Scanning the Commons one more time to make sure that no one else was about, Caswyn took a step forward. As his foot touched the ground a sound from the northern tunnel drove the air out of his lungs. Caswyn stood, frozen, on the threshold of the Commons his body half in the shadows and half in the light of the candles. He clutched the hem of his brown robes in his shaking hands, willing his body to be back in the shadows but to afraid to move. The world outside of the monastery became a weight in the pit of Caswyn’s stomach, could he go home?A figure entered the room, fear finally forced Caswyn back into the shadows, his breath coming back to him in ragged gasps. The figure was covered in black cloth, even his face was covered by a length of black cloth that was wrapped around his head many times, leaving only the eyes visible. The figure’s eyes scanned the room, pausing briefly at the eastern tunnel where Caswyn watched him from the shadows. The figured cocked its head to the side, for a brief moment before continuing its circular inspection of the room.The figure’s slippered feet slid across the stone floor of the Commons emitting a sound that was barely audible to Caswyn. After a few moments with no other sounds save the figures slippers crossing the room and Caswyn’s own breathing, the figure became confident. Instead of slidinghte figure began taking slow methodical steps across the room towards the western tunnel. Heartbeats later the figure’s face was no longer visible to Caswyn. All that Caswyn could see was the figures back, and the two sword hilts jutting out at his shoulders, as he made he was down the western tunnel. To the sleeping quarters of the monastery.
Every time he left the monastery at night he swore that it would the last time, but after a few weeks his resolve would begin to crumble and he would find himself sneaking through the stone corridors of the monastery and out to the village below. The guilt of leaving monastery, of being weak, and the fear of being caught are what drove him to remain in the library hours after the other initiates had left for dinner, studying and memorizing the scriptures. This was an attempt to strengthen his soul and to show the full members of the order that his belief never wavered. The problem was that it wasn’t Caswyn’s fervent belief in the scriptures that drove him to the monastery, it was his father’s belief that there wasn’t enough food to feed a third son. As a result Caswyn never felt as though he really belonged in the monastery, as though he was a fraud. It was this feeling, the feeling of never really belonging, that weakened his resolve and allowed him to forget about his guilt and sneak down to the village below. Caswyn had been placed in the monastery eleven years ago when he was nine, and up until two years ago he had not left the confines of the monastery. It was then that his curiosity and his body got the best of his mind. Caswyn learnt what a whore was soon after arriving at the monastery, the scriptures were full of them and the monks often discussed their presence. Some hated them and others pitied them, but all agreed that they spread vice and sin. But when Caswyn read about whores or the priestesses of Bela’don in the scriptures it wasn’t revulsion or pity that filled his soul, it was lust, and it was lust that drove Caswyn through the darkened hallways of the monastery, down to the village below, and into the temple of Bela’don.
# The stone hallways of the monastery were quiet and shrouded in darkness except for the occasional candle left burning in the wall. A few candles were left burning during the night for those monks who may be attending an all night vigil or for elderly monks who no longer felt comfortable using their chamber pots. Each time Caswyn approaches a segment of the hallways that was lit by one of these candles he became nervous, and would pause straining with his ears to hear if any of the brothers stirred. After a few minutes of no sound save the flickering of the candles as is sputtered and jumped in one of the monastery’s many drafts, Caswyn would hurry through the candles light. Keeping his hood pulled low over his eyes and holding the hem of his brown robes in his hands so that they did not swish against the carpeted floor when he finally made his move through this the largest path of light he would cross through before arriving at his cell, Caswyn wondered how long he had paused here. ‘Twenty minutes?’ The room was called the Commons by the order because many monks liked to meet there to discuss the scriptures. Four stone hallways lead into the Commons, one from each direction. Caswyn stood in the shadows of the eastern tunnel his destination lay across the room and down the western tunnel. The commons was lit by four candles still burning on the walls, whose light almost reached the center of the room, and a large tallow candle on a stand in the center of the room the completed the full illumination of the room. The Commons was often left illuminated all night as a result of its central location and because theological discussions did not always end when the sun went down. At the moment the room was empty and no discussions were occurring, for which Caswyn was especially grateful. As an initiate he was not allowed to leave the monastery, his soul was not strong enough yet, if caught outside of his room at this time he would face immediate expulsion at the very least. Historically initiates who broke this rule were blinded before being expelled from the order, but since no initiate had been caught in the last century Caswyn was unsure if the old rules still applied.
Across the man’s chest black cloth was used to display his standard, a red circle with a red diagonal line cutting through it. The lines on the standard were not smooth; instead their edges were rough as though they had been painted with a brush to achieve the desired look. Something about the standard seemed familiar toe Tharetes but he was unable to locate its meaning in his memory. “The ultimatum I bring is from my liege and his approaching army.” The man’s eyes scanned the crown from left to right, taking in the reaction of the people. “He demands that you swear allegiance to him or your village will be destroyed and all those that live within these walls…” His arms circled in front of his chest gesturing at the walls surrounding Cragton. “…will be killed.” Gasps of surprise rose from the crowd, variations of “When will they arrive?”, “Kill him now!”, and “What should we do?” were being voiced by all types of people. ‘The next five minutes may decide the fate of all these people.’ Tharetes thought. ‘Someone strong must step forward to lead this crowd before someone excitable, or worse yet a coward, grabs a hold of this mob.’ “The army will arrive in two years time, I must have your answer before I depart in three days. If I do not return to my liege then your village will be destroyed.” The crowd was again taken aback, but this time instead of shouts, the nervous glances at neighbors were all that could be seen. “Two years? Is he serious? Does he really expect to surrender to an army that won’t be her for two years?” The old man said as he turned to look at the young man with the bloodshot eyes. “What the…” the man exclaimed as he realized that he wasn’t talking to anybody anymore, the young man was gone. Turning around to look down the street he saw the young man walking the other way out of down, his head turned down towards the road as though he was deep in thought.
