“Miren! You’re keeping pretty quiet over there. Why don’t you tell us a story?” Lady Rhiannon called out from her place by the fire.
I had been sitting quietly with Shay in the Garrison common room sharing a respectable dinner after a long day of training. Half the company of the Order of the Rose sat around the great fire-place, laughing and sharing tales of their adventures.
“What do you want to hear? I don’t know many.” I replied as I set aside my bowl of stew. I was still fairly new to Terrasylvae and enjoyed listening to others’ tales rather than sharing my own.
“Anything!” La Drona shouted.
“What about where you were the other night?” Karinith interjected. “I woke up when you left after midnight, and you were barely back in time for dinner the next day.”
“That’s a tale to tell.” Shay whispered to me. “Go ahead, but they won’t believe you.”
I guess, it all started when we were out training in the courtyard. I happened to ask about some of the quests other Terrasylvans have embarked on. Between the stories, Damian made a joke about traveling to a town called Inkom to save all the fools. They’d been “trapped by the cannibals” to fill their stew pots. Of course, I didn’t believe him about what I learned of Inkom, but my curiosity was peaked. Why would everyone say to avoid the place? I decided I’d find out that night.
I snuck into Shay’s cabin through the window. The crescent moon gave little light in the blackness, but I could find my footing by the dwindling embers in her fireplace. Luckily Shay was already awake, just reading a book in the corner chair and watching over her slumbering children. “Ready for an adventure?” I whispered.
“Where to?” she asked, not surprised at all by my presence. Surely she’d heard my familiar footsteps.
“Inkom. It’s time we put an end to the rumors and find out what’s really there.”
“It’s at least a half day’s journey!” she replied at a raised whisper.
“Then we will get there just after dawn, right? That means we will probably arrive after all the of drunkards & dew-beaters have passed out in their beds. What do you say?”
Shay put her book down on her chair as she rose and retrieved her cloak from a hook by the door. “At least bring your sword.” she winked.
“So what’s the plan when we’re there?” Shay asked as we journeyed along the path to Inkom.
“Go in, steal a souvenir that proves we were there, and then leave. Did you have anything else in mind?” I asked.
As we entered the outskirts of town, there was no sign of life. The buildings were crumbling and cobbled together. What civilization was there, appeared very uncivilized. The one street through town was unpaved and muddied with manure. “There’s nothing here.” I said.
“So what do we take that proves we were here?” Shay asked calmly as she kept a hand on her sword, highly alert of her surroundings.
“I don’t know, but keep looking. What about one of those broken carts along the wall? There’s like 12 of them, so no one will notice one missing.”
“Well everything breaks down in Inkom,” Shay pointed out. “So surely Terrasylvans would understand that, but Damian would point out the cart could have come from anywhere. You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Are there any symbols of Inkom?” I asked.
“Just their triangle, I think. Maybe we could find a flag with that symbol. No one else would dare wave or respect a flag such as theirs outside of this dastardly town.”
“A flag like that one?” I pointed. We looked up beyond what appeared to be a row of sleeping quarters. A tiny, tattered flag hung limp from a pole halfway up a rocky hill.
“I’m guessing so?” She asked. “It’s probably the only one in existence.”
“Then it’s even better proof.” I smiled.
“Alright my little apprentice, lay on…” Shay shrugged as she gestured for me to begin our scurry up the hill.
We headed towards the hill and ramshackle hovels. Now we at Terrasylvae may joke about their lack of intelligence, but as Shay & I approached, I noticed the design of their quarters seemed far from ignorant. Their homes formed a broken palisade guarding the town square. Behind the square was our targeted hill which formed a cove of protection around the city.
As we got to the base of the hill, a dog crossed in front of us. At least, we think it was a dog. Shay described it as a creature formed from the unholy alliance of a cat and a racoon. Due to a night of travel weariness and no sleep, her remark was more humorous than it should have been, and I couldn’t stop snickering as we crawled up the hill. Of course, our laughter fed off one another and we constantly kept admonishing each other to keep quiet lest we wake the sleeping Inkomites.
After a 5 minute climb, we reached the flag. I pulled out my knife to cut the rope from which it hung. “Hey, I captured the flag!” I chuckled.
Shay playfully nudged me in return, shifting my footing and with it, a single rock began cascading down the hillside.
“Oooh, you’re gonna DIE!” Laddy interrupted and raised his tankard in salute.
“How could they die… if they’re still here?” Ja’ika rebutted.
