This is a more recently written story, but is set in the earlier part of Nathaniel Drakkon's career. It's a bit longer than the last couple of stories but still only a short story.
Out for a Walk
It was a dark day. The sky was overcast and everything seemed dull and lifeless. Nathaniel Drakkon waited a few moments before walking back from the rise to the small group that awaited him. Nathaniel had been a mage for several years now. He had had assignments and missions before, both alone and as part of a force, but this was something slightly different, more mundane. Drakkon had been tasked with escorting a noblewoman from Ordail to Nairio. After fighting orcs and werewolves and undead it was quite a change. Still it was not without its bad points. They were about two days from Nairio and the journey from Ordail had taken a week. Normally Nathaniel would travel much quicker when he was alone. Travelling with others made this journey something of a slog, one of several things which did not sit well with Nathaniel. The noblewoman was exactly that, stuck up, self-interested, and superior. She had only given him a modicum of respect because of his name. The Drakkon family were well regarded amongst both the nobility and common people, due to their long history of military service. Nathaniel thought wistfully, I suppose the money also helps the nobility take an interest in the family. The twenty Weissland soldiers making up the escort detail got only looks of scorn, contempt, and disdain from the woman. It put Nathaniel’s back up. These soldiers deserved respect. Of course it was apparently not his place to say such things, according to his superiors back in the mystic tower of Ataya.
The name of the noblewoman they had to escort was Asiel Vorll. Why she required a military escort was beyond Nathaniel and the mage lords had not felt it important enough to tell him. Or perhaps they thought it was too important to tell me, he thought as he reached the group. Nathaniel said “It all looks clear Sergeant Marix, let’s continue on.”
The sergeant replied “As you say sir.” Marix did not talk much, it seemed like he was all business. Nathaniel respected that. It was a professional attitude and had nothing to do with being discourteous. Marix ordered the soldiers “Form up ladies and gents, time to be moving.”
Nathaniel watched as the soldiers fell in from the perimeter they had formed, or from where they had been resting. It was disciplined. There were of course a few mutters and groans, it was to be expected. Nathaniel held back a smile as he listened to one soldier, a young man by the name of Miles Gufrai, remark that it was to be expected that they were moving just as he had gotten comfortable. The mage turned to look at the enclosed carriage in the centre of the small formation. It was drawn by two large and strong horses, with one of the soldiers controlling them. The Lady Vorll was riding within.
The escort started moving towards the rise, continuing on its journey. Nathaniel knew they still had another night out here before they would reach Nairio but he wished they were closer. This would be their final stop before tonight though, there were still a good many hours of travel ahead and Drakkon wanted to make as much progress as possible. He naturally fell into step and worked his way towards the carriage. Once the black-robed mage reached the door to the carriage he spoke politely “Milady, we will be carrying on until nightfall. How do you feel milady?” The question was irreverent in its sincerity, not that anyone would notice. Nathaniel sometimes wondered if the rest of the world had entirely missed the concept of sarcasm. Asiel had found the journey to be unsettling and illness inducing. Nathaniel, as commander of the escort, had taken it upon himself to ask about her well-being and listen to her whin... to what she said.
Asiel looked out of the small window in the carriage door and said “I am as well as can be expected travelling in such conditions. I will not feel properly myself until I am safely in Nairio.” She brushed her brunette hair out of her left eye with a soft un-worked hand before asking “Will you join me Nathaniel?”
Nathaniel replied cautiously “If it pleases the lady.”
“It does.” Asiel responded as she opened the door slightly.
Nathaniel opened the door and climbed aboard in a fluid motion. He closed the door as he settled into the seat facing Asiel Vorll. She was quite beautiful, Nathaniel thought, although most noblewomen who did not have any sort of duties such as being mages or the like spent most of their time simply being pretty. Oh gods, he thought, what would Tabitha think if she knew I was thinking like this? Tabitha Sergares was a powerful mage lord in Ataya and the two of them had been maintaining a secret relationship over the last few years, ever since a bloody battle against an orc raiding force. Still, Tabitha was confounding to Nathaniel. Her moods were volatile and the relationship was not what he would call secure. He could not count the number of times it had ended and begun again. Her nickname of the ‘ice queen’ was very apt, but Nathaniel had thought she was merely hiding her true self from the world. Then Tabitha would do something to show him that she really was that damned cold. And perhaps that was what he liked most about her. Tabitha Sergares was honest, brutally so.
Asiel seemed to regard the contemplative and consternate expressions washing over his face with curiosity. She said “I’ve been meaning to ask you Nathaniel, are you married?”
Drakkon was slightly taken aback and raised an eyebrow. Slowly he answered “No, I am not married, milady.”
