The rocking of the cart did little to ease the ache in Ledram’s bones, nor did it’s meagre canopy spare him from the cold that pierced his joints. Even in the sharp sun of the afternoon the grasp of winter could still be felt. Plumes of steam rose from the nostrils of the surly mule that pulled them onward, the beast handling the cold no better than Led.
Next to the sellsword sat Tors, wreathed in a suede jacket and bundled up in several scarfs. Between his considerable girth and his fine clothes, the cold could not dampen his spirits, much to Led’s displeasure. His former colleague had yet to stop the one-sided conversation he had initiated the moment the pair had departed Ravensport.
It was a short road to the Baron’s estate, one that took travellers away from the common routes. It rode the gentle hills around Ravensport, overlooking the sprawl of farmland that encircled the city. To the west ancient forests grew wild, leviathan pines still verdant after a cruel winter. Led speculated at the wild game sleeping within, soon to grow fat on spring blooms. He longed to hunt again, but with one eye he doubted he would be able to handle a bow like he used to.
An irritated chattering came from behind the sellsword. “Ancestor’s bones!” Led exclaimed, turning to the back of the cart. A crate vibrated madly, it’s occupant incensed by the cold. “Are you sure that box can hold that thing?”
“The finest teak from Posad went into building that crate,” Tors proudly proclaimed, “it could hold a wyvern.” He sighed. “Now imagine the profits a wyvern would bring in…”
Led exhaled in annoyance.
“Can’t blame a man for dreaming big,” Tors cheerily added. “You could dream a bit bigger yourself.”
“A warm bed and a good meal is big enough,” Led stated.
“You and I know that isn’t true,” Tors hummed, “otherwise you wouldn’t have followed me to Telucia.”
“We all make mistakes.”
“Admit it,” Tors exclaimed, turning to Led, “you wanted to make enough coin to settle down, start a normal life.”
Led went to speak, but Tors cut him off. “Remember that contract a decade ago? The one that had us climbing the Ancestor’s Spine?”
“Vaguely,” Led replied, unsure of where Tors was going with it.
“You wouldn’t stop talking about that glassblower, Agatha or something…”
“Anna,” Led corrected, “and she was a potter.”
“Whatever. My point is that you had prospects, a plan to settle down. You even mentioned apprenticing under her mother, take up the trade yourself.”
“Before her father put a knife to my throat. I still can’t go to that village without the bastard sicking his sons on me.”
“So you got snubbed, it doesn’t mean you can’t give a peaceful life another shot.”
Led huffed. “Says the man who’s pushing me into a pit-fight.”
“Firstly, the correct term is blood-sport,” Tors hummed, “and secondly it’s taking you out of that damn wilderness. Stable employment and stable pay.”
“Until “blood-sport” falls out of favour with the nobility.”
Tors shook his head. “Yes, but think about the connections you’ll be making! You’ll have provided a service for the Baron!” The portly merchant wagged his finger. “Play your cards right and you may even net a job in the castle. Expert swordsmen are few and far between, and I’m sure his lordship would appreciate a fearsome sellsword training his up-and-coming men-at-arms.”
Led hummed. The thought had never occurred to him. Training fields certainly held fewer dangers than the wilds, and a chamber in the Baron’s castle would be quite the improvement in living conditions. And when he grew gray and could no longer fight, he would be looked after till he went to join his ancestors.
Before the sellsword could reply, he was distracted by a great stone tower emerging from the tree-line. Ancient stonework loomed over even the mighty pines of the forest, pocked with arrow-slits and ornamented with red banners bearing the likeness of a raven. Dull steel glinted at the very pinnacle of the tower, a pair of archers surveying the surrounding land.
“The Raven’s Nest,” Tors exclaimed, waving towards the tower, “home to the lord of Ravensport.”
“Man has an obsession with crows,” Led stated, eyeing up the banners dancing in the breeze.
“Ravens, very different animal,” Tors corrected, “and that is not a mistake I would make in front of his lordship. The raven has been his family’s emblem since before the first sailors settled Anwex.” The beast-trader booted his straining mule softly, urging the ornery creature to quicken its pace. It snorted indignantly, waving its matted tail. The rattling of the cart worsened as the mule hurried on, jostling the crate in the back and irritating its occupant.
Rounding a bend in the road, the pair was presented with the outer walls of the Nest, freshly built wooden battlements sat atop centuries old stone. Smoke rose from the many buildings hidden behind the gray expanse of the fortress, and the familiar clamour of a smith rung through the crisp air.
Small, squat towers were interspersed along the wall, their corners reinforced with slabs of granite and brackets of bronze. Atop their bulky forms sat aged ballistae and crude onagers, a fresh powdering of snow betraying their lack of use.
Eclipsing the considerable might of the ramparts was the keep. Though it’s style was outdated, its monstrous height and exquisite stonework marked it as the mighty heart of the castle. The rectangular bulk of the keep was enforced by circular towers at each corner, capped with sharp peaked roofs of dark slate. Intricate arches and supported cruel sculptures of the beasts that stalked Anwex, and its windows were decorated with intricate images wrought in stained glass.
Tors merrily slapped Led on the back, before waving towards the splendour of the Nest. “Get ready, friend,” he grinned, “tonight we dine in the lap of luxury.”