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fantasy novel chapter 25
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Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.

THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD by Hugh Cook - Chapter 25

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Chapter 25

        The dragon Zenphos, lord of the mountain of Maf, made no move against Togura Poulaan. This was scarcely surprising, as the said dragon was dead and rotting, having been killed at the end of winter. Togura, nevertheless, went in fear of it, for he had no way to know of its demise.
        As Togura made his days down the Salt Road, Maf, guarding the road behind him, was demoted from mountain to hill, then to a wart; as the flesh of his horse grew thinner, a range of mountains steadily escalated the southern horizon. Behind him, Maf was whittled away to nothing.
        Another day brought another evening. Togura hobbled the horse and rummaged some food from a saddle bag - some hard yellow cheese and some pemmican. Many leagues north, he had thrown away some appalling, stinking stuff which reminded him of rotten milk; now, with his rations bottoming out to nothing, he was beginning to regret his fastidiousness.
        Togura chose the tree he was going to sleep under, and named it home. The name failed to convince him. As the last sunlight was fawning on the horizon, he kindled a fire with another man's tinder box, part of the loot from the saddle bags. The horizons swallowed the last reminders of the sun.
        "Firelight, burning bright, keep the sun alive tonight," chanted Togura.
        The little incantation was an old, old children's rhyme from Sung, his true home and homeland. Togura fell asleep by the fire, and dreamt of children's songs, of children's jokes, and of a voice which might, perhaps, have been the voice of his mother.
        When he woke, it was still dark. What had roused him from his sleep? There was a contingent of horsemen on the road, going south. They were passing by so close to where he lay that he could almost have reached out and touched them. He heard the clotter-clopper of iron-shod hooves, the painful wheezing of a rider with asthma or bronchitis, the fluid-filled cough of a man who then hawked and spat, and a strange scraping sound which he could not identify. He saw the silhouettes of men, of horses, of lances.
        One, riding past Togura, suddenly cried out. With a certain amount of noise and cursing, the whole convoy reined in and halted. Togura smelt men, many days unwashed, and horses. Could they smell him? They would smell his fire! It was long dead, but there had been no rain to kill the lingering odours of ash and smoke. Togura, not daring to move, stared at the shroud-dark outline of the man who had called the convoy to a halt.
        The man jumped down from his horse. His boots slurred over the ground. He was walking shuffle-foot, sliding his feet from step to step so he would get warning of a hole or a ditch. He found the remains of the fire, the cold ash mortuary, and kicked it apart. A scattering of ashes sifted through the night. Togura lay rigid, as silent as his bones.
        The man spoke in his foreign language, then took another step forward. He trod on Togura's hair. Then, finding Togura's head with his boot, he kicked it experimentally. Then cried out aloud, for, concentrating on what was under his feet, he had walked into a spiked branch. Swearing to himself, he backed off.
        From the head of the convoy came an imperative shout. Togura's unwitting assailant mounted up, and the convoy moved on. The last of the horses was dragging a bundle of some kind which scraped over the road. Togura guessed it was a sledge, possibly heavily loaded. He got to his hands and knees, momentarily considering pursuing the sledge and trying to scuffle off some equipment, then thought better of it.
        The sky slowly lightened to sunrise. Togura hunted the bogland round about for his hobbled horse, and found it grazing by a lochan a hundred paces from the road. If it had neighed when the convoy had been passing, the men would probably have mounted a search for it. He had been fearfully lucky.
        Togura was just about to lead the horse back to the road when he heard the sound of hoofbeats coming from the south. Leaving the horse down by the water's edge, he gained a small rise and watched the road. Four cavalrymen were riding north along the Salt Road at a steady trot.
        As they went past, Togura came to a decision. He would abandon the road. He did not want to chance another meeting with soldiers who might celebrate his physical beauty - such as it was - by raping him, or who might kill him out of hand as a horse thief. Ignoring the road, which ran south, he would make for the south-east, and find his own path across the mountains.
        Togura had a vague idea that Selzirk, the capital of the Harvest Plains, was somewhere to the south-east. He had made so much southing already that he was sure he must be nearly there; it was probably just over the mountains up ahead. Selzirk was said to be a civilised place; once there, he should be able to find his way to the port of Androlmarphos, and seek passage to Sung.
        With such optimistic thoughts in mind, Togura set overland, making for the south-east. Unfortunately, his geography was faulty, to say the least. He had yet to realise the true size of the world. Having come so far, with so many dangers and hardships, he felt as if he had travelled almost to the end of eternity, whereas, in point of fact, he had scarcely left his local neighbourhood.
        Selzirk was still far, far to the south, several horizons away. The range he was approaching was the Ironband Mountains; crossing it, he would find himself in the Lezconcarnau Plains, a wild tract of backwater country inhabited by wild backwater people.
        Once, on his journey to the Ironband Mountains, Togura seriously considered crossing another range which he could see lying due east. Fortunately, he decided against such an adventure; that range was the Sping Mountains, and any crossing of them would have taken him into the hostile interior of the continent of Argan, where his survival would have been problematical.
        When Togura began his climb, he soon found that it was going to be almost impossible to cross the mountains with a horse. Simultaneously, he exhausted his rations. That left him with two problems. With one masterstroke, he solved both of them; he murdered the horse. He ate some of the meat then and there, glutting himself on big, barbecued steaks with plenty of blood in them. He camped for five days, eating well; then, labouring uphill under the weight of a saddlebag crammed with smoked horse meat, he headed deeper into the mountains.
        He looked forward, with some pleasure, to the thought of a warm bed and a warm ale once he reached the fabled city of Selzirk, pride of the Harvest Plains.


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The text on this page is part of the fantasy novel The Wordsmith and the Warguild by Hugh Cook, which, when published in North America in 1988, was divided into two separate volumes, The Questing Hero and The Hero's Return. This text can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.

The Wordsmiths and the Warguild was first published in 1987. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2006 Hugh Cook.


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