“Do you want to be married?” Asiel prodded rather forwardly. Nathaniel accepted such frankness from women like Jessa Aeris and Tabitha Sergares, in fact it was part of why he liked them, but from a noblewoman like Asiel Vorll it seemed almost improper. It was very hypocritical of him, but everything Nathaniel had seen of Asiel so far painted her to be the stereotypical haughty, mannered, noble who expected very particular speech. Not the sort of person to ask such blunt and impolite questions in Nathaniel’s opinion.
The mage found his mouth to be dry and his mind to be uncharacteristically blank. He stammered “I-I-I don’t think I’ve given it much thought... milady.” Really Drakkon had not, although since he was the last of his line and his parents were reaching very old age, it probably should have rated higher on his priorities. Well, Nathaniel could always make the excuse that he was busy fighting orcs and fending off undead, not to mention demons, werewolves, pirates and the other assorted scum he had faced. Some might not consider that much of an excuse, he thought sarcastically.
Asiel said “I think about getting married quite a lot. I would have thought with your family’s history and wealth that you would be married by now.”
Nathaniel replied sulkily “Isn’t this becoming rather out of the ordinary for a conversation between strangers?”
Asiel teased “Stranger than a nobleman who becomes a mage, doesn’t want to get married, and runs around with common soldiers?”
Drakkon’s mood darkened “I became a mage because I am one and Weissland depends on its military. My personal life is none of your concern, and those soldiers are protecting your life so perhaps you should show them some respect, milady.”
“Perhaps I spoke out of turn. I only wished to have a real conversation with someone instead of formalities and trivialities.” Asiel spoke with a wounded tone.
Nathaniel softened his expression and voice, although there was still the hint of an edge to his words “That is perhaps true, but the simple fact is I do not know you well enough to discuss such matters with you. I am tasked with leading your escort to Nairio, that implies formality and I would rather keep it that way.”
Sadly Asiel nodded “As you wish.”
Before either of them said anything else Nathaniel heard some noise followed by a number of screams and shouts of pain. Nathaniel started for the window saying “What the hell was that?”
The call went up outside “Ambush, ambush!” Nathaniel was not sure who was raising the alarm.
He turned back to Asiel who seemed gripped by terror. Nathaniel pulled a dagger from his belt and pushed it into the woman’s hands. He said “Here, take this. If anyone who isn’t me or one of our soldiers tries to get in here, stab them.”
“I don’t know how to use this.” Asiel wailed.
Nathaniel did not stop to coddle her. He opened the door and leapt out. The mage drew his arming sword and slammed the carriage door shut. He could make out figures in the woods and they seemed to be on both sides of the road. Arrows whistled towards the Weissland soldiers. Drakkon rushed to Sergeant Marix’ side and said “Casualties?”
Marix held his shield up and nodded “Lost five from the initial strike, they came from out of nowhere.”
Nathaniel replied “We’ve got to form a closer group, pull them out so we can hit them properly.”
“Agreed.” Marix said. He yelled “Pull back to the carriage, defensive perimeter. And start firing back dammit!”
The soldiers rushed to do as they were commanded. The few archers took a knee besides the carriage and began to fire arrows. Most missed, but Nathaniel saw two figures buck and fall with an arrow in them. Even as the swordsmen pulled in closer, Nathaniel heard a shout and figures charged out of the trees towards them. They were human but did not wear a uniform. They were bandits, lawless men and women, scavengers by any other name. Nathaniel was glad to see the Weisslanders next shots were more accurate, slaying five of the on-rushing bandits. One dropped with an arrow through his eye, while others took projectiles in the chest and were knocked backwards. Still, the rest ran on and arrows rained down again. Nathaniel could do nothing as an arrow pierced the chest of Sergeant Marix. He fell even as Nathaniel grabbed hold of him. Kneeling, Drakkon heard Marix croak “Bloody stupid place to die...” Marix was gone; the life shrank from his eyes. And one of the other soldiers, an elf, was also killed.
Nathaniel stood and roared “Hold your ground, wait for the charge. For Weissland!”
The soldiers echoed “For Weissland.” The mage could hear their hearts were not in it. He had to hold them together. The final shots before the melee were fired by both sides. Six bandits fell, two of which were bowmen on the edge of the trees. But in return three more soldiers were killed, including Miles Gufrai.
