Authors: M.L. Forman
“Where is everybody?” Alex asked in concern. “We’re not too late are we?”
“Not late at all,” replied Arconn, ringing the golden bell. “Though you’re not as early as you might have been.”
Servants once again appeared at the sound of the bell, bringing breakfast for Alex and Andy.
“The others have gone to collect the horses,” Arconn said, taking a piece of toast. “You’ll have time to eat before they return.”
Alex and Andy didn’t waste any time, but started piling eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes on their plates, and eating at full speed. After several minutes with only the noise of their utensils, Andy broke the silence.
“The others were up early,” he said, spitting bits of toast on the table. “I thought we’d all eat together.”
“The others have many concerns,” said Arconn. “They are less in need of sleep and more in need of doing.”
“Did they sleep at all?” Andy asked, pushing his chair back from the table and looking at the dark window. “It’s not even daybreak yet.”
“We’ve all slept,” Arconn replied, smiling. “And daybreak isn’t far off.”
“How far away is the great arch?” Alex questioned, pushing his own chair back.
“Two hours’ hard ride,” answered Arconn. “But we should get there in about four hours. Perhaps a little more. I doubt we’ll pass through the arch until after our midday meal.”
“And Bregnest still needs to give us final instructions,” Andy added, looking at Alex.
“What to do if you get separated from the group, or lost, or something,” Andy answered. “You know, just in case.”
“Or in case you run into trouble that the company needs to know about,” Arconn added.
“Aren’t we all traveling together?” Alex asked in alarm.
“Yes, we are,” said Arconn with a slight laugh. “But you never know what might happen on an adventure. It’s best to be prepared.”
“If you’re finished, Alex,” Andy said, “we should probably head to the stables.”
Alex swallowed the last bite of his breakfast. “I’ve never ridden a horse,” he said, sounding more nervous than he would have liked.
“Don’t worry,” said Andy, patting Alex on the shoulder. “Bregnest picked good horses. I don’t imagine you could fall off unless you really tried. Maybe not even then.”
“He’s quite right,” said Arconn, standing up. “Bregnest is a good judge of horses as well as of men. You have nothing to worry about.”
Alex was worried, though, even with Arconn’s reassurance. He’d never been up close to a horse, not because he’d never had the chance, but because they scared him. They were big and seemed to know things about people. Alex remembered when Todd had been bitten by a horse. Somehow the horse had known Todd was up to something he shouldn’t have been. Alex remembered the look in the horse’s eyes and he had stayed clear of horses ever since.
“These are for you,” said Arconn, handing Alex a package as they walked to the front of the Golden Swan. “I thought they might be useful.”
“Thank you,” said Alex, slightly puzzled. He thought about all the gear he and Andy had bought the previous day and wondered what they could have forgotten.
Opening the package, Alex found two books. The first was a thin book bound in black leather.
was written on the cover in silver letters. The second book was much larger and its binding was made of something Alex didn’t recognize. There was nothing written on the cover of the second book, and when he opened it, Alex saw that the pages were covered in strange markings he couldn’t read.
“What is it?” Alex asked.
“It is a book of magic,” Arconn answered in a serious tone. “It will teach you many things you may need to know on this adventure. However, it will teach you only a small part of what you will need to know if you want to be a wizard.”
“But I can’t read the writing,” Alex said softly, not wanting to offend Arconn.
“I don’t imagine you can,” said Arconn, a smile returning to his face. “But in time you will learn how to read this book, and I will help you as much as I can.”
“But you’re not a wizard,” said Alex without thinking. “I mean, you said before that—”
“You are correct.” Arconn laughed. “I am not a wizard and could never be one. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some magic of my own.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“It is all right,” Arconn said. “You have much to learn, and your words have not offended.”
“Thank you,” Alex said again, not knowing what else to say. He looked at the books once more before putting them in his magic bag.
“And you don’t need to look so worried, Master Goodseed,” Arconn added, looking at Andy. “The others know I have given this book to Alex.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Andy protested. “I was just curious about the magic bit.”
“Be careful of your curiosity,” Arconn warned. “Magic in the hands of those without the gift is often harmful, both to themselves and to others.”
“I know it well,” said Andy, bowing slightly to Arconn, a dark shadow crossing his face.
“Here come the others,” said Arconn, stepping into the road. “It’s time for the adventure to begin at last.”
“Courage, master wizard,” Skeld laughed, holding the reins to an extra gray horse. “You need not fear so common a thing as a horse.”
“I’m not a wizard,” Alex replied, embarrassed that Skeld could see how nervous he was.
“She is a kind animal,” Skeld said with a friendly smile. “She’ll carry you far and to good fortune.”
Alex looked at the large silver-gray horse in front of him, a touch of fear running down his back. The horse in turn looked at Alex, her clever eyes watching him cautiously. Alex stepped closer and put his hand gently on the horse’s neck.
