“How did you get all the way out here? You don’t even have any supplies. What are you running from?” The plated stranger asked.
“I don’t know.” Was all Cad could say, laying on the ground with his hands on his head. The figure walked around him, studying him and then they picked him up.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” The stranger asked, removing their helmet. It shocked Cad to see that it was a woman, but not like any woman he had ever seen before. She was big, not fat, but even with the plate mail on he could tell that this was a well-built woman. Much bigger than Pike, even. He lost trail of his thoughts looking at this woman, he struggled to focus, he wasn’t really sure what had happened, or even what was happening now. “What’s your name?” She asked.
“Cad, I’m Cad.”
“And your family name?” she asked.
“Err Cadderick.” He answered, not really sure what she meant by family name.
“Your name is Cad Cadderick?”
“No, just Cadderick, but everyone calls me Cad.” The stranger tilted her head, looking at him bemused. Cad was just as confused as she looked.
“Which city are you from?” she asked. Cad looked back at his town, he could just make out the barrier through the trees, he hadn’t got as far as he had thought. He just pointed. “Arcadia?” She asked and Cad nodded, finally something they both understood.
“What are you hiding?” the stranger said, pulling out her sword. “I’m not as stupid as you think. Arcadia has been sealed for centuries.”
“I know!” Cad said, swallowing hard whilst looking at the point of the sword, “One minute I was in there, the next I was on the other side.” He had decided not to mention the lady with the pink hair. Cad wasn’t exactly sure that he hadn’t imagined it. She stared at him for a while.
“For some reason, I believe you.” She said, putting her sword in her sheath. “You know how crazy that sounds though? No one has gotten in or out of that place in centuries.”
“I know.” Cad replied. “I lived there.” She grabbed a rope and tied Cads hands together. He tried to pull away, but she was a lot stronger than him. “What are you doing?” He shouted.
“If you really are from Arcadia,” She said, “Then that means you’re dangerous. I’m not taking any chances.” Her tone had changed from bemused to stern. She pulled tightly on the ropes around his hands, and they hurt.
“I’m not dangerous, I don’t have a weapon, you could easily defeat me.” Cad pleaded; he didn’t know where this was going to lead.
“I know all about you lot, the mages.” She said pulling him along. Cad gulped, how did she know he was a mage and why did she think that made him dangerous? Cad had no clue how to respond, so he just followed her in silence. They reached a clearing in the woods where he could see a pair of horses, one of them was huge, bigger than any he had seen before or even could have imagined, it was almost a silver colour and Cad could tell that this was a strong horse, it was lean, and he could see the horse’s muscles. The other horse was much different, it was a lot smaller, its hair was a dark grey, it even looked unfocused, it was stocky but far from toned. It had lots of bags strapped to his back and it hadn’t even noticed the two newcomers walk into the clearing, it just carried on eating.
The stranger picked Cad up before putting him onto the small horse; he gave no resistance.
“Where are we going?” He asked.
“Well, if you are from Arcadia, I’m sure you will be worth a lot. The king will pay handsomely for you.” And with that, the stranger tied Cads leg around the small horse before fastening his chest with rope so that he was lying on the animal. She then emptied what looked like food out of a cloth bag and put it over Cad’s head. He could see nothing, and there was a strong smell of cheese. Cad just lay there, not making a sound. He closed his eyes and wished he had just stayed home. The further away he got from Arcadia, the more he wanted to be back.
Cad lay on the horse, his stomach hurting from both hunger and from being led awkwardly on the horse. Every footstep taken jolted him, and he could feel it shake through his body. Cad had no more tears left to cry, he just felt empty. He did not know what to do, where to go or what was happening. The first-person Cad had met had treated him like a dangerous person, and yet she was the one in armour holding a sword. He thought about who this King was and why he would pay for Cad, what would he be paying for exactly? His head hurt with all the thoughts going through his head.
Cad suddenly realised that they had come to a stop, he could hear nothing, and he wondered where his jailor was. What was she doing? He tried to scuffle slightly, turned his head to get the sack off his head, but he was tied too tightly. He gasped as the bag came off his head and a hand around his mouth. It was the lady who had captured him; he knew that he should be more worried but was relieved it was a familiar face; she looked at him with a finger to her lips.
“I’m going to release you, but you need to listen carefully.” She whispered. “There’s a large clan of Elfkins tracking us. I don’t know why they are coming, but we need to outrun them. There are too many to fight and I don’t think we can avoid them. I’ve never seen so many in one place.” Cad nodded but didn’t really understand what an Elfkin was, but he assumed that meant they were in trouble. “If it comes down to it, can you fight?” The woman asked and Cad nodded.
“Yeah, I’m feeling quite weak, but I imagine I could probably put up a bit of a fight.” He said, looking at her sword. “I was the best in my town.” She looked at him with concern.
“If you try any funny business, I will cut your head off before you’d even raise your hand, and if you think getting rid of me will help then God help you if the Elfkin catch you.” Cad looked at her as she said this, their eyes met, although she was being quite threatening, he was relaxed, Cad nodded. They seemed to be at an understanding. He noticed she was no longer wearing her metal armour but was in a lighter leathery one. “Can you ride?” She asked. Cad shook his head.
“We only had a couple, they just pulled carts.” Cad responded and his captor sighed.
“Just hold on tight and try not to fall off. I’m not going to leave you to their mercy like I should, but I’m not going to sacrifice myself for you either. Understand?” Again, Cad nodded, his jaw was agape, he did not know what to say, he did not know what was chasing them but a part of him was excited about finally being in a fight, a life-or-death situation. It was what he yearned for, but his stomach was turning in anticipation. Would his first real swordfight be his last? He had never had stakes that were life and death before. He sat on the horse, his companion shouted, and the two horses ran.
