“Boy come here at once,” The enormous man said. I’d never seen anyone so impressive. From where he sat atop his steed, he looked like a giant. His horse snorted, which splattered the foam from around his mouth. I stepped forward.
The shield which was strapped to his back caught the glint of the sun. The shining metal in the shield alone could have bought an entire castle. The man had thick beard and robes that indicated nobility.
The company of spear carrying soldiers that followed, had to number more than 100. They stood like statues under the relentless sun. Their horseback commander waited for me to come close.
“I am Lord Dundle Brune. What Realm is this,” He said as he scanned the horizon. I took a deep breath, trying not to sound as small as I was.
“This is the land of Forrest Deep, Sire.” I was not successful. My voice sounded mousy and insignificant compared to his. I watched his face twist as he had not heard me. I was about to repeat myself louder, but he began to dismount. His shield clanged against the sword at his side. It’s blade was as long as I was tall.
He snapped his fingers at one of his attendants. They scrambled. Clearly Dundle Brune commanded respect and obedience. I watched his servant produce something from a carrying satchel. It was handed to yet another servant who scurried forward and delivered to Lord Brune’s own hand.
It looked like a scroll, or a roll of parchment. Lord Brune tugged at the ribbon and handed it back to the servant. He stretched the scroll out against the hind end of his horse. I could see now that the scroll was a map. I had never seen a map with such beautiful colors. The detail was superb. His harsh voice cut my admiration short.
“Show me,” He said. I dared not disobey, but I didn’t feel comfortable with any of it. I began to step forward when he reached out his long arm. I flinched but was not quick enough to escape his swat. He struck me across the back of the head as he said, “What’s wrong, Boy, are you dense?”
“I’m sorry, Sire,” I said. I leaped forward, giving a clear sense of initiative. I could smell the sweat, whether it was the horses or the man’s I wasn’t sure. His thick fingers looked like the stumps of small trees.
“I believe that the map was made before this realm was called Forrest Deep.” I pointed to the place on the map where a long strip of green was depicted. “It was called Nesterling in the old tongue.” I stepped back, trying to get as much distance between me and Lord Brune. I didn’t want to earn another slap to the head.
“So you can read, can you?” Brune said, eyeing me from head to foot. His inspection made me uneasy, as did everything he did. The map pulled Lord Brune’s attention back to the task at hand. He flitted his eyes from the map to the landscape several times. “It doesn’t resemble its name. I would expect to see a forest, in Forrest Deep.”
“There has been a terrible famine for many years’ since before I was born. That is the Forrest there.”
I pointed to the line of gnarled remains that once were trees. They looked like something out of a campfire tale. Brune was uninterested. This pleased me, considering that my tutor, Rabbi Rasp was hiding in the dead woods. That last thing I wanted was to bring attention to his whereabouts.
“You know this land well,” Lord Brune said. It was an observation that needed no response. I toed the dirt as he looked at me once more. I wanted this to be over, but I wasn’t sure how to get out of it. My toe uncovered the corner of my sword. I had buried it under a shallow layer of dust when I hard heard hooves. I glanced up at Brune to see if he had noticed. He had gone back to studying his map. I covered the edge of the exposed hilt once more.
“I have been summoned by King Buitrous Flurk. Can you point out his fortress on the map?” Brune questioned. I was ready to have him on his way so I did as he asked. I leaned in and pointed to the spot.
“That seals it,” Lord Brune said as he began to roll his map. His servant took it from his hands before he jumped back atop his steed. “You will guide us to King Flurk’s fortress. I am expected there three days hence, and I cannot afford another delay.”
“I have never been to King Flurk’s fortress,” I said, although it was only technically true. Lord Brune must have sensed my sly use of words because he squinted down at me. The sun haloed his head which left his silhouette burned into my eye.
Without warning, He lifted his right leg and thrust it down. His boot caught me squarely across the jaw. I tasted blood almost immediately. Stars spun around my vision, as I toppled to the dirt. Where I landed, I could feel the lump under the sand when I had stored my sword. I imagined coming up with a powerful thrust of the blade. I knew I couldn’t. The old rusty weapon was more likely to break than cut flesh.
“Consider that free education. Never refuse the command of your Lord,” Brune bellowed. I did not look up at him. I rubbed the place that his foot had struck. “Now gather your things. I have already been delayed long enough.”
As I threw the strap of my water skin over my shoulder I thought of Rabbi Rasp. No doubt he was watching from behind a dried stump. I feared I would never see him again. He would certainly would not be so dumb as to follow us to the fortress.
I quickly rounded up the things that belong to me. I debated uncovering my sword, but instead I left it under the dirt. I only hopped that Rabbi Rasp would remember that I had hidden it there. Once my small satchel was on my back we began to March.