This is the third part of this story.

Mosey avoids death

The attack came as the mist descended over the road. There was an angry shout, followed by another in the opposite direction. Gelliam Mosandre ton Kergephoros hid behind the stout figure of Lujanis and gripped his staff until his knuckles went white. From the corner of his eye, he spotted Elygre peeping her head out of the wagon. Nervously, he waved her back inside.

Lujanis ordered his soldiers to form a defensive phalanx about the wagon and just in time, as the bandits appeared like apparitions out of the mist.

Choose your targets and engage at will!’ Lujanis bellowed.

The bandits, attired in heavy, ragged furs, carried an assortment of weapons. Mainly sabres and swords, though a couple bore rifles.

Mosey, get in the wagon,’ Lujanis said, snapping his fingers. ‘There’s only a score of them, and a rag-tag bunch they are. They won’t trouble us.’

Emboldened by his captain’s words, Mosey walked briskly back to the wagon. A bullet struck the spoke of a wheel, and another ricocheted off a timber strut. In a panic, Mosey clambered over the edge of the wagon where he met the frightened faces of his retinue. Elygre, her ordinarily dusky face now white with fear, seized his hands and buried her head in his chest.

Chaos was going on outside. The shouts and screams of men and women were punctuated by gun fire and the clashing of steel. The sickening sounds of flesh being rent, and the smell of spilled blood came to Mosey’s senses.

The flap at the rear of the wagon was torn off, and a burly figure climbed on board, his sabre between his teeth. Mosey could smell the cheesy, unwashed body and his nose wrinkled.

What have we here?’ the bandit asked in a throaty tone. ‘A gaggle of girlies. Shorn Dialesian lovelies.’ With one gloved hand, he took hold of the nearest cowering courtesan and deftly slit her throat with the other. Mosey watched in horror as the girl’s lifeblood gushed over the polished flooring of the wagon. Laughing, the bandit tossed the dying courtesan out of the wagon.

Mosey!’ Elygre whimpered. The remainder of the retinue screamed and ran in terror off the edge of the wagon, tearing the cover to tatters. The bandit spotted Mosey and Elygre and grinned. ‘Well now, aren’t you two just the picture?’ He peered at Mosey, two piggish eyes under heavy brows. ‘Zail damn me, but you’re the princeling, aren’t you? I mistook you for a girl. I’ve been paid well to see you have a tragic accident, and an accident you’re going to have. You’re about to lose your mind, boy.’

While Elygre shuddered and shrieked, Mosey found a skerrick of courage from somewhere and silently invoked the scytae. He had been warned by Pasper Yaes never to show anyone he had Wirra talent. His life depended on that knowledge remaining a strict secret. Now, his life depended on him displaying that talent. Mere moments before the bandit would’ve reached him, Mosey opened the palm of his free hand and sent a bolt of scorching green energy through the heart of the big man. The bandit was blown off the back of the wagon, leaving a trail of pungent white smoke in his wake.

Elygre pulled herself away from Mosey and gazed vacantly at the man’s corpse, lying some ten feet behind the wagon. ‘Cydain preserve us,’ she squeaked. ‘What happened to him?’

I don’t know,’ Mosey hesitantly lied. ‘Something hit him. Maybe a bullet. But be quiet. We don’t want the others to know we’re in here.’

Oh, poor Gilli,’ Elygre cried, seeing the blood on the floor. ‘Poor, poor Gilli.’

Mosey could say nothing to comfort his favourite concubine, and settled for holding and rocking her gently. Beyond the flimsy canvas of the wagon, the battle was all but over. True to Lujanis’ prediction, the ton Kergephoros party suffered only lightly while the bandit foray had been decimated. Despite this, Lujanis had suffered a grievous wound to his left leg and was in danger of losing it below the knee. He was unconscious beside the wagon when his troops found him.

Hopefully the Oloii have obairai among them,’ said Eliton, Lujanis’ second. As with Lujanis, Eliton had been a lifelong mentor to Mosey. ‘Clean out his wound as best as can be and let him in the rear of the wagon.’ The tall and spare solider glanced about the vicinity. ‘How many did we lose?’

Three soldiers,’ someone said to him. ‘Four members of the Firstborn’s retinue perished. Two were taken by the bandits.’

