in, claiming such worry over what had happened to his favorite nephew and soon-to-be-niece.
Mischievous Honee had been happy to see the burly old rogue again. But Fawnlum had reservations, not the least of which was a reminder that she would soon truly be related to him. But this she took in stride, nearly with a gleam in her own eye, for she knew the honor, and character contained under his care-free personality, and loved him dearly. However! Her children would not turn out like him, that much she had promised herself.
As repayment for not having been around for the dragon-fight, he had promised to take Basil drinking as soon as Fawnlum left, because, in his words, “The lad needs it!”
Still with reservations, but accepting the fact, Fawnlum let it go.
She moved, and she and Basil embraced with a passionate kiss, drawing light chuckles and a couple of whistles all around, the loudest of which naturally came from Torsar.
A reluctant letting-go, and another nod and smile, and she picked up her pack and started down the road.
The road, which she could see a little farther down, which was occupied by Sienna.
Impatiently tapping her foot, Sienna had stood, waiting, while Fawnlum had taken her own sweet time with her farewell. Not that she had anything against waiting with her dear friends; but as she was fond of saying, “The gold isn’t going to earn itself!”
She threw up her hands and rolled her eyes.
“Finally!” they could hear her say, as Fawnlum broke away from Basil, and led the others out onto the road that would take them to the eastern coast of Garnor, to hire a boat to carry them across the ocean channel to Calador, where their adventure would begin.
Here is another pic of my story, Jagged Coast. This picture was commissioned by , whose great work I very much appreciate in bringing my characters to life.