The sound of wood on cobblestone woke him. It was a harsh awakening. Certainly not one he expected. Albern shot his head upright, his neck making him regret it. "Ouch!" he yelped, massaging his neck.
"Sorry about the rude awakening," said a male voice, coming from somewhere in front of him. The voice sounded old. "Whoever made this road several blue moons ago, clearly had no idea what they were doing." The voice broke into a deadly cough.
Albern realised, after many seconds of confusion, he was on a carriage. He sat bolt upright, trying to see who was controlling it. He couldn’t see anyone. He looked down the side of the carriage, noticing the amount of people everywhere. He then looked at the horse pulling it. There was something oddly familiar about it.
’Moon?’ thought Albern, thinking how it was possible.
The horse took a left turn, revealing its whole body. A crescent like scar showed itself on its back leg.
"Moon!" said Albern out loud, his worries vanishing.
"Who?" said a voice behind him. Causing Albern to swing around in fright. "Who is this Moon you speak of?"
"Uncle Woodley?" said Albern, looking at the man’s old, frail face.
"I’m glad you remember me." He replied smiling, leading into a throaty cough. "And you’re lucky I remembered who you were, too. Found you lying, dead like on the path leading to Saint Melen, so close to making it. Long night was it?"
"You could say that." replied Albern, still surprised by his uncle’s presence.
"Also," he said quickly. "Your brother left a note. Lucky I found that, too. Something about dealing with important business. Didn’t say when he’d be back, nor where he was going."
Albern felt where his sword would usually be. It was empty.
"He didn’t leave you a sword, did he? asked Albern without hesitation, hoping for the answer he wanted.
"He did not, was he meant to? Replied Uncle Woodley, looking concerned.
"No, not specifically" answered Albern slowly, concerned of his brother’s safety.
"He also said to wrap your hands up. You burnt them?
Albern looked down at his hands. The redness had gone, and so had the pain. "They’re no longer burnt?" he questioned.
"The beauty of the Curealleaz flower," replied his uncle proudly. "Cures all burns, rashes and poisons. People pay an awful lot to get their hands on it, too. Unless you have them growing in your backyard, of course." He smirked.
"How much have you got growing?" asked Albern, curiosity influencing his question.
"You will soon see, my dear lad," replied his uncle. "For we are nearly there."
Albern looked up. Three great castle towers looked down upon him. Never had he ever seen anything quite like it.
"Ah yes," said his uncle, his face lighting up. "The kingdom of Saint Melen. Beautiful, isn’t it?"
"Quite." answered Albern, noticing banners with a single dagger printed onto them, drooping down the many balcony edges.
"Not a finer place to live," said his uncle, his voice proud. "King Pennen’s rule will be remembered as the greatest. We should count ourselves lucky to live in such fortunate times."
Albern had never heard of such King. For his quiet, isolated life meant the farthest away news he ever heard was only ever one or two bridges away, depending on weather. "This King you speak of, how long has he reigned?" asked Albern, leaning forwards to listen.
"Long enough to have had an impact, m’boy," his uncle answered. "Cleaning up the mess King Leamet left was no easy feat. Such turmoil the kingdom was in. Yet the God’s answered our prays, giving us King Pennen. How sweet a day that was, I can still see King Leamets head rolling down the street, the cheers were deafening, yet beautiful. The golden crown being placed upon Pennen’s head; I will never forget. Long live the King."
Albern listened as his Uncle started singing, ’Long live the King.’ He had never heard of such devotion for one King.
The passing folk started joining in with his Uncle, ’Long live King Pennen," they sang as they passed the carriage.
It made Albern feel uncomfortable.
Uncle Woodley chuckled to himself as the singing faded away to the usual chatter of a busy street. "Your Mother would’ve loved this," he said, a tear sliding down his face. "She would’ve loved the sight of everyone getting along, living in harmony." He coughed the last of his breath away, slamming his chest.
Albern could see the struggle in his eyes, he watched his uncle fight it, spitting blood over the side of the carriage. It hurt him to watch.
"You’ll be old one day," said his uncle, managing to grasp a sweet breath. "You won’t believe it at first, so you’ll continue on. Fighting in denial until you can’t no more. The inevitable cycle of life. You live, you die. You must think you have the world of time, you and your Brother?"
Albern watched as his uncle coughed and spluttered yet again. He thought of his uncle’s words, then of Aurol. He couldn’t understand why he had left. It was his idea to come to Cape Melen. To talk to Uncle Woodley. Albern reached into his pocket pulling out the parchment given to him by Mr Flutwere.
’Possible Vilanchi.’ His eyes lingered over the words.
"What’s that you got there?" asked his uncle, staring intently at the piece of parchment.
Albern thought if he should tell him, running his eyes down the page. "It was given to me by Mr Flutwere, I do hunting and scouting jobs for him. Just another job he asked me to do."
"May I have a read?" Uncle Woodley asked, his voice polite.
Albern handed it over to him, thinking of Aurol’s reaction.
