The Road to Hessler
The trip to Hessler would take a few weeks. The most major issue in the journey was actually the fellow refugees that were fleeing the city. Adam picked up a voice that he believed belonged to Dallen, one of this father’s patrol mates: “The problem is that every one of us is in need of supplies. Soon we will come upon Edelberg. That small town has no way of supporting all the refugees. Many people will want to rest there as their first stop. I think we should not stay and just keep going. The further ahead we get off the main group, the more supplies we can get for ourselves before they’re all gone.”
Others in their group voiced out their agreement. A small group was formed around the wagon cart they rested in. The group was made up of Alaric’s fellow patrol mates and the families a few of them had. The cart itself was not drawn by animals, but instead by Hansen! They hadn’t had enough time to look for horses when they’d taken the cart from the streets. Hansen had apparently made a promise to Alaric to watch over Adam and Vivienne and took it upon himself to draw the cart. This created a source of trouble for Vivienne. She was thankful for him working so hard for them, but he was a difficult man to like. Especially after the way he revealed Alaric and Emilia’s death to Adam. Whenever she looked at him, she could only think: ‘How am I to deal with this man.’
As everyone talked further about their plans, Adam hummed to himself. Ever since he had woken up, small little sounds would seem much louder to him. A light tap on the wood of the cart would sometimes sound like it was being punched hard! These sudden sounds that jumped out always scared him. Humming, though, did a good job of covering up these small sounds.
It was later in the day when they finally arrived at the first town they had been to, since leaving the city! The others had seen the place from afar, but Adam only noticed an increase in noise as they came upon the town surrounded by tents and soldiers!
Adam quickly looked to his mother and asked: “What’s going on?”
“Word of the attack must have somehow traveled fast. There are soldiers outside of Edelberg with a sea of tents. It looks like the soldiers are offering the tents as a place of rest!”
“So we’re safe?”
Vivienne sadly shook her head: “I doubt they had the time to get enough supplies for everyone to Edelberg and there are hardly enough soldiers to fight against the Luxom army we saw. We will be moving on as soon as we can.”
While Adam and Vivienne were talking, everyone else had come to an agreement. Dallen spoke: “Okay, so the plan is you guys rest for about an hour down by the river, away from the tents. I’ll head into town to try and get some supplies and meet back up with you. If it takes me more than an hour, you’ll start down the road, and we’ll meet up somewhere there?”
When everyone agreed, Dallen left them and trotted into town while Hansen pulled the cart down to the small river that ran by Edelberg. The noise of the soldiers and refugees in the tents started to be replaced by the babble of the river.
While at first a little jarring to his ears but Adam quickly found the babble soothing. It was a constant that covered over all the little sounds that would have otherwise jumped out at Adam. Then Adam flinched as the cry of a baby echoed out! Sarah’s voice found its way over to him as she tried to comfort her child: “There, there, what’s the matter, Claudia?”
Adam sighed: ‘I’m never going to get used to this.’
Vivienne looked over at her son. His life had changed so dramatically so quickly. He had also started to wall himself up in an effort to hide from his blindness. No matter how much he liked music, there was no way a boy Adam’s age could just hum all day long and not feel bored. She could tell Adam was getting restless from being in the cart all day long. Hansen had just stopped pulling the cart, as they found a good place to rest when an idea popped into her head. She spoke up to Adam: “I need a little walk to stretch my legs, do you want to join me, Adam?”
Without thinking, Adam automatically agreed: “Sure.”
Then he realized how nearly impossible it would be for him to walk anywhere. Vivienne saw this realization cross over his face in a look of depression. She told him: “Don’t worry, you can hold my hand. We won’t be going far.”
Before Adam could say no, Vivienne dropped off the back end of the cart. Pain arched through her broken leg, but she held firm. She could only hope that the splint that held her leg together would stay just as firm as her will. After taking a small breath from the pain, she reached out and grabbed Adam’s hand to pull him gently. “Come on.”
