The two companions ran almost the entire day, with only short stops for rest and to forage for berries and nuts which they ate as they ran, towards Sundabar. Both Bryran and Kellindil were sweaty and exhausted, but they kept running as long as they could because they knew that they had to get to the dwarf-made fortress before the orcs could launch their attack. The papers that the elven archer had stolen hadn't mentioned much about the time of the attack, but they had been very detailed about where the monsters would concentrate their attacks. So detailed in fact that both veteran adventurers were sure that there was a spy inside the city feeding the orcs information about the city's weak points.
The city of Sundabar was a dwarf-made fortress, but there were some places pointed out as weak points in the papers that not even Kellindil knew about, and he was well acquainted with Helm Dwarf-Friend, the ruler of Sundabar. Not to mention that there were seasoned adventurers coming and going from the city at all hours, and neither the elf nor the human were entirely sure that the city itself was unaware of what the orcs were planning, but they didn't want to take the chance that the orcs' move really was a surprise attack. The stakes were too high for that kind of risky gamble.
Bryran and Kellindil ran for hours, the sun moving steadily across the sky above them, and they made good time although the elven archer was forced to rely on his walking stick more as his newly-healed leg protested the strain he was putting on it, and thus the warrior attempted to ease up their frantic pace, even if just a little bit. The elf wouldn't hear of it, however, and insisted on continuing their taxing pace. It went unsaid that the orcs were bound to be hot on their trail after they realized that they had been robbed, and they would have to run hard and fast to reach Sundabar before the green-skinned monsters caught up to them.
The warrior huffed and panted for breath as he ran, glancing over at the elven archer and seeing him in a similar situation, and sweat glistened on both the companions' brows as they ran. They were feeling hot and tired, and Kellindil's scalp was beginning to itch once again as the dirt in his hair mixed with his sweat, but the elf managed to ignore it. It was almost night fall before Bryran put his foot down and demanded that they stop and rest before they simply collapsed to the ground. Kellindil was forced to agree, and they took cover in a small copse of trees, both of them leaning against the thick trunks and gasping for breath while their hearts thundered inside their chests.
After almost an hour in which the sun vanished over the horizon and the moon began to cast its' light over the terrain, the elf and the human finally recovered from their frantic run from the orc camp. Bryran took a deep breath through his mouth and let it out through his nose before he pushed away from the tree trunk he was leaning against and returned to a standing position, Kellindil doing the same across the small group of trees. The elven archer was leaning heavily on his walking stick, and Bryran spared a moment to be concerned that his companion had put too much stress on his healing leg.
"My friend, once we get to Sundabar, how are you planning on getting Helm Dwarf-Friend to listen to you? I find it hard to believe that we will simply be granted an audience as soon as we ask…" Bryran wondered, still panting slightly even though his lungs were no longer burning and begging for air.
The elf took another gulp of air and shakily answered, "Ah, in my travels with a group of my other friends, I became well acquainted with Lord Dwarf-Friend, and as long as I can get my hair back to its' original color, I believe the guards will recognize me…I used to go with my friends to visit whenever our adventures brought us to the area and we needed a place to rest," and he was very much looking forward to getting the dirt and sweat out of his hair, but that went without saying. He took another deep breath and straightened up, trying not to lean too heavily on his walking stick even though his leg was already beginning to ache as his recent exertion caught up to him.
Bryran frowned, curious about how the elf and his group of friends could be granted audience with the ruler of Sundabar, but then again Kellindil had only told him amusing stories instead of serious tales of his adventures with them. He would just have to ask once they reached the city itself and could catch their breath, he decided, and it wasn't like he hadn't been keeping things from his companion himself. A little patience would go a long way, as a Halfling sage had once told him. He eyed his companion, taking note of the sweat beading the elf's brow and the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth, sure signs that his companion was about at the end of his rope. They would have to step up their pace to reach Sundabar, and that might not be the best thing for the wood elf's health, though knowing Kellindil, the archer would insist on it anyway…and Bryran would agree, because warning a city of a possible invasion was more important than going at an easier pace.