He watched his uncle read for short moment, seeing if he was going to screw his nose up at it, yet he didn’t. Albern stood up and walked to the front of the carriage. He watched Moon trot slowly down the everlasting street. He wondered to himself where his uncle would live, ’He said we were nearly there,’ he thought to himself, watching shop after shop go by. Bakers were baking, prostitutes were waiting, he could hear the sound of black smiths hammering away at molten steel, it made feel for his sword again, yet only his empty scabbard greeted him. He felt lost, lost in a place he didn’t want to be.
Albern awoke from his thoughts, turning to his uncle. "Uncle?" e said, looking around the carriage, it was empty. He looked back down the street, it was its usual self. He walked over to where his uncle sat, feeling the seat, it was cold. ’Where could he have gone?’ he wondered. Moon was walking at a steady pace. ’He couldn’t have jumped.’
Albern whistled for Moon to stop, she listened. He hopped down from the carriage, looking around. The sun was harsh overhead, he felt his flesh weep. Albern walked over to Moon, untying her. "Where’d he go, Moon?" he muttered while untying her. She gave him a loving look, expecting an apple. "Sorry, Moon. I’ll feed you when we find Uncle Woodley." said Albern, scratching her chest. "He can’t have gone far."
Albern whistled for Moon to start moving, walking besides her.
"Had enough already, have you?" said a familiar voice behind him.
Albern turned around in shock.
Uncle Woodley was sitting in the carriage, almost as if he had never moved.
"I thought you had gone?" said Albern, whistling for Moon to turn around.
"Gone?" replied Uncle Woodley in shock. "An old man like me, jumping out of a moving carriage. You’d be scooping me off the ground." He chuckled to himself as Albern walked back to the carriage, tying Moon to the front of it.
"You weren’t in the carriage?" said Albern, climbing back on. "I couldn’t see you anywhere."
Uncle Woodley starred at Albern, his face showed concern. "I’ve been here the whole time, Albern," he said, slowly. "I even watched you leave."
"You didn’t bother stopping me?" asked Albern, feeling annoyed.
"You looked possessed like, I didn’t want to disturb you." Answered his uncle.
Albern sat down, putting his hands over his face. ’What is happening?’ he thought.
"Are you ok, Albern?" asked Uncle Woodley, he could feel his concerned stare.
"Fine." He replied, his hands muffling his voice.
"I finished reading what Mr Flutwere sent you," said his uncle gently. "I thought Vilanchi’s were a myth, children’s tale?"
Albern laughed, wanting to scream. "Funny you should say that, because so did Aurol."
"Mr Flutwere wanted you to search the Wouldering Woods. Why were you and your brother coming to Cape Melen?"
Albern could feel his Uncles words trying to find answers. He didn’t know what to tell him.
"Why did Aurol leave you, Albern? Why were your hands burnt?"
Albern had no time to think of each individual question.
"What is this sword you were speaking of earlier? Was it of any importance? I can help you, Albern."
Albern couldn’t take it any longer.
"Listen," he tried to say it as calmly as possible. "It’s been a long day, long night and day actually. A lot of unexplainable events have happened in that time that I don’t have the answers to. I feel as if I’m going insane, so I would appreciate if you could keep your questions till tomorrow. I really just want to lay down undisturbed right now." He closed his eyes, begging for sleep to come.
Uncle Woodley tried to cough as silently as possible, spitting onto the ground. "I’m sorry," he whispered. "I’m just worried. I find you lying on a road, a note from your brother saying can I fix your extremely burnt hands and that he has to attend some unknown, important business. You don’t have your sword on you. I’m assuming your brother took it with him, where ever he went. I find a horse standing near you, as if it’s waiting for you to wake up. Now you wander off, thinking I’ve left the carriage. It’s natural for me to have questions, Albern. I’m concerned about you."
Albern was drifting in and out of sleep. Listening to the odd word his Uncle spoke.
"I’ll let you sleep now." his uncle said, whistling for Moon to start moving. "I’ll wake you up when we arrive home."
Albern couldn’t stop thinking. When he tried to stop, it hurt him more. He wanted to know what was happening.
He thought of the symbols, ’What did they mean?’ He tried to think where he had received the sword, but his mind was muddled. He thought of where his brother could be, ’Is he in trouble, is he hurt?’ Many possibilities crossed his mind, all worrying. The piece of scroll. Aurol’s scroll. ’It has to be; why else would he be so protective over it when I asked him what it was?’ He knew Aurol studied magic. ’Top of his class. How jealous I was.’ Remembering it made him smile.
It had been five years since they had last seen each other before meeting in the Wouldering Woods. ’What could he have done in that time?’ the thought scared him. He knew many wizards would study the dark arts after finishing their traditional magic study, for it held far more powerful magic then traditional, that was a known fact. He lingered on that thought for a while before returning to where Aurol could be.
He tried to put himself into Aurol’s mind, feeling the long grass brush up against him as he ran through a field, running and running. Running from something, someone. He drifted off to sleep, grass brushing up against him. He felt his sword, it was hot. Burning against his leg, yet he kept on running and running. He could never stop running.