Astor stood on the ramparts of the guard tower. He stared at the isolated mountain view that his position revealed. Any other angle had been blocked out by the surrounding forest.
Ironic how the only view of the outside world from this place was of a simple, barren mountainside.
The morning prayers of the devout monks had begun to die down and the corroding, yet soothing silence had soon returned the area. Not even the birds dared to chirp at this time. Astor's ears perked to shuffle of grass below. Thinking at first that it was the wind, he then remembered how not a single breeze had blown since he was up here. He looked downwards to see the kind, elderly man from the gates staring up at him.
"I'm afraid you won't find much of a view from anywhere around here," he said energetically.
Astor continued peering through the small window of scenery he was given.
Hearing the elder approach, Astor felt that it suitable for some conversation.
"This could have been my life. Sitting here, wishing to be outside of this confined place."
"What do you mean?" the elder's voice inquired.
"I'm the second son of my noble house. Had my family decided to send me here, I wonder how well I would have fared."
Astor though for a bit before continuing. "Having been through what I have experienced, I can't decide whether or not I would have preferred it here."
Astor turned to watch as the man's cheery character withered away into seriousness. After hearing no response, he smiled wryly. "Oh well, that's enough jabber from me."
As Astor began his decent, the old man called out to him. "You're father once stood at that same spot."
Astor froze at the mention. "My father?"
The monk looked at him with fondness and nodded. "From the moment I met you, I knew you were his son. You have some of his features on you."
An accumulation of unpleasant feelings began to disrupt his previous good mood. Astor's face melted into a glare. "Is that so?"
Before he could speak again, Astor quickly turned away from the man in bitterness.
"Well then, I must be heading out. Thank you for the reception."
As Astor began to walk away, the man reached out to him again. "W...wait."
"What is it?"
"I apologize if I somehow angered you..."
Astor watched as the monk tried frantically to address his insensitivity.
"Has something occurred to Elliot?"
Astor examined the elder's face and sighed. The isolated monk was utterly clueless about his family's incident. "I'm sorry. It's nothing you need fret over. Just some personal matters."
If he wished to find out about past, irrelevant things, then he would have to figure that out by himself.
"I must be going now."
The monk nodded sadly. "My name is Phillis. I hope to become acquaintanced with you
soon, Sir Astor."
Astor couldn't respond to his request sincerely and simply bowed his head before leaving.
He hurried to the large, stone building and opened its doors. Inside, he saw that a majority of soldiers were already awake and wearing their armor.
After a few more individuals had woken up, Sir Dingrege began to rally the soldiers for departure. "We've got another long road ahead of us. Make sure not to leave anything behind."
Astor readied his things and jogged over to Dingrege.
"Good morning, sir. I've got the layout of the terrain. Would you like to see it?"
The bearded man, surprised by Astor's sudden eagerness, nodded and, together, they knelt on the ground to examine the parchment.
After straightening out the map, Astor pointed to the top-right corner. "We are here, on the outskirts of the Brotherhood's activities. Our base is further up northeast from here, about a long day's walk away. We don't have the numbers, so I would advise we stay clear of these locations for now."
"We are to clear the roads of all savage displays correct?"
Dingrege stood up and continued to adjust his leather straps. "Then we cannot delay."
Astor frowned, he didn't know he was leading a group to slaughter.
"Then... I'll find a route through to the most villages."
"Good, move along then."
Astor gathered the map and walked out onto the open sky. He had hoped to avoid direct confrontation until they had a larger number of reinforcements.
Perhaps this method could prove effective in baiting out the Brotherhood.
He shuddered at the thought of facing fifty or more armed soldier with what they had. He didn't want to die just after winning the war.
From a distance, Astor watched as a group of well-dressed villagers followed two auburn cloaks towards a lesser, stone building. They walked under a wood-covered walkway with a small pack of children trailing along. When they passed within several feet of Astor, the group of children suddenly broke from the congregation and began crossing through the courtyard to him.
"Hey hey, you're a knight right?" a nosy boy asked.
