Branderlands

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Chapter one


Frall watched as people went about the great city, clasping the hands of young children and carrying baskets full of food and cloths. He watched them scurrying about from the high up balcony in the kings study, wondering what it was the old man wanted. Old man he thought, the king wasn’t so old that he could go to war or ride around his country to collect things or meet people.
The door opened and he jumped as the kings son walked in and stood by the desk watching him. His face was cold as he watched Frall. Before it had been open, but know it was hard and full of hatred. Frall looked at him and wished for the old days when he had first came hear, the days where they had been friends. The king had destroyed that.
“Mevar, its nice to see you again”, he said and raised his hand slightly but let it fall at the look that Mevar gave him.
Frall stood straight straighter and waited for the king, who was never far behind his son, trying to avoid the princes eye. He tried to focus on the goings on of the city people but it was no use, he no longer wanted to know what the king wanted, he just wanted to escape the hating eyes of his old friend.
With a start both Frall and Mevar jumped form their thoughts as the king crashed through the door and charged over to his throne like chair, before sitting down. He put his hands together and surveyed Frall closely. “get the man a drink Mevar, he may need it”.
Grudgingly the prince pushed himself of the wall and walked over to where his father kept all his mead, all the while the king watched Frall like he was someone who was about to do something bad. Mevar could still be heard in the background, banging around and spilling a lot of the mead in the process.
“I have a favour to ask of you and it is a big one, my daughter is sick and there is only one plant that will save her, the one plant we do not have”, the king stopped and watched him for a moment. “the plant is found in the Branderlands”.
Frall froze at the mention of the strange and forbidding land, shock soon followed by anger at the fact that the king was asking it of him for someone he didn’t even care about.
The king seemed to understand the look on his face and sighed, “I need this of you and you and your men are the only ones that are capable of doing this”.
Frall looked up in horror. “you want me to bring my men into this, some of them have children and wives”.
The king looked up at him and shrugged, “that is not my problem, and I only require you to take a few, five at most”. he stood up as Mevar walked back over and handed Frall the mead.
“I have no worry on who you take as long as that young lad that I sent to you the other day accompanies you”, the king turned away and began shuffling through the papers on his desk, the conversation was clearly over. Putting the cup of mead down he stood up and hurried to the door, as he opened it to leave he stopped and looked back.
“when do we leave”, he asked, “your highness”, he added quickly as the king looked up.
“tomorrow, now go”.

Frall hurried up the street looking for Dranel, one of his most trusted men who would no doubt be with his little girl down by the market waiting for his wife to finish work. He was not looking forward to telling his friend the news, especially not now as his wife was once again with child.
“Frall”, a deep voice came from behind him as a group of the kings guard walked past on their way back to the palace.
He turned round to find Gret stood behind him. The big man had a large cut over his eye and a few down his arms, like always he seemed to have been in a fight. Out of all his men Gret was the one he least trusted, he took risks and used his placing and stature to his advantage.
“What are you doing down hear, your normally down in the bars closer to the palace, not hear”.
The man chuckled and held a hand up to the cut on his face that appeared to be still bleeding, “the prince said that you wanted to talk to me, I have to say I was shocked by it, never talked to any of the squires never mind the prince”.
Frall reeled slightly, taken aback. If Mevar was sending Gret to come with him than the prince must indeed hate him. “did he say anything about what I would want to talk to you about”.
Gret shook his head and lent back against a wall, “just said you needed to talk to me”.
“I’m having to go to the Branderlands tomorrow to get something for the palace physicians, if you feel like coming then do, if….”
“but you don’t want me to, I know but you will find it hard fetched to get anyone else to come with you. I would have thought you would have wanted to leave Dranel behind, with the child and all”.
Frall swung round and stalked off, he hated it when the dumb oaf got the better of him, not surprising really, as Gret was the third son of a nobleman and he was the son of a peasant woman who had no father. Finally he spotted Dranel as he walked down the street, holding both his daughters and wife’s hand. At the sight of Meri’s swollen belly he felt another surge of guilt, he was thinking taking his friend away from a woman who was not far from having his a second child. He watched them for a few moments, fighting with himself, finally he turned round and began to head back to the palace to find someone else.
“Frall, Frall come back”, Dranel called from behind him and he had no choice but to turn round and walk back over to the small happy family.