“Well,” Answered the bearded man, “someone’s here and apparently he says that there is an army heading this way.” “What’s going on here?” Someone shouted from the crowd. “Yes!” Someone else shouted from the crown. “Why are we waiting here? Why doesn’t anyone tell us what’s happening?” As Tharetes examined the crowd he could feel their agitation growing like a wave approaching the shore. They were invested in this meeting, if an army truly was marching on Cragton, it might mean their lives and the lives of their families. For Tharetes it simply meant another trip down the road, a trip he would have made regardless of any army, although now his direction was chosen for him. Another one of the problems of being tied town to one place or to a family. A guardsman walked out onto the town gate and began gesturing for the crowd to be quiet. The guardsman wore a leather cuirass that had been dyed red, differentiating him from the other guardsmen that Tharetes had met in Cragton, both on and off the card table. “Please everyone, please, please!” The guardsman’s voice rose to almost a full shout before the congregation before him fully quieted down. The man looked down at the crowd as one used to giving orders to others would, but the slow sway of his body from left to right showed Tharetes that he struggled to maintain the calm demeanor that he stove to project. ‘The captain of the guards in Cragton, aside from drunken brawls at the inn this may be the first test of your mettle.’ “Please, an emissary has arrived…” ‘Why does he pause?’ “From an army that is apparently approaching Cragton. He has come to deliver us an ultimatum.” A man stepped out from the guard tower to stand beside the captain of the guards. The crowd froze momentarily, before eyes began glancing at their neighbors sending messaged of surprise. Tharetes expected their surprise, but what he did not count on was his own. The man’s dress was completely unfamiliar to Tharetes. It wasn’t a subtle shift from earlier fashions the addition of a headscarf in Bray Bend or the removal of a sash in the lower provinces, it was a full-scale departure. The man was dressed head to toe in woven leather. Leather dyes black, white, red, and green was woven together in a grid-like pattern that radiated colours from the center of each major body part. In almost bull’s-eye like fashion the man’s dress pulled the eye to different parts of the body in an almost dizzying effect.
‘Twelve gold coins and no breakfast.’ Tharetes thought as he walked out of the inn with his pack hoisted over his left shoulder. ‘This is not a good day.’ The bang and the sound of a wooden bolt sliding into place behind him let Tharetes know that the innkeeper thought that whatever was happening was important enough to risk not making anymore money. Except for a few dogs sniffing at some trash by the front of the inn the town seemed deserted. Tharetes started walking towards the town gate reasoning that given the current situation, and decided lack of breakfast, now was as good of a time as any leave. On his way to the town gates he came across the town well. Tharetes stopped there momentarily to fill his belly and wash some of the grease out of his jet-black hair, before continuing on. Moments later, water still dripping from his hair down the back of his shirt, Taretes arrived at the town gate. ‘The reason the town seems so empty, is because it is.’ Tharetes thought wryly, noting that the entire populace of Cragton seemed to be milling about the town gates. The crowd was agitated; people were speaking with their neighbor in hushed tones, eyes darting around making sure that no one else was listening. “What’s this all about then?” Tharetes asked the elderly gentlemen with the white beard beside him. “Haven’t you heard? We’ve received an emissary from an approaching army.” “An approaching army? Whose army is matching on Cragton?” Tharetes asked. “There hasn’t been a war or an army on the march in years. I’m sure that I would have heard something about this on the road before today.”
# Shouts from the stables below brought him back to consciousness. His body lay tangled in the bed sheets on what appeared to be the floor, but that wasn’t the first thing that he noticed, that was the pounding in his skull. Tharetes eased his eyes open to the full light of the sun streaming through his window and then quickly shut them in pain. Vague memories of playing double-inns last night with two of the towns guardsmen came back to him as he rubbed the feeling back into his face. ‘But did I win or loose?’ A quick jingle of his purse, tied to the pants he still wore from the night before, confirmed that he had indeed left the card game a winner. Tharetes briefly stood up from the floor before a wave of nausea overtook him and forced him to a seated position on his bed. ‘Two-fisted Jack, damn those guardsmen and this inn’s foul ale, who knew these townsfolk could drink so much.’ The door to Tharetes room burst open revealing the elderly innkeeper, a nervous expression was plainly written on his face. “I’m sorry to disturb you Sir, there’s trouble at the town gates.” Tharetes stumbled up from his bed, using the small table beside his bed for support as another wave of nausea passed through him. “What sort of trouble?” “I’m not sure Sir, something big though, everyone’s cleared out of the in so far…” Stammered the innkeeper, “…well except for you.” Ignoring the pain in his head Tharetes rolled his eyes. “So you want me to clear up my tab and vacate is that it?” “Yes Sir, you’ve worked up quite a tab, what with ale all night for the three of you…” ‘For the three of us? Perhaps I didn’t win as much as I thought I did.’ Tharetes jingled the coins in his purse, noting the look of anticipation on the innkeeper’s face. ‘Even in the midst of all this trouble the greedy never rest.’ Tharetes thought to himself as he handed the innkeeper ten gold coins. “There were the drinks for the ladies as well Sir.” ‘For the ladies?’ “Eleven?” “Twelve.” Frowning, but unwilling to argue given his lack of memory Tharetes handed the innkeeper two more gold coins. “What about breakfast then?” Tharetes asked. “Ow I’m sorry sir.” The innkeeper apologized. “Everyone has gone to the town gates, there’s no one here to cook.”