Sir Stephan Robertson turned his head and stared back at Rubane, the last town he would likely see for quite some while. It was certainly the last known town that appeared on any maps he had ever seen of Arthadia. He felt a pang of fear as he turned his head back in the direction he and his companions were riding in. Toward the Wilds, and whatever strange horrors and wonders it contained.

Of course there was little to fear from the Wilds at the fringes of Arthadia, and after talking with the village council of Rubane, the worst they could expect over the next couple of days were groups of bandits. One name in particular rang loud in Stephan’s head, a bandit known only as Hawkeye. He and Daniel had spent the previous evening in the local inn and talking with the locals had revealed that the man was something of a local legend. Feats and deeds of daring were attributed to the man, things Stephan was sure had to be exaggerated.

One old man had spoken of a time Hawkeye had rode into the town square to rescue one of his men from a hanging. He had apparently shot an arrow through the rope of the noose, slicing it in two, and then quick as lightning had put another arrow in the executioners head. In the following commotion he and his rescued friend made a clean escape. Skill with a bow was not unheard of but Stephan had never heard of anyone able to shoot with accuracy like that, it was simply impossible.

He was unsure what to make of the way the villagers had spoken of the man. It was a mixture of fear and awe, and he couldn’t help think maybe this Hawkeye held more sway in these parts than King Elehan did. It was something he would have to report on when he returned from the quest he was currently on.

He looked around at his travelling companions. Sir Daniel Whiteman smiled at him as he rode by on his black, war horse Valinor. Daniel had trained the horse himself and it was a vicious weapon in the Knight’s hands, as lethal as the Whiteman family sword he carried in the ornate sheath at his side. He trotted past Stephan down a dirt trail they were following toward a large forest. When they had topped a hill a while ago he saw that the forest was quite large and he hoped they would not get lost.

He glanced at the King’s Magician who was supposed to be leading them on this quest. He was not happy about trusting the man, there was something about Kulan Gath that put Stephan on edge, but if the King trusted him then he should too. The man was riding a white mare, a gentle horse that Kulan himself had picked from the stables back in Kingarth. He had professed to be a poor rider and so wanted a gentle horse to carry him. He was currently staring absently into the middle distance, his hands not even holding the reins, yet the horse was keeping pace with the others as if he were. His Mage Staff, a long length of some dark wood dangled from his saddle, carved with intricate symbols. Stephan thought he must be using some sort of spell or enchantment on the creature freeing him to do whatever it was he was doing.

Bringing up the rear of their group was the man known as Antonius Stark, the King’s personal armourer. He was staring around himself barely paying attention to guiding his horse. Stephan quite liked the man, he was friendly and quick witted and often provided startlingly insightful opinions on a variety of subjects. Stephan was pretty sure that even Kulan had been surprised at what Antonius knew about magic and spellcasting. The pair had talked at length about the work Antonius was carrying out in creating his enchanted armour.

So far the armourer had shown them gauntlets that fired a magical blast of energy, a helm that provided the man with near perfect night vision and a breastplate that was capable of deflecting magical energy. The latter had been of extreme interest to Kulan and they had talking in depth of what Antonius had done to create that particular piece.

Keeping pace with each other was Sir Whiteman’s Page Boy, Sean Dolan and his own, James Buchannan. They were talking excitedly between themselves, shifting the short swords at their hips every now and then, still not used to wearing them. Stephan worried about bringing them along, but it was a Knight’s duty to teach and demonstrate to his ward, and there was no better way to do that than out in the world. He turned his attention back to the trail, noting they were very close to the forest now.

“Where do we go once we are in the forest Magician?” called Stephan, he was still a little anxious about heading into unmapped territory.

The wizard’s eyes seemed to suddenly snap into focus as he was addressed and looked at Stephan as though annoyed at the intrusion. “We will have to work out way westward as best we can Knight, the far side of this forest is our goal”

Stephan waited for more but when it was not forthcoming he sighed and heeled his own horse, Star, to ride with Daniel. “I do not like the vagueness of our directions,” he muttered to the older Knight, glancing back at Kulan.

“Neither do I Stephan,” replied Daniel, “But then again what choice do we have. If we are to prevent the future that man has scryed, then we must follow his direction. Loathe as I am to do so”.

They both rode on in silence as the shadows of the large oak trees stretched over them.

**********

“At the borders of Arthadia already I see,” said a voice.

“Indeed, they seem to have made good time since leaving Kingarth,” replied a sibilant, more feminine voice. The black water in the viewing pool they were both looking into went blank as the woman waved a pale arm across it.

“And what do you intend to do about it?” replied the man.

A swish of black silk and the woman turned from her pool to stare at him. His features were blurred as they always were when he visited her; he never let her see his true features. She knew his name of course, that was something. She herself adopted many guises to avoid direct recognition and he had never seen her in exactly the same one once, the only constant had been her voice. Occasionally, when he moved, the glamour he was used slid to reveal cuffs of green embroidered with gold, or the bottom of gilded brown leather boots, but nothing more. “I have a few things in mind,” she said eventually, “But first a simple test, to see what skills King Elehan’s men possess. And maybe to see what other tricks my little pet mage has picked up since he ran away from me”

“You will play games while our plans are threatened so?” said the man, anger building up in his voice.

“I play games whenever I will and you would do well to remember that,” replied the woman.

“As you say,” he replied, though his tone still betrayed his anger, “I forget how you enjoy them so. I only hope these games carry a heavy penalty for loss”

“Only if I do not lose,” she laughed. Walking to a large book held up on a tall marble plinth with a golden pentagram inlaid in it, she waved her hand over it and the pages turned, responding to some unseen force. When they stopped she leant over it to read what was on the open page. She turned and smiled at her companion, her black lips curving wickedly. “Yes I think this will do nicely. Let’s see how they handle some hell-spawn”.