The empty farmland had long, foreboding shadows cast across it, caused by the late day sun that had nearly sunk below the horizon. Adrian had almost reached the edge of the dense forest, and he trudged heavily in its direction. While he had no idea where he was headed, Adrian knew that he had been heading northwest for the past two days. He didn’t see any reason to change his direction now.
His mother had always told him of the day destiny would call, and he would leave home, on to bigger things. Adrian had never imagined that his father’s death would be the starting point for his greatest journey.
Since he had left the comfort of his childhood home, Adrian hadn’t been able to get his mother’s words out of his head. They kept echoing there, and he continued to debate their meaning. When he was young, his mother’s predictions of a future away from the farm had seemed like a mother’s wishes. Hopes that her son would some day live a better life.
Now Adrian understood what she had really intended when they spoke of his future: A warning.
He had grown up with his mother and father on a small farm. They grew corn and other field crop, since their homestead hadn’t enough room for livestock. Life had been simple, and sometimes hard, but always rewarding. Adrian now understood that the life he had known as a child had been a deception. His parent’s had not done so out of maliciousness, but to try to protect him.
Why, or from what, Adrian couldn’t fathom. But he knew it to be true.
Assassins weren’t sent to kill farmer’s children.
It seemed like since the death of Queen Cecilia in the Crown City of Aerondil, the world had become and evil place. While the land had always carried a promise of simple and safe lifestyles, the royal assassination had stirred danger into the mix. Every shadow across the kingdom now held a threat. The citizens were frightened, and with a good reason.
Queen Cecilia had been a fairly young woman when she had inherited the throne from her mother. In her short time wearing the crown, she had not married or had children. Since the birth of Aerondil, there had always been a blood heir to take the throne when the time came. With no living blood relative of the royal family alive to take the Queen’s place, the kingdom was left without a ruler for the first time.
While an empty throne was often the cause for slight alarm in many kingdoms, it spoke greater volumes to the public of Aerondil. The citizens of Aerondil passed the culture of the kingdom on to their children and grandchildren through stories, tales and myths, and many of the stories told spoke of a dark age that fell upon Aerondil when the throne had been left empty.
But as always, the myths that had been told thousands upon thousands of times to children had lost their validity. Over time, the myth of the Dark Age had accumulated many variations, and made it exceedingly difficult to say why the throne had been empty, or what the Dark Age had consisted of.
All the same, with no heir to the throne after Queen Cecilia’s death, a deep sense of foreboding had settled over the kingdom. Many people had begun to flee to other lands, fearing the Dark Age spoken of in ancient myths.
Adrian’s father, Douglas, had never been one for superstitions. He had insisted they stay on their farm, what with the snow melting, to plant this season’s crop of corn. They couldn’t afford to lose an entire season’s harvest. While Adrian had agreed with his father at the time, looking back he dearly wished he hadn’t.
Two days ago, Adrian had found Douglas with his throat cut. In the middle of their small, handmade house he had bled to death alone. His body had been laid down amongst their scattered belongings.
At first, Adrian had assumed that it was robbers of bandits that had raided their small house that sat just off a main road into the Crown City, but after studying the nature of the searching done by whoever had killed his father, he discovered they had been looking for something other than small trinkets of some worth.
They had been searching for a hiding place.
Rugs that covered the hard stone floors had been lifted and thrown aside, as though they had been looking for a door to the cellar. Charred logs and dead coals had been pulled from the hearth, making it clear that the murderers had been looking for a trap door beneath them.
Dread had taken the place of disbelief and utter bewilderment as Adrian had realized that if they were searching for a hiding place, they must have been looking for someone other than his father… and Adrian was the only other person that shared the small wood house.
Fearing for his life, Adrian had raced about the scattered household items. He found a pack, and threw any unharmed clothing inside. A bar of soap missing a corner was rolled up inside of his bedroll, and a small hunting knife was shoved into a holster at his waist. Any jars of provisions he had been able to find intact were added to the pack before he fled the house.
Adrian didn’t know why the killers had left the house, but he realized he had been extremely lucky to return in the small window that they had not been waiting for him inside. He hadn’t wasted any time in fleeing to the Northwest.
With each step he took through the fields as he made his way toward the forest, Adrian felt hollow. Everything that meant anything to him had been violently ripped from his life. His mother had gone missing years ago, and had been assumed dead by everyone in the community. Slowly Adrian’s hope of her return had faded as he aged, and he had learned to go on knowing he would never see his mother’s beautiful face again.
The knowledge that his father had been killed by assassins sent to kill his son was ripping Adrian apart. If only he had known whatever it was that made him a wanted man, he could have left home and kept his only living loved one from harms way. But now it was too late.
It seemed that the entire world had flipped upside down. Though Adrian had no idea where exactly he was headed, he knew he would have to make himself a new home. As he thought about it, Adrian realized he would also have to create a new name for himself. He couldn’t allow his assassin’s to track him by his name.
He also hadn’t allowed himself to leave tracks from his travels. From large amounts of time spent hunting wild game in the fields and forests surrounding his small homestead, Adrian had learned how to follow the tracks animals left behind. And in the process he had learned how to cover his own tracks by traveling through streams and avoiding stepping on twigs that could snap, or not stepping in soft substances like mud or moss.
As a child Adrian had also camped in the wilderness, and for increasing amounts of time as he aged. As a teenager, he had spent weeks at a time away from home, surviving on whatever nature provided him. With this knowledge he would be able to travel through the forests for a time before returning to open land, or the roads.
Using his thumb to hike up the strap of his travelling pack, Adrian yawned. He had travelled the entire night previous, without even a break. His fear of his pursuers catching up with him had given him the energy he had needed to continue, but that strength was waning. As much as he wanted to keep moving, he knew that it needed to rest eventually.
After wondering if he had enough of a lead on the assassins to rest for the night, Adrian decided that once he was in the protection of the trees he would set up camp. Sleeping out in the open farmland would make him easy to spot, and it would be safer to rest in the forest.
In a matter of moments, he had passed the first of the thick tree trunks. The sun had fallen below the horizon, and the world had been cast into the curious realm of twilight. A slowly deepening blue sky set the leaves of the lurking trees into silhouettes. Adrian couldn’t help but be cautious of the shadows that were forming in the undergrowth.
Once he reached a deeper part of the forest, Adrian began to relax. Finding a small crook between the roots of a large oak, he laid out his bedroll. He pulled his knife from his small belt holster and set it next to the makeshift bed. Tonight he wouldn’t have a fire: the heat and light it cast off could attract unwanted attention. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Nocturnal animal began their ceaseless chirping and echoing calls as Adrian nibbled at a small dinner of dried biscuits and raisins. It only took the edge off of his appetite, but he needed to make sure he rationed his supplies for the days ahead. Ignoring the hunger still gnawing at his insides, he settled down into the warmth of his bedroll.
Slowly, Adrian began to slip into the clutches of sleep. His anxiety kept him slightly aware, but it was only a matter of time until his exhaustion took hold. Caught somewhere between waking and dreaming, he heard a twig snap.
Instantly he sat up. The knife near his bedroll seemed to worm it’s way into his grasp through a will of his own. It seemed his movements were predetermined, decided by instinct as he lifted himself into a crouch and studied the darkness around him. His gut screamed to him that there was a presence nearby.
Suddenly, the shadows surrounding him seemed much more malevolent.