Two colossal statues, each holding a sword pointed to the earth before it, stood watch on either side of the castle gates; paying no heed to the intruder at its gate, for that matter it seemed to Yulan that they had already seen their fair share of intruders for the night.
The outer walls of the ancient castle didn’t have any gates, the remnants of the hinges now stuck out like dirty scabs on the green covered mosses that covered the ancient walls and the path that led to the castle was covered by thick vegetation which appears to have been slashed through with swords.
Yulan stared at the tracks left by men mixed with the marks left by the hooves of their horses, which led to the castle. He could see signs of cart wheels drawn through the ground and light foot prints indicating children or women, a caravan by the look of it or it could be a bandit’s lair returning with their plunder. The tracks looked as if it was made before the previous rain storm.
He felt as if he saw a flash of light pass through the castle windows in one of the upper floors. The forerunners of the next rainstorm, a slight drizzle had already started pelting rain water at his face, Yulan wiped the water from his face, his fingers had gone numb with cold and the one holding the spear was starting to hurt.
His choices where pretty limited, he sighed, stopped thinking and stepped along the cleared path, strange gnomes like shrubs nibbled at his ankles and the mud underneath the plants, flattened underneath his feet as he stepped over them. The giant trees that dominated the forest had been cut a long time ago, when the fort was built and the vegetation that had grown after the fall of the fort had not grown enough to match the ancient ones that dominated the forest outside the fort.
The grounds between the outer walls and inner walls were covered by more giant statues but more worn out than the ones standing outside by the gate. The mist that had accumulated at its feet gave it a ghostly impression when viewed through the dark trees.
Yulan could see the castle’s inner walls; the castle was built in an elevated position to make it harder for the attacking forces to besiege the castle. But Yulan felt as if it was made by the designers of the castle to spite him, somehow they must have foreseen his predicament this night.
As he approached the castle he could see light at the gates of castle’s inner walls and the silhouettes of two men standing at the gates was vaguely visible; and as he got closer, the moon light that made its way through the clouds was enough to; make Yulan see that they were armored. The mud path that had been laid out for him by the rain all this night became graveled as he approached the castle. The gravel cracked under his feet and his mud covered boots left muddy print on the ground.
“Greetings Traveler”, shouted the larger one of the men as Yulan approached the inner wall gate, his face becoming clearer to him, he had thick grey mustache, grey eyes and not one scar marred his face. He looked over forty, which meant he must have had experience, which meant he must be good at his work.
He wore leather pants and a linen shirt under the armor that covered his torso. He wore gauntlets to protect his arms, and a bastard sword hung by his side and a knife tucked under the leather boots. His head was covered by a helmet in Leodith style, which left his face open.The insignia embroidered into his clothes sleeves showed a speared red boar, the crest of Lord Jargael Quinten . The other one was smaller than him, he had a forked beard and his black curls of hair could be seen peeking out of his helmet. He wore the same apparel as his friend
Yulan’s time among civilization had given him a rare talent to read a man’s face and also to know where he will be keeping his weapons along with some other talents.
“You wouldn’t mind if I stay the night here would you “, Yulan asked wearily, noting their hands on their swords.
“We thought so when we saw you coming in through the outer gate”
“There wasn’t much of a gate their and all the attempts by me to search for a camp, for staying the night had been a failure, I was told that this castle would be an abandoned one, by the villagers from the last village.”
“We are all on the same ship stranger “, he said nodding towards the rain storm.” Come in, no reason for you to get more wet.”
Yulan nodded thankfully and entered the shade of the parapet, the huge gate had to offer; he shook the water from his clothes and hair. The man with the forked beard looked at him as if he was a wet dog who had entered his house.
He didn’t notice the third man until he had entered the gates of the inner castle. He was tall and powerfully built, was standing straight and to the shadows which seems to hug him into darkness, he was clean shaven and wasn’t wearing a uniform. He carried a long sword behind him and wore dark jerkins and leather pants. He had his dark hair tied behind.
“My name is Yahowin Gardia and this here is Kathias Venhalim”, said Yahowin, the larger soldier indicating the other and then looked at the man by the shadows and continued, “and the man creeping in the shadow is Prestos “. The man named Prestos sneered.
“My name is Krepestries ”
“So says he “, replied the larger man. “We were dispatched by the Lord of Castle moors to check on some movement in the forest that was reported by the woodmen”.