Nathaniel had seen too much. Already he had lost half of the men entrusted to his command. He was failing them. The mage held his sword out and moved to meet the enemy. He spoke words to a spell and suddenly four of the attacking bandits were smashed down to the ground, their bodies pulverised by the magic. Moments later Drakkon was amongst the others. He hacked left, cutting a woman with dirty blond hair and a scimitar down. A bearded man with twin daggers lunged at Nathaniel, but the young mage lashed out, kicking the bandit in the gut. A downward swipe removed the bandit as a threat. Two more bandits rushed at him, and Nathaniel blocked quick slashes as he took a few steps back. One of the Weissland soldiers joined him, blocking with his shield and striking back. The distraction gave Drakkon an opening, slashing open the stomach of one bandit before stepping forward and turning to put his blade firmly through the second bandit’s back. Perhaps they could drive these bandits off. He turned to the men around him and said “Hold them off while I go to reinforce the other side.”
The three nearest soldiers nodded and moved to keep fighting the remaining bandits in close combat. Nathaniel meanwhile, rushed back towards the carriage to get around the other side and help the soldiers there, carving through two more bandits in the process. As Nathaniel reached the soldiers on the other side, the bandits sent another wave of arrows hurtling down at the beleaguered Weisslanders. Several of the arrows narrowly missed the mage, striking the ground or embedding themselves into the wood of the carriage. Another soldier was hit, an arrow piercing her arm making her drop her sword and cry out in agony. Nathaniel saw that it was Cerionen Nemaheh, the elven woman who had been driving the carriage. He moved towards her and said the words to a spell, casting a fireball with a flick of the wrist towards the woods where the attack was coming from. Nathaniel pulled Cerionen back from where she lay and sat her down beside the carriage. He said grimly “I’m sorry about this, it’s going to hurt!”
Through gritted teeth she replied “More than it hurts already?”
“Point taken” Nathaniel conceded. As carefully as he could he pulled the arrow out. Dropping it Nathaniel placed his hand gently on her wound and spoke words to a healing spell. The wound closed and the pain etched on Cerionen’s face subsided. Drakkon looked back at the fighting and said “We’ve got to do something to turn the tide. Try to get back in the fight Cerionen.” Without stopping Nathaniel rushed off, charging at a couple of bandits. Nathaniel used his momentum to smash one man to the ground with a shoulder-barge. The second bandit tried to attack from the side, bringing his sword down in a high strike. Drakkon reacted with speed, putting a sharp elbow into the man’s face, staggering him. A quick one-handed slash sent the bandit spinning to the dirt, bleeding profusely. Nathaniel hammered the first bandit with a fist before stabbing him with the point of the sword. The bandits were trying to get into close combat again. Nathaniel roared magical words even as he stood over the two dead bandits. At his command five running bandits burst into flame, flailing and screaming as they burned. Once more arrows shot from the woods but this time Nathaniel held out a hand and chanted, deflecting the arrows and scattering them like kindling.
Still the bandits continued their attack, another group of about a dozen charging at the Weisslanders. Drakkon fell back, hoping to draw them on. There were three swordsmen on this side with him, including Cerionen who hefted her sword without effort again. Four against twelve were not great odds but he had faced worse. Nathaniel shifted his weight and raised his sword before launching a bolt of magic into the face of the closest bandit. It left a bloody lump of meat and not much else, and then the bandits were right there. Steel clashed on steel and Drakkon lost himself in the moment again, feeling the flow of combat run through him. A whirling motion caused the deaths of two more bandits; Nathaniel was responsible for its enacting. He barely noticed the drops of blood that hit him, lost in the moment, breathing the essence of battle. It became a brutal affair as Nathaniel head-butted a scruffy-looking boy before kicking him aside. The move took Nathaniel further from his comrades, as rivulets of blood streaked down his forehead. By the time the mage had dispatched the last of the bandit scum in sight the two other swordsmen were dead. With a howl of anger Drakkon kicked one of the dead bandits for good measure. Turning he grabbed Cerionen and said “Come on.”
The two of them ran back to the two archers by the carriage as the elf asked “What are we doing?”
Nathaniel answered bitterly “Retreating.” He opened the door to the carriage. Asiel lashed out with the dagger on reflex before she registered who he was. Nathaniel took the cut on the arm to stop it reaching his face.
“Oh Gods! I thought you were a--”
“There’s no time, get out!” Nathaniel yelled pulling the noblewoman out by the arm and relieving her of the weapon. Leading her away, keeping his body between Asiel and the woods, Nathaniel called out “On me, on me!”
The soldiers rushed after the mage, abandoning the carriage. The arrows resumed their deadly rain but luckily no more of the Weissland troops were hit. They formed up around Nathaniel as they broke into a run. He ordered them onwards along the road. With a bark he said “Take her, keep moving. I’ll bring up the rear.” The surviving soldiers bundled Asiel off and made good their escape. Drakkon stopped and turned. Magic words spilled from his lips and a barrier was raised, stopping arrows and bandits dead in their tracks. The bandits pounded against the invisible wall. Then Drakkon employed another spell, using black magic to drain the life out of several bandits. As they dropped lifelessly to the ground he said coldly “Flee now and I will spare the rest of you. Stay and I’ll kill you all.”