Cad struggled to grip the reigns, his heart was beating fast, and he was struggling to maintain balance on the horse. He thought he could hear noises behind him, but he was not willing to look back in case he lost his balance; he closed his eyes and leant forward. He wondered where he would get his sword from, but he could only see the one that she was carrying. He assumed it would be a much shorter sword in one of the bags. Cad felt a whistle behind him, and in the corner of his eye he saw an arrow hit a tree to the left of him. They were being chased. He felt as though he was going to be sick. What if one of those arrows hit him in the back? He would be dead before he even had a chance to fight.
“Keep going!” He heard his companion shout from in front of him, he knew that his horse was struggling, he was carrying both Cad and the supplies, although he had noticed that they had lost a lot of their bags. Cad gripped the reigns tighter and pushed on. He still focussed on trying to keep his balance and watching where his companion was going. They were running through a woodland path, so they kept pushing on straight. Suddenly the horse in front shot off to a path on the right and his horse followed, Cad was not prepared for this and the momentum flung him off the horse.
He hit the ground with a thud and landed on a soft mossy bank but still he felt his body judder at the impact, it knocked the wind out of him, and he hit his head on something hard. The pain immediately rushed to his head. He heard the sounds of many footsteps approaching and then everything faded to black.
Cad came to, his vision was blurry, and he could hear a commotion around him, he grabbed his head where it hurt, there was a large lump. His senses came back, and he could tell that there was a fight going on. He got to his feet. He could see the creatures that were chasing him. They stood like humans but were covered in red fur; they wore loose leathery vests and trousers. They had no shoes but had giant paws for feet. He sniffed at Cad with its snout and stared, the creature’s eyes were a piercing blue colour as he inched towards him and Cad stood frozen in fear. He couldn’t move away, his legs had decided not to listen to his brain, all he could do was stare at the creature as it approached. There was a loud crack and the creature’s head came tumbling from his shoulders next to Cad. The headless body fell to its knees before laying on the floor. Cad still looked on in shock.
“A little help would be nice!” He heard, he noticed his captor was fighting the creatures, bodies lay on the floor as she danced around, slicing limbs off, stabbing at those who got too close, there was a lot for her to handle as they closed in. Cad panicked, he had no weapon, he looked at the headless torso on the floor, it had a crude axe still in its closed hand. Cad pulled it out, which surprisingly gave some resistance. The axe was too heavy for Cad to swing comfortably, so he had to hold it in two hands. He took a swing at the creature closest to him. It was concentrating on his captor. He swung the axe with all of his might and hit the creature right between the shoulder blades. The axe made a sickening crack as Cad could only assume it broke some bones as it became lodged deep within its back, he tried to pick the axe back up, but he couldn’t pry it from the creature, it had gone in too deep.
The noise caused the creatures to turn towards him to see what had just happened. This short moment gave his friend enough time to break out of the circle surrounding her, and Cad heard more limbs fall to the floor. He looked around for another weapon; he picked up a similar axe when an arrow just narrowly missed his hand, hitting the axe and causing him to drop it. He looked to see where the arrow had come from when he saw the creature going for another arrow, a small axe hit him straight in the head, it had come from his captor. There was only one of the creatures left, and it had pinned her to the ground, she was stopping it from driving a sword into her chest, holding the dagger the creature held as much as strongly as she could. She looked at Cad.
“Please,” She gasped, almost pleading, “Help me.” Cad panicked, he didn’t know what to do, so he just charged, he tackled the creature with such force they both began rolling on the floor, Cad’s head was still throbbing. When he pinned the creature to the floor, they both struggled until his captor came along and drove her own dagger through its head. Cad rolled off the creature, panting, exhausted. He felt sick at the smell and the sight of the surrounding blood. He sat there trying to catch his breath.
“You made that a lot more difficult than it needed to be.” The woman said to him, readjusting her own leather armour, and wiping the blood from her sword.
“Couldn’t find a weapon.” Cad puffed, sitting up. Trying not to look at all of the dismembered body parts that surrounded him.
“Couldn’t you have just used your magic?” She asked.
“What use would that do?” Cad asked confused.
“I don’t know, fireball? Lightning? What can you do?”
“Nothing like that!” Cad said, almost laughing.
“I thought you were a mage from Arcadia?” The woman asked. “Or was that a lie? I knew there was something strange about your story. No one comes and goes to Arcadia.”
“I am a mage from Arcadia.” Cad said, feeling unhappy to admit it. “But mages can’t do much, they can only make heat, but everyone can do that.”
“Like fire?” The woman asked, “Show me”
“Not quite fire.” Cad explained, he held out his hands and used his focus to generate the heat in his hands. “Come here, I’ll show you.” He moved closer to her and held out his hands to grab hers. She hesitated at first but put her hands in his.
“What that’s it?” The woman laughed.
“That’s all any of us can do.” Cad said. “We just create warmth into a panel and that keeps the barrier strong.”
“Well, if I ever need to keep my mead warm, I’ll make sure that you’re holding it.” She laughed and she sat down, trying to rub some blood from her face. “So, you’re sure that’s all anyone from Arcadia can do? It’s not anything like the stories that I’ve heard at all.”
“What have you heard?” Cad asked.
