Sounds in the middle of the night were a death sentence. When there was a sound at the entrance of his tent, Prince Cletus was up with his sword in hand an instant later. His wards had been taken down, and he felt magic outside. One of his brothers… or The Reaper? Hearing any sound at all indicated it was the former. As soon as the tent flap moved, he swung his sword. It was enchanted to cut through magical defenses to some extent, but his sword instead clanked off of a metal bracer.
“Nice to see you too, Cletus,” a voice whispered. Prince Faron. “There was no way to wake you up quietly without dispeling your wards. Get dressed and ready. We’re leaving.”
“No time to explain. Get ready, or get left behind.”
Cletus hesitated only a moment before he nodded. “Fine. I’ll be only a few minutes.”
He let the tent flap fall and lit a candle, quickly gathering his things as he opened his spellbook, memorizing his shield spell for the day. Faron might have been a tricky sort, but they were in an alliance… and the tone had sounded all too sincere. Something was up, and they had to leave suddenly. That meant death was on the horizon. Cletus packed up a quick travel bag and memorized as many spells as he could, just in case something went wrong- or he was being deceived. He had some idea how to deal with that armor…
When he stepped out of the tent, everything seemed fine. Faron was waiting just outside in that intimidating black armor. “Finally. Let’s go.” Faron led the way to the edge of the camp where two horses waited, saddles and bags of supplies already ready. At the edge of the camp the soldiers on guard glanced at them. “Midnight scouting. Might be nothing.” The soldiers nodded, knowing better than to question a prince more than necessary.
It wasn’t long before they were away from the camp. Cletus kept his guard up. If he was ambushed and killed, it didn’t matter how poor Faron’s excuses might be about why they didn’t come back together. “So… why are we out here in the middle of the night?”
“I got a message,” Faron said. “There has been an insurrection in Dalgare.”
“And you didn’t feel like turning around to fight it? A very dangerous idea…”
Faron shook his head, “It wasn’t so small as that. Dalgare as a whole is basically out of Scoubarran control. That’s not a good time to be one country over, past any supply lines.”
“So, what…?” Cletus sighed, “You cut ties with Scoubar? Doesn’t do much good besides being alive for a bit longer. Until someone else spots you.”
“Us,” Faron pointed out. “And I doubt you have a better idea. Maybe we can make it back to Scoubar alive. Give a report, and get demoted to the lowest level a prince can be. We were never going to make it to the top, but now…”
Cletus ground his teeth, “We couldn’t have taken some of the men with us?” Then he answered his own question, “I suppose we couldn’t have gotten away unnoticed. And I don’t trust their loyalty to us, in particular.”
“It was a gamble to be detached from my squad,” Faron said. “If the war had gone well…” he shook his head. “How the hell did this happen?”
“What did happen?” Cletus wondered, “Perhaps an armed insurrection could be organized, but there are certainly other princes in the area.”
“There were. They’re dead now. The governor, at least, and his guards. Secretly in the middle of the night.”
“Probably. Though… their tongues weren’t cut out. Then again, if he had time for that in the middle of the governor’s mansion…” Faron shook his head. “It seems his wife might have betrayed him, instead. She was a sorceress, and there were traces of magic she could use.”
“This is a lot of information. You clearly trust this informant, but they don’t appear to be with us…”
Faron shrugged, “They’re better off on their own.” That seemed likely to be true, but something about the words seemed evasive. Cletus decided to let it go.
“I wish my informants were so… speedy and capable,” Cletus said. “How much time until the others get the information?”
“Maybe a day or two,” Faron said. “It depends on if they have any special arrangements. Now then, our route… I was thinking south, through the Norfield mountains.”
“Towards Bryria? They hate us there just as much as anywhere else.” Cletus paused, “And you in particular would be extremely obvious.”
“We’ll just pass through the mountains and skirt the border. Maybe pass between Bryria and Dalgare, or turn west. Vospia wouldn’t be welcoming, but we might make our way towards Fotharia.”
“And any other direction we head inside the border of Othius brings us closer to danger. Even directly back towards Dalgare, plus we’d have to deal with the others.” Cletus stroked his chin, “This is really quite troublesome.”
“You say that,” Faron responded, “But you don’t sound particularly upset.”
They rode along in silence for some time, picking their way carefully through the moonlit night. “I already lost my chance to be someone long ago. Too poor at intrigue to even save my mother.”
Faron shook his head, “Joining the mage-hunters was my chance. All I managed to secure was more people like us. Or probably just worse.”
The conversation trailed off as they rode through the night, since there wasn’t much to say. Cletus kept trying to think of some reason he should go back. Loyalty to Scoubar was supposed to be foremost in their minds. But yet none of the princes acted for anything but themselves, and the Mage-King didn’t seem to care, as long as his bloodline was ‘strong’. Mostly, that meant highly magical. What really bothered Cletus was he had no idea how he would find a place anywhere else. At least he could count on Scoubar to always have people ready to backstab him… anywhere else was a mystery.
Faron woke up first. Now it was mid afternoon, and it seemed best to get moving as quickly as they could… though they’d have to avoid going near any towns. Being taken for a couple of lone scouts might be fine as long as nobody realized they didn’t have anyone else following behind them, but even two wizards would have trouble fighting an entire village. Of course, they didn’t have to let anyone know that. Confidence was important.
Being confident when smelling like sweat and sewage was difficult. Faron didn’t have many chances to take a bath during a campaign, but they had stopped near a little stream. Clearing all the gunk off of the armor would be difficult, but worth it. That said, the armor itself would be a problem. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but not having it… would be dangerous.
The mountains were visible to the south. Perhaps another day or two of riding- or preferably nights- would be sufficient to reach them. Traveling off the roads would slow them down, but Othius wasn’t extremely large. It was ironically fortunate that they hadn’t gotten further into their territory.
Cletus was awake and perusing his spellbook when Faron got back. “You should wash yourself as well. I can smell you from here.”
Cletus raised his arm and sniffed. “I’ve been worse, but I suppose I should. This might be our last chance for a while.”
Faron took some time to peruse spells. What would be useful? There were only limited numbers of things that could be done with the armor on, or at least each spell had to be modified to only move through the right gauntlet. A shield spell was still necessary, not for most cases… but that one time had been a shock. The bit of shielding just needed to cover the hand without being dispelled by the armor, but it had been made to be more difficult to dispel. Having a hand scorched black by a burning hot gauntlet hadn’t been exactly pleasant. It still hurt sometimes.
It wasn’t long before they were off. There would be a few hours before sunset, but the light would let them spot villages earlier as well. Faron was glad that at least no fey were in the area. At least, not that they had found in the previous… excursions. Running into fey now would be… disastrous. At least, any that knew how to fight. Not all of them did. With a full squad of mage-hunters, it wasn’t hard to kill a village, eradicating their magical bloodline from the world. Faron wasn’t sure why, but their women weren’t considered ‘appropriate’ brides for the princes, so any fey were killed wholesale. It didn’t actually make that much sense, but then again… many things didn’t. Many of the Mage-King’s policies had backfired recently. Eventually Scoubar might fall apart… but for the moment the Mage-King remained strong. Terrifyingly strong, the few times Faron had a chance to witness him. Perhaps having a chance to leave his service was a blessing in disguise. Or perhaps Faron and Cletus would find themselves dead on the road within a month.