The warrior sighed, straightening his shoulders, brushing back the sweat-soaked hair plastered to his forehead with one hand and adjusting the packs he was carrying as he said firmly, "Alright, that's enough rest for now! We can make up some of the distance separating us from Sundabar before the sun rises if we start moving now. Are you up for it, my elven friend?" The last question was almost rhetorical, as Kellindil nodded firmly as soon as Bryran finished speaking, and wordlessly they both set off at a brisk jog towards Sundabar, the elf trying not to rely on his walking stick too obviously.
He failed, but Bryran didn't call him on it.
Several hours later, and the warrior was beginning to wonder if maybe he should have. The archer's jaw had a determined set to it, and there was an intent look in his eyes, like he refused to accept that his body was telling him that he was pushing it too hard. Bryran frowned, concerned for his companion yet keeping pace with the still injured – even if he refused to admit it – elf. The elf's leg might have healed, but too much pressure and it was possible that his leg might give out and the wound from his fight with the wolf might tear open again.
Unknown to Bryran, Kellindil was thinking almost the exact same thing, except he added in a prayer that his leg would hold up until they either reached Sundabar or they stopped for another break. His myriad of cuts and bruises stung and ached, only adding to the pain his leg was causing him as he jogged as quickly as he could, relying heavily on his tree branch-cum-walking stick to help him keep a steady pace. He breathed shallowly through his mouth and tried to lessen the sting in his lungs that signaled that he would need to rest soon lest he collapse from insufficient air.
It didn't work, and though he was reluctant to do so, the elven archer slowed down in an effort to conserve his energy. Bryran noticed and immediately slowed his own pace, a look of honest concern on his face as he asked the elf, "Are you alright?" he didn't wait for Kellindil to answer before he continued, "I think it's best that we stop for now, you look as though you can use a break and I know that I can," seeing that the archer looked about to argue, the warrior fixed a look on his face that clearly said that the conversation was over, and Kellindil's shoulders dropped in defeat as he nodded resignedly.
The warrior knew that he didn't imagine the fleeting look of relief that crossed the elf's face when his companion leaned back against a convenient tree, but he didn't comment on it.
Wordlessly reaching into one of the packs and pulling out the few remaining scraps of rabbit meat, he silently handed half the unseasoned jerky to the winded elf and then began eating his share. It was better than nuts and berries at any rate, he thought wryly as he quickly finished off the meager fare, seeing Kellindil do the same from the corner of his eye. He dusted his hands off and sighed, leaning his full weight back against the trunk of the tree that he had chosen as his resting spot as he thoughtfully watched the movements of his traveling companion and tried to gauge how much pain the elf was actually in. It wasn't easy, but as he already knew Kellindil's leg was paining him that made it easier to see how much the archer's other bumps and bruises added to his discomfort.
As for Kellindil, he was just relieved to be able to take a few moments to rest and take the pressure off his leg, though he would sooner run naked through the Trollmoors, the foulest bog in existence, than admit it to anyone other than himself. To try and take his mind off the various aches and pains afflicting him, he finished off the food Bryran had handed him and carefully withdrew the folded papers from his pocket. He figured that he could look over them while they rested and see if he had missed anything that might give them some clue as to who the spy within Sundabar was or had been. He didn't hold out much hope of that happening, but at least it was worth a second look.
From the look that Bryran shot him, the warrior knew what he was up to, but Kellindil casually ignored that through the ease of long practice of ignoring Fret when he went on a cleanliness tirade.