“Well, Arcadia is supposed to be a prison of the world’s most dangerous mages. Whose magic is unmatched. The prison was created years ago though, so it was more of a myth than fact. There are lots of different versions, but that’s the most accepted one.” Cad didn’t know what to say, he just laughed.
“No, we don’t have any dangerous magic, we can barely boil a kettle, and it’s not a prison. We keep the barrier to keep away the evil.”
“What evil?” The woman asked. Cad paused, unable to answer.
“No one really knows, but I’ve only met you and those creatures, the creatures tried to kill us, and you tied me up. So probably that.” Cad couldn’t help but laugh. He even saw this woman smiling. Cad couldn’t help noticing that even though she was covered in sweat and blood, he could see she had a beauty about her. Not like any woman he had ever seen in his village, she was stronger than any man he knew and although he was her prisoner, he felt safe with her around. Suddenly a realisation hit him.
“You came back for me?” He said surprised.
“Well, I noticed you fall off the horse, and I did kind of feel guilty about leaving you, you didn’t seem like a bad guy, but I was wary.”
“Well thank you, I’m not an evil person, I’m just lost, and I can’t get back home.” Cad’s thoughts trailed off, he looked at the ground, the thought filled him with sadness.
“Well Cad Cadderick,” The woman said getting to her feet, “I still think our best chance is to go to the king, he will have advisors and scholars who would be better suited to help you. I can show you the way if you’d like, and I promise to not tie you up again. Unless you become a pain in the arse again.” She chuckled. Cad nodded, it was a plan and the only plan he had right now so he thought it would be best. “There’s a stream just through that clearing that we can use to get ourselves washed up. The horse should be back soon, I trained them to stay away from battle and return when it gets quiet. That’s if they survived. The donkey is not so bright, but he should follow.” Cad assumed the donkey was the smaller of the two horses, judging from the vacant expression on its face. She pulled Cad up to his feet and they walked towards the stream.
“What are these things?” Cad asked, picking up a small sword from one of the creature’s hands. He cleaned it on the grass, trying not to look at the blood surrounding him.
“These are Elfkin.” The woman said, “They don’t normally organise themselves like this though, something is very strange about it.”
“Are they like people?” Cad asked.
“They used to be, a long time ago. They were civilised, again a very long time so its unsure how much of this is fact but they burnt themselves out with magic, they lost their minds and survive on basic instincts of food and aggression, they usually live, in colonies, and come out to get food, but this seemed like an organised attack, they don’t normally have the brains to organise something like this. I need to warn the king.”
“Who is the king?” Cad asked, he was listening to her but was having a hard time taking it all in. He felt stupid.
“King Rodderick.” She laughed. “I forget how isolated from the world you have been.” Cad blushed at this. He felt even more stupid. “He is the King of Roshir, his palace is about a four-day ride from here.” She looked at the sky. “Straight up that way.” She said pointing past the stream. Cad did not want to ask any more questions, he already felt stupid enough. His new friend began taking off her leather armour. Cad admired her physique, she was large but muscular, very well defined. He felt his cheeks burn, and his erection pressing against his trousers.
“I’m sorry I don’t even know your name.” Cad said.
“You can call me Gwen, and if it helps, maybe don’t stare.” She laughed, unashamedly washing herself in the spring. Cad tried to cover it up, but he too needed to get clean. He faced away from her and cleaned himself.
Cad was enjoying travelling with Gwen, he was still getting used to riding the donkey, who thankfully showed up along with the horse while they bathed and he was enjoying learning about the world, although he was still upset about not being able to return home, this was more what he was looking for. He was in awe of how big the world actually was, he could easily travel the whole of Arcadia in less than a day and now they had been travelling for three days straight, on horseback, in a straight line and they hadn’t even gotten out of the woodlands, although the trees were a lot more spaced apart now and they could pick the pace up slightly.
He had learnt that Gwen was a bounty hunter, a very good one apparently as she worked directly for the king. When Cad asked her who she was looking for near Arcadia, she dodged the question, apparently being on a personal errand. Cad didn’t push further, but he found it odd that she would be out so far. Then again, he found a lot of things odd in this unknown world but what he was enjoying the most, was the food. Gwen had a selection of dried meats in her sack, and they tasted so much more tender than Cad had experienced. Apparently, they killed the animals young, which gave them a better taste rather than waiting for them to die. Cad thought it was a waste to kill animals so young, but then they had a vast supply that would never run out, so to him it made some sense. He had also enjoyed the cheeses that she had brought; he had never tasted cheese before, which came as a bit of a shock to Gwen, but apart from the meat they were his new favourite food. Gwen kept telling him that these foods were nothing compared to what he could get in the city. His stomach growled every time he thought about the new tastes that he was going to experience.
He had his new sword, which was shorter than he was used to, more like a long knife, dangling from a belt that he had taken off of one of the Elfkin. He felt comfortable having it by his side, although he hoped he would not have reason to use it. It dangled at his side and he thought about Gwen and her sword, and how for a woman of her size, moved so quickly and nimbly, it was almost as if she danced with the sword rather than fought. He admired how good she was with the sword and hoped that he could duel with her; he thought he was a good sword fighter but wondered what it would be like to clash with her, excited for a proper challenge at last.
“Do you think the king can get me home?” Cad asked?
“I’m not sure,” Gwen said, “Like I say, no one has been in or out in centuries, but if anyone can find out, it will be him.”
“What if he can’t?” Cad asked, “What can I do then?”
“You will have to get a job, I suppose. Start a new life. What are you good at? What can you do?”
“I’m good with a sword.” Cad added quicky.