Eliton sniffed and stared at the road ahead. ‘Alas for them. There’s naught we can do for the captives. We can only pray to Elesmis those savages show some clemency.’

Mosey had joined the others and was kneeling beside Lujanis. ‘Is he going to be all right?’

Yes but he’ll lose a leg unless he gets prompt care.’ Eliton tapped the younger man on the back of the head gently. ‘What about you, Firstborn? Did you come through this OK?’

Mosey swallowed down an impulse to be sick. He nodded silently, though his face bespoke all the answers Eliton needed to know.

The bandit that Mosey had killed had been dragged around to the front of the wagon train. The bolar-oxen snorted and shuffled their hoofs at the stench of death. The leading two animals showed the first signs of hysteria.

Teamster,’ Eliton ordered. ‘Sort out your beasts. Now, what’s this?’

Most likely their leader, Lieutenant. Look at his chest – it’s been blown away.’ The soldier knelt and pulled a small crystal vial from the trousers of the dead bandit. ‘Panath poison. Three drops of this and you’re a willing slave for life.’

Eliton took the vial and smelled it gingerly. ‘Gods above, how did a three-bit brigand have this? You could buy a small kingdom with this concoction.’

It was probably given to him,’ Mosey said. ‘Given by someone who wanted me out of the way or worse.’

You think this was a planned attack, Firstborn?’

Mosey cringed and tried not to look at the dead face of the brigand. ‘He told me it was.’

Eliton grimaced and looked ahead down the murky road. ‘Then it’s a fair bet we’ll be attacked again. I need to send word to your father.’

Don’t.’ Mosey said. ‘Please don’t. He’ll just cause a fuss. A bigger fuss than what he’s already caused.’

Firstborn, you’ve been attacked. You’ve lost half of your retinue and your guard captain is lying senseless on the ground there. A deliberate attack on your person, orchestrated by none other than your future wife if my suspicions are solid. Enforcing the treaty was a mistake and this little sortie proves it.’

Enough,’ said Lujanis softly from the ground. With the help of a number of soldiers, he sat up and eyed his injured leg speculatively. ‘We’re here in Oloi now and nothing short of the Highest High will stop us from reaching Vatarchi.’

Quana sent these men out,’ Mosey began, ‘and that’s war. Nae will not stand for this. I am the Firstborn of the Nain. To assault me is to insult the line of ton Kergephoros. Father will deal with Oloi and its treacherous leader.’

Both Lujanis and Eliton exchanged world-weary glances. ‘Your father the Monarch will do nothing, I’m afraid,’ Lujanis said. ‘He may write some very harshly-worded letters but that will be all. Nae is in no position to contest with Oloi. To march an army into this gods-forsaken land of fog is akin to marching them into Hjoll itself. Oloi has stood since the Collision and has weathered and beaten off all opposition. To be perfectly blunt, Firstborn, I doubt any of us will leave Oloi alive.’ He said this last part in a low voice, intended only for Mosey. The last thing needed was the morale of the soldiery to be drained by such talk.

Eliton came up beside Mosey. ‘How did this man die?’

Mosey, stung by Lujanis’ claims, shot back. ‘Are you questioning me?’

Please Mosey, knock it off. Save the hauteur for the palace. You used sorcery, didn’t you?’ Eliton smiled and raised his eyes to the omnipresent mist. ‘Welkin above, but I knew you and Pasper Yaes were confederates.’

You’re sworn to silence,’ Mosey said. ‘Absolutely nobody must know. I am a Wirra…not a very good one, but I know a few tricks.’

A few tricks? You blew this man’s heart out. Remind me to fear you when you come into your own. And Mosey, I’m already sworn to silence when it comes to your affairs.’

Here’s a rum thing though,’ Lujanis was saying, interrupting them. ‘Do any of these bandits look like Oloii to you? This one has the apparel of a Kilvisti waggoner. The leader looks Mynatani to me. There’s not an Oloii amongst them.’

Mosey, not knowing what to look for, could only shrug. ‘What do Oloii look like? I’ve never met one.’

Curse that limited education of yours. Fancy your father sending you off to marry the Oloii Chieftain without a clue. When we get down to the flat, you’ll see the Oloii. Believe me, they look like nobody in this world.’