Meri smiled at him and kissed his cheek as her little girl wrapped her arms around his waist tightly. His old friend smiled at him and gave him an enquiring look. “lets get back and we can have a chat”.
Frall forced himself to smile, Dranel always new when there was something wrong with him, not matter how well he hid it from others.
There home was not that far away from the market place and it didn’t take that long to get there. Meri hurried in to put the shopping away and little Kerai ran up the stairs to find something to show Frall. Once they where all gone Dranel pulled him over to the small office like room where he kept all his weapons and armour.
“the king has given us an assignment”, he muttered looking at the floor, he didn’t want to have to look at his friend as he told him.
“what is it”, Dranel asked calmly but Frall could hear the pain and the slight waver in his voice.
“where to go to the Branderlands and find some plant that the palace physicians need”. he looked up and wished he hadn’t. the look on Dranel’s face was full of pain and shock .
“The Branderlands, you have to be joking”, he looked up at Frall, “how can he expect us to do that, how can he expect us to go there”.
Frall shrugged and looked up as Kerai came bounding down the stairs, a new stuffed toy in her arms. He smiled and picked her up, chuckling as she squealed happily. He looked up and saw that him come out.
Dranel still seemed to be having trouble processing the fact that he would have to leave his family, only just after getting back on track after having comeback from the last time the king had sent them of.
“why”, his voice was Horace and full of fear. Just the sound of it made the feelings that he had been blocking down inside begin to spread through him.
“what’s happened”, Mari asked as she appeared round the corner and saw the look on her husbands face, “what’s wrong”.
“Kerai will you go show Frall your other new things, he really wants to see them”.
The little girl looked up at her father and then at Frall, he cute face full of interest. “yea, show me you things Kerai, I want to see what you got”. the little girl smiled and disappeared up the stairs, he gave Dranel a quick smile and followed her.

The rain was beginning to fall as Frall left the house, feeling like his good mood from earlier that day would never surface again. Seeing the look on the faces of those who trusted him, seeing the pain that he was causing them. Putting his head down he began to jog the palace sables to see what horse he was going to be given to take with him.
“hey Frall, come to see your new horse”, Draid called from the side of a big chestnut gelding that was being fitted for tack.
Frall nodded and walked over to wait for one of the grooms to come out. He stroked the muzzle of the enquiring beast and gave it a bit of bred that he had in his pocket meant for his horse. “the king told you that you will becoming with me them”.
The young soldier nodded and seemed quite excited by the prospect, “ the king said that I will get a knighthood for it. The lad sifted slightly and smiled, “it will mean I can bring something useful in for my family and not just be the youngest son”.
Frall frowned, he knew the lad had caused a lot of trouble but he had never known the he was bothered about it. He hadn’t even realized that the he cared about his family and wanted to make things easier for them.
“they should be proud of you when you get it”, he said and stood straighter as one of the grooms appeared around the corner leading a tall dappled grey filly that seemed unable to say still.
The groom handed him the rope to the horse and disappeared of again, if there was one thing that did his heading about coming to the stables it was that the grooms where not aloud to talk to people, they had to do there job quickly and silently. He tied the filly up next to the gelding and looked her over.
She was a tall leggy animal that didn’t seem to be the type to last in the tough terrain of the mountains, but for a warhorse she was better than most he had ever seen. Draid let out a low whistle and held out a hand to her and smiled when the chestnut snorted and tried to get to him.
The groom appeared again, this time carrying a heavy looking saddle and bridle both with the royal crest, he frowned and looked at it as the groom swung the saddle onto the fillies back.
“why have I got that saddle, wouldn’t it be best if I had a lighter one, a normal peasant saddle and bridle would be best”, he questioned the groom, the look on his face made it clear that he wanted an answer.
The groom looked uncomfortable and picked up the bridle, “the king specifically said that he wanted you to ride with these, he said that he wanted to watch his future son in law ride out under his banner with his crest”.
Frall stood by the groom in shock, it was definite then, he would going to marry the princess. He turned around and ambled away trying to process the fact that he was having his life controlled, that he would have no choice in his wife or who would bare him his children. On the few occasions that he had met the princess he had got the impression of a spoilt brat that would only use him for her own ends and with a brother who hated him he was in for a hard time with them. If he got back form the Branderlands. He looked behind him to Draid and sorrow filled him, the lad was looking forward to becoming a knight and making life better for his father but if any of them got back it would be a miracle. At least then he wouldn’t have to marry the princess.