“You didn’t seem it when the Elfkin attacked.” Gwen laughed.
“I didn’t have a sword! Remember!” Cad shouted. He didn’t want her to think he was not a good fighter. It was the one thing that he knew he was good at.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, don’t panic.” She laughed. “The Army is always looking for more soldiers.” Cad remembered learning about armies and soldiers from Casilda, Large groups of men would show up with weapons and battle. Lots of people would die, but whoever died the least, won. This didn’t appeal to Cad.
“I’m more of a one on one, I like to duel.” Cad said.
“Well, there’s not much call for one-on-one fighting, unless you go to the coliseum, but they are the best of the best. I think you would need some training.” Cad got excited.
“Coliseum? What’s that?” He asked.
“It’s where all the duels happen, usually poor people fight to the death and rich people go to watch. Sometimes they will let people fight for gold or for freedom. It’s a really grim experience. I’ve never enjoyed watching.” Cad felt a bit deflated. The way Gwen described it did not sound fun at all.
“If all else fails, I can farm.” Cad laughed.
“How can you farm? You don’t know any of the animals?” Gwen laughed.
“I know enough!” They both laughed, Cad had stopped feeling embarrassed about not knowing much about this place, which was a good job because Gwen was always reminding him. “What are you going to do?”
“Well, I will carry on hunting bounties for the king. I like it, I don’t stay in one place for too long, and the pay is good, as long as I can catch them.” Cad felt sad thinking that she would leave him once they got to Roshir.
“Maybe I could work with you?” Cad asked. Gwen hesitated.
“Thing is I only work alone, one bounty, one payment you see. Plus, it’s much easier moving around unseen when there’s only one of you. I’m sorry.” Cad felt disappointed. Truth was, it scared him to be away from Gwen. She was the only person he knew, and he had become attached to her. “You wouldn’t want to do it anyway, its hard sometimes, never settling down, not having a home, always on the road.”
“I don’t have a home either, or I do, I just can’t get there.” Cad said.
“Well, maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves, maybe the King can help you get back home.” Cad thought that is what he wanted, but why didn’t he feel happy when he thought of it. It was almost like he was enjoying not being trapped in Arcadia. He hadn’t been out enough to think about it, though. Gwen sensed his silence. “Let’s stop and make camp.” She said and Cad’s stomach grumbled as he thought of what meal they would have when they settled.
Cad made a small fire for cooking while Gwen unpacked her things. It was earlier than they would normally camp, but Cad was not complaining. Gwen prepared two rabbits that she had caught earlier that day. Cad enjoyed the rabbit, but it was not his favourite meat. He did however find it difficult to eat something that was alive just moments ago. Killing to eat seemed so harsh, but being out in the middle of nowhere, he didn’t really have much of a choice. As Gwen was stirring the rabbit stew, she suddenly jerked upwards, Cad had been staring at her and also jumped when she made this movement. Her hand went to reach for her sword, before she relaxed again and carried on stirring.
“Hello Dyne.” She said, Cad did not know who she was talking to, when suddenly a small figure stepped out from behind the bushes, causing Cad to jump.
“Ahh goddamit! If my bounties were like you, I’d make no bloody money. Who is the kid?” He asked, looking at Cad.
“That’s my Nephew Cad. Leave him be, he’s quite quiet. I’m taking him to Roshir.” Cad and the figure stared at each other. He was just over half the size of Cad; he was stocky but if it hadn’t had been for his wild beard Cad would assume he was a child. Dyne grunted; Cad could not help but stifle a smirk at how ridiculous it looked to him.
“Something funny boy?” Dyne asked and Cad went white.
“Leave him, I said. He’s been through a lot. What are you doing here?” Dyne stared at Cad for a little while longer, Cad stared at his feet, not wishing to upset him further.
“Just seen, there was a huge Elfkin attack about 20 leagues south of here. Very unusual to see so many dead in one place, wasn’t in a colony either.”
“Yeah, that was us.” Gwen replied.
“Shoulda known you had summit to do with it. Where did they all come from?”
“No idea, they just surrounded us, they had been tracking us too, I thought we had outrun them.” Said Gwen.
“I was going to inform Rodderick, but I assume that’s what you’re on your way to do?” Said Dyne.
“Yes, I’m going to tell KING Rodderick.” Said Gwen, emphasising the King. If Dyne had noticed, he didn’t show it.
“Well, I might as well come with you, got my bounty to turn in.” Dyne said, sitting next to Cad. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out something that looked like beans. He ate them, waving some in Cad’s face before offering them. Cad just shook his head. He was still wondering who this strange little man was.
“Where?” Asked Gwen. Dyne opened the sack he was carrying and pulled out a man’s head. It had a shocked expression on his face, Cad looked away, it made him feel sick. Dyne laughed as he held the head out at arm’s length. Proud of his trophy. “For god’s sake put it away, man. You know they are worth more alive.”
“I know, it’s just their heads come off so easy.” The dwarf chuckled, putting the head back in the sack with a chuckle.
“This is Dyne, by the way.” Gwen said to Cad. “He’s another bounty hunter, a little less…. refined than most of us, but he does the job.”
“Less refined? I don’t know what you mean.” Laughed the dwarf as he tied the sack back up and carried on munching his beans. “So where are you from, boy?”
“Arcadia.” Cad said simply. As he did, Gwen turned quickly to shush him, but she knew it was too late.
“And I’m from the fuckin rainbow forest.” He said turning to Gwen, “Gwen, I don’t like your nephew, he is a dick.” Gwen did not know what to say, she just looked at Cad and then at Dyne and back again, Cad was also lost for words, he didn’t know what to say. “What’s going on?” Dyne asked looking at her suspiciously whilst munching his beans.