Adam couldn’t find words to refuse his mother as got swept along. She pulled him over to the edge of the cart before hoisting him down with another twinge of pain in her leg. On Adam’s part, he felt his stomach sink as he was brought down by Vivienne. It was as though he was moving like normal only suddenly to sink down into a deep dark pit! He couldn’t tell that she was in pain as he tightly clung to her, afraid of the sudden drop that was only a couple of feet.
Vivienne looked at him with concern: “Are you okay?”
Adam nodded, looking a little pale: “It was just a little sudden.”
They took a moment for Adam to recollect himself before starting their walk. At this time, Hansen came over giving Vivienne’s leg a look: “You shouldn’t be doing that with your leg.”
Adam cocked his head to the side, not sure to who that statement was directed. Vivienne gave Hansen a dark look and shooed him away with a curt hand gesture. She turned back to her son and said: “Let’s go.”
Adam took some ginger steps forward as his mother led him. His foot ran into a rock, causing him to jump in fright! “What did I hit?”
Vivienne looked over: “It was just a small rock, Adam.”
As they continued walking, Adam mumbled: “That felt more like a chair leg than a rock!”
Next came a small dip on the ground. Adam expected his foot to land on the ground at the same level it had left, only to have it keep going deeper and deeper into the ground! Adam faltered and started to fall sideways. His throat clenched in fright, he could only scream in his mind: ‘I’m falling into a hole!’
Then, Vivienne caught him and everything stopped! Adam was panting heavily from the rush, his face once again pale. “Adam, are you okay!? Is it too much for you to walk?”
“It felt like I was falling! Does the ground give way there?”
Vivienne looked to only find a small dip in the ground. Guilt assailed her: ‘I’ve never known what it is like to be blind. Should I not have done this?’
“Let’s go back to the cart.”
Adam nodded his head in agreement. Carefully, Vivienne led Adam back to the cart. As she made to hoist him back up, Hansen appeared at her side and hoisted Adam up himself. Adam gave a small yelp as he was suddenly lifted into the cart. Vivienne gave a silent glare at Hansen as he offered her a helping hand to get back up into the cart. She ignored it and hoisted herself up, despite the pain in her leg.
In the cart, Adam was more depressed than ever. Even simple walking was out of his grasp! Vivienne could only look on with a guilty heart, not knowing what she could do to truly help her son. Before long, Dallen came back, and they took off down the road.
-Boom!- Thunder echoed throughout the night, spooking Adam! He clung to his mother on the bed they managed to grab in an inn at the town Irving. Thunder never used to spook Adam like this, but now it did. Each thunderclap, a reminder of that night as the dark void around him pressed down!
Moving through the forest after Edelberg had been hard enough as it was. The grassy plains only had a few insects and groundhogs to make noise. The forest was full of many creatures who each called out in their own language. Each one beating against Adam’s ears, demanding his attention!
Things were a little better in Irving. He was more used to the sounds of the town, and they had eaten at a tavern for dinner. There, a music group played some jaunty tunes, a few of which Adam knew! It was comforting to hear things he was used to, –Boom!- but the thunder was something else. After a while, the thunder finally ebbed away, and Adam was eventually able to let his tired mind fall asleep.
Adam quietly ate some breakfast with a tired look, as everyone else talked about some plans for the trip. Dallen started out: “We’re about a third of the way to Hessler. I saw what looked like a trade caravan in town. If we could hire ourselves out to them, we can get the protection of being part of a larger group as well as getting some pay to guard it.”
“But what if they aren’t heading to Hessler?”
“As long as they are heading south, we should join them. It might take us on a bit of a detour, but as long as we reach Hessler safe and sound it doesn’t matter how long it takes for us to get there.”
“But what of Vivienne and Adam? I doubt Hansen could pull the cart fast enough to keep up with the caravan and they might not let the two of them ride in one of the wagons.”
Dallen sighed: “Well, let’s just ask them! No way of knowing unless we ask!”
