Chapter 2: Last Hope

Hi everybody! So I’ve decided that starting now I am going to change my schedule a bit to upload every Monday and Thursday! Since I’ve gotten into the habit of taking long breaks, I wanted to upload more content more often now! I hope you enjoy, leave a like if you do, and please share with your friends!

The Audaxi Chronicles

The rider lets out a breath he did not realize he was holding as the Enchantress nods to him.  The cool evening air flows in from the mountains, rustling the Vaga camp in the silence.

 

At that, the Enchantress saunters away, perfect ringlet curls swaying back and forth, never looking back to see if he follows.  His hair prickles on his skin as he treads behind, leading his horse through the crowd by its reins.  Ahead of him, the Enchantress disappears into a large, canopied maroon tent near the edge of the camp.  

 

Behind them, most of the camp regains motion, with whispers like the leaves rustling in the trees.   A beautiful black mare is tied to a post outside of the tent, and after rapidly roping his horse’s reins to the same post, he ducks inside the tent behind her, still flanked by two men who tower over him, and the old woman and the young man behind him.  

 

Inside, a warm glow fills the tent from candles scattered throughout the room.  Immediately, his throat tightens with the realization that this must be her private tent, with an unkempt bed raised up in the corner.  Books cover all flat surfaces, with scattered papers and pens, and various bottles filled with liquids and substances line up on several wooden tables.  Tapestries with intricate designs cover the walls and floor, along with several blankets and pillows.

 

The young Enchantress picks up a pillow and then sits on the floor with a tiny table directly in front of her, setting the pillow on her lap and gesturing toward him.  He stays standing, his pulse still urging him to go faster, as the other Vaga flood in behind him.  From the floor, she raises her eyebrows, giving the old woman at his right a pointed look.  

 

“Etana, please.” She rolls her eyes. “He’s one man looking for help.  I think I can handle him.”

 

The old woman narrows her eyes at the girl and, without looking away, lifts her hand, and the two men that were flanking him marched out of the tent, but Etana and Filo stay at his sides.  The Enchantress’s brow furrows, seemingly unhappy with the response, but she readjusts her gaze back to him.

 

“So,” she says, “what seems to be the problem?”

 

Something catches in his throat, and while this is what he has been waiting for, he cannot seem to find the words.  They lodge themselves inside him, refusing to come out, as if they have some sort of foresight that the Vaga won’t do a thing.  He has to, though; this is their last hope, and he forces the words to come out.

 

“I come on orders from His Highness, King Ri Sagar of Hiraeth and the Chieftain of the Highlands, ruler of the…”

 

“Alright.” She interrupts, softly.  “I get it.  Go on.”

 

He sighs.  “The prince…he is dying.”

 

Filo snorts from behind him.  “Good.  Less than your king deserves.”

 

He did not expect anything more from the Vaga.  He wonders why he came, when he knew this was the response.

 

The Enchantress, however, stands and walks right up to him, nearly a foot from his face.  She is younger than he had expected.  The rumors of the Enchantress were spreading like a plague throughout the Highlands, a powerful mage who could wrap her words just so to make a man forget his life and to summon lightning from the air.  But a foot away from her, she looks twenty years, if that, and there is a lightness in her eyes that seems to beckon to the sunlight.

 

She studies his face for a minute, and then says, “Well, we’d better leave quickly, then.”

Ten minutes later, he is sitting back atop his horse, fed and watered and watching the Enchantress’s tent fold itself into smaller and smaller sections.  The last time that he had seen magic performed was when he was a boy, and as he watched the canvas fold by its own design, he was enraptured.  The Enchantress herself is adjusting the saddle on her big black mare, packed heavy with her belongings, in the dark, as Etana attempts to talk her out of leaving.  

 

“The Highland King has no mercy for your people.”  Etana says.  “Why have mercy for him, after all he has done to us?”

 

Finally, the girl snaps. “I don’t care, alright? I don’t care what the king and his son and his people have done.”

 

He watches as she walks right up to Etana, her eyes alight with a sudden fire.  “It doesn’t matter who he is or what he has done.  At the end of the day, he’s just someone I can help.  And that’s what I do.  I help people.  And I’ll be damned if all of this hatred is going to get in the way of that.”

 

The world suddenly seems hushed, as she picks up the folded tent and begins to strap it to her horse.  And for a minute, he can tell where the rumors have come from.  Atop his mount, he can see Etana’s jaw clench and then slowly relax as she seems to realize that she cannot stop this.

 

As the Enchantress mounts her steed, she says, “This was eventual, Etana.  I always intended to leave and see the Lands.”

 

The old woman pats the black mare’s head and looks up at her.  Something softens in the Enchantress, and her mouth breaks into a weak smile.

 

“I’m not needed here anymore, ‘Tana.” Her voice is lighter, the resentment leaking out of her.  “Osha knows everything I do, and the kids are well on their way.  This world is big.”

 

She grips the old woman’s hand, and they stay there for a minute.  He feels as though he is intruding on their lives, peeking in through a window into another’s life that he should never have seen.  

 

But the moment passes, and Etana whispers something to the girl, who nods solemnly.  Then, she turns slightly in her saddle to him.

 

“Alright, Highlander.”  She gives him that smile again, that smirk she alone knows the joke to.  “Lead the way.”

 

Galloping back the way he came, they ride through the Watcher Wood and back up through the mountains.  Slowing to trot up through the valley between the mountains with stones kicking up under their horses’ hooves, they ride in silence, and he cannot help but wonder at how he managed this.  But then a rock settles in his stomach, worry that they are too late.

 

“So.” Her voice shatters the silence like a rock through a frozen lake.  “What’s your name?  I have been wondering that a bit since we left.”

 

They trot side by side, the gap between the inclines just wide enough for the two of them.  He steals a glance at her, and she meets his gaze, icy blue eyes sticking out in the darkness.

 

“You never told me yours.” He states plainly, and her laugh echoes from the rocks surrounding them.

 

“Well, you’re not wrong. Although ‘The Enchantress’ does carry a certain strength, does it not?” She lays emphasis on those two words that define her reputation.  “Well, alright.  My name is Althea.  Thea, if you’re my friend.”

 

They reach the peak of the valley and slow to a halt, allowing their rides to catch their breath.  Looking out past the mountains, the two of them gaze out through the darkness at the Highlands below them.  Dark silhouettes of forests and plains stretch out below them, and he thinks that maybe over to the left is the small town of Nia.  Far off to their right, way in the distance, pinpricks of light illuminate the darkness.

 

“There it is.”  He points to the tiny lights.  “The Highland Seat.”

 

“Looks like stars.” Althea says.  “Never been to Rinnseal. Should be fun. You never answered my question.”

 

She looks over, and he sighs.  “I am Raffym.  Sir Raffym, a knight of the Highland court and sworn protector of the prince, and member of the Audaxi.”

 

Althea gives him a look in the darkness.  Her eyebrow is raised, and her mouth is slightly open, just a little.  It’s unique, like she is the only one who could possibly make it.  

 

“Raff,” he adds, “if you’re my friend.”

Thanks for reading! Please leave a like or a comment, and tell your friends if you enjoyed it!  Check back on Thursday for more!

 

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