When the end of the papers cleared his pocket, however, the quiet tell-tale jingling of jewelry sounded from his other pocket, set off by the rustling of fabric. Abruptly reminded of the tangle of necklaces, rings, and who knew what else that he had stolen from the orc leader's treasure chest, he carefully refolded the papers and slid them back into the pocket he had taken them from. Unraveling some of the jewelry might be a better use of the time the small break the two of them were taking provided than re-reading the orders, the archer thought as he pulled out the tangle of precious medals. Pausing when he heard a sharp intake of breath from his friend's direction, he looked up half-sheepishly as he said, "As you can see, the papers weren't the only thing I took from the orcs…"
Bryran snorted in laughter, shoulders trembling briefly before he got himself under control and replied in a faintly incredulous tone, "Well now, I suppose we know why the orcs were so keen to catch you as we escaped,"
Kellindil let out a startled laugh, as he hadn't really thought about it that way, and after a moment Bryran joined in. It was almost five minutes before the two of them managed to get their mirth under control, but when they did the two companions had amused smiles on their faces as the elf set to work untangling one of the necklaces from the bundle (a necklace that he didn't sense magic in, just to be safe). The warrior leaning back against the other tree kept quiet so he didn't disturb the elf's concentration, but the human had to wonder why his companion had felt the need to steal a bunch of jewelry from orcs…and that brought up the question of why exactly the orcs had had the things in the first place. The delicate-looking chains certainly weren't typical orc fashion that was for sure…
He brought that up when Kellindil took a break from his unraveling, and was rewarded with the sight of a thoughtful look crossing his friend's face before Kellindil said slowly, "Yes, they certainly don't look like anything an orc would usually wear, and the leader of the band had an entire chest full of pieces like these in his tent…perhaps they were payment? Orcs wouldn't normally wear them, true, but they do place some value upon precious metals such as gold." He held up the thin golden chain he had managed to untangle from the mass he had stolen in example, but something about his possible answer didn't quite ring true.
Judging by the frown on Bryran's face, the warrior didn't think something was right either.
The elf tactfully didn't mention that some of the accessories he held were enchanted, as that would only raise more questions and they had more than enough of those already. He would mention it once they reached Sundabar and alerted Helm Dwarf-Friend to the danger. The two companions shrugged at each other, both of them wearing slightly troubled expressions as Kellindil slipped the untangled chain into the pocket containing the invasion papers and put the remaining mass of jewelry back in their original pocket.
Deciding that they had rested long enough, the archer pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his walking stick on the way up, and he made up his mind to get the branch made into a proper staff once they reached Sundabar. The tree branch had more than proved its usefulness, and he wasn't about to throw it away without a second thought once he finally healed and didn't need it anymore…although what he would do with a staff once he was healed, he had no idea, since his repertoire of weapons usually included only a bow and arrows, daggers, or short swords. Of course, since he had dug himself out of his own grave he had had to make do with what weapons he could find, such as the wolf fang he still carried.
Oh well, he decided, he'd figure something out once he and Bryran reached the city. He was rather troubled by the long list of things to do once he reached Sundabar that he had accumulated, but that was a different matter entirely.
Across from him, Bryran also stood up and stretched minutely then adjusted how the travel packs he was carrying lay across his shoulders. The weight had to pull at the human's muscles, but he didn't say a word about it, just shouldered the burden so Kellindil didn't have to, and the elf's already high opinion of the man went up several notches. The archer sighed tiredly and murmured, feeling his eyelids increase in weight, "We need to find a place to sleep lest we collapse, my friend…do you suppose we have gained enough time on any pursuit to risk a few hours each?"
Bryran nodded, replying lowly as he moved over to stand near the elf's side, "We don't have much of a choice, my elven friend; we'll have to risk it. We should start walking and keep our eyes out for an easily hidden place to sleep."
Kellindil made a soft sound of assent and laboriously started walking, the warrior keeping a slow pace beside him as they cast their gazes around, searching for a place to rest.