With nothing else to be said, Dallen went with another patrol mate, Barnaby, to see if the caravan would take them. An hour later, they returned with good news! “They said they would take us on, but we gotta be ready to leave in twenty or so minutes! There is some space for Adam and Vivienne on one of the wagons, and it was requested that the women help with cooking the meals. I went ahead and agreed. I hope I wasn’t overstepping myself there.”
Everyone started to turn lively. This was no longer them stumbling across the kingdom to safety. They now had jobs that would be paying them a small stipend they could use! They didn’t have to worry about rations, or how safe they were! Well, mostly. Caravans were still a target, but bandits would more likely assail a small group of refugees for whatever they had than a caravan full of guards.
They didn’t have too much with them, so it was easy to get what they had together and then run over to the caravan. The walk was a little bumpy for Adam, though. The cobbles on the street were more even than the ground of the forest or by the river, but there were still a few uneven spots. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for them to reach the caravan.
A portly old man greeted them by a row of five wagons. “Come on, Let’s go! Can’t wait around for more refugees to tag along, I don’t have the room nor the money for it!”
Vivienne and Adam were led to the last wagon where there was a cramp amount of space for them. Most of the room in the wagons was devoted to holding goods. Dallen and the rest were told which parts of the caravan they were responsible of protecting. Then, the caravan quickly took to the road and left Irving behind.
The trip in the wagon wasn’t any more pleasant than when they were in the cart. It wasn’t worse either, just different. Adam could hear the clop of horse hooves on the ground with an occasional snort. There was also the groan of wagon wheels and the stamp of marching feet. It wasn’t long before everyone started to converse with one another. There was no way one could stay stoic on a long trip and it was far too easy to ask new people questions about themselves.
Dallen’s voice could be heard from afar: “So you guys know why we were in Irving, what about you? Pretty far north for a caravan when the borders are closing down.”
Adam recalled that on the day before everything turned into a nightmare, there was a pair in The Dancery talking about how King Heider had decreed that trade with Luxom was to be stopped. There was a grunt in reply as someone responded: “Word had only just come down when we were in Irving. We stayed there for a few days considering our options. No matter what we would do, this lot won’t sell for as much as it would in Luxom, and we will incur a loss. We were trying to figure out how to reduce that loss as much as possible by finding the best places in Heider to trade this lot too. During that time, a few guards left as we could no longer fill the contract they had signed on for.”
Dallen showed some interest and the conversation developed into things Adam couldn’t understand about economics. Becoming bored, he started to hum. Vivienne looked over at him then over all the merchandise in the wagon. She spoke to the driver of the wagon: “I don’t suppose you would have a flute in all of this that we could trade for?”
The man driving perked up at the sudden question. He took a moment to think it over: “I think we might have something. It would be simple and nothing fancy. Though, you would have to ask about it to Trask. He’s the one who owns the caravan and everything in it. You’ll have to wait until we break for lunch to speak with him since he’s all the way to the front of the caravan.”
The man waived the thanks off: “No problem.”
Adam was perked up with a look of excitement on his face. Vivienne grinned before chiding him: “Don’t get so excited. We still have quite a bit of time before we stop for lunch.”
Adam’s hums turned from something that was just taking care of his boredom to having a happy inflection contained within it. Vivienne hadn’t heard such lively tunes from Adam since they had to flee the city.
It seemed to take an eternity before they stopped for lunch. The caravan stopped to give everyone a break, but they didn’t break out anything to cook. Only dry rations were provided for lunch as it would take too much time to set up cooking supplies and then clean them before putting them away again.
Adam started bugging Vivienne. For the fifth time, he asked: “Can we go ask Mr. Trask about the flute?”
Normally, she would get annoyed at these antics, but Vivienne couldn’t help but grin seeing Adam like this. “Okay. It’s a bit of a walk over to him, though. Are you sure you want to come with me?”
Adam nodded his head: “Yeah!”
There were more than a few bumps and dips along the way, but Adam withstood them. He had come to expect those sudden things that were running into his foot or the ground not being where it was supposed to be. It made them just a little less frightening when they happened.
