Been awhile! It’s good to be back. Hope you all had a lovely holiday.
I watched Lord Terebril’s shaky hands drip sealing wax onto the letter. He grinned wide as he pressed the seal into the gold blob leaving the imprint of his family crest. I could feel his excitement and the excitement of all the attendants gathered in his study. He took a long look at the letter before handing it off to me. A gold seal was reserved for the most important of letters. It was my first day as his courier and I swallowed hard at the idea of delivering something of such high order.
It felt heavy as I held it. Terebril’s huge hand gripped my shoulder like a vice. He was still grinning from ear to ear, though his teeth were barely visible under his bushy mustache.
“You’re carrying the future there, girl!” he boomed. His voice was famous for echoing off the hills surrounding his manor. He laughed out loud. A great, bellowing that seemed to rattle the windows. The sound shook my teeth and set my heart racing. It had been a long time since a gold sealed letter was good news. The attendants were vibrating with energy, each waving and patting my back as I left the study.
I worked my way through the maze of Terebril’s manor and eventually found my way to the stables. The attendant was there waiting for me. He had a different horse than the one I rode to the manor on. A massive, gray thoroughbred I would swear was nearly eighteen hands high. It had been saddled and made ready for the journey ahead. The stable hand strapped the gold courier’s banner to my back as I walked the horse out into the open. He helped me into the saddle as I had been used to a horse only fifteen hands high.
I could see the Terebril’s attendants watching me from the front entrance of the manor. Before I could turn back to talk to the stable hand, he had slapped the horse on its ass and I was off. I had nearly 20 leagues to cover and barely over a day to do it. We charged past the attendants and out the front gate. The sky was clear, but I knew it could turn this time of year. I pushed the thought from my head and spurred my mount hard.
I felt the tug of the gold banner as it streamed behind me. I would have safe passage through the border, but I feared some of the soldiers on the other side of the mountains would ignore their own laws. It didn’t matter. A gold banner would catch attention all the way and word would travel fast if a courier had been killed.
I drove hard for hours. The green landscape rolling like an ocean all around me. Occasionally, I would pass a small farm and receive a cheer from its inhabitants. Most of the ride this side of the mountains was lonely though. The sun was setting and the foothills were rising in front of me like a great swell. I pushed on.
As I reached the pass, the sun had gone and I was left in darkness until I made it to the watchtower at the border. They drew their bows on me, but I pressed on. The gold banner told them to lay down arms. I was safely through the border, but the pass would be difficult.
I was impressed with the mount I had been given. He seemed to be an older horse, but he outdid any younger horse I had ridden. The steep rise of the mountain pass seemed to barely slow him down. The wind was cutting through me like blades of ice, but my horse never once slowed. It was nearly dawn by the time we made it across. I found a stream at the base of the foothills on the other side and stopped for water for the two of us. We stayed but a moment, yet I feared it had been too costly.
Riding hard into the morning sun, we found ourselves on an ancient, ruined road. Fields of desolation spread all around us. Tendrils of smoke curled toward the sky a short way off the road. I was in the battlefields. This would be the true test. We were alone for what seemed hours before we found ourselves at the edge of a massive camp. The road ran straight through the rows and rows of soldiers’ tents.
I breathed deep and held it as I spurred hard. Sentries had spotted us and now loosed their arrows in our direction. I could see men pouring from their tents and shouting. They would take me soon. I pressed on.
Men on their own horses soon joined the chase. There was no escaping. I pulled the reins and my horse slowed to a trot. Three men on horses blocked my path and we stopped.
“Courier! You are unwelcome in these lands,” one of them shouted to me.
“I know your laws and I carry a gold seal,” I said in return, the words catching in my throat. I pulled the letter from my satchel and held it for him to see. He trotted his horse over and snatched it from my hand. My heart raced and I wanted nothing more than to kick him to the ground. He gave wry smile before breaking the seal.
“Well, this is wartime. The only law we follow is to kill our enemies,” he held the smug smirk until he began to read the letter. I watched him turn pale and his hand trembled as he reached over and gently slipped the piece of paper back into my satchel. “Clear a path! This one will be escorted straight to the city!”
I would not have believed it was happening if I did not see every soldier in front of me clear the road ahead. I looked the soldier on the horse in the eye and spurred my mount forward. It was too much lost time, but I had an escort now. They followed me the remainder of the day.
Farms sprang up along the road as we left the battlefields. At each one, people had gathered to watch us ride. The sun dipped below the horizon again and I knew I still had far to go. Would it be enough that they were my escort? I knew not what the letter had said, but I hoped the reaction it received meant I would at least make it home. The moon was lighting our road, but as we neared the city, the clouds swallowed its glow.
The sentries allowed us to pass when they saw the gold banner and my escort. A horn was sounded and the streets were cleared as I rode to the keep. At the end of my journey, I dropped from the saddle. Exhaustion had nearly taken me when the clouds let loose. I was drenched by the time I reached the inner door. The soldier that had taken my letter walked with me as the others tended to our horses.
An archon greeted us with an extended hand. Not for me, but for the letter. He regarded me through the side of his eye and refused to look at me straight on. The soldier kneeled as I slipped the letter out of the satchel and handed it over.
“This seal is broken. I should have you executed,” he said. His voice was calm and monotonous. The soldier, head still bowed, spoke up.
“I broke it, sir. We meant to take her until I read the letter.”
The archon curled his lip in disgust as he opened the letter. As he read, a single tear fell from his eye. He handed it back to me and hurried away. Once a gold letter had been read by its intended recipient, they could allow anyone else they wished to see it.
I read the following:
We have been at war with your nation for some fifteen years. Both our peoples have been under the spell of the demons of the Dead Keep. Both our nations dwindled as every pair of lovers wishing to conceive a child were met with miscarriage. No child has been born since we began the fighting.
A baby girl was born on the evening of Last Faldie.