The exhaustion of the last several days were catching up with them both, and the adrenaline that had carried them through their mad run through the canyon and the following one through the forest was fast departing, leaving the pair's limbs heavy. And then, after at least another hour in which the moon moved until it was almost directly overhead, Kellindil had to stop and catch his breath, looking up just by chance after taking a deep breath and blinking in surprise at what he saw before smiling.
Somehow, by chance or divine design, he had spotted the perfect resting place. He nudged Bryran, who had come to a stop beside him, and pointed upwards with a grin on his face when the man looked at him questioningly.
Above their heads, the branches of two trees had entwined, forming a sort of natural bridge between their trunks about two man-lengths long and as wide across as a barbarian lying down with his hands above his head. To Kellindil, a wood elf, the place was perfect for taking a short rest and the fact that it was in a tree meant they weren't likely to be noticed by enemies, though Bryran might think differently. He didn't know if the man knew how to live in trees or not, though the man seemed knowledgeable enough about surviving in forests.
Scanning the canopy of branches and leaves above them, the warrior laughed nervously when he saw what his friend was pointing at, and he said half-nervously, "I'm afraid that unlike you, my friend, I am not part squirrel and therefore unable to sleep in a tree without falling out and breaking my neck."
Kellindil just chuckled, half-grinning as he teased his friend while approaching the tree that played host to the sleeping place he had spotted, "What? Are you afraid of heights?" At Bryran's cautious look at the broad trunk, it was all Kellindil could do not to laugh, instead restraining himself to a quiet chuckle as he assured the human, "Do not worry, I'll help you climb the tree, which will be more than half the battle considering your armor and the packs you're carrying." The elf chuckled at the unamused look Bryran shot him, but for lack of any better options, the warrior just sighed and nodded, eyeing the two trees warily.
It took around fifteen minutes before Bryran was able to haul himself up onto the tree-made platform, and he could only lay there gasping for breath as Kellindil, despite being injured, easily scaled the tree and propped himself up against one of the trunks. The warrior shot the grinning elf a bitter look before studiously avoiding looking over the side of the entangled branches that would serve as their bed for the rest of the night. Both of their packs sat next to Kellindil, who had moved them away from Bryran's sprawled form so that the human wouldn't run the risk of knocking them over the side, and the elf groaned quietly in relief as he stretched his aching legs out straight in front of him.
Now that they weren't moving, both human and wood elf were feeling the various aches and pains of the last few days catching up to them with a vengeance, and they exchanged matching grimaces of understanding.
Shuffling awkwardly until he was laying in the middle of the platform, well away from the sudden drop off the edges, Bryran muttered softly, "I trust, my elven friend, you won't let me go plummeting out of the trees if I go to sleep?" The question was half-joking, but there was a hint of real concern in the man's voice.
The elf eyed the warrior, beginning to understand that there was an actual fear at the root of the man's previous reluctance to climb into the trees, and he smiled gently as he said, "Do not worry, my friend, as long as you do not toss and turn too much there is no risk of falling. And if you do come close to the edges, rest assured that I'll keep you from falling." That seemed to comfort Bryran somewhat, as the brunet closed his eyes shortly afterwards and his breathing evened out.
Looking at the warrior with a light of respect in his eyes, Kellindil took a deep breath before he shifted into a more comfortable position against the trunk at his back and sighed as he slipped into reverie. If Bryran shifted enough to either side to risk falling over the side of the entangled branches, the elf would wake up long before he actually did.
Author's Note: Hey all, I'm sorry it took so long for me to update this story, but I've just been swamped with other plot bunnies. Rest assured, I haven't abandoned this story, but the updates will be slow going until I clear out some space in my mental closet. LOL. :P I would like to thank of all those who reviewed the last chapter, and to Tamuril2, you'll just have to wait and see. ;)
Sorry the chapter was so short, but this was more of a filler chapter than anything else. Also, I honestly can't remember where Sundabar is anymore, or even if that's the city I was thinking of anyway. *Falls over with swirly eyes* Please review and tell me what you think! As always, constructive criticism is welcome!