Appendix A: Chapter 25

[Editor's note: Chapter 25 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Loose dirt and dry leaves fell into the hole as Roland swung the hatch open. As expected, it opened into a wooded area. Roland stuck his head out to check his surroundings. To the left in the distance, just barely visible in the darkness and through the trees, Roland could make out a row of faint lights he knew to be atop the outer wall of Castle Blackstone. If he could see them, Roland knew that their own torches would be visible from there if the guards were looking in the right direction.

Roland extinguished his torch and held it out for Anna to see. He looked down and saw her extinguish her torch in return. Without the torchlight, Roland found himself plunged in darkness. He waited several minutes until his eyes adjusted to the meager moonlight that filtered through the tree branches. It wasn’t much to see by, but it would be enough to move around with. Roland remembered from the map that if they traveled north, keeping Castle Blackstone roughly to their left, they would eventually reach the road that would lead them to Doomhammer.

“From here on,” Roland said to Anna below him, “we need to keep silent. I doubt there’s going to be any guards out here looking for us right now, but we can’t risk it. I’ll let you know when it should be safe to talk again. Take the torch with you; we don’t want to leave behind any more evidence we’ve been here than necessary. Follow me.”

Roland climbed the rest of the latter out of the hole, then turned and offered his hand to Anna as she did likewise. Once they were clear, he carefully shut the hatch and kicked some of the surrounding dirt back over it. Having hidden it as much as possible, he waved to Anna and began walking north.

—-

Over the course of a week, they pushed northward along the road as quickly as they could. They traveled only at night to minimize the chances of being seen. During the day, they stayed at the closest inn available, sometimes in the towns they passed through, sometimes at lone inns along the road.

Roland insisted that Anna not do any of her performances; the last thing they needed was to leave a trail of people talking about a magician and the man traveling her. Without that option as a source of income, they shared a room wherever they stayed, Roland letting Anna have the bed each time and sleeping on the floor with only his cloak to use as a blanket.

Whenever they left an inn or traveled down the road, Roland watched for any signs they were being followed, but never saw any signs that they were. With any luck, assuming they were being pursued, they were keeping ahead of anyone who had been sent after them. Of course, that would require Dalton to have guessed where they were headed, unless he sent knights out after them in an ever-expanding circle from Castle Blackstone.

The only time Roland and Anna broke their pattern of movement was when they approached the last town in Telerandian territory. Roland knew that by this point it would be filled with knights ready for the seemingly inevitable war over Doomhammer, and if orders reached them to capture Roland and Anna, Roland knew he had no chance of fighting off an entire garrison. Instead, they traveled a wide circle around the town, only returning to the road once they had crossed the border into disputed territory.

—-

“This is it,” Anna said as they crested a hill and saw Doomhammer before them, lit by the morning sun.

As they approached, Roland could see the effects the great fire had had on the village. There were large stretches of flat ground still covered in black soot, and scorch marks could be seen on the buildings that would have been next had the fire not finally been brought under control. There were signs of new construction taking place to rebuild what had been lost, but those buildings looked to be half-complete at best. Roland guessed it would be years before the town fully recovered. If war did break out here, its fate would probably be sealed.

“You know,” Anna said as they came to a stop at the edge of the town, “we’re not going to be able to hide here. At least half of the people here are going to recognize me, and soon everyone will start gossiping about my return.”

“We might be OK,” Roland replied. “The knights have orders not to cross the border. If they do, it’d probably start a war; the Lantarian army is probably waiting along the other border. Either they’ll have to leave us alone, or they’ll be too busy fighting the enemy to worry about us.”

“I guess that’s good news for us, then,” Anna said warily.

“Hopefully it won’t come to that.”

Roland stood still along the road. He had been so occupied with keeping Anna and himself safe along the journey that he hadn’t given much thought to what they were going to do once they actually arrived.

“Well,” Anna said, breaking the silence, “I’m going to see if anybody’s seen Derek come by here.”

“I have some things I need to check on here myself,” Roland said. Had Lord Arundel come to Doomhammer after all? And if he had, why? Roland couldn’t shake the feeling that it was somehow connected to Derek returning here, but couldn’t think of a reason why that might be the case.