As it turned out, Trask was the portly old man who they had met earlier in front of the caravan. Trask easily saw Adam and Vivienne coming over. One was limping with a bad leg while the other was tripping over every little thing on the ground.
“You two must be Adam and Vivienne. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“One of your drivers said to talk to you about whether or not you might have a flute we could trade for.”
“A flute? One of you a musician?”
Vivienne nodded “Adam is. He used to play all the time. With his eyes injured, he can’t do a whole lot, but I think he should still be able to play fine.”
“Is that right, boy?”
Adam enthusiastically nodded: “Playing the flute is just about my most favorite thing to do!”
Trask scratched his chin while thinking. Suddenly, he barked toward one of the wagons: “Dennis, check crate three! See if there is a flute in there!”
It didn’t take long for Dennis to make his way over with a wooden flute in hand. Trask took the flute and simply tossed it to Vivienne. “There ya go.”
Vivienne quickly grabbed the flute from the air, a little shocked. “How much will it cost?”
Trask waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. I won’t really be able to turn a profit off it where we are going, so it makes no difference! I only ask that Adam play us some good songs before the end of our journey!”
Adam was extremely happy and exclaimed: “I will do my best!”
Vivienne handed Adam the flute. It took him a moment to find the hole positions by feel. As soon as he did, though, familiarity washed over him. As long as he knew where they were, it was easy for Adam to change hole positions and play any note he desired. He quickly churned out one of his favorite tunes. The music wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it was pleasant to hear. In the end, he received some kind praise from those around him. Hidden behind his bandages, tears touched his eyes. He didn’t know whether it was sorrow from everything he lost or happiness for gaining something back from his life. What he did know was: ‘… It’s kind of like I’m back home…’
Adam continued to immerse himself in music, even as the caravan continued down the road after lunch. It totally changed the journey for Adam. His music echoed out into and on top of all the sounds around him. The groans of the wagons, the clopping hooves of the horses, the various sounds of wildlife around them. Instead of their sounds invading his little world, he started to invade their world with his music!
Adam awoke with a start! Still a little groggy, he thought: ‘What’s going on?’
He listened to what it was that woke him up, but the camp was silent. The only sounds in the air were crickets chirping away. The evening had been pleasant with a full warm meal followed by lying down on a decent bedroll. Adam hadn’t been plagued by nightmares, so there was no reason for him to wake in such a manner.
Adam couldn’t hear anything off, nor could he feel something poking his side. He quickly gave up trying to figure out what woke him up. Turning over, Adam released his mind to the sweet sleep that was calling him. It was there that he felt it!
It was a vague feeling, and he couldn’t quite place it. However, it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up! While it was very different, Adam remembered the last time he had felt something like this; the night ghouls had descended upon them!
Adam quickly turned to where Vivienne should be lying. He reached out, trying to shake her: “Mom!”
Vivienne started up: “What is it Adam?”
“Mom, Somethi-” “-Bandits!-” Someone cried from outside!
The quiet caravan camp quickly started to bustle with activity. Dallen, Hansen, and the others had all slept lightly between their watches and were quickly readying themselves with weapons they kept closeby. Vivienne reached and grabbed Adam. “Don’t leave my side!”
Adam nodded as he stuck to her. He could hear war cries issued out followed by the clash of blades! Quickly, painful screams echoed out into the night! Adam could only shiver in fright. He couldn’t see anything! If there was a bandit right in front of him, he wouldn’t even know it! ‘I’m more useless than I was that night…’
Just as he had finished thinking that, an oily voice floated across: “What do we have here; a wench and her brat!”
Both Adam and Vivienne tensed. Neither were fit enough to protect the other. Both held the same thought: ‘What do I do!?’
Adam then winced as a giant warcry echoed right next to them! The oily voice squeaked in equal fright before the whistle of a sword in the wind was heard, followed by a sickening slice and a dull thud! Something wet could be heard splattering to the ground. Anxiety ate at Adam as he had no way of telling what had just happened. Then, Hansen’s voice carried itself over: “You two alright?”
