Tom Varsen thought about Yila Madrigal. How could she predict this? Eventually, it turned out to be true. His father Imor, the goatherd, had surprised Tom at his arrival at home with the news his cousin Johin Balden was very sick. Tom’s uncle had asked him to send his son Tom to help him with the farm.
It would be a long journey, through Kondor and Speloek to Mandregon. He had not to underestimate the dangers this trip would bring with it. Tom was not easily scared, however, he was not used to making such a long voyage, the greatest part through the departments of Upperland to Mandregon in Downland.
After some talking, Tom decided to make his satchel ready to leave early the next morning. He even got some wise advice from his father Imor. The long and short of it was that he had to distrust anyone and anything he met. The fatherly feeling, that would like to safeguard him from any danger, played a major role in this advice.
He had his knives and an ax and that should be enough. They were not at war, so normally he just had to look out for thieves and robbers who made the regions unsafe. He saw his way clear, the first who would try something would see that Tom Varsen as smith-apprentice could use his muscles for still other things than banging a hammer on the anvil.
Early in the morning, at first light, he said goodbye to his father and promised to return safe and well later in the year after he had helped his uncle. The weather was helpful because it was a beautiful sun shining day. No clouds in the sky. He saddled his stallion Branco and after hugging his father one more time, he left Carpagio and rode into the direction of Kondor.
Branco was looking forward to it. Tom had to control his horse otherwise the stallion would begin in a strong gallop. It would tire him out too fast and Tom was holding his horse in. Later on, he could loosen the reins, in the last part of the first day before he would look for a sleeping place, for him and his horse.
After several hours riding, he got hungry. At the position of the sun, he knew it was noon. He had made good progress, so there was the time to rest a bit. It was still very far to the border of Westerend and Kondor, forces had to be equally divided. He had brought with him some salt meat for later on his journey, but now he got his teeth into a piece of pheasant he had shot and roasted the day before. The meat was cold but tasty. Maybe he would see some wild during his trip. Perhaps he could set a trap in the evening and if he was lucky there would be a tender little rabbit or hare in it for the following days. Who knows!
In the meantime, he rested and Branco could eat and graze in the neighborhood. He looked with respect to the wide plains before him. Never had he been so far from home. He had seen his nephew the last time when Tom’s mother Elisa was buried. How would it be with his uncle Daren Balden and his aunt Edith, the sister of his father?
He hoped his cousin wasn’t deadly ill. Here in Upperland, the littlest disease could mean death. The doctors didn’t always know what you were carrying. Most of the Magister-doctors lived in Konteki, but before they left their houses, gold or silver crowns had to roll. Charity didn’t exist in medicine.
A noise behind Tom’s back surprised him. Before he knew, he got a heavy thump against his shoulder. Happily, he had his water bag on that shoulder and it broke the punch a bit. Before him stood a Buldra, a beast that for the greatest part looked like a bear, but with long fangs. He stood on his hind legs and rose to his eight-foot height above Tom.
During this punch, he had stumbled and dropped his ax. His fighting cane wouldn’t be a match against the Buldra. Just when he thought these were his last minutes alive, he heard another noise coming from behind the animal. Before the heavy beast could turn himself someone jumped on the back of the Buldra. With a long cut of a semi-long knife, the man sliced through the throat of the beast and jumped off the back again. It blooded tremendously and Tom could get up again and grab his ax from the ground. Now that the animal stood on his four legs, he had time to cleave the head with his ax. Despite the force this animal possessed, it was no match for the two men and after some minutes, it died.
Both men were out of breath and looked at the dead Buldra. Without any fuss, Tom’s saver began to skin the animal.
‘Yes, my young man, just in time, wasn’t it? I’m Jul Braden. Tradesman, merchant and a bit of a minstrel too, or troubadour if you know this name better. For a silver crown, I will make a song about your life.’ He stretched out his dirty hand to Tom.
Tom gave him a handshake, grateful for saving his life.
‘Thank you, Master Branden…’
‘Jul… call me Jul’, his rescuer said.
‘Well Jul, indeed just in time. I focused on the beauty of the landscape, I didn’t hear the Buldra was creeping on me. Normally I’m not so careless. My mistake.’ Tom rubbed through his hair.
Jul Branden continued skinning the Buldra. His fur would yield a great deal of money if he found the right client.
‘A part of the meat I can salt and take with me. My horse stands not far away from here. It’s the place where I discovered the tracks of the Buldra. I heard him in the shrubby and wouldn’t like to be surprised by it. I once saw it attacking a man on a horse and it was awful, both man and horse didn’t survive. Now he had targeted you, I could surprise him. However, in an open fight with such an animal, I would never try.’
The troubadour was a man in his fifties with pepper and a sand-colored hair. His skin was weathered because of his life in nature. A lot of wrinkles drew his face, however, a great part of them were laughing ripples. His hands were covered with hard skin, it testified of the handwork he often did.
His clothes existed out of a pair of knickerbockers which, if you looked very good, were in a blue and red design and a dark blue vest. Underneath he wore a white shirt, at least it once had been white. A sword hung at his side and on the other side of his belt there was a sheath for his knife with which he was skinning.
