Dino’s Minor glowed on its hilltop. The golden sandstone catching the light, holding it and then creating its own soft golden luminescence. The city, the largest in the Abanard, has been the home of Kings since the first rose to power. Dino himself had united the golden plains of the North with the thick forrest of the South.
Cliff felt the weight of ancient years as he passed under the statue of Dino guarding the Southern gate of his city. The pale marble brought over centuries ago from the elves before the words grew apart. Dino’s statue had passed the test of time, twenty feet high, long beard and hair flowing, his great sword rested point down into the earth with the hilt rising almost up to his chest where his great marble hands rested on the sword. The late summer sun igniting the east side of his face. He rode by, his red cloak flowing behind him, the hunt completed and justice brought to the people.
He stabled his horse then made his way back to his home. He could report to the Lord Warden later, now he wanted to see his wife.
She must have seen him coming from their south facing window; she waited for him in their arched doorway, the green door thrown open behind her. She was smiling. Cliff hadn’t been away very long in comparison to his other ventures but Margret felt a change in the air and she had feared for her husband’s life. But here he was smiling just as much as she was.
Cliff had spent the past weeks in brothels and taverns surrounded by wanton women lusting after him, seeking to draw out his weakness to poison his strength. He had stayed true and now he saw his wife, beautiful blonde hair, rosy cheeks, full red lips shaped into a perfect smile. She hugged him in the doorway, not letting him go, not that he tried to escape her grasp. He held her tight, his tired body rejuvenated by the feel of her.
“Your safe.” She said. Cliff squeezed her tight for a half second in response. “I always worry when your away. How did everything go?”
“The murder was caught and the Wardens brought justice to the wetlands of the Northwest.”
“You had to go that far? I thought the killer was in the plains.” They had released each other and moved into the old home of Cliff’s family. Officially it was a home for the use of the Wardens, but Cliff’s family had occupied it for many generations, passing from one Warden to the next in his family line. The place was made of the same warm sandstone as the rest of the city. Rough golden stone covered all the walls with thin thatched roof above their heads. The mild climate in the Northeast left the people with little more than light showers to worry over, it never froze and hardly ever matched the heat of the plains.
“The killer was moving from town to town very quickly, never staying more than a day.” She put her arms around him again, embracing him.
“When do you leave again?” She asked squeezing him tight.
“I haven’t gone to see the Lord Warden yet.” She gave him a big sappy, loving smile that only a wife could give after getting her way. She kissed him on the lips, soft at first then harder.
Cliff had never been happier to be back in Dino’s Minor. Often he felt as though he left to go deal with the lowest of people only to return and find that the capitol was actually home to the true scum of society. “I have to get going the Lord Warden will need my report.”
“Why don’t you stay in the city?” She said rising from the bed half covering her naked body with the light furs from the bed.
“I haven’t been lucky enough to be stationed here.”
“They’ll never give it to you, your too talented to sit around dealing with petty thieves. Besides your happier out there.” Her voice was pained by the time she finished the last words.
“That’s not true, I’m happiest here with you.” He gave her a naked body a squeeze then donned his mail and sword belt. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Why don’t you be the new master of arms?” She asked, “Wilson is far to old for the position.”
“I’m not the best teacher.”
“You can’t let one bad apple spoil the good, not everyone can be a Warden.”
The words stung Cliff, not because they were said with venom or hate but because they weren’t true. The one apprentice he had been given could have been a Warden. In fact in the last year with Cliff he had become a better Warden than half of the legion. Then Cliff had failed. “I can’t do it.”
He left her there, wrapped in furs with tears in her eyes. She knew he would be gone within a week.
The streets were thick with people so rather than taking the main road up to the keep Cliff made is way back out of the city then to one of the postern gates on the east side of the city. The gate was known as Darla’s Gate, named after Dino’s wife who now stood, as beautiful as the stories told, in stone over the gate. Dino watched over the city and Darla watched over Dino. Darla’s Gate ran straight to the keep and was kept free of common folk allowing for swift passage to and from the keep. Dino had had it built so he could reach his queen faster when he returned home.
