Legends of Belariath

Ian Macross

"Go home, young man, go home." Part One

The rain swept through the dark, stony wasteland, a wave of oblivious water that would not stop, nor even hesitate for the trivial wishes or demands of mere flesh and blood mortals. And even if it did, there was only -one- mortal traveling through the plains today, just one. A man, dressed in flowing red robes…perhaps of a magical origin, but given his walk, his stance, and his bearing, one would almost suspect him of being of a monastic order…he walks with head bowed, face obscured from sight by a deep hood, thrown up around him.

If the rain were to stop for a few moments, the man -might- have been able to spot some strange shapes in the air…a trio of such shapes, all traveling at an angle from his chosen path to the north. He might also have seen one of these shapes breaking away from the others, and cutting a path straight for him…while the other two continued their own way, abandoning their companion to his designs.

But the rain did -not- cease, so the traveler was none the wiser. He sighs, and, spotting a sole point of refuge in this bleak and forgotten land, he takes it, huddling under the remains of a dead and blasted tree…whose bare limbs provided the meager supply of shelter that he sought. Once in it’s shadow, he throws his hood back, almost as if desperate to breathe the free air once more…revealing his heritage.

It was quite possible that, somewhere up the road, this man’s family had had truck with wolves, or someone with wolfish descent…his eyes were a burning yellow, bright, proud, and almost always giving the impression that he was glaring at someone. But the rest of his body and face is decidedly feline in origin…midnight black fur covering his body from head to tail, which was currently bottled up in his robes, rather than cut a hole through them again… feline ears, which were now twitching, as if trying to listen through the racket and din produced by this completely unexpected thunderstorm.

He did not seem to be completely unprepared, however…judging by the man’s equipment. As he opens a small rucksack that he had brought along on this trip, he pulls out an apple…a bit stale and almost rotted, but still edible. He slips a gleaming dagger from his robes, obviously -not- created with cutting apples in mind…but it would do in a pinch. He grimaces slightly, cutting a slice off of the fruit, devouring it…it’s quite possible that he hasn’t had anything to eat for several hours, having conserved his rations. He still had a fairly long distance to travel before he would arrive at his destination in the remote northlands, after all…

But the dagger was not his sole means of support, it would seem. Although he was not -quite- as weak as most would surmise by looking at his frame, he should not have that much padding underneath his robes….definitely not the broad-shouldered type. The explanation for this becomes apparent, though…it’s a gambeson, giving him a modicum of protection beyond the simple red robes. Also, now that his arms have vacated his sleeves, it’s visible that he’s wearing twin leather vambraces, giving himself just a bit more defense against the unexpected dangers that a traveller must face in these parts.

He finishes his meal in peace, before closing the sack and replacing it under his robes…he stands up, sighing as he prepares to exit what little barrier he had against the storm’s fury…which showed no signs of winding down. He slides his hood up again, and, just as he steps outside, throws the apple core out into the wastes.

The next few moments were quite jumbled, so let us take them in sequence: First, the traveller, who, in case I neglected to provide his name, shall be known as Ian…tossed the apple core into the wastes, shrugged his shoulders, and turned into the wind again. Second, a large, winged shape barreled down at him seemingly from nowhere, apparently having initiated a dive-bombing technique on the hapless feline. Third, just as it’s talons were poised to rip the man’s shoulders from each other, Ian apparently realized that he was mere inches away from destruction, for he dived to one side, hugging the ground as if it was a bosom friend, letting the attacker fly past him. Finally, as Ian struggled to regain his footing, the winged creature turned around, clumsily landing and beginning to clomp towards him.

Upon closer inspection, it would seem that this was nothing more or less than the -largest- avian Ian had ever beheld…an eagle, easily six feet tall when grounded, and more than twice as wide, counting the wingspan. Why an eagle would choose to assault him, he had no clue, but it was happening, so best to not think about it overlong, and simply deal with it.

The first thing he does is throw both hands in the air, crossing his wrists in a simple blocking motion. He chants something in an obscure tongue, apparently arcane invectives that have something to do with protection…and protect they do, for as soon as the verse is completed, he seems to walk with more confidence, and what little can be seen of his fur, the parts along his arms and hands, seems to stiffen, becoming steely gray in color, and hard to the touch.

He doubts this will protect him from -all- damage that this overgrown canary might deal him, but it will certainly aid him from a glancing blow, and might even turn a mortal slash into simply a crippling one. The bird, however, doesn’t seem to even notice, simply lowering its head and charging straight for him, beak chomping and snapping in eager, almost gleeful anticipation. It makes a testing, practice cut for Ian’s head, snapping through thin air as Ian hastily ducks to one side.

That, however, had given Ian his motive…forgetting what little training he had about keeping his reserves as just that, reserves, he ducks back partway, giving himself some space…then lowering one hand, extending his middle finger into the air, making a lewd gesture at the bird. But as he does, a glowing disk of energy appears, a blue symbol floating in the air before him. In the blink of an eye, the symbol sprouts a full-grown orb of crackling electrical malice, which immediately darts straight for the bird’s own head, as it to mimick it’s earlier attack.

The ball crashed dead on course, and within moments the air was filled with the stink of burning flesh, and of ozone being released…accompanied by the crackling -snap!- of electricity being unleashed on a still-living body. A few moments later, Ian kicks the twitching creature on the ground, shaking his head…what could have possessed one of the birds to attack him? Granted, he was wearing a noticeable color…but from what little wilderness lore he had, this particular species normally kept to itself, and fed more on naturally occurring opponents, -not- humanoid beings.