‘Travelling alone?’ Branden asked Tom Varsen.
Tom told him he was on his way to his uncle’s to help him on the farm now that his son, Tom’s cousin, was sick.
‘I have to go to the region of Mandregon, he lives there in one of the border cities with Virgo. Have you heard of the city Spadin? That’s my destination.’
While Tom was telling about his uncle, Jul Branden kept on working on the beast. In no time, he had skinned the animal. Now he was cutting big pieces of meat that he later would salt, to keep. The rest was left for possible scavengers. ‘Everybody has to eat, am I right or not, Tom?’ He smiled about expressing this wisdom of life.
‘Yes, you’re right, thanks again, if it wasn’t for you, I had been the meal for one of these scavengers.’
‘I’m also going to Mandregon, maybe we could travel together. Two is always safer than alone. I also need an audience when I put my victory on the Buldra on music. I assure you, I don’t sing falsely.’
Both men decided to travel together to Mandregon. Tom helped Jul carry the pieces of meat and after a quarter of an hour, they arrived where his horse stood. There Jul got a big bag of salt out of one of his saddlebags. ‘Always carrying this with me. Maybe we could sell some of our booties in Kondor or it can be used as payment for our overnight stay. Who knows?’
Tom was pleased with the company. On first sight, Tom thought Jul was a fine person to hang around with. He wasn’t arrogant and he knew the regions they would pass better than Tom. He could only benefit from it.
After a few hours riding, they already arrived at the border post of Westerend with Kondor.
‘I’m originally from Kondor, you probably saw that already at my clothing, isn’t it?’
Tom nodded. Despite the fact that Jul’s clothes were weathered, you could recognize the blue and red pattern of the Kondoran.
‘Before I met you, I’ve already sold my merchandise on the market in Carpagio and I was planning to travel from Kondor to Mandregon to join the annual fair in Spadin, the town your cousin lives in. Have you visited the town already?’
Thom had to deny. ‘No, alas, I’m not a great traveler. My father, however, has already been once in Mandregon, but a while ago.’
‘Well, Tom, if you’ve seen the annual fair in Spadin, you will realize the monthly year market in Carpagio pales compared to it. You can walk through it a whole day long and you will not have seen it all. That’s why this yearly fair is spread over the whole week. You can’t imagine what they all sell. It’s a real revelation to walk there and I can advise it to anybody to see this. There aren’t only merchants who sell their goods, but also jugglers and other circus people, wizards and strange creatures from over the border from Virgo. You can’t imagine it or they have it there.’
Tom was eating up Jul Branden’s every word. The man obviously had seen a part of the world. It was a shame he wouldn’t see much of the market. He had a task and he would accomplish it. Hopefully, his nephew got better very soon, maybe then he had still the chance to see something of this market.
Joeri Marten had brought the finger to Magister Darius Felten, with the request to localize the lost ring. He hadn’t said the finger came from King Conrad. Magister Felten wasn’t an adherent of King Conrad, but Joeri doubted his reaction, had he told the truth.
Magister Darius heard the fictive story of his apprentice. So to speak the finger belonged to a man who deceased and his wife loved to know where his wedding ring was. She would like to keep it as a memory of her passed away husband, but somewhere in the aftermath of his death it has been lost.
A little white lie that was accepted by the Magister. Joeri had asked to be present while he practiced the spell. Luckily Magister Felten agreed to it.
He mingled a number of liquids in long metallic semi high dish. While he spoke some charms over it, he added the finger to this liquid. The bright color of the moisture changed in a black mush, which after stirring a while, regained again his original shade. Joeri listened and watched very carefully, it could come in handy in the future. He always was very studious and was one of the smartest apprentices of Magister Darius Felten.
Slowly the murky fluid became clear again. Images shove through the enchanted substance. Joeri didn’t recognize the region. He only saw water that now and then flowed over a mass of stone.
‘Where is it situated? I don’t recognize the region! Do you know, Magister?’
The Magister leaned over the dish and muttered some spells while he mingled some salt in the water. The fluid colored blue after he had done that.
‘According to what I see…,’ the Magister doubted but spoke, ‘yes, this is the coast of the Big Ocean. At this moment, the ring is situated somewhere between those rocks. Do you see that big rock on the right? He has a special form. Looks like a sea dog, sunbathing on another stone. Maybe this can help to orientate the man who will search for it. I can’t do much more. It’s also possible, tomorrow or one of the next days, this position alters if the tide takes the gem. In case, there is a lost beachcomber who finds the ring, well…, yes, you can always ask to repeat the spell.’
Joeri had watched carefully and he supposed that he now could imitate the enchantments. He had a good manual and with the presentation of the Magister, he could probably stand on his own feet and do the magic himself.
‘Thank you, Magister Felten. I will pass the message to the woman who searches the ring.’ He had to act as he had lied to his master.
Magister Felten looked a bit worried when Joeri left the room with the finger in the little bag.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere