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Chapter Six – The Riverland

From the previous chapters:
Sir Godwin's plan to kidnap the queen has been foiled. Two of his men have been captured and he must now flee. On their way to the Riverland, they stumbled across two young Legfords, Lady Eira and her squire Finnian. The two youths held out as long as they could, but were eventually defeated, the girl sustaining a life-threatening injury.

A reminder of the conflict between House Blackreaven and House Lionfort:
In the last Battle of the Riverlands, Godwin's father, Teoden, suffered a crushing defeat by the hands of King Leo I. from the House of Lionfort. Ten years after the battle, Godwin, thanks to a traitor, ambushed King Leo with some of his men on the road to the Owl Mountains. The king did not survive, and now his wife Madelyn rules Legaria until the heir to the throne, Leo II., is old enough. Although House Blackreaven is still the second most powerful empire of the three kingdoms, its forces are not what they used to be, so they cannot take control of Legaria by open battle or castle siege. Godwin is therefore trying to end his father's failed conquest through various intrigues.

- Chapter Six -

The Riverland

- Princess! Eiraaaaa! My lady! - Finnian shouted as he ran to the girl who lied on the ground.

Confused by his nerves and pain, he didn't even know what to call her. As soon as he got to Eira, he knew he had to take off the girl's breastplate to see how badly she was hurt. For a moment he hesitated, for in any other case it would be a serious offence, but now it was a matter of life and death. So he peeled off the armour - as far as he could with one hand - and looked at the wound. It was nasty, but not lethal, fortunately the armour had absorbed most of the sting. He was about to tear the clothes to shreds when the expected patrol arrived with Sir Tristan at the head.

- To the Master Builder! Quick, water and rags! You two! Make a stretcher out of anything you can find. - Tristan ordered in panic.

A few years ago, the queen had ordered that every corps should have at least one soldier trained in the care of battlefield casualties. This had never been done before, but thanks to the Queen, many more soldiers since returned home. Now her own daughter's life may depend on it.

Once Eira had been treated and the immediate danger to her life had passed, Finnian was given a quick first aid treatment: a temporary splint made of twigs was put on her arm, tightly wrapped in canvas.

- Get the princess on the stretcher and get back to Legford at once! As fast as you can! - Sir Tristan kept shouting, all the while feeling an unquenchable desire to cut Godwin to pieces.

- My lord, shall not a small group go after Godwin? - asked one of the soldiers.

- My first priority is to stay with Lady Eira until we get back. We have a small force, three or four men at most to chase them, but who knows where they are by now. They could have gone into the Wilderness. No. The life of the queen's daughter is our priority now. Godwin will be taken care of afterwards!

- I understand, my lord. I'll ride two men ahead to secure the return journey.

- Right, get moving!

They made it back to the castle without a hitch. This was solid proof that the ravens had indeed fled, or they would surely be ambushed and their vulnerable position exploited. The two soldiers riding in front had already alerted the court. All the castle's doctors, nurses and guards were waiting for them at the gate, in short, the all castle was on the alert.

- Eira! - Queen Madelyn ran sobbing to her daughter lying on a stretcher - She's not going to die, is she?

- The immediate danger has been averted, Your Majesty, but only the doctors will be able to say for certain.

- Let me through! - there was a rumbling  voice. Boromir pushed aside any onlookers and hurried to the stretcher with a flask in his hand.

- Is there some healing potion in it? -  asked the queen hopefully.

- You might say so, but I call it wine, and it's for me. 'It is early in the morning, do you think your Majesty can I stand it sober?

There is rarely so sudden and ominous silence, as after the old wizard's unsolicited remarks. If the queen could kill with her eyes, Boromir would be dead.

- Calm down! Of course I'm here to help! - he took out a leather bag and pulled out bluish leaves.

- These are the leaves of the forest azuretooth. The best remedy for open wounds in the land. Soak it in warm water, then cover the wound with four or five pieces. By the time these butchers have got as far as stitching up the wound, it will be healed.

The three doctors called butchers snarled at the wizard, but in view of the queen's presence they gulped and hurried off with the litter. Finnian had known Boromir since childhood and had always respected him, but sometimes he wondered if anyone had ever killed him for such remarks. He would have gone to the infirmary, but Boromir had warned him:

- You come with me, son!

Boromir's hut was built in the trunk of a thousand years old oak tree. Finnian had expected a scary, bleak dwelling when he imagined a wizard's hut. He was quite shocked when they came to a garden with green lawns, tidy and welcoming. The magician noticed that the boy looked around in surprise.

- What's the matter, kid, didn't you expect this? - he asked with a grin.

- Well, - the boy began, still staring at the garden - I admit I expected something a little different. My mind went more to black, withered trees, damp and rickety woodsheds and strange animal remains.

- Haha, I thought so. This belief is not unfounded, but for me, nature gives me strength, I prefer to be surrounded by living life.

When they entered the hut, an intense smell of wood hit Finnian's nose,  fire crackled in the fireplace, glass vials and books lay open on the table. On a shelf by the fireplace were a variety of pipes and tobacco mixtures, along with a plethora of books and codexes.

- Why have we come here, Boromir?

- I'll heal your hand. You won't even notice, and you'll feel better.

- Why didn't you start with Eira? She's more in danger.

- First of all, her wound is of a different nature. Second, you think a forest azuretooth is just a painted parsley leaf? It's the rarest and most valuable plant in the Brickenwood Wilderness. I soaked it in a magic elixir for months. If they use it to dress the wound, she'll be fine.

With that, the wizard spat up a strange greenish liquid and gripped Finnian's broken forearm firmly. He murmured something, concentration making a mountain of wrinkles rise on his forehead. After only five minutes, the young boy could use his hand without pain.

- How did you do that? There was no light, no lightning, no effects like magic tricks. - Finnian wondered, even though his hand was completely healed.

- Haha, - Boromir hummed - that's all humbug. You know, magicians often have to resort to cheap tricks to make people believe in their powers. But it takes a lot of energy. I don't do any spectacular hocus-pocus, I use much faster and more powerful magic instead.

- Amazing! - Finnian laughed.

He didn't have much time to wonder, Boromir was already ushering him out the door, telling him they were heading back to Legford. Immediately he had two horses – the Master Builder knows form where - and they were on their way to the castle.


Meanwhile, Lady Madelyn, Sir Tristan and Peregrin were walking along the castle wall, conferring.

- Godwin must not be allowed to get breathe, we must strike him down while he is running - declared the queen.

- I agree, your Majesty, I request permission to send a battalion of our best warriors to pursue the wretched raven!

- It is unnecessary - Peregrin added coolly.

Tristan's eyes flashed, but he said nothing.

- Godwin expects us to send a small army after him. He must be in the middle of the Riverland by now, and I'm sure he's left behind paid sentries to warn if danger approaches. We must approach undetected.

- We can disguise ourselves as simple traders - Cassian suggested.

- Of course, a battalion of merchants... A simple riverman would spot the difference immediately,' Peregrin continued.

- Then there's nothing else left to do, we need a small band of men who look just like merchants or farmers -  the queen thought aloud.

- That's right! I suggest that Boromir and I go. Since we are not knights, we cannot even fall by accident, and our identities are not known,- Peregrin continued.

- I fear you are right. As I know the raven warriors of some worth, so they will spot us - Tristan agreed.

- Will you two be enough for this, Peregrin? What will you do if you find them?

- We'll do what we have to do. Of that you shall have no doubt, your majesty – Peregrin said.

They involve the returning Boromir in, who immediately set to work, the more so because Vimtos’ wine is famous far across the land. The wagon was loaded and the next day at dawn they set off. But the weather was not too kind to them. It started to rain that evening and didn't stop for days.

Perhaps the Riverlands is the richest corner of the Three Kingdoms. Territorially, most of it belongs to Vimtos and a smaller part to Legaria. Its seaports and the Red River, which meanders through the area, have made it a trading centre. Goods from far away exchanged hands here, as did local produce from fishing and agriculture. With so many people around, it's easy to hide and gather information. Lord Godwin knew this well, and he was already thinking up another grand plan. Local gossip and people's political opinions are important knowledge, and the easiest places to get it are the local taverns and ports. Ernald and Thomlin's job was to watch for possible legfordian pursuers and pay off men to stay behind as lookouts. As long as they didn't get to River’s End, they could still be struck by the lion knights. Except that a huge downpour has put them behind too. They're trapped on Scaligan Island. The flooding of the Red River made the two bridges connecting the island to the mainland unsafe. The only settlement on Scaligan Island was the village of Bearburn. It’s most important building is the Toothless Bear tavern. When the three weary Blackraeven entered here to escape the torrential rain, they were almost dizzy from the thick smell that hit them in the face.  Because of the bad weather - and for lack of anything better to do - the villagers had gathered here almost exclusively. In every dark corner and vacant table, noisy guests sat, stood or lay. At some tables there was a serious discussion going on. Confusing details of dubious business were written on the sombre faces of the parties.

- Three cups of beer, please, and make it quick - Ernald approached the bar.

The innkeeper turned gingerly to the knight, and with half an eye surveyed him, who, with his disguise, gave the impression of a simple traveller. He walked comfortably up to the impatient customer, leaned on the shunt, and answered Ernald in a low, rumbling voice:

- Look,  stranger. The only one thing you can get quickly is a punch to your face, if you talk like that. Or two, depending on my mood. Then the gentlemen from the pub will join, who beat hell out of you with love. They're good folk around here, and then they'll buy you a round of drinks. Not food, because you won't have anything to chew.

The blackraeven knight is suddenly speechless. Godwin, though amused by the tavern-keeper's words, quickly intervened before Ernald was overcome with venom and exposed.

- I apologise for my partner's manners. I think we'll skip this great opportunity and just simply ask for three beers - with that, he put two silver coins down in front of the barman. He nodded, then turned to the side to pour the drinks. Godwin leaned over to his knight and whispered nervously:

- Control yourself, do you hear? We can't attract attention, a bar brawl won't help us blend in.

Thomlin had always admired in Sir Godwin that, in spite of his cruel temper, he could be terribly cool when the situation called for it. They sat down at a table in a relatively quiet corner of the tavern.

- All right, listen up! We didn't come to the Riverland just to avoid the Legford soldiers. Firstly, I have to negotiate with the  king of Vimtos, and secondly, I have to find some people around here who might be able to help us free Cassian and Sam.

- So we don't leave them alone? - Thomlin's eyes lit up.

- No, of course not. Anyway, Cassian is the commander of the Blackraeven army, our house is in no position to be handing out officers to the enemy. Unfortunately, our forces are still not what they used to be.

After a few days, the rain, which had been coming and going, finally stopped, and for the first time in a week the sun came out. The raven-crested men immediately resumed their journey and did not stop until they reached the town of River’s End. Peregrin and Boromir, who were behind them, arrived at Bearburn three days later. They were also held back by heavy rain.

- This land is hell when it rains - Boromir muttered.

- Don't tell me, they had a day's head start, they must be further along by now - Peregrin added as he climbed down from the cart. He didn't like sitting still for long, so sometimes he walked alongside the cart, sometimes he sat on the back.

- Never mind, the main thing is that the Toothless Bear is still in place!

- What is that? - asked Peregrin.

- The Toothless Bear? The most miserable tavern in the whole of the Riverland. It's right on the border of two empires. It's no longer the place to measure fine Legarian ale, and the wine is not from Vimtos barrels yet. But for two of Legarian silver coin, they will roll a barrel out to you!

The two Legfordians, weary from the long journey, entered the dubious tavern, though Peregrine was more interested in finding out about the fleeing Blackraven. The tavern was, if possible, even more of a mess now. Someone was balancing on the table, others were lying under the beer tap, and one brave warrior was challenging the roast turkey waiting on the counter to a duel.

- Tobey! - shouted Boromir.

- Boromir! - cheered Tobey, who was also the owner, bartender and keeper of the Toothless Bear. This was to be understood as a harsh discipline of the often insolent guests. Sir Ernald had seen this first hand a few days before.

- My dear fellow, would you offer us a glass of wine? Our throats are parched after the long journey.

- I wish the roads would dusty! This damn rain has cut off supplies for a few days. But the people's thirst hasn't abated, so supplies are running low. Well, I'll see what I can find back here - he said, turning into the door behind the bar.

- You know, Tobey used to be a court cupbearer, that's where he got his damn manners. He can't stand to be looked down on and disrespected - Boromir explained with a smile.

- That's great, my little wizard, but shouldn't we concentrate on the mission? We already have drink, but no information.

- Relax, my friend, we're in the best place if you want to find out about the people passing through. Everyone stops here, especially if they're coming from the north, like us and the Godwins.

Soon Tobey appeared with a bottle and two cups. Boromir's cordial greeting reminded him of his court days, which makes him so emotional that he didn't even accept payment.

- What brings you here? Legford is not next door! - inquired the portly innkeeper.

- Sorry, we can't give details, but have you met any unusual people around here? - Peregrin got down to business.

- Mate! All people here are strange and unusual, please be more specific! - laughed Tobey.

- Well, you must know the people of the neighbourhood, haven't you, by any chance, had three strangers come by?

- Hmm... Now that you mention it. A grey-bearded chap and two companions. One of them was really rude, even asked for a beer like he was a roadside knife-thrower.

- 'But this pub is on the side of the road, and a drunk guy just now threw a knife at that barrel -Peregrin said, puzzled. Boromir held his head and quickly interjected:

- Good heavens, man, how can you say that? Tobey's really proud of this place and I'm sure whoever threw the knife speaks to you with respect, right?

- Indeed! Regular, I taught him some manners. True, I had to throw him in the horse manure a few times, but everyone learns differently - replied the bulging barman, insulted and defiant.

- Well done! Back to the three people, do you know which way they went? - Boromir was trying to get the conversation back on track.

- Good question... I do know that they continued east, which is understandable, since one only comes to Scaligan if one continues to the River's End, or if one comes from there. I heard when I passed their table that they were talking about „assert” or something. But I didn't eavesdrop, that's disrespectful.

- Thank you Tobey, that's a big help - Peregrin replied.

After they were alone at the table, Peregin asked Boromir quietly:

- Do you know what that thing he told me about is?

- No. Do you have any idea?

- Yes, I do. Asserthau. The largest port city in Vimtos. There are many ships from the River’s End.

- Let's go then, I've never been there, they must be serving Vimtos wine there - the wizard enthused.

- No need. The Godwins have several days' head start, and it's impossible to catch them at sea. You know what worries me? Asterlan, the royal capital of Vimtos, is only a day's walk from Asserthau. I think Godwin is going there. I have no idea why, what his plan is, but in my experience, a ruler meets another when he attacks or when he wants to ally. I think the first option can be discarded, leaving the second, which is worrying.

- I say to the beard of the Master Builder, Peregrin, you talk so much that even those who listen are tired of it, make your point!

- We must go to Dalgaroth!

The glass stopped in Boromir's hand and his throat was stuck. That was not the answer he had expected.

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