"Are you from a castle?"
"Where is your king?"
"Is that a sword?"
"You wear metal right?"
"Where did you come from?"
"Can you fly?"
With a headache already brewing from his previous two encounters, he really couldn't handle being bombarded with so many questions at once.
"I'm not a..." Astor was quickly cut off by a small hand reaching towards the hilt of his sword.
"Careful, this is not a toy," he said, backing away.
"It's a real sword!" one of them shouted as the rest shuffled about excitedly. Astor looked up wearily at the approaching adults. They had on dreaded expressions as they reprimanded the kids.
"We're deeply sorry..." The small woman uttered before examining Astor's face. "...sire."
Astor gave a drained sigh. "There's no need to apologize. Just keep your children under control next time."
The woman quickly nodded and retreated from his presence.
He rubbed his forehead as the villagers returned to a single-file line. He noticed that the monks had barely batted an eye at the disturbance. They seemed quite tolerant of children here.
Drawing attention as usual... And how do they know about my noble birth? No one should recognize my face around here.
Astor would have preferred to be less recognizable. Soon after, the doors behind him opened, and his squad began emptying out of the great hall. All together, they made their way towards the large, wooden gate and waited for the monk's signal to be let out.
"Safe travels everyone," the guardsman called out from atop the tower.
Astor gave a short smile and waved as they departed towards their path. Once further away, he glanced at the narrowing view of the monastery. Astor knew that they would be back here again before long. He didn't like the idea of exploiting the goodwill of the monks, but it was in an important location between their base and the upcoming countryside. Under attack, the meager fortification would serve as a useful resting place for their troops, but it could also endanger the innocent lives who reside inside.
Astor shook away his worries and began focusing on their objective. This scouting run was necessary for many reasons. Already, Astor had noticed the underestimates in distances by the map. Ruffling around in his pack, he pulled out it out to reaffirm their direction. After walking for about an hour through the forest of low-hanging, fern-like trees, he spotted a distinct landmark ahead.
"There, up ahead. After that short incline, there should be a village."
Astor dashed forward and quickly scaled the slope. Pushing past the feathery flowers of the surrounding forest, he got to the top and scanned the area. Expecting to see a small settlement nestled within the thick forest below, instead, he saw only an open field of swaying grass. The scene scrambled his wits as he began to feel the cold sweat of disorientation trickle down his back. Quickly checking his map, Astor saw that, to his relief, they had only slightly deviated from the original path. He caught a tiny glimpse of the small town after patrolling around the top of the hill.
"Are we on track?" Dingrege's voice sounded from behind.
"Yes, I'm just getting adjusted to this map's odd orientation."
He heard a huff of discontentment come from the older officer as the rest of the company approached him from behind. Astor pointed them towards the direction of the settlement.
"It's there. They haven't had any incidents, but it will only be a matter of time before the Brotherhood sets their sights on here as well."
"Where is our target location?"
"Three days from here, but we should only scope out the surrounding areas next to where our new base will be. Our numbers are too limited."
Sir Dingrege nodded. Astor wanted to sigh with relief. Still, the Brotherhood could send a cavalcade of mounted cavalrymen to come hunt them down if they had the resources.
"How are these people? Do they take kindly to strangers?" Sir Dingrege asked.
"I haven't been, but I would assume that everyone around here is well-mannered."
"We will find out if that is the case."
With hardy steps, the troops marched freely into the village and stopped at what appears to be the center of the modest town. Astor noticed that their presence had caused quite the string of mixed reactions from the female occupants in the town. They did not know whether to continue with their daily chores or observe the curious visitors. After a few minutes of awkward silence, they slowly began to resume their chores with the occasional glance towards their direction.
"Excuse me, miss," Astor called out to a woman who seemed to be living in one of the larger buildings.
The short woman walked over meekly and attempted to hold eye contact with him before quickly looking down.
"May we talk to the leader of this establishment?"
"All the men are.... out working right now."
Astor waited for the woman to continue, but she just stood there speechless.