“Frall the grooms want you to try Lerai out”, Draid said for behind him.
Frall jumped and spun round, how had the lad got there so fast and so quietly, but he reminded himself that this was the boy that had caused so much trouble for the king. As he looked at him now, Frall knew that he could make something of the boy if he was given the time, but now he would have to teach him as much as he could whilst on the move in one of the most dangerous terrains in the Empire.
“who’s Lerai”
“your mare”, he looked behind him at the groom, “do you mind if I disappear for a moment, I have a few things I need to do”. he looked behind him again at the groom who was watching them with interest.
“Yea”, Frall watched as he hurried back to the groom and began talking to him instantly, together they disappeared leaving Frall stood in the yard on his own.
Silently he walked back over to the filly and checked her tack, once he was sure that her tack was in place he untied her and mounted up. In an instant he knew that this was not the horse for the journey, she was to jumpy and full of raw energy, not a pacer. Shaking his head he kicked her into a fast canter and rode out the stables and onto the forest tracks that the stable opened up onto.

By the time he arrived back on the stable yard the sun was setting and the place was bathed in a deep red light, the filly was quieter now that she had been for a run but he had realized that you couldn’t keep her at a walk for very long if you wanted to keep your hands in a reasonable shape. A groom came hurrying out to take the horse but he shook his head and held the reins tightly to keep her under control.
“I want to see who ever is in charge of choosing the horses if you mind”, he asked looking at he groom. He nodded and hurried away, Frall watched in revulsion as he saw the way the boy ran walked like a woman would, and he didn’t seem to have the build of one. Shaking his head he turned round and loosened the horses girth.
“that doesn’t look like a good horse for the mountains”, Dranel called as he appeared around the corner, leading a tall but stocky skewbald horse that looked like he could withstand anything thrown at it.
“Tell me about it”, he walked over and surveyed his friend closely, “I’ve got one of the grooms to go get whoever is responsible for choosing the horses so that I can have a different one, she’s a perfect warhorse, but she doesn’t have the stamina or the temperament for something that will last.
Dranel smirked and looked at him closely, “I bet you want rid of the tack as well, Draid told me that you have to keep it and that you have to ride out under a the kings banner tomorrow”.
Frall scowled and swung his fist out in an attempt to hit him but Dranel slipped out the way in the last moment and laughed. “I have to say though, I would have thought the king would know better than to have you riding out with such heavy tack in the mountains. You’ll probably get robbed as well, it looks expensive even from a distance”.
Frall nodded and looked up as the young groom hurried back with an older, rougher looking man that was the type that took no nonsense. Dranel shot him a grin and swung himself up into the saddle in one as motion, he nodded to the groom, who had grabbed the horses head as it tried to jump away, and rode of into the trees.
“you wished to see me about my choice of horse”, the mans voice was as harsh as his looks and he appeared to be full of anger. “please explain what is wrong with the filly, she is the finest this yard has to offer, or is she not that fine for the future son in-law of the king”.
Frall opened his mouth to retort but shut it again and surveyed the man, his temper rising. “she is very fine but not a horse to be taking into the Branderlands, she has to much energy, I need something that can pace its self and at least has a bit of calm to it”.
The groom looked over at him, his eyes wide and full of horror, at what Frall didn’t know, probably because he was stood there telling the man that he had made the wrong choice.
The man had gone a strange shade of putrid purple and his eyes where bulging, “well I’m sorry but the king asked for the mare, PERSONALLY!!!” he shouted, his voice rising slightly into a higher pitch. “now get of my yard and don’t come back, I will have the mare brought to you tomorrow, same for your men”. he gave Frall one last scathing look and walked away. “Bren, get on that mare and go find the other knight, bring him back and get him of my yard, and then you can find that other scoundrel and throw him of an all”. he reached the barn door and spun round, “and if any other knight comes hear to check out a horse send him on his way and tell him he will get the horse before he leaves”.
Frall watched in shock as the man disappeared through the barn doors, now he remembered why he didn’t like getting his horses from this yard. The groom turned to him and held his hand out for the reins.
“he isn’t always like that, he’s just having a bad day”, the lad fiddled with the reins, “the king came down last night and told him to get three steady horses and a highly bred war horse ready for today and ordered him to put the best tack on them as well and the then just left wit Hough saying anything, so he is very hacked off”.
