Magma Core (A Mage's Journey)

Chapter 10

My head throbbed from the intense drinking games the troops played. They were good people, who shared stories of their lives, how they had been conscripted and jokes that sometimes were funny and sometimes made everyone around the campfire groan.

My body was sluggish and I really didn’t want to get up but knew I had to. It was time to continue the long and slow march. Hopefully, the Duke’s army would reach BeigeBark, a small neutral village.

I hadn’t properly prepared for the cold nights. I needed some blankets or warmer close so I wouldn’t freeze.

The journey was slower than yesterday since the soldiers were sore from the previous day’s work. I wandered up and down the line of troops to see just how many troops the Duke had managed to scrounge up. I passed Rayan leading his battalion. His anger was on full display and his impatience was getting the better of him. He wasn’t used to going slow, I could tell the speed of his troops was not up to his standards.

It’s not like yelling would speed up his troops. They still had to stay in formation behind the first battalion, since they were the ones who set the pace.

I could hardly count the sea of troops the Duke had enlisted. There were just too many. Maybe 100,000, maybe more, was the conclusion I came to.

As I walked with the troops, I watched the trees become sparser, thinning out until only an endless barren field was left. It was a much hotter day, especially with no shade to combat the sun. I was sure I wasn’t the only one desperate to reach the village or atleast find some shade.

The sun dropping marked the end of the day would soon come. My feet were battered and bruised. Sores began to emerge on the bottom of my feet because of the sand that had snuck into my boots.

Eventually small structures peaked over the horizon. I smiled knowing we had reached the village. I could hardly wait for so much needed rest. I looked over at Cloud who seemed unaffected by the dismal conditions we had trekked in. He looked as if he could care less that we had reached the resting spot for the night. He was a monster.

A meager amount of villager guards stood between the peaceful little village and the Duke’s hoard of troops. The first battalion halted a hundred yards from these men. Behind the guards I noticed some well-dressed civilians who most likely ruled over BeigeBark.

I decided to head towards the front with Crom and meet up with Jared and the other mages to figure out what was going on. I had never been part of an army before so I had no idea whether or not this was typical behavior.

I found the others had already grouped up and were discussing the situation. Jared and Rayan looked relaxed, as if the army was there domain and they had been raised for this very situation. I could tell by Cloud’s body language he was visibly uncomfortable. Sarah looked slightly agitated but nowhere near as tense as Cloud.

“What’s happening?” I asked the group.

“The village has sent out an envoy to greet us.” stated Rayan casually.

“And who will go speak with them?” I asked.

“We’ve decided that Jared and Rayan will go speak to them. You’ll tag along and act as a guard. You’re not to speak with the diplomats they send, or Jared and Rayan for the remainder of the negotiations. Cloud and I will stay behind to look over the troops.” said Sarah.

I nodded. I didn’t have any experience speaking with nobles so their decision made sense. I was sure I would only get in the way of Jared and Rayan, who I assumed were experienced negotiators.

“We’ll leave in ten. Make sure you gear up Erik. Looks are everything and you need to look like a formidable body guard.” Jared stated.

Again I nodded. I headed out to collect my gear and maybe borrow a claymore from one of the troops. If I had to look intimidating, I needed a large weapon that attracted attention. My small daggers wouldn’t scare anyone even though they were quite deadly.

Jared was wearing an expensive silk robe when I met up with him. It likely cost more than all the money I had ever touched combined. It’s threads were a shiny gold and the embroidered pattern was very elegant and very fitting for a noble. Rayan was in humbler clothes but they were clean and tidy. If I didn’t know any better, I would assume he was a scribe.

Jared and Rayan slowly trotted on there horses towards the diplomats. I didn’t own a horse so I walked alongside of them, my hand gripped the hilt of the claymore sheathed by my waist.

The village guards were lined in front the diplomats with long spears and large shields. They were the closest a human could come to imitating a wall.

As we approached the village guards moved aside allowing for Jared, Rayan and me to pass. I accidently bumped into one of the guards, causing him to slightly stumble backwards. He quickly caught his footing and retook his position.

