Rand woke screaming, because he was being hunted in his nightmare. The first thing he noticed when he woke up was a throbbing pain in his head, accompanied by a pain which then spread to the rest of his body. The moment Rand was able to stand he examined himself and saw that he was covered in bruises, caused during the cowardly attack he had suffered. As he checked over his body, he remembered his dreams and a chill ran down his spine, but he controlled himself with the thought that it had all been part of the delirium caused by the poison.

Silence reigned in the forest since there were no noisy animals about and no signs of people close by. He went to where his company had been encamped, remembering the plan Silas and his friends had come up with and cursed them for succeeding. He did not have to walk far to see that what he had experienced the day before was not the fruit of any delirium. The forest floor was full of puddles of blood and signs of combat and he could see pieces of wood and some weapons and armor scattered all over the place. Some trees had been riddled with arrows and a foul stench hovered in the air, the odor of death that Rand couldn bear.

The more he trudged through, the more signs of struggle he saw. However, he did not see any bodies. Rand approached what seemed to be the center of where the combat had taken place, due to the devastation, and there he noticed that on the ground was an intriguing dark stain. Unlike the blood stains that permeated the area, this one was larger, much darker and reeked of a nauseating smell. Rand tried to block his nose, but it was too late. He had already been wrestling with feelings of queasiness, and that caused him to finally vomit on the ground.

After Rand recomposed himself, he ran from that place. An uncontrollable fear that something would come back to kill him possessed Rand. He ran to the stream where Silas and the others had attacked him and there he sat braced on a tree and tried to calm himself. Rand noticed that half the afternoon had already passed and the sun had begun to wane, he then drank some water from his canteen and thought of what his next move would be. He could go back to the city and tell others of what had happened, but it was a journey of several days on foot and without access to food or help until he got near Gorland. Or he could continue on to the fort, but something in him advised against it. After contemplating his choices he recalled there were a few villages north of that stream, and knew that if he could find some help there his chances would be heightened.

Since he felt tired and his body had not yet fully recovered from the poison and the beating, Rand decided to leave all that for the next day. So he ate the rest of the provisions he had with him and when finished he hid himself in between the roots of a tree to sleep.


When he woke up the sun was about to rise. Rand felt cold and was he thankful nothing had attacked him during the night. He left his hiding spot, drank a few sips of water and started his journey northward, carefully observing the lichen on tree trunks to guide his direction just as they had taught him in the Ward. After he left the forest Rand walked onto the grasslands once again and looked attentively towards the horizon hoping to see something other than just the natural landscape around him. But he saw nothing.

Rand walked all day, crossing fields, streams and small woodlands. However, the serenity of the nature he was immersed in did not reflect what he felt on the inside. His mind would wander, thinking about the horrors he had left behind and what would become of his future, what would happen to Gorland if Montha were to win the war and what would become of his estates. Since he was his fathers only heir, Rand had a right to claim them upon turning sixteen.

Little by little the landscape around him began to change, the ground became irregular and hills would start to come into view in front of him. He knew that from then on it would be like that until he reached Pine Ridge to the north, where fields gave way to dense forests.

Just before nightfall Rand was outworn and briefly thought about stopping to rest, however he looked ahead and saw that the vegetation was different; taller and more orderly. He looked more carefully and realized that what he was seeing was some sort of plantation and his heart beat faster as he concluded there had to be a village nearby.

Rand hurriedly pushed on and after a few excited moments he was close enough to confirm that he had been right. It was a plantation of corn. He walked though it for a long while, following the tracks in between the crops. After he had covered some ground his view was blocked by a mound and he decided to climb it so that he could get a better view of the surroundings.

Rand headed towards the higher ground, crossing the corn fields, and when he reached the crown he noticed that there were plantations all around him, but some of them seemed to have been invaded, there were huge patches of crop that had been razed by something. Day had already yielded to night and the crescent moon was of little help with the meager light it provided. Even though, Rand could make out some buildings to the east, which he thought to probably be the dwellings of the peasants who tended those fields.

He made cautiously for them. He closed in on the village, which was small and could probably just house a few families at. Silence reigned, he could not hear any sounds that could have been produced by animals or people and he could not see any lights coming from that place. Rand felt a chill run down his spine as his mind was invaded by dark memories. He struggled to control his thoughts and pushed himself forward, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword. Nevertheless biting his lips with nervous apprehension.

The village was a typical gathering of small wooden and thatched cottages with some larger houses located at its center. There was also a well at the center of the villa and to the east, a windmill. A cold wind cut through the night and made sounds which left the hairs at the back of Rands neck stand on end.

As Rand progressed on the road which led to the houses he would keep a fixed eye on them, searching intently for any signs of life. He then realized that the doors on most of them had been left ajar. He walked up to one and cautiously stepped inside, noticing that the first room was empty and in disarray. After inspecting the place he walked towards the bedroom, heart beating fast and expecting an invisible blow from the darkness with each step he took. He looked nervously about him but as he entered the room he could see that it was empty, just like the rest of the house, and that calmed him.

Rand went to the other houses. Despite the fact that he wasn carrying a torch with him, which made things very difficult, he was able to search most of the village before he finally gave up trying to find a living soul. It dawned on him that he was in a ghost village. Something had happened to those people and Rand couldn wait to leave and put it all behind him, but he needed to eat and sleep, so he decided that the wiser thing to do would be to spend the night there. Fortunately he was able to find a bit of food in some homes. With these he was able to quell his hunger but the extreme fatigue was starting to set in. He chose one of the houses to spend the night and there he slept through yet another turbulent and restless sleep.