Frall raised his eye brows and put his hand on the mare, “doesn’t explain why he is going of at me but non of the other knights”.
The lad looked over at the barn and shook his head, “the king kept going on about you, how you where the son he never had and that you would make him proud when you married his daughter, he was going on and on about you must have the best and only the best, and the king wasn’t expecting to pay”.
Frall closed his eyes and sighed, “why does it have to happen to me”, he muttered. Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at the groom, “you had better do as he says, but when you go and get the man in the forest please don’t be harsh, he is having to leave a family and an unborn child behind and there is very little chance that he will live through this, that any of us will in fact”.
The groom nodded and pulled himself up into the saddle, “don’t come onto the yard again, it will be more than your life’s worth if you did”.
Frall nodded and walked back to the entrance to the yard his head still reeling. He was scared and he wasn’t afraid to admit it, nobody went into the Branderlands, the place was full of creatures and shadows that you still feel even stood at the edge of the trees that bordered the country of Cavelay from the mountains.
“what the hell did you do”, Draid appeared in front of him, his clothes rumpled and wet his hair full of straw, “I was in the middle of something”.
Frall looked at his devilish expression and frowned, “I asked for a more enduring horse, what have you been doing, you wouldn’t be able to get a woman onto this yard so why do you look like you have been for a roll around in the barn”.
Draid shook his head and laughed, “ had better get out of hear before old grump face comes back, come on”.
Frall followed the lad back into the main city square and over to the well, the city was bussing and nobody took any notice of him, something he was so grateful for, in the lower parts of the city a lot of people knew who he was and always came up to him in the street.
“have you got your weapons yet”, he asked Draid and dipped his hands into a bucket of water.
Draid shook his head and looked at him guiltily, “I don’t know where to go, I have never actually hold a proper sword”.
Frall suddenly got an insight at the fear that filled the boy and he knew that the chances of living where getting slimmer every second. “do you know where the palace forge is”.
Draid nodded and pointed over to a smoke vent in the wall buy a pile of metal.
“go there and they will have new weapons that they can fit a handle to for you by tomorrow, it will be easier than going any getting a weapon, if you can use a bow come find me before tomorrow, I have one that will do you good”. he dropped the bucket back into the well and listened to it drop with a loud splash. “I have to go and see the king”.
Draid nodded and hurried of, Frall watched him for a moment before looking up at the balcony above the square that was the kings study. How could he do it, did he not care. Pushing himself of the well he made his way up the castle steps and into the palace.
He raised his hand to knock on the office door when it opened and he came face to face with Mevar who was on his way out, the prince looked at him and frowned, “what are you doing up hear Frall”.
Frall was taken aback but straightened up, “I wish to speak to the king, it’s a matter of importance”. he shifted slightly and tried to seem calm but his anger was still there.
“My father left last night on an important message and will not be back for some time, so anything you have to say to him you can say to me and I will covey your massage on”.
Frall looked at him for a moment, “if your father had left everyone would know about it, he would have rode through the city, he would have had guards”.
“are you questioning me knight I can have your title taken from you in one click of my fingers”. the prince smirked and closed the door behind him and walked down the corridor.
Frall watched him go, his anger building with every second, “what did I do to you, hey Mevar, what did I ever do to you that has made you hate me so much”.
The prince stopped mid step, his back stiffening, slowly he turned and looked back at him, his eyes black and hard, “you are marrying my sister, she is having to marry you when she loves someone else”.
“do you think I had a choice, you know what your father is like, trust me if I could have said no I would”, Frall shook his head, “I don’t want to marry your sister just as much as she doesn’t want to marry me”.
Mevar laughed and looked at him, “you don’t want to marry her, you have had so much power that you would do anything to get more, your willing to take a man away from his family to get you through this, you are taking an innocent lad with you to give you a better chance”.
Frall shook his head, “you know that if I had the choice I would go back to my home village and find a wife there, you know the only reason I am asking Dranel to come with me is because he is the only one that I trust and he would have been hurt if I had not asked him to come. As for Draid, your father has ordered me to take him, I was given no choice in that and I will do what ever I can to make sure he gets through this, Dranel as well, even if it means that I will die. I would give my life any day for them”. he turned around and walked away.