Captain, I wouldn’t move that leg too much,’ Eliton warned. ‘I hope there’s a competent obair in Vatarchi, otherwise…’

Otherwise I’ll hopping for the remainder of my days.’ Raising his voice, Lujanis said, ‘Move our dead off the road, and take their effects for return to their families. Let the bandits rot where they lay. The rest of you, prepare to move out.’

Eliton accompanied Mosey back to the carriage. ‘It’s five more days to Vatarchi from here. I hope that’s five uneventful days. Sorry about the members of your train.’

Something in Eliton’s tone reminded Mosey that the tall lieutenant didn’t approve of Elygre and her ilk. Eliton’s heritage was Thad, a people who lived around the city of Thadnurn in Arimorn, five hundred miles south of Nae. The Thads were a religiously and socially conservative folk who hung on to some very standoffish traditions – at least in Mosey’s reckoning. Some wagging tongues might even label Eliton a prude.

Mosey took his place in the rear of the wagon and tried his best to console the sobbing women. Elygre was in the worst state – a shivering and blubbering wreck, and no amount of patting and rubbing would calm her down. ‘Inatta, Mezella, Parapine…all dead. Gone.’

I’m sorry darling,’ Mosey said gently.

We should have never left home!’ she wailed. ‘Oh, for the days in the Anhelopia Room, of dances and soirees. I knew this would be a bad excursion. I told Mezella before we left this was a bad idea. Oh Welkin! And Mezella is dead.’ Her dark eyes were red from weeping and they fixed on something happening outside the wagon. ‘Ii’s mercy! There’s Mezella’s body!’ She looked pleadingly at her lover. ‘They’re just going to leave her on the side of the road?’

What do you want them to do?’ Mosey asked, losing his patience with the girl. ‘Give her a state funeral? We’re in remote frontier country here and the surviving bandits might come back with friends. We need to be away.’

It’s so…undignified.’

Mosey shrugged and pulled his pipe out of its case. He stuffed a measure of green Mynatani tabacit weed into the bowl and lit it with a splint. As he took his first puff, the wagon lurched into motion and the party was away.

If your father saw you smoke, he’d have words with you,’ Elygre said sulkily.

Fuck my father. It’s his idea I’m here in this abysmal land of fog, all set to marry some mysterious woman not even our best sages know anything about.’

Mosey!’ Elygre gasped. ‘You can’t say that about the Monarch of Nae!’

Yes I can. He’s my father and a dolt.’

The surviving women all became silent at Mosey’s words. Their clear brown eyes watched him in agape wonder. In Nae, to disparage the Monarch was death, a law not even blood was exempt from. But, as Mosey thought with a wry smile, we’re no longer in Nae, are we?

He took another draw of his pipe, enjoying the liberty to do openly what he once had to hide.

But what he felt then came unbidden, though not unexpectedly. He felt scared. He had come within moments of death or worse just minutes ago. In his sixteen years of life, he had been pampered, cared for, bowed to, cosseted and guarded. He had emerged from the egg of his old life and what he saw outside terrified him to the core. He tightened his hold around Elygre’s slender waist and, for once, the normally calming effects of tabacit did nothing for him.

After two nervy and watchful nights spent on the road down the mountain, the party came to the central basin that made up the land of Oloi. A wan sun tried vainly to break through the eternal fog, casting intermittent and fitful beams down on a gloomy land of dark pine forests and overgrown meadows.

On the morning of the third day they met their first Oloii. In truth, they met dozens, as the party encountered a military garrison. It appeared out of the fog like a black behemoth and Lujanis ordered a cautious halt as a complement of Oloii military came out of the main bulk.

You would be the Nain royal group?’ the forward of the complement asked in a strange muffled voice. From where he sat in the wagon, Mosey couldn’t see much of anything. He disengaged himself from Elygre’s tight hold and leapt down from the wagon and made his way to where Eliton was in conversation.

The speaker was a woman, from her shape. All of the Oloii soldiers wore knee length surcoats of finely-linked black metal, with what appeared to be black lederhosen underneath. Swords hung at their sides and several had long-rifles slung over the backs. Their faces were hidden by full leather helms.