Rand was awoken by a shove that made him fall to the ground. As he struggled to peel his eyes open he heard someone saying, ”Bring Irwen here! And keep that lad quiet on the ground. ”

Just as those words were uttered, the next sound Rand heard was that of a sword being drawn from its scabbard. Rand opened his eyes and they confirmed what he had felt: a long blade was positioned just under his chin. The man who handled it was short and thin. Rand quickly noticed that he was clad in protective mail body armor which glistened metallically.

The other man standing there was tall and heavyset; he had a short gray beard despite his baldness. His forehead bore a long scar on the left side and from his face protruded a large nose. The bald man seemed to be in his fifties and looked at Rand with severity, but that didn mask the expression of worry he wore.

Rand saw that they had taken his sword that he had left beside the bed, and under the circumstances they only thing he could do was wait to see what would happen next.

So the bald man spoke, this time to Rand, ”It seems we have woken you, we apologize for the inconvenience. ”

Rand noticed the ironic tone in his voice.

”But don even think about moving until I say so, otherwise you will go back to sleep, except this time without ever waking up. ”

After he had uttered this threat, he became silent and kept a fixed glare on Rand, who stayed absolutely motionless. He knew the risk those men represented. In times of war, it was common for thieves and bandits to become more daring and boldly attack more often..

As Rand sat there giving in to feelings of self pity, he heard a sound coming from outside the house followed by noises that came from the next room, which only stopped when a man burst in through the door.

Rand took him to be the leader of the group when he saw the quality of his clothes. But what really gave him away as the leader was his proud and confident posture, despite being younger than the rest.

The newcomer looked curiously at Rand, but it was the bald man who spoke first.

”Irwen, we searched and rummaged through the whole village and all we found was this one sleeping here on this bed. ”

Irwan glanced at the bald man before returning his gaze to Rand and said, ”Apparently my brothers did not treat you with delicacy. I apologize for our behavior but you must know that these are harsh times and certain courtesies are best kept to the side until more propitious moments. I am going to ask you a few questions, which I want answered truthfully and promptly, otherwise our manners will be the least of your problems. ”

Despite the friendly undertone of his voice, Rand could feel the veracity of his threat. Irwen spoke with a low voice, the manner of which left Rand feeling uneasily fearful. Without the need to be coaxed further, he nodded his head in agreement.

Accepting the gesture, Irwen continued, ”What happened to the people of this village? ”

”I don know, I arrived here yesterday evening and saw nothing and no one. I just slept here, on this bed, ” Rand answered, his voice failing at end.

Irwen remained inconspicuous as Rand spoke and asked again, ”Where do you come from and what are you doing here? ”

Rand knew that lying would be pointless now, because his way of speaking, his clothes and demeanor would instantly betray any lie he were to give them. Those men didn look like ordinary bandits, so he decided to try his luck and told them the truth.

”My name is Rand Arns, I am an apprentice with the Gorland Ward and I was marching with my company to fight in the war against Montha. We were ambushed on the way and everyone who was with me has disappeared. I made my way north in search of a settlement so that I could get the resources to go back home to my city. ”

Everyone stood silently. Now that he had told them his story, it seemed an absurd tale. Why would only he have had survived the skirmish? For shame he had omitted the part about the surprise attack and the poisoned dart.

Irwen stared at him intently and asked, ”What do you mean when you say they disappeared? Armies do not just vanish into thin air, what really happened? ”

”Well, I don really know because just before the attack I went to a nearby stream for some water. When I was returning to where I had separated myself from the group I saw that a battle was in progress, but I could not see who was fighting because I was feeling exhausted and had begun to feel ill. The next day when I woke everyone had gone and the ground showed clear signs of struggle, but no bodies. Very much like whats going on here…

”You think the monthanish did this? ” Irwen inquired, interrupting Rand.

”Im not certain, but who else could it have been? ”

Nobody answered Rands question, who preferred to omit the blurry visions he had seen on the day of the skirmish, since that was sure to hinder more than help.

Everyone shared a momentary silence and Irwen glared at Rand as if he had been trying to gain access to Rand thoughts to see if there was any truth to what he had been told. Rand wondered if spilling out the truth could cost him his life.

”Rand, I am going to assume that you have spoken the truth. That you haven lied about your origins because frankly that is written all over your face. Something very strange going on here, but that is not what is on my mind now. As for you, since you are a noble of Gorland, I cannot simply leave you here. So I have to take you to Algin and there your fate will be decided. ”

Hearing that was the same as receiving a death sentence, and Rand replied without thinking, ”What do you mean, Algin? No Gorlandish has been welcome there since the declaration of war! You might as well kill me and be done with it. ”

As he heard that the bald man answered, ”Best be careful with what you ask for, boy. ”

Irwen waved his hand, gesturing for the man to be silent and in a friendly voice he said, ”Don worry. You Gorlandish think you are the center of the world, but Algin doesn care in the least about this senseless war you are fighting. Besides, you are the responsibility of the Brotherhood and will not be handed over to the city Ward.

As he said this, he turned and faced the other men that were in the room with them and said, ”We leave now, let the others know so that they may begin to prepare for departure. ”

He then turned to face the bald man and said, ”Granan, you will be responsible for watching over our young noble. ”

The bald man just nodded his head in agreement while the others left the house. He made Rand turn around and tied his hands with a cord of rope. Rand paid little attention to that, his mind was whirling with Irwens last words to him. What was the Brotherhood? The name wasn an unfamiliar one and he tried to remember where he had heard it.

But anyhow, his fate was in the hands of those men from now on.

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