“I was talking to Dranel before he went to the stables, he wasn’t happy with you and he agrees that you are after power”. Mevar yelled after him, his voice taunting, “he hates you just as much as I do and I can’t wait for you to find that out when you out there on your own”.
Frall didn’t look back but the princes words hurt him, it couldn’t be true, not darnel his old friend. He pondered Mevar’s words as he hurried down the corridors, hoping for any singe of Dranel or even Draid and Gret, which shocked him. Now that he knew how Mevar felt he was becoming more and more paranoid, thinking that where ever he went he was being watched and talked about.
In a desperate attempt to find one of his men he went down to the smithy, something he never did as he had never liked the places, ever since his father had accidentally killed himself in one when he was working, Frall had been to young to remember the day his father died but he did remember the pain his mother had suffered through the years, every birthday, every family holiday. He remembered it all and he didn’t like forges because of it.
He stopped outside the door and looked around hoping to catch a glimpse of Draid, but all he could see was steam and burning coals and vague shadows of me going about there business.
“can I help you”, a man asked looking up from the sword he was sharpening, his face and neck where red and sweating from the heat.
Frall nodded and looked around, “I’m looking for a young lad that came in hear for a sword, quite tall with brown hair”.
“Draid”, the man asked putting the metal in to a pit of burning coals.
Frall nodded, shocked that the man knew who he was.
“he’s of collection some water for me, he’ll be back in a moment”, he picked up a hammer and put it on a bench to his right, “I suppose you will be one of the ones going with him, well I ask you one thing, take care of him, he’s only young and not very tough. He’s not really cut out for army work. He’d do better as a farmer or maybe a groom he’s just never been given the chance at either”.
Frall looked at the man closely and realized that he had a few of the same features that Draid did. “are you related to him”.
“I’m his father and you’re the knight that is going to marry the princess”. he looked him up and down, “please explain to me why my son is being dragged into this”.
Frall shrugged, annoyed that so many people seemed to know that he was having to marry, “I don’t know myself I was just told be the king that I had to take him with me”.
“he wants him dead, the brat has caused so much trouble that the king wants him gone, he pushes to…..”, the man broke of and looked behind Frall his face a mixture of fear and love.
Frall turned round and saw Draid stood behind him, a bucket full of water in each hand, he was staring at his father, his eyes wide.
“Draid”
The boy put the buckets down and ran from the forge, Frall looked at the beefy man before hurrying after the boy.
“Draid, come back”, he finally caught up with hi in the courtyard and grabbed him by his arm.
“let me go, let me go”, Draid struggled in his grip but he stood no chance against Frall’s strength. Finally he slumped to the floor and began to cry, his thin body shaking violently. “they want me gone, every one wants me gone, I’ve destroyed everything”.
“your family love you, that is what maters, not what the king thinks, what your family think”, he bent down and made the boy look at him, “go home and say your goodbyes, spend some time with your family but be back hear by sunrise tomorrow”. he stood up and pulled Draid with him, “you will make them proud, you will see. You will make them proud”.





















Chapter two


Frall watched as the sun rose slowly, spreading the city in a bloody red hue, there was no one on the streets but he could hear children running and yelling in the lower floors of the palace and he could see the steam rising from the vents at the ground floor, meaning that the smiths where already at work. His gaze turned to the east where you could still see the mountains of the Branderlands even though the where thousands of miles away.
Fear clutched at him as he put his head in his hands, why, he didn’t care about risking his life but to risk his friends and that of innocent people just to get a plant for a spoilt rich brat that made peoples life a hell just so that she could get what she wanted. He sat there till people began to fill the streets and the carts where beginning to enter the city
Eventually he got up and made his way down to the courtyard where the horses already stood with a groom at there heads, Bren stood at the head of his mare who stood out with her pedigree looks and her fancy tack. He walked over and made sure that his pack was secure.
He was well aware of Bren looking at him but he tied to avoid the grooms eyes as much as he could. “shouldn’t you be getting into your armour”, Bren finally asked as Frall began to lower the stirrups.
“why”, he asked turning round and caught the eye of Draid as he walked into the courtyard, his pack over his shoulder.
Bren seemed taken aback and looked around as the prince entered the courtyard, “you’re having to ride through the city and everyone will be watching, don’t you think you should actually look like a knight”.
