Dust in the Wind - Part Two
Where had the time gone? Being separated from Megan and Buba was hard enough, but Brand couldn't do very much about that. Instead, he concentrated on himself. He put his attention toward learning how to use a sword and used it as a convenient means to keep himself from thinking about his friends lost out there in this strange world each tackling their own goals. It wasn't easy, but it was necessary.
This sword he'd picked up, well to put it frankly, it freaked Brand out. The first thing he did after cleaning the dirt from it was to bury it under Megan's and Buba's cots, then piled a bunch of blankets over it. Sometimes he could hear a muffled voice trying to talk to its way out of the pile but most of the time it was silent.
He never told anyone about the sword, and for the months that passed he hadn't heard a thing about Zadara. So, perhaps everything was okay now. Or maybe he was just putting off the inevitable. All Brand cared about right now was learning how to use a sword.
That, in and of itself, wasn't the easiest task in the world. At first he was placed with the normal soldiers. Their shear size was more than a little intimidating to Brand. He felt like a little child next to the massive walls of sword wielding men. Plus, he really had absolutely no idea how to even begin to fight with a sword. Needless to say, it wasn't a very big shocker when Brand was moved to the children's training group. And even there Brand could see just how inexperienced he was with a sword. These kids had been raised learning how to handle weapons like swords and battleaxes. There was no chance in hell Brand would even be able to feel superior here.
However out of place he felt, Brand refused to let it get to him. Instead, he just worked as hard as he could and slowly learned as the days slipped into weeks and the weeks passed into months.
The first few weeks were deadly. Each morning Brand could barely move his muscles were so overworked. There were more than a few occasions when he wasn't sure he'd live through this, but One-eye was a very good motivator and Brand had actually come to view One-eye as a sort of mentor. Even if he was smaller than most of the kids Brand was being trained by.
Every night when he retired to his cot, Brand looked over at that pile of cots and blankets and remembered that mysterious talking sword. Part of him wanted to pull it out and talk to it but really, how crazy was he? No sword could really talk. Right? Maybe, but this was one strange-ass world and there were many things that couldn't possibly happen yet they were. Instead of uncovering the sword, though, Brand just drifted off to sleep with well wishes toward his friends.
For a while his days were pretty much the exact same thing. He'd wake up so sore he thought he would surely die. Then, after much agonizing stretching he would drag himself to the mess tent and eat. Whatever they put in the food, it was a lifesaver. After eating he almost always felt refreshed and ready for the new day.
From there he'd head to the training circle. This was the only place in the camp where weapons were allowed outside of the personal tents. Here, young and old came to train to become soldiers. Usually the classes were broken up into age groups. Of course, Brand didn't fit in with his age group. While he towered over the children of his class, they easily cleaned the floor with Brand each time. He was so out of this game here that he sometimes felt as if he was younger than these kids were.
After, quite literally, hours upon hours of training he would retire to the mess tent for the final meal of the day. With the sun setting and the day winding to its finals moments, Brand would meet with people and talk with them. He came to realize this was one of the best things about living here. After a little more than six months of this routine, Brand had gotten to know most of the people that lived here. And for once he actually felt as if he'd become part of the community at large.
As his knowledge in sword fighting grew, so did his size. Never before had Brand been as healthy or as a large as he was becoming. His muscles were hardening and expanding with careful ease. Just holding a sword became easier and easier and fighting was soon a second nature to him. Many people had told him he was a natural, but the longer he worked at it the more he started to believe he was actually good at wielding a sword.
Being in this community did something else for Brand. Something he never would have expected. As the time ticked by, so did the madness that he held on to so tightly start to fade. Belonging here to this group of people had helped to mellow Brand. He felt oddly at peace with his surroundings and himself. Perhaps he was just maturing beyond that which he had before he came here. Or perhaps the way of life was helping to turn him into a better man. Whatever the reasoning, all of the time Brand spent here had transformed him into someone else. Someone Brand himself was proud to be for the first time in his life.