“Let’s meet tomorrow, then,” Anna offered.

“Where at?”

“How about the statue in the village square. Trust me, you won’t miss it. I’ll meet you there just after sunrise tomorrow,” she said, stifling a yawn.

“I’ll see you then,” Roland replied.

Anna turned and walked briskly into town. Roland followed from a little distance behind. Anna soon darted down a side street, and Roland continued following the main road through town, guessing that it would pass by the village square. Roland wanted to get his bearings in Doomhammer before he started doing whatever he was going to do.

Superficially, aside from the effects of the fire, Doomhammer looked pretty much like the other small towns Roland had visited along his recruiting mission. Roland knew, however, he would find some key differences if he explored enough. He knew the Order didn’t have a shrine here, and the Royal Knights obviously didn’t have any kind of encampment here, so lodging for the night was going to be up to him. Also, since the Doomhammer town guard would effectively function both as the local police force and as its army, they would have a larger presence in the town than the local guards did throughout Telerand.

While Roland was considering this, he wandered into what looked like the village square and saw the statue that Anna had mentioned. It was indeed difficult to miss: twelve feet of solid marble atop a three-foot pedestal in the center of the square. It depicted a hulking, muscular man clad only in boots and a loincloth. In his raised hand he clenched a massive hammer, the head of which was larger than the man’s own. A heavy chain, also carved from marble, ran from the handle of the hammer to the handle of another held in the statue’s other hand, held close to the chest.

Roland circled around the statue to its front and read the bronze plaque set in the pedestal:

Theodophilous Geldegarde Antaroflaxidan
“The Doomhammer”
Slayer of Ten Thousand of the Demon King’s Horde

If the statue even remotely resembled its subject, the nickname “The Doomhammer” certainly seemed appropriate. Roland suspected its sculptor had taken significant artistic license with his creation, however. Roland couldn’t imagine someone charging into battle almost completely naked, even looking like that. And while The Doomhammer’s weapon looked terrifying enough, Roland couldn’t envision how it would actually be wielded in battle. Why chain the hammers together in the first place? Did he hold one and swing the other around his head? It seemed like something more dangerous to the wielder than whoever he was fighting, though Roland suspected that’s what the sculptor would have depicted had his material been able to support the weight. Roland had no experience in hammer-based combat, and tried picturing how he would fight if he had two swords chained together in a similar fashion. Roland guessed he would quickly lacerate himself if he tried to do anything with them.

The statue did at least explain why someone would name a town “Doomhammer.”

Roland shook his head and refocused himself on the task at hand. He needed to find out what Lord Arundel was doing in a town on the verge of becoming a battlefield, if he in fact was here at all. But where to begin?

Roland assumed for the sake of argument that Lord Arundel had come to Doomhammer. Given the length of the journey from Blackstone, which Roland had become all too familiar with, Lord Arundel must be spending the night somewhere. And given that he was a noble, he would no doubt be staying at the nicest inn available in town.

Remembering the conversation in the knights’ mess hall in Blackstone, Lord Arundel would no doubt be traveling with at least a couple bodyguards. And if what Roland had heard was true, he would be trying to stay inconspicuous. Guessing that the nobility had even less practice sneaking around than he had himself, Roland ought to be able to recognize a group of people in a fancy inn, attracting attention by going out of their way not to attract attention.

It was as good a place to start as any.

Roland began exploring the streets of Doomhammer, navigating in widening circles out from the village square. Roland supposed an expensive inn would be nearby, with the central location being another feature they could charge guests for.

After an hour of searching and taking a few notes on a spare piece of paper, Roland concluded his best bet was a building two blocks from the square. Its perimeter was conspicuously lined with ornately trimmed potted plants, and unlike most other buildings in Doomhammer, its walls showed not even the slightest sign of smoke damage from the fire.

According to the meticulously painted wooden sign handing above the entrance, it was the Swinnerton-Dyer’s Birchwood Inn. For Roland, the pretentious-sounding name sealed the deal.

Chapter word count: 1,750 (according to wc)
Total word count: 45,857 / 50,000 (91.714% complete)

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