“That would be the gorgon army “, said Yulan.
“What? “, asked the smaller one.
“Gorgons? “, asked the man who was standing to the shadows.
” I heard the rooks howl in the forest, There is a battle or skirmish going on in the forest and I get the feeling that the gorgons are falling back, the horn sounds that I heard in the forest was ordering a withdrawal. ”
” Is there a battle going on between some of their tribe or is it something else”, the clean shaven one asked Yulan.
” Bad enough to have walked into the path of a gorgon tribe, worse and a thousand years bad luck to consider walking into a battle between two gorgon clans”, grumbled the larger one to himself or maybe he was talking to everyone. Yulan didn’t care to notice, as another shrill cry went up in the night.
Yulan shivered. To the cold he hoped. No man liked to know that he was afraid.
” Well then let’s not waste the bloody time….. stranger help us close this gate.”
The gates creaked as they were closed shut. The men had salvaged a wooden bar to pass through the rusted hoops in the gates to hold the gates in place.
“I don’t think it can hold the gorgons”, remarked Yulan.
” But if what you said was true. Their fore runners would warn about us to their chief and he would completely avoid us, or else they would be battling two enemies at ones and hopefully we could leave by tomorrow. ”
” But what if he is wrong. … Then we would all end up dead… “, said Kathias
” The only chance of us living through this night is if he is completely right about gorgons fleeing from a battle, or if he is completely wrong about the presence of Gorgons in the forest, then in that case it would have been only his fear and we would all be still safe….. If the ones who are winning are the gorgons then the gorgons would just kill us after they kill their enemies….. The only choice we have is to bar this door and hunker in here…. And hope the storms and gorgons will blow themselves over the pit of doom.”
Yahowin turned towards Yulan.
” You never did say your name ”
The soldier nodded. “Come on ….. there is fire in the main hall… You could dry yourself their…”. Yulan murmured thanks as he followed him.
* * *
The main hall was three floors high or so it seemed to Yulan, the ceiling above blended with the darkness of the night visible from the hole in the ceiling.
Water poured through the hole into the floor forming a pool at the base of an oak tree that had grown at the center of the hall feeding on the sunlight that poured from the hole during the day. The shadow of the giant oak, flicked towards Yulan’s feet feeding on the light from the fires around the tree, where it wrangled like a fluttering shadowy flame reflecting its makers.
Yulan heard the door of the hall close behind him as he observed the room, some of the people that had found refuge in the castle turned around to look at the new comer, Yulan returned the favor studying the small gathering, there were at least four large groups, all dressed differently in different fashion, indicating different nationality and different life styles. Multiple fires have been set in the groups to warm themselves.
Yahowin moved towards the group that mainly comprised of soldiers, each one of them sitting around the fire, murmuring about some warm girl from their hometown or about the beast of the forests. The group was huddled into a corner of the hall, away from the roots of the oak that was spread throughout the floor of the old hall, cracking into the ancient grey tiles forming intricate patterns.
As Yulan approached them with the others, their attention zeroed on him, he could feel the eyes from far other corners. Four men sat around a fire in the center of the group, each of them dressed ostentatiously and each of them sat with bearing of nobles who had found themselves in an undesirable place.
Three of them turned around to look at the men approaching them. Yahowin indicated Yulan to stay as he stepped forward and saluted the four, standing straight and fist to his chest. He then proceeded to introduce Yulan to them.
After that Yahowin turned towards Yulan.” You are in the presence of Duke Firedam of Moor Castle, Lord Frostwall, Lord Streamcall and Lord Warkeep”.
The lords of moor castle weren’t reasonable men; they invited Yulan to their fire and asked him about what he saw and what he heard, all the time making Yulan keep a respectful distance from them and the fire as was considered proper. Yulan described about the howl and how he had reached the castle through the chilling winds as the chill in his body rose with increase in cold in the hall that seeped into the hall from the storm. After sometime the unhappy lords gave him leave to dry and warm himself by the fire.
Yulan turned around and picked his way away from the group, he wasn’t going to ask them to share their fire after the treatment he had just suffered under them. His eyes went through the other groups that hudled at the corners of the great hall; his eyes fell on the group that looked like as if they were all strangers to each other, he knew he would feel at home there.