Lisya tilted her head and studied the patterns of Ben's true-self. He was more pure than anyone she'd ever witnessed before, that much was obvious to her. But there was more going on in Ben. More than even Lisya was familiar with. The similarities between Buba and a child, for instance, were there while he still had the strong sense of being an adult in his own right. To her, he was really an enigma. The best of both worlds, perhaps? This would be a challenge for her; a challenge that she was actually looking forward to tackling.
Now if they could just get out of this cell.
The walls were solid stone, the barred door that held them in was solid as rock. No windows, no holes, no nothing, how exactly were they supposed to escape? Lisya debated crying out and then letting Buba attack the guard, but really... who would fall for that? As luck would have it, she didn't need to go to too much extreme at all.
The gate swung open and a short, stocky guard bellowed, "Follow me."
They passed through several corridors of stone, up a shadowy staircase and into a brightly-lit hallway with velvet tapestries lining the walls. It was very tacky, in Lisya's opinion.
"Well, well, well."
Ben and Lisya both turned to see Chrava standing at the top of a stairway leading to the second floor. She was dressed in a flowing black robe that swept across the stairs as she made her way down them. "You've been busy in my little city, haven't you Lisya?"
"It's really quite rude to look into people's minds without their permission."
Behind Lisya, Ben moved toward her then ended up taking a place at her side. He towered over her, much more than she realized until now.
Chrava came to a halt a few feet from them and shrugged. "Whatever. You two are free to go. Be sure to tell all your friends how kindly you were treated by the second most powerful person in the world."
What? We can just leave? Lisya scrunched her forehead as she glared at the darkness surrounding Chrava. There was deceit hidden within the folds of evil, but Lisya had no way to know what exactly Chrava was hiding. "That's it? You're just letting us go. Why?"
"Just go, before I change my mind," Chrava said. She then turned her attention to Ben and winked. "You, my lusciously large piece of manhood, will be on my mind for a long time to come. Don't go doing anything I wouldn't do know." With that, Chrava headed back up the stairs. As she stepped onto the second floor, she let out a little laugh that sent a shiver down Lisya's spine.
After being led to the main gate, complete with a pack full of rations and water, Lisya and Ben headed down the path. For days they traveled the dusty road, nearly sickened by the dead and dying nature that surrounded them. Everywhere one looked, one could see the decaying remains of trees and plant life. Clearly the evil presence in this part of the land had not helped the land grow at all.
With a quick stop at the nearest town, Lisya was able to purchase a couple of horses. She told Ben the distance they would need to travel would take some time.
"How much time?" Ben asked. "Because... uh, I haven't been gone that long. It was like I went to sleep then woke up here."
"Chrava no doubt used magic to get you to her, Ben. We, however, must make the journey on foot. From here, it'll take us approximately six months to get back to Adara's camp."
And a long six months it was. There was never really a challenge on this journey. They were left alone for the most part and just took the trip one-day at a time. The lack of food did have its affect on Ben, from Lisya's point of view. While he was stocky at the beginning of the journey, his weight was slowly melting away as the days did.
They would ride well into dark, then camp out, then ride on. Ben was a natural with the horses, even though he had told Lisya he'd never been on one before in his life. The horse itself seemed to have a natural connection with Ben as his rider. That went a long way in helping him get a grasp of riding. He was sore for several weeks, but soon his body did adjust to the motions.
Without much to do as they headed forward, Lisya and Ben often just talked. She learned much about the world Ben had come from. So much in fact, had she not been able to physically see that he wasn't lying, she probably wouldn't have believed half of what he said. A strange world indeed Ben originated from, in Lisya's mind. But there was something about the simple words Ben used and the way he expressed his world. She got the impression his view was slanted, as if from the eyes of someone more innocent than the norm in that world. At least, if what she'd heard about Brand was true. Only time would tell.
By the time they reached the camp, it was mid-afternoon. There wasn't a huge parade to welcome them home. There wasn't even an excited smile from the guard that let them in. All they received was a simple nod.
Lisya stood at Ben's side as he stroked his horse gently. She looked over at him, thinner than when the journey started and with a massively huge growth of beard. He was a different man on the outside, but still exactly the same on the inside. Full of life with a purity that was rare indeed. "Let's find your friends, Ben."To be continued...