"Can you go call them here? We would like to talk to them."
The shy lady jogged off towards the field to fetch the male residences.
"That one's a bit empty-headed. Perhaps we can say the same for everyone here," Sir Dingrege noted.
"Let's give them hope," Astor said humorously.
They waited patiently for the men to arrive all the while receiving a good eying from the surrounding onlookers. Astor yawned and stared at the sun. There was plenty of sunlight left, so there was no rush.
Soon, a pack of frantic figures came barreling down from the elevated wheat fields in the distance.
"Hello. How can we help you," a frail-looking man called out.
Sir Dingrege stepped forward to speak. "Greetings. We are members of the new Council, here to deal with the ongoing threats in this area. Shall we discuss these matters inside?"
"Threats?" The man looked around nervously. "...Definitely sirs, this way."
Dingrege and Astor followed the grey-haired man into a wooden cottage. They sat down on a small bench while the elder fellow rounded to the other side of the table.
"If you be so kind, I would like the both of you to keep such matters private. I wouldn't want to frighten anyone," the balding man whispered.
The was a moment of silence before Dingrege spoke up.
"What do you mean? No one here knows about the impending danger of the Brotherhood?"
"Yes. We live a simple life here, rid of needless worries and curiosities. For our sake, it would be best if we can stay this way."
"What! You'd let these men and women stay oblivious to such dangers?" Dingrege shouted.
"Shhh. Shhh... Please, I beg you. Not so loud."
"I thought it strange that no one was alarmed by our arrival. You people have no sense of caution! What if we were the Brotherhood, coming in to slaughter everyone in the vicinity? What would your ignorance do you then?"
The eyes of the man froze at the mention of death. He looked down in shame. "I'd... thought they would have like to at least speak to us first. We don't mean any harm and we have little to offer."
Astor watched as the fury in Dingrege's eyes grew. "They are a band of unrighteous evildoers. Did you really think you could reason with them?"
The man shrunk from Sir Dingrege's words. "I...surely...if we can just..."
Dingrege stood up in frustration and was about to continue, but Astor quickly interrupted.
"Sir, it is crucial that you prepare these men and women for a raid. We cannot come to your aid if you and your people do not stay alert to such dangers."
The man's face was flustered to the point of passing out. It seemed that what they were saying was too much for the meek leader.
"I'll tell....I'll see what I can do."
"We must get going now. Please, think about this carefully."
Astor stood up impatiently and, together with Sir Dingrege, they left the man to his own doubts.
As they approached the idle troops, Sir Dingrege called out,
"We've made our presence known here. Let us continue everyone."
As the group gathered and began walking a few paces down the road, Astor heard a series of soft footsteps approaching from behind them and turned to see the woman from before scampering up to them.
"Excuse me, sirs. I've made some bread for your travel."
She passed out four or five loaves to the nearby men.
"....sorry. I didn't cook enough. I hope this is enough to show our hospitality. May the Lord bless you on your journey."
She quickly bowed and left before anyone could respond.
"Thank you, little lady!" A man hollered before she quickly disappeared from view.
"Come, everyone. Lest the moon catches us," Sir Dingrege called out.
After a few minutes on the road, Dingrege walked over to the front of the pack where Astor led.
Dingrege shook his head in disbelief.
"You'll be hard-pressed to find groups capable of dealing with the worries we encounter every day. After a while, it becomes hard to care for people like them... living in such blissful ignorance."
Astor swiftly nabbed a piece of bread from a nearby, charitable man.
"Well, pardon me," the man retorted.
Astor broke the chunk in half and offered a piece to Sir Dingrege.
"I wouldn't know about that."
Sir Dingrege begrudgingly took the small amenity. The breakfast provided by the monastery was all but satisfying, and it may be a while before they eat again.
Astor wolfed down the treat and proceeded ahead of the group in order to scan the horizon. It was going to be another long day and perhaps even longer until he's finally back at the hut with those three kids.
I wonder how they are getting along with their new caretaker.