Wisps of bluish smoke drifted up from his old pipe as Akiros surveyed the quickly darkening western horizon from his now regular seat on an old oak stump. Situated on the side of a small hill that dropped away into the new town, Drakaen Bellmirovan, this spot had become his favourite refuge from his newly appointed duties as the people’s representative.
Almost a year had passed since the new Kingdom of Penterium was founded and only slightly longer from when the land’s rulers had assaulted the fort of the Stag Lord, Bandit King of the Greenbelt and Akiros’ boss. He had been spared for he had turned on his liege for he could no longer justify his life with the bandits, it had been one mistake after another since he was stripped of Paladin status all those years ago.
Drawing another puff on his pipe he set his eyes again on the distant great forest known as the Narlmarches. Despite being more than a dozen miles away, the forest always seemed loom over the Kamelands, threatening to swallow the burgeoning country before it could take hold. Even the Stag Lord had been wary of the forest, it was ancient and almost seemed antagonistic to any who entered it’s green depths. He sometimes hated looking at it for it seemed to draw him in and he often had the sensation of it swallowing him but he could not resist it’s dark beauty.
“It will come for us one day you know”. Akiros did not turn to acknowledge his new guest. He had not heard the woman’s approach but sensed her presence a few mere seconds before she spoke.
“Maybe, but I would not be concerned about the forest Kressle, I honestly believe your end will come much quicker than that. After all, there is a pool going for who will kill you first, Seneschal Hilde or Marshal Cael’lan”. Akiros paused to take another drag on his pipe. Like most of the town, he had little love for the public executioner. She had once run with the Bandit King as well but unlike Akiros, she revelled in the murdering and stealing. Only the compassion of the Paladin and now Magister had kept her from meeting her end. Pushing away some early greying hair from his face he tilted his head to look at her “My money is on the Marshal, elves have long memories and she seems to keep a special hatred for you”.
Standing a few metres away, Kressle silently observed the seated man. He was handsom despite his greying shoulder length hair and only a vertical scar marred (or improved) his rugged face. She had only recently found out he was once a Paladin and it infuriated her that he could still judge her so harshly despite being involved with the same murderous group she had. Everyone had seemed to forget his part in harrying and destroying all those who opposed the Stag Lord in the Greenbelt, they welcomed him with opened arms and placed great trust in him.
Feeling Kressle’s eyes boring into him, Akiros turned again to look at her. Dressed in her usual leathers with two gleaming hand axes at her hips, Kressle was far from what most called feminine. She was lean and wiry with surprising strength and she kept her choppy brown hair under a leather bandana. Still, she had a certain presence, usually intimidating which suited her role with the peasants but it was apparently enough for his liege, Garnavan who had pardoned her of her past crimes. It was also no secret that she had quite the crush on the Paladin and despite her still questionable ways, always followed any orders he gave her to the letter.
Akiros shuffled over on the stump and held his pipe out for the woman. Taken slightly back by the gesture, Kressle took the pipe and cautiously sat beside councillor. Stretching her long legs, she took a pull on the foul tasting pipeweed. Minutes passed as the two sat silently watching the now black outline of the Narlmarches, both feeling unfounded apprehension as it appeared the forest closed in on them.
“I don’t know what fate awaits us but yes, I sense that something, someone in the forest seeks to see our new home turned to dust”. Akiros’ voice was quiet as if not to be overheard by imagined threats. “Even the Stag Lord was afraid of it and he was a brutish drunk who cared little for even his own life. You were based in the edge of woods, did you ever had any…. problems”?
Pulling a small flask from her belt, Kressle took a mouthful of liquor that had been made by the town’s alchemist, a crazy hermit called Bokken. It was rough but potent and as it burned her throat she offered it to her companion you took it without a word. “Sometimes…”her words trailed off as she tried to find the right words. “Sometimes you felt as if something was beside you, watching you, it’s voice rustling in the leaves, taunting, threatening. Sometimes I would awake in the night to feel a weight on my chest and what felt like sharp wooden fingers around my neck. It would be gone in a flash and you always were unsure it was just the mind waking from a vivid dream or nightmare. I hate that forest and would like nothing more to see it logged and burned back into desiccated plains”. The quiver in her voice surprised Akiros, Kressle was not one to show fear but it only served to heightened his own fears.
A bright waxing moon shone down on the two as they sat for another hour in silence, both lost in their own thoughts and emptying the flask. Finally, without a word, Kressle stood and placed her hand on the fallen Paladin’s shoulder. She left it there for but a moment before patting it and walking back down the hill towards the town leaving a somewhat surprised Akiros looking at her back until darkness hid her from view.
Suddenly smiling, he re-packed his pipe and lit it up again. Perhaps there was hope for this town, it provided a new start for everyone who had the strength to reach out and take it, forces of nature be damned. Still, he was not going to change his bet, he had good gold on Cael’lan.