A Flash back prt2. Aranei and Milly: The Town Time Forgot

--Five Weeks later

Sir Kristoff steered his destrier onto the old, overgrown farm road that snaked across the demon-haunted landscape of rural Dalen. Tree branches extended overhead like an umbrella whilst others seemed like reaching arms and hands, threatening to unhorse him. The former Aelmerian knight rode warily with one gauntleted hand holding the reins and the other resting on the pommel of his sword. It was afternoon, but the tangled canopy of gnarled tree limbs blotted out most of the overhead sunlight, casting the desolate road in deep shadow. His head on a constant swivel, alert to the ubiquitous danger of demons and bandits lurking in the undergrowth, the knight suddenly reined his mount to a stop as he heard a coughing sound coming from the side of the road.

Bandits lying in wait? Looking around, he drew his greatsword and spurred his horse forward to where he determined the noise came from. When he reached a low ditch he caught a glimpse of two bedraggled figures lying together in the depression. He lifted his helm's visor and saw they were two women, both looking in a bad way.

Sheathing his weapon, Sir Kristoff dismounted and quickly skidded down into the ditch to see what he could do for them. One of the women, a dark skinned elf raised her head weakly at the noise of his clinking armour.

"We got nothing to steal and are too sickly to make good slaves," Aranei groaned.

Kristoff raised his hands to show he was no threat. "I am no robber or slaver, Miss. I mean you no harm. How are you sick? Do you have the plague?"

"No," the elf said. "It's just exhaustion, exposure, and thirst that has taken its toll. Our supplies ran out three days ago..."

"Have you journeyed far?" The knight pulled his waterskin from his belt and knelt down, offering it to her.

"Where are we?"

"East Dalen, or what was once called Dalen."

"Dalen? Then yes, we have travelled very far. We hail from Sarnia." Aranei accepted the canteen and only drank a few drops of the precious life-giving water before shoving it into the parched mouth of the other woman. "Come on, Milly, take slow sips..."

It was when the second woman who had her head in the first’s lap turned her head slightly that Kristoff could see she was in much worse shape than the elf. A dirty bandage covered most of the right side of her face. The tell-tale sign of a disfiguring burn under it, along with the other uncovered injuries on the rest of her body Kristoff could see that the right side of the woman’s face was likely very badly burned.

The woman took a few slow sips before coughing. Having trouble swallowing the water, not only from the over dehydration but the stomach overly devoid of food suddenly having something in it nearly made her sick.

Milly opened her one good eye and squinted at Kristoff, but it was a somewhat far off and dream-like stare, as she took in the man and his armor. “Are you a knight of Aelmere?” she asked.

“I was… once upon a time,” Sir Kristoff admitted. “Now I am a Knight of Silika.”

Aranei brushed away some of the hair stuck to Milly’s soiled bandage. “I don’t know who that is. Are they the leader around this area?”

“She is who I have sworn fealty with,” the knight answered. “She is a leader, but she stands outside any official standing. There are those in Dalen that claim legitimacy due to birthrights and ancient legacies, but Silika makes no such pretenses. Though in a way she could,” he added under his breath..

Aranei looked at Kristoff, her eyes shifting. “You and your people have no connection to The High Church...do you?” she asked, her voice was stoic but Kristoff could see in her eyes a note of well hidden fear.

“No, ma’am. None at all. The only connection I have to the High Church is fighting their holy knights during the Sarnia-Aelmere border conflict,” he answered, worried he may have fought relatives or loved ones of theirs even as he noted the elf seemed afraid of the church.

Aranei spoke again, looking at Milly. “We desperately need a place to rest. You said you were from a town, yes?” Aranei asked, “We don’t even need beds. We just need a roof and some time. If we can’t stay long we understand.” she added. “I just...we just haven’t slept well in weeks, and I can’t carry her any farther. I’m just too weak, and she’s too weak to walk.”

“I am from a town... of sorts,” Sir Kristoff said, not sure if that was the right word for it exactly. “One thing we are not short of are roofs. We have plenty of vacant houses at the moment, many more than you would imagine. You'll see what I mean when you arrive. I'll go fetch a cart to take you there now. It's not far.” He remounted his horse and rode off at a gallop.

“Think he’ll be back?” Aranei asked Milly.

She began to give up hope until some forty minutes later Kristoff reappeared on his charger and behind him was a wagon trundling down the road being pulled by two oxen, and being driven by a grizzled dwarf.

“Are these the poor souls you were telling me about Kristoff?” Brodie asked as they approached the half dead looking women. “By The Fair Lady, those Knights of Sarnia are becoming more mysterious by the day. Wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t people under those helmets anymore.” he mumbled angrily as he hopped from the cart to help Kristoff get them in the back.


The Forgotten Town of Nebelhain

As they rode into the village Aranei was the first to get a good look. The place appeared at a glance to be nothing but a series of dilapidated buildings that were moss covered, ivy strangled, and sinking into themselves from years of rain and snow and no maintenance.