Small concern to him now, really…he offers a quick prayer that whatever reason the bird had, it was not his own fault…he shrugs his shoulders, and continues on his way…coughing slightly as the exertion of casting two spells in quick succession takes its toll on him…

A short distance later, he comes to something a -bit- more noticeable than three specks in the air…and this time, manages to sight it ahead of time. A gathering of large, bulky, almost boxy shapes along the ground ahead of him…he approaches, squinting as he tries to get a better view…then nods. A caravan, it would seem…several boxy carts, all strung together, and, for the moment at least, arranged in a protective circle.

As he nears the edge of the encampment, a harsh voice booms out from the nearest gap in the wagons…”Who goes there?” and Ian finds himself looking down the nocked shaft of a longbow…his protective spell having worn off a while back, this could very well kill him…he doubted he could dodge in time.

“…a friend, I’d hope…or at least, a simple traveler. Could I come within?” He asks in a plaintive voice…they had the right to refuse him, of course, but he hoped it wouldn’t come to that…he could see the light of a fire inside, apparently sheltered from the storm…and any source of heat would be welcome right about now.

“One second, wait there. Come any closer and I’ll slice your head off, cat!” The voice jeers, receding into the wagons….a few muffled shouts echo, then the man returns, with company…two more bows aim for his heart, from the nearest two junctions…as the middle one recedes, they keep careful sight of him, not letting him get out of the reach of at least one of them the entire time. He enters, cautiously…if these were merchants, they were remarkably well equipped…and well armed. He looks around, taking a careful view of his surroundings…then frowns.

“…you are…slavers…no?” He asks, looking at just what contents these wagons held…surprised he didn’t notice it earlier. Males and females of almost every race lay within…or at the least, most of the typical races. Felines, humans, maybe one or two of the exotics, he even saw a pixie or two, kept in a small box, looking forlorn and bored out of their poor little minds…

A few of the voices begin to laugh, jeering his statement, which was rather obvious. “Hahaha…of course we aren’t slavers, fool! We were just ferrying these rich noblemen across the plains…minus their luggage, entourages, and any freedom they might have had! Of -course- we’re slavers!!” The man glares, as if wondering to take extreme umbrage or not…

Ian puts up his hands in defense, shaking his head…”I meant no offense, sir, I was merely curious. I am not from these parts, and, given the nature of your transportation, neither are you. I merely wondered if I could take shelter from the storm for a little bit, if there was anything I could do for you?” He asks. The men frown, talking among each other for a few…then one says, rather craftily…

“What skills do you have to offer, in exchange for your staying with us for a while?” Their leader asks, the same man that had initially pointed his arrows at him. Ian shrugs his shoulders…”I am a bit of a healer, very minor, a bartender, a salesman, and a mage.” He says, listing his professions without qualm. Muttering breaks out at the mention of his being a mage…

“Huh. Well…we have no use for a bartender or a salesman…or for a mage, unless you’re powerful enough to stop this infernal weather so we can be on our way. No? Thought not…but a healer we can use. A few of the slaves took some minor injuries when they were…ah…trying to escape. Bruises from the guard’s clubs, extreme whip lashings, that sort of thing. Heal a few of them, and we’ll let you on your way, and even give you a bit of food for your travels. If you’re lying, however, you’ll join them.” the man says.

Ian gulps visibly at this, but nods…better to help them than to join as one of the slaves…”Where are they?” He asks, and is led towards one of the more battered wagons, in fairly bad condition, yet. He frowns…most of these prisoners were…felines. That wasn’t odd…but hadn’t the man said they were trying to escape? Most felines, he knew, were used to this…they would not have risked escape without reason. Then he gasps, or starts to before he covers his shock and surprise…these were no ordinary felines…these were -his- clan! The very same clan that had been all but destroyed by slavers…apparently this group still remained unsold.

He glares straight at the nearest captive…one whom he recognizes to be one of the former town elders…trying to make him realize that he should -not- act like he knows him…or the slavers wouldn’t hesitate to bind and gag him -now-, and throw him in. He looks away for a moment, then back again…apparently some unspoken signal had passed, for now the captives were reverting to their previous behavior.

He begins treatment, occasionally whispering to a captive that sought to embrace him…telling them that that was -not- a good idea. Finally, he tends to the last of them, the town elder…”…Ian!! What..where…are you here to free us?” He whispers desperately…ian didn’t remember him looking quite as tired and frail as he does now, but a few months of captivity can do that to you, he supposes.

“I…I am sorry, Elder. I cannot…” He whispers. The Elder frowns…”I have bad news for you…your family…” Ian nods, cutting him off. “I know, I was there…all are taken captive.” The elder shakes his head…”No, that is not what I meant. Your uncle…he who was once town Hunter…he was here, with us. He is dead.” He says the last as Ian’s eyes suddenly dart around, frantically searching the wagon…but finding no one…the elder must be telling the truth.

“I cannot…no, I must not…” He whispers, trying to get ahold of himself. If he fought back here, he would not succeed…how could he? One man, with a few spells that had limited uses…against an entire caravan of well-armed slavers? No…it would not work. Not even if the slaves led a revolt…then, suddenly, he feels a tremor run through the caravan, and a -clang!- as the bars slam shut, leaving him and the others trapped within. One of the slavers glowers at Ian…”We heard the whole thing. You’re with -them- aren’t you? Well, you can just stay in there and rot…we’ll be putting you up for auction in the next town!!”

Ian’s life had just become -quite- twisted…to be continued