“She is called Shahree,” said Bregnest, riding up to Alex. “It means ‘great heart’ in the ancient language of Alusia.”
“Shahree,” Alex repeated softly.
The horse shook her head up and down, looking at Alex with what he could only describe as happiness. Alex felt a surge of confidence, though he wasn’t sure why. Legs shaking only slightly, he climbed into the saddle and tried to make himself comfortable.
“And so we begin,” said Bregnest, starting down the road.
Alex and his companions formed two lines behind Bregnest and Arconn. Thrang and Halfdan rode in front of Skeld and Tayo, while Andy rode next to Alex at the back of the group. They followed a well-traveled road that led them south out of Telous. Green fields flanked the road on both sides, and a pair of low stone walls divided the road from the fields.
Alex’s fear of riding soon vanished as Shahree carried him gently on her back, and after a few minutes, he managed to make himself comfortable in the saddle. He watched as the landscape slowly changed from well-kept fields to open meadows. The stone walls continued long after the fields were left behind, but they finally ended in two large posts at the roadside.
“We’re leaving the lands of Telous,” said Andy, pointing to one of the posts.
“What land are we entering now?” Alex asked.
“This is free land,” said Andy. “It belongs to no one, though the people of Telous come here often to hunt.”
“Wild game,” Andy laughed. “This land is too tame for anything more than deer and rabbits.”
“Oh,” said Alex, annoyed by how little he knew.
There was little talk as they rode along, the road slipping away beneath them. The large meadows changed to tree-covered hills with smaller meadows between them. Several small streams crossed the road, but none of them were very deep.
After riding for what seemed like a long time, Alex could see two large hills ahead of them on the road. A large and ancient-looking tower stood on top of each hill. Alex wondered what the towers might be for, and as they continued to move toward them, he felt sure that they marked the great arch. His excitement grew; he wanted to see the magic arch that would let them pass into a new land.
“We’ll eat here,” said Bregnest, as he dismounted from his horse. “Fill all your water bags and containers. It may be several days before we find good water again.”
Alex climbed off Shahree with a bit of trouble. He was not used to riding, and his legs felt wobbly once he was standing again. Shahree stood still for him, giving him a look that said, “I understand, and it’s all right.” Alex patted Shahree’s neck softly and thanked the horse under his breath.
Following Andy to a nearby spring, Alex retrieved the many water bags Andy had insisted he buy. Yesterday, Alex had thought Andy was mad to insist on so many water bags; today, Alex was glad he had them.
After he’d filled his water bags and stored them in his magic bag, Alex walked stiffly back to the others. They were gathered around a small fire, sitting quietly and watching as Thrang cooked their meal.
“Final instructions while we eat,” said Bregnest, accepting a plate of food from Thrang. “Then we will arm, and divide some food between us. Am I correct in thinking that we all do not have food in our bags?”
“All but two have food enough,” Skeld laughed, nodding toward Alex and Andy.
Alex hadn’t thought of buying food while he and Andy were shopping the day before. Andy hadn’t taken him to any shops to buy food, though now it seemed like an obvious thing to think of. Now it was too late, and Alex had no idea how much food he would need for himself, let alone the other members of his company.
“I think there will be plenty for all,” said Bregnest with a smile. “It will be a good thing for each of us to have some food in our bags. You never know what might happen on an adventure. Having a little extra food in your bag might make the difference between finishing the quest and starving to death.
“First, however, the final instructions,” Bregnest continued. “We have all signed the Bargain and know what is expected if any or all of our company should fall. We have also agreed, except for our eighth man, that if any are lost, we will try to find them. The time limit on this search will be thirteen days, as specified in the
“Do you agree to this, Alex?” Arconn asked as Bregnest paused.
“Yes, I agree,” answered Alex.
“Very well then,” said Bregnest, his tone remaining serious. “After the thirteenth day of searching, the lost person or persons are free to do what seems best to them. If they wish to continue the adventure to its end or return to Telous, none here will say anything against their choice.”
Alex accepted his own plate from Thrang. The instructions seemed sensible, but he hoped he would not need to remember them later. He wondered how he would ever be able to find his way back to Telous if he got lost.
“Finally, I wish you all luck,” said Bregnest with a smile.
“Luck,” the rest of the company said loudly.
They finished eating in silence; soon Thrang stood to collect the plates. The rest of the company began producing packages of food from their magic bags and giving them to Andy and Alex.
“Thrang and Arconn will keep the freshest things,” said Skeld. “They’ve got ice rooms in their bags.”
“Ice rooms?” Alex questioned, looking at Andy.
“Rooms that stay cold,” Andy answered. “I thought about ordering you one, but I didn’t want to go too far with Thrang’s gold.”