I am Gelliam Mosandre ton Kergephoros,’ Mosey stated from beside Eliton. ‘The Firstborn of the Monarch of Nae. These are my guards and retainers. Who are you?’

The soldier took her helm off, revealing a pale round face with two close-set blue eyes. But it was her hair that Mosey noted first. It was a crystalline white, almost translucent in colour.

Damn, you look like a leustra,’ Mosey said, speaking what he was thinking.

So we’ve been told,’ the soldier answered evenly, in a cool and seductive voice that immediately earned Mosey’s interest. ‘I’m not familiar with foreign titles so I don’t know how to address you.’

Firstborn.’

Firstborn, I am Less Marshal Miosyne. The Chieftain bade me to accompany you to Vatarchi. You may bring whatever you wish, but your soldiers are to return to Nae.’

I am his bodyguard,’ Eliton said. ‘As is my captain who lies there injured due to a bandit attack inside your border. Wherever the Firstborn goes, we do too. Such is our mandate.’

My orders were explicit. Only the Firstborn and his…’ The woman turned her lips up in a slight smile. ‘And his women were to be brought before the Chieftain. Fear not, he will come to no harm in Oloi. He is our honoured guest.’

They come with me or we turn around and go home,’ Mosey said.

The woman snapped her fingers and several giant figures emerged from the dark building. Mosey watched them approach in amazement. With his own eyes, he was seeing the fabled automata of Oloi. Like ten feet high metal and crystal statues they were, featureless and faceless save for two points of amber light radiating out from the squat heads. They marched up to the Oloii soldiers and stopped. The Nain all took many steps backwards, and the bolar-oxen started to fret in their harnesses.

So, you’d threaten us with these monstrosities?’ Eliton asked.

My orders were explicit,’ Miosyne repeated. ‘The Firstborn and his women and no-one else.’

Why don’t you go to Vatarchi and ask the Chieftain?’ Eliton said. ‘Let her know also that we were attacked inside your border by bandits seeking to do permanent harm to the Firstborn. We lost several fine soldiers and many of the Firstborn’s train. Two were taken as captives by the bandits, probably to live out their lives as base slaves. At the very least, we would like to ask your Chieftain why this was allowed to happen. An Oloii delegation would not be attacked by bandits in Nae.’

We will not need to go to Vatarchi,’ Miosyne said, unmoved by Eliton’s protests. ‘The Chieftain will be asked.’ At her signal, another figure came from the garrison building, a human figure. This one walked with a steady pace and by the time Mosey could see the fellow properly, he knew he was seeing a magician. The tall metal staff the man carried was a badge of office.

A Xene,’ Mosey whispered. ‘It’s a Xene.’

Hey?’ Eliton asked him. ‘What did you say?’

This is Mintimer,’ Miosyne said, cutting off any chance Mosey had to answer. ‘Mintimer is one of the Chieftain’s odylic aides. He will ask the Chieftain if your wants are acceptable.’

Like all sorcerers Mosey had seen in his short life, this one was vain and self-possessed. His oily black hair was slicked back over his narrow head and his hooded blue eyes looked out at a world obviously populated by lesser beings. The sharp pointed chin jutted out and the thin black moustache above his thin lips suggested a preening nature. His clothes and cloak were made of the finest wool and a variety of metallic ornaments and fetishes hung from his braided belt.

Mintimer planted the heel of his staff into the turf and whispered words of power. Mosey’s magically attuned eyes could see the air bend and twist around the staff as the scytae’s power was drawn to it. While everyone watched, Mintimer spoke in a low voice to the staff and received answers only he could comprehend. After a few seconds, he turned to Miosyne and said something none of the others could hear. With a brief yet frosty glance Mosey’s direction, the fellow walked back to the garrison.

He doesn’t like me,’ Mosey whispered. ‘Fancy that.’ Nobody heard him.

The Chieftain will allow you and the injured soldier to accompany the Firstborn and his train,’ Miosyne said to Eliton. ‘The remainder will return to Nae. The Chieftain’s word is law in this land. Two automata will go with your soldiers and there will be no further incidents of banditry.’

Eliton looked first at Lujanis, then Mosey, who nodded. ‘All right, Less Marshal. We will keep the wagon with us. Since we’re done here, may we go on?’

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