“Ok, he is from Arcadia. He’s trapped outside. Apparently, he fell through the barrier.” Dyne stood up, edging away from Cad.
“And you believe that nonsense. If he was from Arcadia, he’d have killed you by now.” Cad felt himself go red, another person who believed that he was dangerous just because he was from Arcadia, would everyone think that?
“I believe him, and they are not like we thought, they don’t even have magic. He nearly died fighting the Elfkin, if he could do magic, he would have used it to save himself. No one has magic in Arcadia.”
“Then why are they all locked up.” Dyne asked.
“They don’t think that they are they think that they are protecting themselves from us.” Cad wondered what she meant by that. Was Arcadia a jail? Why would they all be imprisoned, none of them did anything wrong?
“Seems strange to me.” Dyne said, eyeing up Cad once more.
“Just shut up and have some stew.” Gwen said putting a bowl in his hands. She then gave Cad a bowl, and they ate in silence for a while. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen a dwarf before either, have you?” Gwen asked Cad, Cad shook his head. Dyne’s jaw dropped.
“Well, you’ve started with the best lad. You won’t find another dwarf quite like me.” Dyne laughed and patted Cad on the back. Not a soft pat. More like a whack, Cad struggled to keep hold of his stew. “So, what’s the plan.”
“I’m taking him to the King, see if he can get him home.”
“Better make sure you keep quiet about Arcadia boy; people will think you are mad.” Dyne said. “I think maybe we are the mad ones for believing him.”
“Thank you,” Said Gwen, “For believing.”
“Well, it’s a tough one, but you’ve never steered me wrong before. And even if it is a bag of bollocks, well, it will be an interesting story. I’m coming with you, of course.” Cad felt like he should be part of the conversation, they were discussing him of course, he did not know what to say. So, he just continued to eat his stew in silence. “Have you got any mead to go with this stew?” Gwen stared at him, “Ahhh ok but I’ve been sober, for three days now, things are hurting.” He said guzzling down the last of his stew. Dyne stood up and emptied another sack, getting out some old green blanket to make a bed, Cad noticed that he had a pair of metal gloves. Bigger than any that he’d seen before. As Dyne laid in his makeshift bed, he caught Cad looking at them. “You like them boy?”
“What are they?” Cad asked.
“These are my gauntlets. I prefer to deal with my enemies’ hand to hand. I’m not a fan of blades like our friend Gwen.”
“That’s only because you are too stupid not to cut yourself with them.” Gwen laughed.
“But if you don’t use blades, then how did you cut that guy’s head off?” Asked Cad, nodding at the sack containing the dismembered head.
“I didn’t cut it off,” Dyne said, “I pulled it off.” And with that, Dyne rolled over and started snoring straight away. Cad looked at Gwen, who just shrugged her shoulders and smiled. Cad lay down in his own bed, trying not to think of the horrific image of Dyne pulling the head off of the body. He wondered if the man was alive or dead when he did it, but judging by the expression on the dismembered head, Cad knew the answer.
Cad was not comfortable sleeping that night with a stranger so close, and his snoring echoed throughout the camp, but Gwen trusted him, so Cad tried his best. He was feeling a little jealous as the three of them rode onwards. They laughed and joked together while Cad felt a little left out; he preferred it when it was just him and Gwen.
“Remember boy, if anyone asks, you are from Hawks rift, and you are coming to look for work.” This was the cover story they had come up with in the morning. Gwen thought it was a good idea not to let anyone know he was from Arcadia. Cad nodded in agreement but felt resentful taking instructions from Dyne. This was supposed to be him and Gwen, but he pressed on and tried to push feelings of jealousy away. They had chatted more, and Cad couldn’t think of any reason not to like the dwarf, apart from him taking away his time with Gwen. She had gotten Cad to show Dyne the warming magic, which sent him into fits of hysterics. Laughing that this is the power that people are afraid of. Cad didn’t laugh with them. He did not want people to be afraid of him.
They had made their way out of the woodlands, and Cad could smell the familiar smell of manure. They were on a farm; the farm went as far as the eye could see, vegetables growing in blocks bigger than the entire farm in Arcadia, many of which he didn’t recognise. There were also animals, more animals than he had ever seen in his life. They walked their horses along the outskirts of the farm. It amazed him at how big it all was and how many people were working there. He noticed a lot of different people, different sizes, different hair and more peculiarly, different colours of their skin. There were some who had darker skin than he had ever seen, and also, he spotted two people whose skin was bright blue, almost glowing. It all amazed him.
“There’s always plenty of work here if you need it.” Gwen said. “Just have a word with the head farmer and he can usually give you some work, he has some rooms too and many people work for the room, if you needed a place to stay. Of course, if you joined the army like you said then you would live in the barracks, so don’t worry about not having a roof over your head just yet.” Cad knew she was trying to be helpful, but he didn’t want to think of that. Now that he was out, he wanted to explore more. He wanted to stay with Gwen. He didn’t want to settle into the first farm he saw and spend the rest of his life here. Then again, he knew he would need money.
Gwen had told him all about how everything here costs money. You can’t just get your rations, you have to buy it, but there’s no limit on what you can buy. Cad was excited about being able to have as much as he wanted. He knew he needed a job for money, but if he settled into a job, he would have no time to use that money doing what he wanted. Still, it was much better than being a mage. The more time he spent out of Arcadia, the less he wanted to go back. Although sometimes feelings of guilt would hit him, he knew his father was still in trouble and that him and his mother would be going out of their minds with worry. He felt sad that he never got to say goodbye.