“Welcome to BeigeBark. It’s unusual to have such a large group show up to our small and humble town,” said the taller of the two diplomats. He had very pale skin and hair almost as light as his skin. He was lanky, clearly unused to physical labor or fighting.

“We come from the Duke. We’re are here to stay the night before continuing our journey to the capital.” said Jared.

“And what business do you have at the capital.”

“It’s none of your concern. Like I said we’ll be staying here for the night before heading to the capital,” stated Jared in a more forceful tone.

“It is my concern. Everyone who enters through BeigeBark is my issue. I would be at fault if I unintentionally aided a group that powerful people had a vendetta against. The army that stands behind you may be harmless, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to look into it.”

“We’re powerful people,” Jared spat with as much vitriol as he could muster. Rayan latched onto Jared and pulled him back. It would do our group no good if we got into a skirmish so I was glad Rayan stopped Jared.

The other village diplomat moved forward. He pushed the taller diplomat behind him.

“We need to know your intention if we’re going to let you in. Once we get through that, the village would be more than accommodating for your troops to unwind from their journey.”

“The King sent us to aid his troops. The Carthinians are invading from the North.” lied Rayan.

“That’s great. We’ll need written documentation from the King.” said the taller diplomat, who was still wary of the Duke’s troops.

“Absolutely. We’ll retrieve and give you the documents in thirty minutes time.” said Rayan.

I slowly walked next to Rayan as we made our way back to the Duke’s army. I looked at Jared who was full of anger. I was certain he wasn’t used to being denied.

It wasn’t long for the group to regroup. Rayan recounted the events that happened back to Cloud and Sarah, keeping them informed on what was discussed. Jared sat with his back away from the group, clearly too upset to participate in the discussion.

“We’ve only been traveling for a few days. The army is fully capable of camping outside the city gates. Lets not worry about weaseling our way into the village.” Sarah suggested.

“It’ll be easy enough forging a document from the King. Even if they spot the forgery, it's not like they have the military to stop our army.” said Rayan.

“I agree that we should try to create some forged documents. I also agree that if that doesn’t succeed we should just camp outside the village. There's no need for us to waste troops slaughtering the village. We’ll need every able soldier when we fight the King, not this irrelevant village.” I said.

Rayan, Sarah, and Cloud agreed. Rayan had sent for some forged papers. Unlike last time Jared had decided to stay with the troops rather than join Rayan and I as we travelled back to the village’s leaders.

I slowly walked towards the diplomats with only Rayan by my side. In his hands were the papers that would hopefully convince the village to let the troops stay for the night. I didn’t know how credible they looked since I had never received official requests from the King let alone any noble.

“We have the documents requested,” said Rayan. He handed them to the taller diplomat who methodically read everything written on the pages.

“Everything looks in order.” he mumbled. “Let me have my colleague take a look.”

The tall diplomat handed the papers to the shorter diplomat. The shorter diplomat took some wiry glasses out of his pouch and put them on before reading the forged document. I was anxious to get this over with and was worried the diplomats would notice how tense I was.

The shorter diplomat scratched his chin.

“Well, everything looks to be in order. We’ll be happy to let you in the city.”

As I went to shake the diplomats hand I looked back at the Duke’s troops. A sinking feeling entered my stomach. The Duke’s troops were forming a long line and were wielding their weapons as if they were preparing for a battle.

Something wasn’t right. It was agreed upon that no matter what the outcome of the negotiations were, fighting wasn’t on the agenda.

I leaned in close to Rayan.

“Somethings wrong. The army is mobilizing,” I whispered into Rayan’s ear.

Rayan turned around and quickly glanced at the shifting army. His face grew pale as he realized what was happening.

“Now that you have the documents. We’ll need to be going.”

“But we’ve barely discussed anything. We still have to figure out how were going to handle such a large influx of people, and payment of course,” said the taller diplomat.

“I’m sure you’d have the best judgement for that. We’ll be on our way,” said the now fidgety Rayan.

“ Alright. How ab-.”

Rayan and I didn’t wait for the diplomats to finish. We sprinted towards the Duke’s troops. Barely fifteen feet away from the village negotiators, the Duke’s hoard of men charged across the grass.