Before an hour had past, they left the ghost village. Rand was tied to his horse and Granan was not far behind keeping watch. Despite his situation he could better observe the men that had captured him. He counted twenty-two of them, all aged veterans beyond their thirtieth year.

They left the village and headed north. Rand thought that strange at first since Algin was located to the west but he soon remembered that they were close to the East Road, which cut through the whole continent, going all the way to the Kurklands in the far east. In the past it had been the main reason for the emergence of main cities within the League.

Making their way north meant a change in the landscape as well, the grassland gradually getting left behind them and in its place Gorman highlands and pine ridges appeared. The road stretched out alongside the foot of the ridge, a place Rand had always dreamed of visiting.

As they rode, Rand noticed that Granan was approaching him. After while he said, ”Hey, boy, how old are you? ”

”Ive just turned fourteen ”, said Rand. ”On the fifth day of summer. ”

”Interesting, ” replied Granan. ”Your family must have been very proud. ”

Rand didn answer; he stood silently and lowered his head. The old soldier noticed and asked, ”Have I said something wrong? ”

”Er… well… I don have a family, ” Rand replied, grimly.

”But I thought you were from a noble family, ” Granan retorted, confused.

”My parents were part of Gorlands nobility, but both died years ago and I was raised by the city Ward. ”

Both stayed in silence after Rand had said that. Granan had become clearly dismayed by those words and at last he said, ”Forgive me, I didn mean to be obtrusive ”.

Rand shrugged his shoulders, but Granan resumed the conversation and asked, ”Just one thing I didn understand about your story. How did you get left behind by your company? You stayed behind to sleep in some hidden corner, was that it? ”

Rand blushed as he heard that and abruptly replied, ”No! Im not that kind of person. ”

”What then? ” Granan insisted.

Gawkily, Rand yielded and told him what had happened. When he had finished recounting his story Granan asked again, ”Were they always this mean to you? ”

Rand took a deep breath and answered with a melancholy tone, ”At first they would pick on me because of my father…and my way of being contributed a bit to that too I suppose. ”

Once again they were in silence and Rand felt awkward. He wasn used to spilling out his heart like this.

”Lad, sometimes its important defend yourself, otherwise people will crush you, ” commented Granan,

Rand stood in silence.


On the afternoon of the third day after they had left the village, they reached the Road and Rand was surprised to see that it was covered in basalt stones. Those stones were placed there hundreds of years in the past by the Ledians that first built the road and now the remaining cities looked after its maintenance.

They started to head west just as they arrived at the Road and now it was possible to see an entire timberland composed some pine and fir trees to the north. At some points they were able to see the gray rocky walls of the ridge, in others, mist covered the vegetation.

That night Rand felt the bleak ridge climate for the first time and he hadn imagined that he could feel such cold anywhere in midsummer. During previous nights had had noticed a shift in temperature, but nothing like he was feeling now. Next to him was Granan who would keep an eye on him day and night. Then, Rand spoke, ”Im freezing; do you think we could get nearer to the fire? ”

Granan looked at him and said, ”Sure boy, come with me. ”

They walked up to one of the fires and this time it was Granan who spoke first, ”You didn know that it gets cold along the ridges at night? ”

”No, Ive never been here before. ”

”Youve never travelled on the Road? ”

”No, Ive never been away from Gorland. ”

”I see…so tell me something. Your parents, have you ever lived with them? ”

Rand stared at the fire. After while he answered with a quiet voice, ”My mother died when I was six years old. My father, a few years ago while on duty. I ended up spending more time being raised by the Ward than by my own family. ”

”I see, ” Granan said, ”you must feel a strong connection to your city then? ”

”No! Not in the least, ” answered Rand, exalted. ”They only took me in so that they could come into possession of my family estates. My wish is to leave that place soon as possible. ”

After that, they both sat silently. Rand, who was feeling comfortable talking to Granan, boldly decided to ask him about something that had been plaguing his mind.

”That day, when I was captured, I thought you and the others were going to kill me. Why did your leader let me live? ”

”Lad, just because we
e sellswords does not mean we act like beasts. The Brotherhood is no ordinary group of mercenaries and Irwen is not a bloodthirsty barbarian.

”Mercenaries? So you are not soldiers of Algin? ” asked Rand, slightly taken aback.

”No, not even close. You don know anything about the Brotherhood? ”

Rand shook his head and added, ”The name is not unfamiliar to me, but I don know who you are. ”

”Well, thats a talk for another time. But yes, we are mercenaries except we prefer to be called soldiers, ” Granan replied.

Once again both were silent and Rand picked at the fire with a stick when Granan spoke, ”You were very brave to tell us the truth that day and I respect you for it. But don think you are between friends here. ”

After he had said those words he stood up and left, leaving Rand by the fire.


The fourth day of their travel was nearly at an end when they raised camp in an area shielded from view by the surrounding vegetation next to the Road. Rand realized that the clearing was already known to those men and he assumed stopping there had been part of their plans.

That night Granan had provided him with a blanket to ward off the cold, but Rands slumber was soon interrupted by the sound of men talking and laughing. That had seemed so out of place and unexpected that Rand woke with a startled bounce off the ground.

Granan, who was next to Rand, looked at him and laughed.

After laughing for a good while he said, ”Calm down boy, its just some friends returning. You may go back to sleep if you wish, nobody is going to harm you this night. ”

As he was told this, Rand calmed himself and was able to take in the new situation and analyze it better. He could see that another fire had been lit and a few soldiers were preparing to roast a spit in its flames. Some men were talking to Irwen, who were soon joined by Granan. As Granan approached most of them dispersed and just one of the newly arrived remained in conversation with him and Irwen.


