Rowen rode atop Castamir’s horse, her mind in a whirl. She felt strange, and felt a strong desire to remain with Castamir. She couldn’t understand why either. A growing battle of mental discomfort began to cause her to fidget, but suddenly she felt a bizarre and overwhelming desire to sleep, and did so. The feeling of fatigue from all that had transpired was too much for Rowen to handle at the moment. Castamir watched her as she slept, her head lolling with the uneven gait of the horse. Castamir whispered to his horse, trying to smooth the ride. Rowen smiled in her sleep, apparently dreaming. “You really are something, Rowen,” Castamir muttered to himself. “I hope you will do what we need you for willingly, I don’t think I’d want to torture you into it like the others.” Thunder rolled in the distance and the clouds were thick and gray. Rain began to patter around them, rolling off the leaves and splashing the two figures atop the horse. Because the two were advancing northward, the rain was cold and unwelcoming. Rowen’s long mess of black hair was soon soaking and dripping, and beads of water covering her bare skin. She shivered a little, but remained asleep. Castamir seemed deep in thought as he watched Rowen, her arms lovingly curled about the horse’s neck in front of her as she lay dreaming. He pulled off his long, thick cloak and put it over Rowen’s shoulders, shielding her from the cold rain. She sighed contentedly and kept on sleeping. Kaytar snorted slightly, looking at Castamir out of the corner of his eye as he trotted along. Castamir shrugged at him. “What? I got to keep her warm and well if she’ll be any use to us.” The horse rolled its eyes, having the same animated features as Jack’s horse. Castamir looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook off the water that collected on his hair.
When Rowen awoke, she was off of the horse and lying in a camp. It was nighttime again, and the rain has ceased. She blinked her eyes open and saw only two green eyes and smelled a faint scent of sulfur on the cloak around her. “Sabor?” She murmured sleepily, reaching her hand up to the face. She felt a strong hand reach around her back and lift her up to a sitting position. She swayed heavily as if she had been drugged again.
The face spoke, “Guess again, Rowen.” She opened her eyes a little wider, yawning.
“Castamir?” His mouth met hers in an answer. Without really knowing why, Rowen put her arms around him and returned the kiss. Then she felt again the absence of one of the bands on her wrist, the one that had slipped off when she was running from…. All of a sudden Rowen thought of Jack, and pulled away abruptly from Castamir. In the dim light, a tinge of a thoughtful scowl crossed Castamir’s face. But she swayed again, dimly searching for her bow and arrows. “Where’s…my…ssstuff?” She mumbled drowsily.
“All on the horse, Rowen, where you put it. We’re going to start moving again, ready?” Castamir spoke to her, leaving out the fact that it was not on his horse.
“Where are we going?” Rowen asked though an immense yawn, nearly falling over in her lethargy.
“North,” Castamir replied. Before Rowen could make further inquiry, Castamir pick her up and carried her to his horse.
The damp ground absorbed the sound of Kaytar’s hooves, only emitting a soft squelch of mud every so often. Damp fog from the rain rose and drifted across their path through the woods. It was cold and damp, and both Castamir and Rowen shivered in the chill.
At one point, Castamir stopped Kaytar suddenly as if they had hit a mark of some sort. The woods around them had become grayer, older, and more twisted. He jumped off the horse, and ran into woods, leaving Rowen asleep (once again) on the saddle. Rowen could hardly keep her head up now, so strong was the liquid that churned in her stomach. A quarter of an hour later, Castamir returned lugging a dead fox over his shoulder. He cut open the animal with his knife, and used a pine branch to create a sort of brush. With the blood, Castamir painted three lines, one curved in an odd shape and two straight inside of that to form what looked like a dragon wing on the hind thigh of Kaytar. The horse stood perfectly still as if it had been through this many times before. Castamir remounted behind Rowen and woke her up. He passed through a layer of trees, and came suddenly to an open field.
