This is the third part of a short story. Part 1 | Part 2
The young warrior sat on a rock, and let out a sigh. He put his hand to his chest, over the symbol of the Order of The Tower that was engraved on his tunic. What to do? It was obvious that it would take him weeks to get back to the Tower, and in the meantime, the monster would find new victims. And even then, how could he be sure that the next group of his brothers would fare any better than his? Even if they came armed with the knowledge he would impart?
Before he knew it, he was making his way to the south, sword and shield in hand. The wolf must have been talking about the Razor-Teeth Mountains. In their west-most foot, the rocks shared the color of the sunset. And indeed, the farther he moved in that direction, the more he seemed to hear the song of the owl.
A sorcerer! Eregar had never met any, nor did he know anyone who had. From the stories, he knew that this caste communed with demons and read of forbidden texts. Having to deal with someone like that would be almost as bad as dealing with the wolf-demon.
It was already dawn when Eregar started up the mountain slope that the woods embraced. The red dirt road forked regularly, but he decided to always stick to the broader branch. He did not see rabbits, but here and there he saw holes that looked to play the part, so the squire assumed he was on the right track.
By the time Eregar looked back to gauge his progress, the sun was near the top of the sky, and the youth confirmed that he was already above the treetop line. The white blanket of snow covered almost everything as far as the eye could see, but here and there lurked some tufts of green. Straining his eyes a bit, he could make out the handful of houses that surrounded the little inn from which he had run the night before, far away, across the woods.
Where he was, the snow had begun to melt. The border with the Holy Kingdom of Lohander’s was relentless; in these mountains, the Ice only imposed its dominion during the night. The people of the South had never known the bite of real cold, and so they were fragile and accustomed to living in comfort. Eregar decided that he would be cordial to the sorcerer, but that if he did not want to cooperate, the warrior would have no problem in imposing his will on him.
Not long after, Eregar saw the stone man. It was a statue at the top of the mountain, a man with open arms, his back to the sun. No, not of a man – men had no horns. He was a demon, and in each hand he held a torch, as if it were signaling toward the rising moon. It was large – taller than a two-story house, and as wide as a mill. Once again, Eregar felt a shiver run through his spine. Nothing good could happen in a land cursed by this type of monument. Still, the young man continued on until he reached the foot of the statue.
There was a man sitting in front of the remains of a fire, poking the hot ashes with a broken branch. Next to him were the smoldering carcasses of two wolves, a little smaller than the one that had attacked Eregar and his companions. But not smaller by much.
The man, bald and very dark-skinned, his body almost completely covered by a long robe – in the style of those worn by the monks, but with a deep red color that blended with the mountain stones – raised his head and fixed his penetrating gaze on the warrior. His eyes seemed darker from the dark circles around them, as if he had been awake for very, very long.
“Welcome, traveler!” He said, smiling from ear to ear, a smile that seemed to be unusually wide. “Sorry, I don’t have food to share, anymore. What brings you here?”
“I’m looking for a sorcerer. I was told one lived on this mountain. Are you he?”
The man laughed before replying:
“Who wants to know? A wizard rarely reveals his art, unless he has good reason to do so. Simply asking, young warrior, will bring you little luck in your pursuit.”
“He who wants to know is a Knight of the Tower,” Eregar said, trying to straighten up and look taller, to make himself seem more impressive, but not daring to give his name to a potential wizard. “And the reason is this: there is a great wolf, thirsting for blood, longing to kill the people of the valley to the north. I was told the sorcerer could cure that thirst.”
“Ah, young man, but you were deceived. The thirst you speak of can be cured, yes, but such is the cure.” He said, gesturing toward the carcasses. “It seems we share an enemy, you and I: a fierce demon. And I guess he sent you to me in the hopes that we would act hastily and attack each other. What do you say, perhaps, of joining forces to rid the world of this abomination? “
“So if you killed these two, sorcerer, why do you need me to help you face the other?”
“Young man, these two I killed here, where there was no refuge, nowhere to hide, no bushes to go around and attack me from behind. The one you met was the pack leader, more malevolent and clever, and it fled to hunt where he knew I could not pursue him. But with you, I have an extra pair of eyes, one to watch my back!”
Traveling with a sorcerer was not something that pleased Eregar. But it seemed a better bet than following the orders of a demon.
“Come on then, sorcerer. If we start down the path now, we could be there before nightfall.”
“Do you not want to rest here, by my fire, young Knight of the Tower? You must be at your best to face this demon.”
“The path is always lighter going down. Do not worry about me, sorcerer. Let’s rid the forest of this monster.”
“Yes,” said the sorcerer, again with that smile, “let’s.” He stood up and grabbed a walking stick made of burnt black wood, which he used as support as he began to walk down the path.