”So, Marcus, what information were you able to gather until now? ” Irwen asked him the moment the other scouts had taken leave.

Marcus was a tall man with a long blond hair. His handsome and friendly face was part of his personal arsenal as the main spy for the Brotherhood. He spoke with charisma and eloquence, women found his charm irresistible and he conveyed confidence to men who didn know him. Those who were on familiar terms with him however knew his game and how to avoid falling into its traps.

The moment Irwen spoke, ”My men did as asked. We spent weeks travelling and spying in the selected regions, we went to villages, cities and castles. We gathered plenty of information, but nothing unfortunately that makes a lot of sense to me. I could not separate truth from delusion, and it seems people are willing to believe just about anything these days. ”

”What do you mean? ” Irwen inquired.

”The men that have gone southward brought back a variety of stories. They reported about ghost towns, vanishing armies and even about some ancient spirits that are punishing the living. The only thing I can affirm as truth is that the war has not yet begun and that no battles have taken place between Gorland and Montha because their armies never reached their points of convergence with the main body of their troops. And that there are many abandoned areas in that region is also true. Now why that is, I cannot say. ”

”We had headed south for a bit before coming here, ” Irwen said. ”We were to go east and then back as agreed, however we ran into travelers on the road who told us the same stories you heard. Thats why we decided to head down to see what was going on there ourselves. ”

”We found a ghost hamlet, ” Irwen continued. ”Except for a Gorlandish apprentice who told us that his companions had vanished after they were ambushed. We presumed that it had been the Mothanishs doing but going by what you told us, it seems unlikely.

”I would say it is impossible, I collected the information on Montha myself and I can guarantee that they did not do it, ” said Marcus, and Granan noticed how hard he was trying to impress Irwen.

They all stopped speaking for a moment, and then Granan broke the silence, ”Well, itll do us little good staying here to wonder about what is happening in the south. We have to focus on our goals and only then can we worry about this new threat. It may even be that both are related somehow, right? ”

”You think that Lord Stephon is behind this? ” Marcus questioned him.

”Who knows? Do you? I only know that he is always plotting and wouldn be surprised if this time its planning to take over the south of the League. But finding out what his schemes are is not my job, it is yours. What do you have to say about the east? ”

Judging by Marcus face, that last comment had homed in on a sensitive spot, and Granan noticed it. However, the spy answered in his serene voice, ”I have specially dedicated my efforts to the east and it was from there that I gathered these reports on Montha. Peasants have fled to there and there was no military mobilization in the region. It is true that there are several plots and intrigues brewing, but nothing in this way. If Stephon is involved in any of it, he is acting underground and with allies I know nothing of.

”What I can say with a level of certainty is that, ” Marcus considered, ”Stephon is playing all the cards he has to gain more power in the east and with that confront with Algin. The city of Sulzbach grows more powerful each day by taking in refugees, discontent nobles and peasants seeking lower tax rates for their harvest, and all embrace him as a generous lord. Besides that, the gorden cult is strong in the city. Knowing the kind of influence this cult can wield on the leaders of Duacin, especially the king of the city, Stephon embraced the cult within his court and is using it as a tool to seduce the young monarch.

”Thats terrible. If Duacin unites with Sulzbach, Stephon will have a superior force to Algin under his command ”, Granan commented.

”But not only that ” continued Marcus. ”Stephon has arranged a marriage between his beautiful daughter and the heir to the city of Avely. ”

”What? And Lord Sygmond agreed? But Avely and Algin have been allies for decades, why would he do that? ” Granan asked, exasperated.

”Lord Stephon encountered an opportunity and presented his daughter to the young Mathew, who fell in love the moment he set eyes on her and pressured his elderly father to accept the marriage, ” Marcus replied. ”You both know that Sygmond is already an old man with a heart which softened when he had his children at an age when he should have already been a grandfather. ”

”Well ” Irwen interjected. ”The situation is worse than we had previously thought. Stephon is forging unexpected alliances and quickly becoming more powerful. Meanwhile, Aleen grows weaker each day he spends in Algin. If at least he had offered his daughter in marriage first… ”

”He tried, ” said Marcus, ”but have you seen that girl? She does what she wants to do and has succeeded in removing any possibility of an arranged marriage years ago. Aleens hands are tied on this one. ”

The three stood in silence when Granan decided to ask, ”Well then, so what are we going to do now? Do we stick to the plan? ”

”No, ” Irwen responded. ”We go to Algin, all of us and with urgency. We need to warn Aleen about whats going on in the east and south. But we must proceed with caution because of all these strange vanishings happening. ”

As he said this he faced Marcus and said, ”Tell your scouts: they are to leave at dawn to monitor our path and will be heading north and south in search of signs of movement and dangers along the road and its proximity. ”

”Understood, ” answered Marcus. ”But first may I speak to this boy you found? ”

Irwen nodded in consent and left, followed by Granan.


Rand noticed that the recently arrived man was approaching him and didn take long to realize that it was with the intent of speaking to him.

The man stopped next to him and said, ”Young man, come with me, I need to speak with you. ”

Rand obeyed the order and followed him.

The man introduced himself as Marcus and asked Rand about what he had seen on the battlefield. Rand recounted his story, taking care to omit the same parts he had not told the others. When he had finished, the man thanked him and with great politeness and took leave, so Rand was alone again.

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