An irish argument ensued in the background. I welcomed the pause in my story to take another bite of my dinner and wash it down with some of Kane’s specialty spruce beer.
“Let her finish!” cried Tilly, shifting seats to place herself between them.
“Look what you did…” I said. Or at least I think I said it. The only truly audible sound was the clanging of individual rocks falling into one another.
I watched the rocks fall and suddenly felt Shay’s firm grip on my shoulder. It made me shudder and I jerked to look at her. Her eyes were wide and fierce. I followed her gaze. Past the bottom of the hill, standing in the dead center of town square, was a single Inkomite. The dog or cat/racoon baby, limped up next to him. The figure slowly walked towards the base of the hill and bent down to pick up one of the fallen rocks. He cocked his head and held the stone within inches of his face, inspecting it so thoroughly you’d think he’d never seen one before.
We sat frozen, unsure of our next move. We were out in the open, crouched next to the flagpole. I reached towards my sword, but Shay held out a hand to stop me. “No sudden moves,” she hissed.
I relaxed my arm and instead turned my attention to the flag in my hand. I gently but quickly stuffed it up my right sleeve, being careful not to draw attention to myself. Meanwhile, the Inkomite had shifted his gaze to the sky as though the rock had fallen like rain. As he lowered his gaze, he paused when he saw us. Understanding washed over his face and he slowly came to realize where the rock really came from. Then, he caught a glimpse of the empty flag pole. His eyes narrowed. “Hey, Pa!” he shouted.
Like cockroaches from a nest, at least a dozen Inkomites suddenly emerged from their hovels. Men & women in grungy clothing filled the square and blocked our only escape. More peered out windows and a few menacingly began gesturing towards us. They began to communicate, but not with comprehensible English. Instead they grunted, shrugged, and gestured wildly in confusion of our willful intrusion into their town.
Then a single, large older man who was filthier and more savage than the rest reached the original figure in the square. We could only assume this was “Pa”. The two mumbled and grumbled for only a moment. The older man cuffed the younger one on the head, then turned to the rest of the gathered crowd. He uttered something in a guttural roar, but we could understand only a few words… “girls, weapons, get, and… breakfast.”
“That’s not good…” I gulped.
“Nope. Time to go.” Shay tugged at my sleeve, and we began darting down the rugged trail, hoping to make a break before the savages returned with their weapons.
We weren’t so fortunate. When we reached the bottom of the hill, whether armed or not, the Inkomites seemed to magically appear in our path, and we constantly had to adjust course. We dodged around buildings, cook fires, broken carts, and seemingly all other pieces of rubble in town. Eventually, we became cornered against the palisade and with a look at one another, we knew we needed to draw our blades. Facing a kill pocket of enraged Inkomites, we threw lethal blows at those who were armed, and broke out along the edge of the line, leaving half a dozen howling or dead in our wake.
We sped to the edge of town, outdistancing our pursuers, and I took one quick look back at what we left behind. Then and there, “Pa” jumped out in front of me and I careened into him, falling back into the ground. Shay whipped around to address him, but he was clutching and snatching at my arm. He knew what I had stolen. There was a brief tussle for the flag, which ended with a ripping sound and I came away with the short end. Shay dispatched him with a death from behind and helped me to my feet as the rest of the Inkomites caught up to us. A few last lethal blows were dealt, then once again we turned tail and ran. Once we reached the city limits, the remaining pursuers stopped, unwilling to leave their town. They turned back and instead satisfied their want of breakfast with the flesh of their fallen comrades.
“Well, that was disgusting.” Shay laughed, as was her normal response to any near death experience.
I looked down, panting with hands on my knees, and saw the sad remaining scrap I possessed of the Inkom flag. Only partial edges of their symbol remained, barely enough to identify it as legitimate. “Dang it! Stupid rocks. I think YOU should go back for the other half.”
“It’s probably been consumed with the rest of Pa.” she said in mock remorse.
We chuckled at that. I sheathed my sword and Shay wiped her blade clean. As we began our journey home to Terrasylvae, we could hear the distant scuffles of man crawling over man, enraged by us and eager to feast. As I gently folded the stolen souvenir, I considered that Damian had been right. They were a savage colony of the most uncivilized beings I had ever encountered. We were fortunate to be alive.
When I finished, Karinith’s eyes were wide with both concern and disbelief.
Ul’vade, however, was on the other side of the fire beaming. “That was such a good story, Miren! I love a good fantasy.”
Shay and I shared a knowing look with one another, and I smirked, fingering the small wad of cloth in my pocket.