Crawling across that field was an opaque wall of black and gray mist. Castamir smiled, Rowen’s jaw dropped. Even in her current state, frantic jolts of fear flew wildly down her spine. With a wild yell from Castamir, Kaytar flew into a mad gallop straight at the wall of churning, creeping Mist. He galloped up onto a protruding rock from the field and took a flying leap right into the Mist. Even though Castamir’s arms were tightly around Rowen, she squeezed her eyes shut as they tore into the wall of black fog. Instantly it was as if they were entering a sauna. The temperature was summer-hot, especially compared to the cold outside the Mist. Visibility was limited to about five feet, but Kaytar trotted along as if he knew the trials by heart, never stumbling nor looking the least bit impeded absence of sight. Once inside, the effects of Castamir’s drink seemed temporarily held off, and Rowen looked around in wonder at the very little that she could see. Dark cloaked figures appeared every so often, flashing by in fast glimpses. Rowen held her hand out, grazing a nearby tree trunk as they passed. Her hand wiped through a layer of soot and ash. Ash never bothered Rowen, she was used to it, but she marveled at how Castamir seemed not the least bit agitated, nor Kaytar. She even welcomed the soft burning as the heavy air passed through her nostrils, throat, and windpipe. It was good to be warm again, it reminded her of home. And it smelled like sulfur… smelled like Castamir…smelled like Sabor. Rowen wondered why Sabor had had that same smell on his cloak.
Wrapped up in her own thoughts, Rowen was brought back to her senses as she was pulled off the horse. They were at the entrance of a cave, and many figures in dark cloaks and hoods, were surrounding them. Each made a bow to Castamir, and the one holding Rowen began to take her away. Castamir stopped the man and spoke to him. “Listen you, take care of her. Anything happens, and it will be your life…” He paused with a glance around the cave, “…and the life of your entire company.” The cloaked head nodded once, then turned with Rowen. She wanted to break away and run, at least after Castamir, anything but be taken blindly down this cave. But that bizarre feeling washed over her again, and the only thought left in her mind was to follow the figure leading her. A boulder rolled across the cave entrance, revealing only a last glimpse of Castamir mounting Kaytar outside before thee rock rolled into place.
Rowen sat a while in the fire-lit cave, her silent guards unmoving. Then a commotion arose at the entrance; the boulder was being pulled back. Rowen got up, trying to see though the gloom who was entering. Six figures strode in. The center figure made straight for Rowen, taking off its hood. The green-eyed face of Sabor greeted Rowen.
She gasped. It all made sense – the green eyes, the dark hair, the sulfur smelling cloak… but Jack’s friend? No, Jack was not part of this. Jack! Oh what Rowen would give to see one friendly face. For a minute, Rowen snapped out of her trance and tried to foolishly run. Sabor grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back, trying her wrists with rope. “Hmmm… seems that Castamir’s draught is losing its touch,” Sabor muttered to himself.
“Sabor!” Rowen screamed through her mess of hair that cascaded over her face, “Why are you doing this?!”
Sabor calmly replied to her as if he was peaking to an ignorant child. “Rowen, the mist has something to do with the Seerganash. Something to do with dragons. And you – you know a dragon.”
Rowen’s eyes went wide, then narrowed and fixated themselves on the gold band Sabor pulled from his pocket.
“Give me my band back.” She spoke haltingly in an angry tone.
“Tell me, Rowen,” Sabor went on in a triumphant tone, fingering her gold band between the fingers of his free hand, “how does a simple little girl manage to get her filthy little hands on the finest and purest dragon gold, shaped by dragon fire to an exact fit of her wrist? And tell me, how does she manage to come out alive, with only a few burns that somehow form into designs on her skin? One would almost say she was a friend of a dragon.”
“No one is a dragon’s friend.” Rowen said through bared teeth.
“If I didn’t know better,” Sabor pulled his arm around Rowen’s waist and forced her face an inch from his, so that his glinting green eyes reflected in her golden ones, “I’d have to say our little Rowen knows how to talk to a dragon and not be killed.”
At this moment, Castamir walked into the cave. His eyes narrowed at Sabor. “What is going on here? Drop her, Sabor.” Sabor dropped Rowen roughly and averted his eyes, not without a fleeting angry glare at Castamir. Rowen could sense that these two were probably the strongest leaders here, but Castamir was stronger.
“Your drink didn’t work, she’s perfectly herself.” Sabor growled.
“Really?” Castamir replied, one eyebrow raised. He untied Rowen and helped her up, putting his arm around her shoulders. She went instantly from wild to soft in his grip. “Do you not think, Sabor, that she would still be in here if she were not in the state she is?” Castamir turned to the rest in the cave. “Now, all of you, we are moving to the Hall of Candles. North again we go, to our great hall on the side of the mountains.”
Chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9127.html
Chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9141.html
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9184.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9263.html
Chapter 5: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9297.html
Chapter 6: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9307.html
Chapter 7: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9356.html
Chapter 8: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9422.html
Chapter 9: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9472.html
Chapter 10: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9530.html
Chapter 11: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9566.html
Chapter 12: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9603.html
Chapter 13: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9616.html
Chapter 14: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9629.html
Chapter 15: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9658.html