Frall turned round and gazed that the groom, he was really beginning to like the groom. “I am going to ride in what is comfortable so that I can ride quickly so that this brute doesn’t take my hands of in an attempt to speed up. My armour will make it uncomfortable and hard to move. Really I want to be in the Branderlands region in about fourteen days”.
Bren nodded but he was watching the prince who was gazing over the knights in dismay.
“where is Dranel”, Mevar asked as he walked down the steps, surveying Gret and Draid as they secured there packs and saddles.
“he will be hear in a moment, he wanted to ay good buy to his family first”, Gret called straightening up and taking the reins from the groom.
Mevar nodded and walked over to Frall, the men stood glaring at each other, Frall full of pain and betrayal, Mevar full of anger and hatred. “I hope your happy with yourself knight, you are taking your only friend away from his family”.
Frall looked over at Gret and Draid who looked at the floor at his gaze, “and unlike you, I will make sure that he gets home to them, that they’ll all get home to their families”.
Mevar backed away and spun round into one of his guards, Frall looked up as the gate opened and Dranel hurried in, his head low and his backs tiff. In an instant Mevar was at his shoulder, whispering something in his ear, Frall watched as Dranel glanced up at him in shock and he saw as his face closed up and became hard.
“he’s feeding him rubbish”, Gret said, appearing at his shoulder and handing him a piece of bread. “you’ll have to work your confrontations before we reach the Branderlands, where going to have to watch each others backs in that place”.
Frall nodded but knew that he would have trouble convincing Dranel that anything the prince told him was nothing but lies fed so that he hated him.
Dranel walked over and hitched his pack on the back of the saddle, there was an awkward silence in the courtyard, only broken by hooves of the horses on the cobbles and the occasional cough.
“Right knights and soldiers”, the prince said, looking pointedly at Draid at the mention of soldiers, “mount up and prepare to ride”. they all pulled themselves into the saddles and there was a last minute check of saddles and pack before they lined up. Frall was next to Dranel at the front, who had gone as white as a sheet, with Draid behind Frall and Gret next to him, the hilt of his large axe could be seen above his shoulder. Slowly the heavy gates where opened and the where finally setting of on the journey that would test their worth as knights.

The street where filled with people as they rode down the sloping rode to the gates of the city that faced into the trees, even from the palace they could hear the screaming as they where opened. Meri suddenly appeared by the edge of the road holding her stomach, he watched as little Kerai ran over and handed her father a small ornamental flower, that would serve well as a broach, and then run back to her mother as tears began to stream down her cheeks.
He looked at Dranel and had to hold back tears of his own as he saw the pain that he was causing his friend, he looked around the people who he had lived with for so many years and was shocked that it would be unlikely that he would ever see them again.
He looked round as a fain sob reached his ears and saw Gret put his hand on Draid’s shoulder as he cried almost silently. Gret looked up and grimaced as he met his eye.
“we will have to stop at some point, somewhere that we will be welcome to and get some comfort at least”, he muttered only loud enough for Frall and the others to hear.
Draid looked up at him with hope in his eyes, Frall nodded and looked back at Dranel.
“home”, he asked.
Dranel nodded and a faint smile appeared on his lips, “home”.
They all looked forwards as the black gates came into view, beyond them was dark and out there was their destination. Kicking his horse into a gallop, together they sped through into the trees and away from everything they had know, and for Frall and Dranel, they where going home.

The weather worsened with each passing day and they often had to stop and take shelter under trees so that they would not be knocked from their horses by rain and wind that seemed to be hitting them with the speed of a galloping horse. By the third day the mountains where bigger and they where all sodden to the skin and Draid’s body was being ravaged by coughs that shook him.
“we have to stop, where wet, tired and hungry, and we need to get Draid to a healer and a bed for a few days”, Gret called as he emerged from one of the tents, a wet blanket in his hands.
Frall looked up from the fire he was attempting to keep alight and cook on at the same time. “is he worse”.
Gret nodded and looked grim, he had taken to the lad over the past few days, they all had but Gret most of all, and he had been the one that had taken up the task of taking care of him.
“we will be in verteel in a day or so and then Frall’s mother will take care of him, she’s the beast healer in the area so he will be in good hands”, Dranel assured the big man as he sat down and held his hands out to the fire. “I hope we get there soon and that the weather lets up before we head into the mountains”.





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