The next thing she noticed was two strange upright structures, they looked like the frames to a huge house but were too close together. As they got closer Aranei could see the other side of a massive crevasse. Cutting a line through the landscape, like a wound cut by a tremendous blade, it rose up slightly on the jagged edges. It was then she realized the strange structure was a bridge spanning the width of the canyon. And across this divide she saw the actual town. A hodgepodge of buildings, clustered together around what was likely one the markets epicenter, and beyond that, hidden behind a cluster of oak and willow trees was a metal gate barring a massive old manor house on a hill. Big enough for a lord or lady with a huge family tree.

“Has this place really been abandoned and then reclaimed by you folk?” Aranei thought as they crossed the bridge, trying not to look to try and see the bottom, and ignoring the creaks and groans of the metal and wood.

“We don’t know what happened to the town,” Brodie began, “Stories go one day this crack just appeared, well not all at once. But it wasn't a quake, the ground just started to break, like when a dry hand splits from too much work. Some people say the town’s folk left after the crack swallowed part of the town. Some people say it was where all those demons running amok came from and that they ate the townsfolk. Me. Well I think this fissure was a stroke of bad luck for the town to make way for a sanctuary of sorts for use in the future.” Brodie turned his head back slightly. “Everything in balance. Just like The Fair Lady teaches. Gotta have some bad to get some good. Rain storms bring flowers, fungus, and food. But too much rain damages crops and floods people’s homes. But can’t let that make you hate rain.” He shrugged, “Just how I see it don’t let my ramblings do ya no harm, sorry if I offend.”

“It’s alright,” Milly said, looking at the sky. “We understand what you mean, but seeing the silver lining right now is hard, I know we are lucky to be alive. But the damage is done and people I devoted my life to tried to kill me for moving on with my life.”

As they entered Nebelhain people began to gather, coming out of their homes and stopping what they were doing. Everyone wanted to see the newcomers, since it was a rare sight it was rather intriguing for everyone. Even the children stopped playing their games to come see and welcome Aranei and Milly.

But unsurprisingly the children all gasped at the wounded woman, some of the more squeamish fled, but most started when they got a good look. Brode dropped the reins of the wagon and waved one hand threateningly. “Shove off if you’re going to be rude.”

Kristoff swung down from his horse. “They’ve been through enough to not have to come here and be stared at. Begone with you,” he said, sending the kids running away.

“It’s alright, they don’t know any better,” Milly said, cracking a smile.

“No, it’s not alright. It’s never alright to be rude,” said the gallant Kristoff, his honourable sensibilities offended on their behalf.

Before the knight could finish what he was saying he was interrupted by mumbling and the sound of shuffling feet in the dry dirt, “Move, move…” an old voice said, “Let granny see…” she said as he parted through the crowd, a small, wizened woman, hunched with age and pure white hair. “Oh...oh the poor things...do they have a place to stay yet? If they do, I’d like to bring them meals later. They don’t need to spend time cooking while they heal.” Mrs. Tollhaus said.

Brodie began to help Aranei down, and help with Milly second. “We got a house picked out, but we’ll need a day or two to patch up the room.”

“Oh dearies would you like to stay with me?” She smiled. “Maybe my grandson will visit. He’s so kind, I’m sure you three would get on swimmingly. And he might bring his wife next time. She’s a sweet girl. Hair like a wheat field and eyes like the sky. Couldn’t have picked a better girl.” She began to ramble. “I’ve got plenty of stories, I was among the first people here. I can tell you all about our town if you get tired of my other stories.”

“Please wait a moment.” A soft but loud voice said, as a very tall woman approached. “I do not mean to keep you from your rest, but I wouldn’t feel right not welcoming you myself.” she said, smiling. “I am Silika, the leader and founder of this community. “Do not worry, you are safe here, powerful magics protect this place, and you are not alone. We are a collective of people who the world forgot, living in a place just as forgotten. You may choose to leave once you are healed and healthy, but we do hope you choose to stay with us.”

The woman was tall, taller than a human. And her hair was a silvery gray, and a thick fur covered lizard like tail. She looked at them not with pity but sorrow for their lot in life. She gave them both a sad motherly smile. “We can speak more once you get yourselves back on your feet. I’ll have Kristoff fetch the doctor for you.” She smiled again, gave a bow and departed.

The two with help from some of the women in town made their way to Mrs. Tollhaus’ home who generously offered them her grandson’s room, who she claimed was away presently. And Brodie started bellowing some commands to a few of the townsmen who set to work fixing up one of the dilapidated homes enough for Aranei and Milly to move into, a two-storey house of stone brick and lime mortar with a gable roof that had sat uninhabited for untold decades and whose renovation had already been partially started on. The two could hardly believe something like this was just being given to them by these welcoming folk. A whole house to call their own.

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