Warforged: the Vaelhawen

SECOND PROLOGUE

1264

Manarastien Farstrider

He did his best to gaze through the darkness but all he saw were trees and bushes in the thick forest. Even his elven eyes saw nothing. But he remained unconvinced that they were safe. He pulled his grey hood over his head, carefully letting his long pointy ears poke through the small holes made for them in the back. He then turned to look over his shoulder at the group he led through the dark forest. The other four riders rode behind him. A truly unexpected party. Two Humans, a Goblin and an Aed Sindhe kinsmen. She wore a thick wool cloak and carried a babe in wool cloth in one arm. The woman's eyes shifted between the infant and looking ahead.

"How is she, Iylaewen?" He asked.

Her fair face twisted into a strange happy grimace. "She's done sleeping," she said tiredly. "I think I'll have to feed her soon." She grimaced and Manarastien heard a faint gurgle of joy from the child.

Then he heard a snort from the old goblin. Iylaewen shot a glare in his direction.

"Is there a problem?" Manarastien asked firmly.

Argorg spat before he spoke. "I don't like riding this far for a Manling babe." Unlike the rest, he rode on a large grey wolf. "Too dangerous."

"And yet here you are."

"Don't mean I don't get it. I just don't like it. Least the mother had the good sense of dying in childbirth so we didn't have to log her around, slowing us down. Would have been easier for everyone if the babe followed."

"Watch your tongue, Argorg or I'll cut it out," Iylaewen snapped in a venomous tone.

"Just try it," Argorg said mockingly.

"Enough. Both of you," Manarastien said.

Iylaewen then shot him a dangerous glare, one which he ignored and focused on gazing forward on the dirt road. The two Northerners rode silently and didn't get involved in yet another spat between the Goblin and Aed Sindhe. One of the men wore his plate armour, dirty and scarred. The other wore a green cloak and wool trousers and a brown brigandine and like Manarastien and Iylaewen he had a bow on his back.

"We need to stop soon. We all need rest," one of the Northerners said in an accent. "Horses need it too."

"When we reach the castle, Luiherct. We aren't stopping in the middle of nowhere. It's too dangerous."

"Dangerous to ride too long as well I reckon," Luiherct pointed out. "Ain't gonna fight anything off if we're too tired to hold a sword."

He didn't respond. He had spoken his piece. They couldn't stop to set camp. They weren't that far from Kaedd Wrozhen. They had entered the mountain pass two days ago and he expected to reach the castle by the next evening or night. A long and exhausting journey, but they were too close now, had come too far. They had outwitted them twice but two days were lost when the babe decided it was time to see the light of day.

"How are you doing, milady Iylaewen?" Luiherct said.

"I'm tired. So tired," she answered. "Farstrider is right, though. We cannot stop here."

The babe suddenly began to cry, drawing a groan from Argorg and a grunt from Luiherct.

"I never knew infants cried so damn much," Luiherct complained.

"She's probably just hungry," Iylaewen said. "Are you hungry sweetheart?"

They stopped and Manarastien gazed up at the mountains that flanked the forested path. The only light that shined came from the full moon. The man in plate armour, Sir Cudberct Houten, turned his steed around to watch the road they had travelled. A hand always rested on the hilt of his sword. The night felt colder, terribly cold even. The forest had been far too quiet all night. He breathed out and realized it was so cold he saw his breath.

"By Tehilite." He spun around on his horse. Iylaewen had dismounted her horse to feed the girl. She immediately mounted up her beige filly and grabbed the reins while holding the crying child tightly in her free arm. Out of the darkness, he saw riders, six of them, their cloaks as black as their horses flapped in the strong winds. Faceless under those cloaks and garbed in unnaturally heavy armour that made that terrifyingly large. They wielded great black swords and the only sound heard was the whining of the wind and clinking of their dark armour and hooves against the ground. "Ride Iylaewen!"

He heard a fireball spark to life and the growl of a wolf. It was followed by Argorg crying out and it was quickly cut short by cold steel. The wolf fled whimpering into the dark. Sir Cudberct had already drawn his longsword and charged the black-cloaked wraiths as Luiherct drew his Arming Sword and Manarastien followed his example. He looked to his kinswoman who hesitated. She could not abandon them, bless her.

"Ride!" He barked. "Get the girl out of here!" She was the only reason they had taken this long and dangerous journey.

Finally, she galloped away. By the time it had taken him to call out to her and look back, Sir Cudberct had been struck down. He had a deep wound from his shoulder to his abdomen, slitting through plate and gambeson in a cut of incredible power. Then one of the cloaked wraiths were on him and he raised his blade to block and on impact, his blade almost cracked – and on the second it broke in half. He stared into its face defiantly – and a metal helmet shaped like a skull stared back. There was a gasp. Luiherct? The cold steel thrust through his garments and flesh. He fell, tumbled from his panicked horse who trampled him and crushed his legs in his wild escape. His last thoughts were on Iylaewen. They had bought her moments. She couldn't escape – they would likely catch the babe before she reached the safety of Kaedd Wrozhen. Ride Iylaewen. They fear the castle – the Lady.