They soon approached a large city gate, it was opened and when Cad looked through; it amazed him at what he was seeing, buildings made of bricks, people everywhere, it was so busy. Cad imagined the entire town of Arcadia could fit in one of the bigger houses.
“Welcome to Roshir.” Dyne said, smacking Cad on the back. “It’s a shit hole.”
“It’s amazing.” Cad said. They didn’t go through the gate just yet, they went to a man just outside the gate, Gwen talked to him, but Cad wasn’t listening, he was too busy looking at the hustle and bustle of the town. Gwen extended her hand to help Cad down from the donkey, and the man led the horses away.
“He looks after the horses for us when we are in town, shall we have a look around before we go to the palace?” Gwen asked.
“Yes, please.” Said Cad enthusiastically. He heard Dyne sigh.
“We can always show Cad what the taverns are like?” Gwen said to him. The Dwarf gave a big cheesy smile. “You have a tavern in Arcadia?” Cad shook his head, “I think we should visit one first.” Gwen led Cad down the streets, Cad was looking left and right, trying to soak in every shop. There were shops for everything Cad could think of, clothes, shoes, furniture, food. He wanted to look inside every one of them but knew he needed money. The thought depressed him that there was so much here to have but no money to buy it. “Here we go.” Gwen said, opening a door to a small building. The sign outside said, ‘The Huntsman’s Arms’ “This is where we go to relax.” Gwen said.
“Well, one of the places.” said Dyne. “Three meads please.” Said the dwarf with joy in his voice. “And what are you two having?” He chuckled.
“I’ll have a mead too.” Laughed Gwen. “Cad, do you like mead.”
“Never tried it.” Cad admitted.
“Another two meads Barkeep.” Shouted Dyne. Let’s get these down us. The dwarf skilfully carried his three glasses while Cad and Gwen followed him. They sat at an empty table.
“There’s not many people here.” Said Cad.
“It’s early.” Gwen told him. “Most will be working. This place will be packed later.” Cad sipped his mead. It was strong but soothing. He enjoyed it and downed it. Dyne had drunk his three in the same amount of time that it took Cad to drink his one.
“That’s my boy.” Dyne shouted, smacking him on the back. “More?”
“Sure.” Cad laughed, enjoying the warmth of the tavern and the feeling the mead was giving him. “Gwen?” Asked Dyne. Cad noticed she had only drunk a little of hers.
“We need to go see the king.” Gwen said sternly, “We can’t go see him steaming drunk.”
“Come on, Gwen. Come on Gwen.” Chanted Dyne banging his fists on the table. Cad laughed and joined in, both of them chanting.
“Aww hell.” Said Gwen, downing her drink. “We can always see the king tomorrow.” Dyne and Cad cheered as she finished her drink. Dyne sprang out of his seat.
“Another round barkeep.” Shouted Dyne from the table as he went over with the empty glasses. He returned with another five meads.
“I think I had better get us a room for the night.” Gwen said drinking her mead and walking to the bar. She shortly returned with more mead for everyone. “They’ve only got one room, so we all got to share.” A young boy came to pick up all of their belongings. They handed over their weapons. Cad reluctantly gave over his sword.
“Sorry, you should have given them in when you come in.” The young boy said, embarrassed to be taking their weapons.
“They know us here, so they are a little loose on the rules.” Gwen said to Cad. “But it’s not good to be drunk and handling weapons. They will take them to our rooms, though don’t worry.” Cad nodded to say he understood, then drank another mead. As soon as he had finished, Dyne placed another one in front of him.
“So, lad, what do they have to drink in Arcadia?” Dyne asked. Gwen hushed him.
“Keep it down.”
“I know, I know, I’m just curious.” He said, with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Well, we only have some ale and whisky, but we can very rarely have it. I’ve never had much.
“Well, tonight will be a lesson for you, my boy.” The dwarf chuckled. “Hurry up.” He said collecting all the empty glasses before going for more. Cad finished the drink as quick as he could, it was harder than the first, but he was enjoying himself none the less. He could feel his head spinning.
“So, you’ve never been drunk before?” Gwen asked.
“No. I know my dad has been a couple of times, but it’s hard to get enough ale or whisky, and when you do you need to ration it out.”
“Well, the good thing about a tavern.” Said Gwen, “Is that the taps never run dry!”
“Wayyyyyyy.” Shouted Dyne as he walked over skilfully holding five glasses of mead at once. “And I am extremely grateful.” He said clinking glasses with Gwen and then Cad. The tavern filled up as the evening went on. Cad and his friends were the loudest by far, and he was loving every minute of it. They danced when the music played, Cad didn’t recognise any of the songs or even the instruments, but the beat made him want to get out of his seat and dance, luckily Dyne was the first one dancing so he didn’t feel silly, Gwen joined them shortly after.
Cad had forgotten all about his troubles. He wasn’t thinking of Arcadia and his parents; he wasn’t thinking of being a mage; he was just enjoying his time. Dancing with his two new friends. The tavern started spinning, and he felt unsteady on his feet, so he sat back down.
“A little too much?” Said Gwen sitting beside him. “It’s ok, we have been putting it away.”
“Just feeling dizzy, that’s all.” Cad slurred. Gwen chuckled.
“It’s a natural part of being drunk, enjoy it.” Said Gwen resting an arm on his shoulder.
“I want to keep doing this.” Cad said.