The mage’s words carried the weight of authority and honesty. He truly would kill them if they remained. So the bandits fled. Almost twenty of them ran from the other side of the barrier, heading for the woods. They could not run quick enough. Nathaniel spat the last words to the spell and all of them crumpled to the ground dead. He said darkly to himself “Looks like I lied.” Drakkon turned and raced after his troops.
When Nathaniel finally caught up with the troops they had put a good two miles between them and the ambush site. Drakkon had to wonder at the tenacity of the bandits. Such criminals were not usually so determined. They normally went for easy targets, and while weight of numbers might have prompted the attack, the casualties should have forced their retreat earlier. It just did not seem right. Of the escort seven soldiers had survived, and the group of nine people continued their march until nightfall. They camped just off the road. Of course, having to leave in such a rush meant they had precious few supplies beyond what they had carried about their person. Two of the archers went hunting and returned with a deer carried between them.
The meal was simple, cooked meat, some bread rations, and water, but to Nathaniel and the tired soldiers it was a feast. Asiel on the other hand wrinkled her nose and picked at the food. Nathaniel said wearily “What’s wrong?”
Asiel replied “This isn’t the sort of food I’m used to, or conditions for that matter. I’m suffering more than most in this situation, and I can scarcely see how you can stand it either.”
Nathaniel said sternly “Just eat your food.”
Asiel replied with a wounded tone “How can you speak to me like that? You took me out of harm’s way and now you turn on me.”
Nathaniel finally erupted in anger, standing up as all others fell silent at his rage “I removed you from the carriage because it is my mission to escort you to Nairio and look what I got for my trouble.” He indicated the cut on his forearm which was now covered in dried blood caked on the hair of his arm. The mage continued his rant “The only reason I retreated was to safeguard as many of these soldiers as was possible, they at least are important to me. You on the other hand seem to be completely useless. If I have my way today will not be remembered as the day Asiel Vorll, witless noble nothing, survived a bandit attack. It will be the day thirteen brave and honest soldiers laid down their lives fighting a numerically superior foe in defence of Weissland’s territory and ideals. Now kindly shut your mouth before I really say something harsh.” Nathaniel spoke the words to a spell and clenched his fist in Asiel’s direction. Almost instantly she slumped backwards into a deep sleep. The young and rather intense mage said “I hope nobody minds if she spends the rest of this journey unconscious?”
One of the men answered “No sir.” There were other nods of agreement.
Drakkon composed himself slightly before speaking again “We lost good people today and I will not forget them.” He raised his water-skin and said “To the memory of Daniel Marix, Aaron Farmaw, Owen Kellis, Tabrielor Anios, Cassandra Nesones, Albert Kane, Hielimael Yerais, Finley Aldain, Miles Gufrai, Athar Melathurt, Jacob Dimuko, Malachi Henieth, and Lawrence Rionostam.”
The others raise their water-skins and drank to the memories of their comrades. The group tried to get some rest, taking turns to stand watch in pairs. The animals in the wooded area made the usual sounds to which Nathaniel had become slightly accustomed to. He was still a city lad though, and was not fully used to sleeping in the wild, if sleeping twenty metres from a main road was really wild. He found it hard to filter out the harmless noises from anything which was cause for concern. Eventually he drifted off and got some rest. After his watch, morning arrived and the group set out again. Nathaniel carried Asiel unceremoniously over his shoulder without complaint. He would not ask the others to carry her; it was up to him, he felt. They would reach Nairio after a few hours and even now they were seeing many others on the road, travelling the same way or in passing.
The group was reaching the gates to the city. Nathaniel had cancelled the spell which kept Asiel asleep shortly before they came in sight of the city. They approached the soldiers on watch and Nathaniel addressed them “Nathaniel Drakkon, escorting noblewoman Asiel Vorll into the city, your superior will be expecting us.”
The guard nodded “Uh, yes, he is. But we were told to expect a carriage and twenty soldiers. What happened to you all?” He looked at the soldiers, many had cuts or bruises and their armour was stained with blood.
Nathaniel replied “We were attacked by bandits. You’ll find the site about a days ride back along the main road; someone should recover the bodies of our soldiers and investigate where such a large force of bandits came from.”
The guard said “We’ll send out a patrol. Welcome to Nairio, I suppose.”
Nathaniel nodded grimly and marched into the city. The sooner he spoke with the senior officer here, the sooner he could hand over Asiel and be done with this event. Then at least he could return to Ataya. The walk would do him good.