The road was made of grey stone and the buildings that walled it in on either side were made of the same material. The only part of the city that wasn’t crafted from sandstone. The road was short leading directly into the side of the hill Dino’s Keep sat on there it turned into a tunnel diving right under the city.
Cliff walked along the torch lit passage having left his horse at the Warden’s stable. As he moved along he couldn’t help but think about his wife. He did want to be with her, but he didn’t want to stay in Dino’s Minor and there was no place for her among the Warden’s Legions.
The fire light moving along the wall flickered in his eyes as he moved through the long tunnel. It was empty no noise other than the scraping of his boots on the stone floor. A faint whistle passed through the tunnel, late summer winds moving the last lingering warmth on its way. The torches hesitated in their duty as the wind went by giving Cliff a chill. At the end of the tunnel stood a grey staircase spiraling up into the keep, it was built right into the stone innards of the mountain. Winding up into the heart of the keep it was nearly five hundred feet of stair up to the top.
Cliff came out through a side door of in the courtyard. A guard stood on duty, but the man knew Cliff and let him pass undisturbed. The little garden in the center of the courtyard held to the last green life of the summer but much of it had already durned to the lifeless tan of waterless leaves. The sun shinned down from above and the high walls of the keep kept the wind out. He made his way across the courtyard and into the keep where he went to the Warden’s Tower. The guard at the door to the Lord Warden’s solar bid him wait while he announced Cliff’s arrival. Moments later he beckoned him in. A fire burned in the hearth despite the heat of the day, sitting in front of the flames sat Joel wrapped in furs. “I can’t seem to shake this chill.” He said to Cliff.
“My father always said that age is the true champion of death.”
“Ha! If only he fought for us.” Joel’s eyes sparkled but that was the only part of him that gave off a hint of life. His lips were thin and pale and his skin hung off of his old bones like clothes left to dry. “The killer?” He wheezed.
“Brought to justice.”
“And the lands? What of them?”
“The people are still angry about the outcome of the war and the lands still haven’t recovered. Times are tough in Abanard for anyone trying to make an honest living. The countryside is full of thieves, murders, and bandits. I came across a group of raiders just west of the Northern Marshes.”
The Lord Warden let out a long sigh. “If only Old King Rob had lived forever. King Troy has not half the wit of his father.”
“Age wins again.”
“An unfortunate truth.” He paused to look at the fire then turned to a servant who stood behind him and called for water. The servant, a young man not yet old enough to be a squire rushed off. “I am worried that these bandits may be more than they seem. I think that the rebels may be uniting again taking on bandit garb as a guise.”
“That is a bold statement. The bandits I came across were nothing more than farmers who lost their farms and families during the war.”
“Reports from the plains say there is a significant sized host moving east.” Joel said grimly, “Burned towns and sacked cities.”
“The rebels never attacked the commoners before, they fought for the them against the King and Crown.”
“And now they are desperate, they have thrown away their values and spit on their own pride.” Joel’s face had turned a shade of dark red, he didn’t look half as old as he had five minutes ago. “Anyways, I’m thinking of sending you, wait for the next report then take a small force and ride hard to their location. I want you to harry them while we mass a larger force.”
“Yes, Lord Warden.”
The servant returned with a jug of water, it was far too large for the young boy who was doubled over with the weight. “Dismissed.” Joel said. Cliff turned to leave but the boy had stopped in the doorway grumbling to himself. He then turned to head back out. “Not you, you half wit!” Yelled Joel, rage still giving life to his old blood. The boy nearly dropped the jug he jumped so bad. Cliff took the water jug from him and poured a glass for the Lord Warden.
The boy gave him a look of gratitude and lowered his head in respect moving to hide in the corner of the room. Cliff left the old warden and the young boy, his stomach a sour mass resting in his belly. He felt as if he had eaten the rotting pit of a discarded peach by mistake.