“Well, we got all night, although slow the drinking down If you want to last the night.”
“No, I mean after tonight, I want to stay with you, hell I even want to stay with Dyne.” He admitted.
“You must be drunk,” Gwen laughed. “You’d have to be to want to stay with Dyne.”
“I like you.” Cad admitted looking at Gwen, not knowing where this courage was coming from.
“I noticed.” She said at him, smiling. “When we bathed in the stream, you made it clearly obvious.” Cad felt embarrassed and put his head in his hands. “Look, I’m very flattered, but am I the only woman you know right now? It wouldn’t work. There is a lot more, beautiful women out there. I told you I have no plans of settling down. So, try not to think about it.”
“I’ve seen other women.” Cad argued, “There’s even some in here. I still prefer you.” Cad said, gesturing to the two women who were dancing with Dyne.
“You’re serious?” Gwen asked. “Look your young and drunk, it wouldn’t be right. You’re very sweet though, thank you.” She leaned in to kiss his cheek but ended up kissing him passionately on the lips. She pulled away. “Sorry, I know I’m giving mixed signals, maybe I’ve had too much mead too. Let’s forget that happened.” She said before getting up and staggering towards the bar. Cad watched her go and wiped his lips. She was amazing, Cad really didn’t want to leave her. She returned to the table with more glasses, Dyne shortly sat with them, sweating from all the dancing, he also brought a handful of glasses, the table was full of glasses of mead.
“Well, we may as well make it a memorable one if it’s our only one.” Dyne said, drinking his mead. Cad didn’t know what to say. He thought it would be best to keep quiet and keep drinking. He enjoyed himself again, quickly getting over the embarrassment. The night faded in his head and he could not remember much of what was happening. Just that he was having a good time.
Cad woke up confused. He wasn’t sure where he was, his mouth was dry, and his head was hurting. What worried him the most though was that he was not wearing any clothes. He sat up; he was in a comfortable bed. He looked around; Gwen lay next to him facing away. His foot touched something. He looked down and saw Dyne was also sleeping in the bed. Cad looked around and saw his clothes all mixed up on the floor. He looked at them; they were in a state, not just from last night, but he had been wearing them for well over a week now. There were stains covering them, he needed new ones. He quietly changed to hide his modesty.
Dyne stirred before opening his eyes. He got out of the bed, also completely naked. He didn’t even try to hide it. He stretched, yawned and smacked his chops.
“What a night!” He laughed too loudly for Cad. “For a young one, you know how to drink. Hair of the Dog, I think. Shall I get you one?”
“Hair of the Dog?” Cad asked. His mouth was so dry all he wanted was a drink.
“It means another mead; shall I get you one? It will stop your head from hurting.”
“Oh, no.” Said Cad, the thought of mead right now turned his stomach. “I won’t be drinking that for a while.” Dyne laughed.
“Gwen, drink?” He said again, loudly, Cad’s head was ringing.
“God no.” Said Gwen, “I think I will die.”
“Just me then.” Said Dyne cheerfully as he walked out of the door.
“So, if that was your first time drunk, I assume this is your first hangover?” Gwen asked him, getting out of bed.
“Yes...” Cad answered but was interrupted by the door shooting open and Dyne rushing back in.
“Forgot my clothes.” He was bright red as he hurriedly put on his clothes from last night. Cad laughed, but he regretted it. Laughing hurt his head and his stomach turned more. He was holding back having to vomit.
“It will pass.” Said Gwen, “I don’t know if you remember much of last night?” she asked.
“Not really,” said Cad, “Just a lot of dancing and…” He remembered kissing her, how warm it felt, how much he had wanted it. “That’s pretty much it.” He lied.
“Nothing happened.” Gwen said pointing at the bed, “If that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Oh no, not at all.” Cad said the thought hadn’t even occurred to him. Especially with Dyne in the same room.
“OK, so don’t worry yeah, it was a fun night for all of us. Now you may want to turn around while I get dressed.” Cad blushed and apologised. He was staring again; he couldn’t help it. Luckily Gwen didn’t get annoyed at him, she just thought it was funny. She had no shame being naked around him, anyway. “I’ll go and see about getting us some baths.” Said Gwen as she left the room. Cad sat alone on the bed, holding his head in his hands. It was pounding. He just wanted to lay there and stay in bed forever. It wasn’t long before Dyne walked in holding three glasses of mead.
“Oh, I said I didn’t want one.” Said Cad, looking at the mead as though it was poisonous. The sight of it making him want to vomit.
“I didn’t get you one.” Said Dyne as he downed all three, Cad looked on in disgust. “If you’re going to be a wimp about it, get yourself a water.” He flicked a coin towards Cad. His reactions were extremely slow. He missed the coin completely and had to pick it up from the floor.
“I think I may need one.” He said, thanking Dyne for the coin and heading to the door. He walked down the stairs and into the main room of the tavern. He didn’t even remember coming up those stairs last night. He walked to the bar; he saw the barkeep who was there the night before.
“Hope you’re not going to redecorate my bathroom again.” The barkeep said.
“Uh pardon?” Cad asked, confused.
“Still struggling to remember, are you?” The barkeep laughed. “You vomited everywhere. Took old Fran a while to clean up, I would try not to bump into her today if I were you.”
“I’m so sorry.” Cad said extremely embarrassed.
“It’s no harm, you three put so much money behind the bar last night it’s hard to be annoyed. Dyne is always welcome here, and I’ve never seen Gwen drink so much, very rare anyone tries to keep up with Dyne. Anyway, what can I get you.” He said nodding at the coin Cad is holding.
