September 3, 2011

The Ascent: Part 1

An Excerpt from [Untitled Work of Fiction]

Rael woke before dawn to a strong hand gripping his shoulder. He opened his eyes and squinted, barely making out the stony face of Durran in the gloom. Durran motioned for him to rise, then turned and left the room without a word. Rael sat up, stretched, and rubbed his eyes. It had been a short night, but he slept soundly, more comfortable in a proper bed than he had been for weeks of travel. Now, after only a day in Camlin, he faced more traveling.

He quickly dressed and gathered up his small pack, pausing only to splash some water on his face from a bowl that had been left by the door. Before leaving he placed his unstrung bow and quiver into the long drawer beneath the mattress, but strapped his hunting knife to his belt and pocketed his sling. Both were small enough to carry without any burden, and it was better to have them on hand. Durran's insistence that they must slip out of the city before dawn had put Rael on edge, though he did not understand why.

Just as Rael made his way out of the room and into the dimly lit hallway, old Thanis appeared with the plump innkeeper in tow. Master Veer carried a candlestick in one hand and gestured with the other, halfway through an apology for breakfast not being ready at such an hour. Thanis cut him off, stating that the trio would eat on the road. As if to illustrate his point, he tossed an apple to the bleary-eyed Rael, who nearly dropped it. Rael fumbled with the fruit and tucked it into his shirt pocket. Thanis had turned back to the fussy innkeeper, assuring him that all was well and sending him off to attend to more demanding guests. Master Veer, seeing that his customers were content, nodded a quick farewell to both men and shuffled off in the direction of the kitchens.

Thanis motioned for Rael to follow as he turned down a side corridor and stepped outside into the pale pre-dawn. They stood in a narrow alleyway behind the inn, where Durran was waiting for them. The dirt-floored passage separated the back of the inn from another stout building, running from a road to the inn's storehouse where goods could be brought in out of the way of guests. The air was crisp and cool, and the ground was covered in dew. A slight sea breeze carried the smell of hay from the stables and the bustling sounds of morning preparations from the kitchens. The first sliver of sunlight already colored the eastern sky, providing enough light for them to find their way. The city would soon be coming to life as a new day dawned, and Durran had made it clear that they should be on their way without drawing attention to themselves.

The Sentinel was clad in his usual garb, but wore his cloak rolled into a small pack on his shoulder. None of the three men carried much with them, only what they would need for a day's march; additionally Durran carried his sword on his back, mostly concealed by the bundled cloak. Rael considered again their plan. They would spend the day hiking to the top of Mount Gibbeth, avoiding notice, and presumably come back down before nightfall if their sparse supplies were any indication. After a moment's thought he spoke up softly. "I don't understand, why are we going to such trouble just to climb this mountain? I'm eager to see the countryside, but what does it matter if anyone knows we're out for a walk?"

Durran and Thanis exchanged an impassive glance. Thanis grunted, then murmured, "Mind yourself, lad. All will be told in time. We'll talk on the trail, once we're clear of uninvited company." Without further explanation the eccentric Freelander gave Rael a gentle slap on the back and turned down the alleyway.

Durran had already set off toward the road, where he paused momentarily as the others caught up. His cold gray eyes swept briefly up and down the stone-paved street, watching for any who might notice their departure. Without another word they set off, moving quickly towards the northern city gate as the Sentinel led the way. They kept to side streets whenever possible, winding around major thoroughfares and squares where already early risers would be gathering, but never stopping to avoid detection. Their quick footsteps echoed down the cobblestone streets in the still quiet of the early morning, but Durran was more interested in haste than stealth. None of the few strangers they passed afforded them more than a passing glance. He seemed more wary of his surroundings than usual, but content that they would soon be forgotten by anyone who might have noticed them.

Dawn had fully broken when they turned onto the main road leading out of the city, just short of the north gateway. The gates were open and a cart or two were already making their way into Camlin. Pedestrians strode through the street, going about their early morning business. Without a pause, Durran led the small company out through the thick arched gateway. The two guards leaning on their spears at each side of the great wooden doors barely paid them any notice.

The Sentinel glanced cautiously back over his shoulder several times as the men departed from Camlin, checking for anyone who might be following. It was not until they were more than a league outside of the walls, and out of sight of any watchers, that Durran relaxed and slowed their pace. As if to indicate that they were now safe, he spoke for the first time since leaving the inn. "This road will take us north, along the foot of the mountain. From there we will turn to the west, and skirt the southern slope to the High Road. We should begin the ascent by midday."

Thanis nodded in approval and produced an apple from his pack, which he polished on his shirt and bit into. Rael counted the hours in his head. If they would not begin to climb the mountain until midday, it must be much farther away than it appeared- which meant, in turn, that it must be truly enormous. It dominated the skyline from Camlin, already seeming to dwarf any mountain that Rael had climbed back home in the borderland. He shook his head. Whatever secrets Mount Gibbeth held, he would just have to wait and see for himself. In the meantime, he had a long walk ahead of him.


Amber said...

Wonderfully written. Your writing style is very much like George R.R. Martin's. You should read his books sometime.

She Will Move Mountains said...

This makes me think of the literary works of such authors as Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini and Raymond E. Feist. It just has "THAT" vibe going. Awesome job. I just love how you teased us with this tiny snippet of your story too, Travis! Building that hype aren't we? =P

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