Journey to the False King's Hall

After he freshened up in a creek that was nearby (another unfamiliar detail), he took to the path with vigor. The morning was beautiful; the thick woolen cloud cover had finally given way to brightness and warmth. Arcturas almost bounced down the trail, his eyes full of bright gleamings and the shadowy patterns from the trees.

The path began to show the signs of greater activity the further he went. Now and then a side-trail branched off of the one he was on, and wondered if he was approaching whatever outpost had sent out the patrol that had ambushed his Century. Although he could not remember when he had felt so energized and light-hearted, foolish trust take him where he did not want to go. He slowed his pace and then stopped to consider his options.

Arcturas back-tracked and took a side trail, then walked off of it into the brush and buried his armor under a pile of brush along with his over-tunic that was emblazoned with the colors of his land. The only thing distinctive that he kept on his person was his short sword, which he reset so the belt went under his left armpit and over his right shoulder. It would be a little less conspicuous there.

When he returned to the main trail, he found that he finally had some sense of what he needed to do in this foreign land. Though the danger was great, he needed so speak to the local lord, whoever that was.

Another short walk later, he strode confidently into a village with a road. It was similar to the small towns of his homeland, quiet but busy, but the shacks here had peaked roofs for inclement weather and even on a beautiful day such as this, people shuffled back and forth in short breeches and modestly hitched up skirts. And they weren't as friendly as the people of his homeland, either, though he knew his strangeness accounted for at least some of that impression, but in Capsicum, his homeland, even strangers were welcome.

He tried to stop a man and speak to him, but the short codger only dodged Arcturas' grasp and went on his way.

Arcturas walked through the village but did not find what he was looking for. Nowhere did he see men in Salasian uniform. Nowhere did he see anything resembling an authority figure. After only a short walk, he had to admit that his guess had been wrong, and he continued down the road.
But as the day wore on, the road dwindled back down to a path, again, and the trees crept closer around him. The sun began its fall from the sky and the shadows deepened. The day cooled, and he stopped, finally, in confusion.

The wagon tracks he had been following had disappeared an hour before, but had led nowhere. The marks of human feet and horse hooves had even worn away until the path was just a path, again. He stood staring at the ground, aware that if the little village was in any way connected with a larger town, signs of traffic to and from the bigger town would be evident. The road would have remained a road and it would have gone somewhere.

Retracing his steps, he made his way wearily back toward the village. The sun dropped lower and the nighttime animals started their chorus. Warm colors of the day went through a last burst of reds and yellows and bright greens before wearily sliding into the gray and black of dusk.

The road arose again underneath Arcturus’ feet, and he felt oddly grateful to be within walking distance of other people. He knew they might not permit his company, that they might even imprison or kill him, but he thought it unlikely and did not know why he thought so.
 
As the first huts began to appear in the dwindling light, he was caught by a meomory of a day out of his past. His wife had been barely a woman and he barely a man. Her parents had lived in a hut much like the ones he was nearing. The two of them had known of one another for their entire lives, but had never really met.

Their meeting had been a momentous one for him. They had stepped toward one another and experienced, instead of fireworks and excitement, a dark and steady familiarity that seemed to preclude words. The first night, they had spent together alone and sitting on a hillside watching fires below them and stars in the sky. They did not touch or talk, but were from then on, together.

It did not take effort to remember how their parents had hated each other. His wife’s father had been a second suitor for his mother’s hand and although she chose Arcturas’ father, it was clear she had chosen him for no greater reason than that he had been favored in a coin toss. This created a great rivalry between the men resulting in numerous arguments and fights, much public drama

Arcturas remembered his first knock on his future wife’s door, the transformation of her father’s face from an expression of bored curiosity to an expression of disgust. The man had grabbed him by his shirt, lifted him to his toes and warned him that his life was in jeopardy if he returned their door. It was the first time in his life that Arcturas had seen real hate and the first time he had seen his own death in another man’s eyes.

The huts he passed now were unaccountably dark and silent and they seemed a menacing presence, draped with his dark thoughts, as he made his way past them. Nervous and watchful, he proceeded down the road. As he passed along a fateful curve, he was surprised to see ahead two lanterns lighting a wooden palisade and a gate.

Guards in Salasian red stood their ground as he warily approached.

The End

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