“Oh, just some water, please.”
“Excellent choice.” The barkeep says filling up a glass for him and giving him some smaller coins back. “So how come I’ve never seen you before, where are you from?” Cad froze. He couldn’t remember the story.
“I’m not from around here.” Cad said, hesitating. He was trying to think of the name of the town. His head hurt as he tried to think about it. He couldn’t think how to respond so he just looked down and drank his water, even that made his stomach turn but his mouth felt much better.
“It’s ok if you want to be mysterious.” The barkeep laughed. “But any friend of Dyne is a friend of mine. Half of my takings come out of his pocket; it seems. Can you share your name? My name’s Arthur, but most people just call me keep.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Cad. Any time you are travelling through your always welcome at the Huntsman’s Arms.”
“Thank you.” Said Cad, finishing his water. Just then Gwen walked through the door. She nodded at Arthur, who gave a cheery wave. Then turned to Cad.
“Let’s take a quick walk.” She said ushering him out of the tavern. The brightness of the sun burned Cad’s eyes. His head still throbbed, but it was milder than before. “We need to go to the King today. Maybe don’t mention last night if it comes up.” She said, Cad just nodded in agreement. He was nervous about this King. “We need you to get ready to see him. You can’t go walking into the palace dressed like that.” Cad looked down. His clothes were tattered and stained. He looked around at the people in the town, their outfits were all so bright. He wasn’t sure if it was the hangover, but he remembered when he saw them yesterday it was full of colours. Some colours Cad had never even seen before. All the clothes in Arcadia were grey, brown or black.
“But I haven’t got any money.” Cad said.
“It’s ok it’s on me.” Gwen said.
“No please, I forget about the whole money thing. You and Dyne spent money on me all night last night. I didn’t even have anything to give.”
“Call it payment for saving my life from the Elfkin.”
“I wouldn’t have needed to save your life if you hadn’t come back for me, so I should owe you.” Cad protested.
“Listen, we need to get you ready for the king. You have no money. So, you are going to shut up and take my money. Use it to buy something nice. We can figure out repayment another time if it bothers you that much.” Cad straightened up at her abruptness.
“OK, thanks… I appreciate it.” He said weakly.
“I know you do, now let’s go find something in here.” She opened the door to a shop. Inside, were so many clothes like Cad had never seen, all different colours and styles. He did not know what to do. The shop keeper looked him up and down in disgust. Cad pretended not to notice. Gwen called the shopkeeper over, handed him some money and spoke.
“He’s seeing the king today; he needs something new to wear.”
“You’re telling me.” The shopkeeper said. “Very well,” he rushed around the shop like a madman, “Red is in season so you will need something red.” He muttered to himself. He picked up a red coat with gold buttons. “Yes, this will do now let’s see.” He grabbed a piece of string and pulled Cad’s arms up, so that they were straight, then held the string against him. “Yes, yes, and the leg.” He said crouching down and pushing the string against the side of Cad’s buttocks and foot. Cad blushed; he was not sure he liked this man. He rushed around, picking up a few other clothes. “Black trousers, white shirt. Hm I suppose you will need new underwear too? Don’t answer that, I don’t want to know.” He muttered, piling them all into a sack. “Now I would like you to try them on before I give them to you, but I must insist that you wash first. And if there’s anything that doesn’t fit, bring it back and I will adjust it for you. Now off you go.” He waved Cad and Gwen out of the shop. Cad thought the man was quite rude. Nothing like Arthur. “And please, when you take off those old clothes. Burn them.” And with that, the shop keep shut the door behind them.
Cad looked up at Gwen.
“Thank you, I guess.”
“Don’t mind him, it’s just his way.” She laughed. “When it comes to style, he knows what’s best. Now let’s go back and have that bath.”
When they got back to the tavern Dyne greeted them, sat at a table with three glasses, one full of mead and two empty ones.
“Care for a drink.” He raised his last glass to them and drank it. Arthur followed up with three more without Dyne even asking. Gwen shook her head.
“Why do you always drink three at a time?” Cad asked, he thought it was strange.
“I’m just being nice to Arthur, saving his shoe leather.” He chuckled before starting on a fresh glass. Cad noticed his hair was under control now, he had smartened up.
“How was the bath?” Cad asked.
“Good, now, if you’re not going to drink, I suggest you get up there and have one, otherwise everyone’s going to assume that everyone from Arcadia smells like my morning breath.” Gwen glanced at Arthur, who wasn’t listening before slamming her hand on the table and pointing.
“Quiet.” She said jabbing him with her finger. “But he’s right. Have a bath, we will wait here. Take these clothes with you, get dressed. And you don’t have to burn those clothes, but I would suggest you get rid of them.” Cad nodded; she was right. Some of these stains would never come out.
He followed the signs to the bathroom and found the bath already prepared for him. The water was scalding. Much hotter than he had been able to bathe in before. It took him a while to get in, but once he did, it felt amazing. He laid there for a while, his headache subsiding. He scrubbed himself. It was much easier to get clean in this scorching water. He didn’t want to get out. He found some cream on the side of the bath that smelt like flowers. He rubbed it on himself, assuming that was what it was for, and rubbed some in his hair. His hair was thick and matted, he had never cleaned it as thoroughly as he did now; he felt a softness to it. He had finished his bath and dried himself. He tried on the new clothes. The clothes were so much softer than he was used to. They clung to his body comfortably. They were the perfect fit. He put on his coat and had to admit; he looked nothing like the boy who left Arcadia. He was a new man.
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