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Arden Chapter 8:
Westward

Bronwyn saddled up and left Oakfield at first light. There was nothing more to say. The village would listen to her and adopt the changes decreed by the Mage council, or she would have to take more action when she returned. The sooner people accepted rule under the Mages the better, but it had been three years since they took power, and winning people over and persuading them of the rightness of the Mages cause was hard going.

Still, Bronwyn was young, and time was on her side.

She took breakfast on the road, slowly chewing on another potato as Shanks walked along the country lanes that connected Oakfield with the nearest town to its west. Oakfield marked the western boundary of Bronwyn’s ward. Now she travelled through a region under the care and guidance of another Mage; Elton of the Earth, a Mage of the Truth. But Bronwyn had no need to trouble him, and with no responsibilities of her own she could avoid the town of Battlebridge and take the straighter road through the forest.

Despite her early start is was almost a full day’s ride to the forest road. Bronwyn pushed on through twilight to make her camp under the trees and ate a supper of dried meat and wild pears she found nearby. That night sleep eluded her, and instead she watched the stars twinkle through the leafy canopy.

Starlight was a cold and silver fire. Whatever secrets were needed to unlock their distant flames was far beyond her. Perhaps it was beyond all Mages. Maybe there were mysteries out there even the wisest of them could not understand.Maybe when she reached Lorin she could ask Sallus. He led the council. If anyone knew about things like that it would be him. But even as she was making her plans sleep wove its own thread around her, and she dreamed of a land where Mages rule was welcomed.

The rain woke her with a steady drumming on the leaves overhead.

She looked up into the face of her horse. “You know, Shanks, if it had only rained yesterday we could have saved Oakfield a lot of trouble.”

Shanks said nothing, but Bronwyn knew she agreed.

Arden Silverwings darted among the branches as Bronwyn prepared breakfast. She would have to hunt today. It was still at least another full day before she came in sight of the capital, and the last thing she wanted to do was arrive hungry. She could travel through the forest and hunt among the trees, then complete her journey with another early start and be in Lorin before noon.

The Westway was a broad road and well-travelled, and on her journey Bronwyn was unsurprised to meet travellers on foot, horseback cart and carriage. It was a welcome change from the road between Ashdown and Oakfield. The desolate eastern coast meant she could travel all day and not see another person. Here the occasional companion was welcome, and it was good to share greetings and news with men and women who did not look down on her because of who she was.

The Westway forked nine miles into the forest. The southern fork became the Great South Road and continued to the very southern tip of the peninsular where the winter snows were fierce. She would continue along the road after stopping at the lake nestled between the two roads. Her horse could use a rest from the long ride and there might be some people there fishing she could buy from.

Disappointingly there were no fisherman at the lake today. The recent dry spell had affected the lake too as the water level was conspicuously lower than it should be. A horse hitched to a cart big enough to carry six men waited patiently by the side of the road but there was no-one around she could see.

She dismounted and led Shanks to the water’s edge. The horse stepped into the lake until the water was almost to her knees, and lowered her head and drank.

Bronwyn sat, unstopped her water bottle and also drank and enjoyed the quiet of the lake. The still water was a long way from the unstoppable power of the ocean but she enjoyed it just the same. She closed her eyes and listened to noise of her wading horse and thought of home.

“Good morning!”

Bronwyn opened her eyes with a start. Shanks had lifted her head from the water and was looking past her to the source of the greeting. She saw a small man with thinning dark hair and smiling down at her.

“Good morning, if it is still morning.”

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you. Were you sleeping?”

She shook her head. “Just resting my eyes while my horse rested her legs.”

“That is an impressive beast you have there?”

“Thank you. My parents breed and train horses. The credit goes to them.”

The man stepped sideways down the slope Bronwyn sat on until they were level.

“Your parents? You have another trade then?”

“I do. I am a Mage of the Flame and Guardian of the Peace.”

“A mage?” He gave a respectful little bow. “I am both honoured to meet the Mage of this province and I am of course at your service.”

“Oh. No, this is not my province. I am just passing through. I am on my way to Lorin.”

“Then perhaps we can travel together for a time. I take the Westway but not as far as the capital. You can tell me all about life as a Mage since they took power.”

Bronwyn was immediately cautious. What were this stranger’s feelings about the Mage’s rule? “What can I tell you?”

“Anything and everything. I am always fascinated to hear more about Mages, especially these days. I am a historian. To me every story is the truth.”

Bronwyn relaxed. “Well then, I shall be happy to help you and accompany you for as long as we travel together. My name is Bronwyn.”

The small man inclined his head once more. “It is a pleasure to meet you Bronwyn of the Flame. My name is Morrigan.”