Adam relaxed his tense muscles a little. Vivienne answered: “I think you gave us more of a fright than he did!”
Hansen shrugged as he looked around, looking for any other bandits. In the distance, calls for retreat could be heard. Not retreat for the guards, but a retreat for the bandits! “Looks like the trash are running off…”
As Hansen stared into the night, someone came running up to them. Dallen’s voice issued: “Trask is having everyone break up camp so we can leave at a moment’s notice. There’s still more than a few hours left before we will see any sunlight, but we might move out early to make sure we get away from those bandits.”
Hansen grunted an agreement as Vivienne spoke: “We can’t really help much with packing up camp. Is there anyone with wounds that need treatment? I can still help with that.”
Dallen shook his head: “These bandits were poorly trained. Nothing that hit us actually got past our armor. It would probably be best if you just get to your wagon so we can leave as soon as possible.”
Hansen helped the two of them to the wagon before going off to assist in breaking camp. Silence reigned over the sounds of packing, as everyone was still on edge, ready to react if the bandits decided to return.
Vivienne watched Hansen trot away, before giving a heavy sigh and muttering: “Really, what am I to do with him?”
Adam caught the question that wasn’t meant for him and asked: “What was that mom?”
Vivienne sighed again. She really hadn’t had the time to talk to anyone about the turmoil she felt over Hansen. She decided to confide in Adam, as it kind of affected him: “Well, it’s about Hansen.”
“What about him?”
“He’s really helped us a lot. Back in the city, after you passed out, your father came up to save us from the Ghul Kommendant.”
“Really!?” This was the first Adam had heard of this, as he had been a little afraid to ask about what had happened.
Vivienne nodded, unseen by Adam. “Alaric came with Hansen following close behind. Everyone else was held up by ghouls… your father fought hard with Hansen by his side and took a hit so that Hansen could finish the Ghul off… after that, Hansen apparently made a vow with Alaric to look after us. He has put quite a bit of hard work into it. He helped us get to a healer before we left the city. He even went out and found that cart that he pulled himself for days on end, but… he’s so crass and has done enough to make me hate him! It’s hard to talk to him. He made us leave Alaric and Emilia’s bodies behind. He didn’t try to break the news of their deaths softly to you! He’s just so frustrating! I want to thank him, but I can’t!”
Vivienne breathed heavily, glad to get that off her chest. Instead of asking about Hansen, Adam asked about something else: “What… what happened to Emilia?”
Vivienne had already mentioned how his father had died, but: ‘How did Emilia die?’
Vivienne sobered, realizing that she had said more than she intended. She thought for a moment before carefully speaking: “Alaric came over to save us. At that time, the Ghul took Emilia and killed her just as he arrived… Alaric flew into a rage and attacked the Ghul with Hansen to save us.”
Things had gone a completely different direction than Vivienne had thought. However, this gave something for Adam to think about: ‘Even dad couldn’t deal with that Ghul on his own. No training I could have done would have let me save mom and Emilia on my own… Dad didn’t die somewhere far off, but right beside me while I was passed out. Even Emilia…’
Only time would tell whether these thoughts were good or bad for Adam. As Adam was enclosed in his little world, Vivienne looked out as the last bits of the camp were packed into the wagons. A few forms in the distance lied on the ground, unmoving. She could only assume those were dead bandits. She muttered to herself: “I hope the rest of the trip isn’t like this.”
Thankfully, the rest of the trip was smooth. While nothing unexpected happened, being on the road for an extended length of time started to make Adam and Vivienne stir crazy as they were stuck in the wagon! A few weeks passed before Heider could finally be seen on the horizon.
Vivienne described what she saw too Adam: “It’s still very far away, but you can see it from here! A huge city with big walls surrounding it! Just outside the walls are some farm fields, but inside the walls lies buildings more extravagant and varied than our city had! In amongst all of that, we will find a new place to call home.”
Adam wasn’t sure what to think about the new home part, but: ‘Big walls… I like that.’