The Chronicler of Alba: A Tale of Mages 5
 
I rose from the vaults and entered into the courtyard carrying my bags with me. Justin smiled at me from horseback, his eyes brimming with thanks. The dignitaries however did not look so convinced, a mixture of emotions were written across their faces from pity to disgust. Lord Alba held up his hands so that all eyes were on him. “These two brave men ride out now for the good of our kingdom. They take with them not just our hopes but also those of every person in this city. I am sure we all wish them the best of luck and will give them a heroes welcome on their return. For now though, we must let them depart in quiet contemplation of the gravity of our current situation so as not to cause unnecessary comment. Travel swift and travel safe gentlemen.” There was a general hubbub of agreement amongst those gathered and despite the somewhat anticlimactic nature of our departure there was a true feeling of the commencement of a great undertaking. We rode through the streets of the city toward the main gates, the people around us unaware of the situation that we found ourselves in. It was just another normal day in the city; in the warm air people worked and traded, City guards kept half a watch on the populous whilst entertaining themselves with gambling or gossip, a group of children played chuckstone against a wall. The city was fortunate in many ways, prosperous and as happy as any collection of people can be. Reaching the gates, already open for our departure, I heard Justin take a deep breath as we spurred our horses into the fields beyond the city toward the forest of Epp. We reached the forest just after midday and journeyed a few more miles into the trees before stopping in a glade for refreshment and rest. The horses drank at a stream as Justin and I sat with our backs to a fallen tree, eating bread and cheese and sharing a flask of small beer. We had rode in silence since the city and I felt now was an opportune time to cut that silence. “A great adventure Justin” I gestured to the forest around us, “It’s beautiful out here in nature away from the noise of the city, isn’t it?” Justin looked at me doubtfully, “I’ve spent my entire life in cities and most of that indoors. I think this may be the closest I’ve ever been to a tree. The outside has never exactly been my domain.” I pressed on, “Surely it must be good to get away from the workshop? It must be exciting to see your order once more?” “I return still an apprentice, my master dead and it will take days because I can’t even ride a smoking horse yet. I somewhat doubt I will receive a wonderful welcome.” Despite the look he shot me, his tone seemed more sad than sneering. Time to snap him out of this self pity I thought to myself, “You blame yourself don’t you? He died and you weren’t even with him to try to help. Not only that but you’ve left the city without finding out who is responsible.” Justin turned on me and for the first time since I’d known the boy I saw what I felt sure the mages had seen when they inducted him into their order. A fire rose in his eyes as he jumped to his feet and fixed me with a look that allowed no quarter. “I was sent by him on an errand! That’s why I wasn’t there, he sent me on a fools chase to bring him some metal from the blacksmith that he had apparently ordered but the smith had never heard of. He knew his killer was coming and got me out of the way, so who could say what he was up to? Besides if a grand mage like Mattias can be killed what chance would I have stood? I’d have been like paper in a fire!” Justin was weeping by the end of this outburst and quickly sat on the hard ground. “There was nothing I could do, nothing” I laid a hand on the boys shoulder, “I’m sorry I had to do that to you Justin but I needed to set you free from the emotions you’ve been bottling inside. I know the knights talk of hold a stern gaze to the future and discipline but that is not the correct way to be! Cry, let it out, and let the pain go. We need all our wits about us to survive this journey and I can’t have you wallowing in the pain of the past few days. As we travel through the forest talk to me as your friend, I’m here for you.” Justin looked up through tear-filled eyes, “Thank you chronicler, thank you a hundred times for all you have done so far. May I ask one more thing of you?” “Ask away” “What is your real name? I can’t just always call you chronicler. Especially not now we are friends.” Justin allowed a half smile to reach his face. I returned the smile, “Kindred, my name is Kindred. No one has called me it for many years though.” “Maybe it has been many years since you had a friend Kindred.” I nodded at the truth of his words; “It is all too easy in a city to have only acquaintances. A wise man once said that a true friend is someone that, when you are with them, you are not embarrassed or afraid to be ill.” Justin began to repack the saddlebags and then ready the horses, “I think it is time for our journey to continue Kindred. Another few hours and then we must find a village to stay in or make camp.” “I think, Justin, I know just the village we need, Oakshot will be more than good enough for a nights stay. A warm inn, good food and clean beds.” We rode on.