Rouast is nearing the end of his journey and the empire wont be the same
Rouast yawned wearily.
Three days and nights in the saddle was finally taking its toll on him. Every fibre of his body ached for rest and for the comforts of home. Not long now he told himself as he furiously whipped his steed yet again. Only a half days ride and then he could rest. This thought lingered in his head for a few precious moments before reality cruely intruded once more. There would be no rest once he reached home. Of this there could be no doubt. For the news he was almost killing himself to deliver was of such importance that both his clan, and eventually the entire Empire, would be in chaos for weeks and months to come.
Rouast sighed heavily as he urged his trusted horse on. It was plain as day that his mount would likely not survive the punishment he was inflicting on it. Normally he would have arranged for replacements to be left at points along his route but he had not foreseen the crisis that now loomed and his horse was suffering the consequences. The situation had taken an unexpected turn and he had been forced to hurriedly adapt to what was unfolding. As the thought crossed his mind that he had been remiss in not anticipating the turn of events, he winced. Afterall, as the clans Spymaster, it was his job to predict the unforseeable.
As he rode wearily towards home, he consoled himself that two of his agents, unknown to each other, had managed to gather information concerning two matters of great concern. Taken together these two pieces of information could mean only one thing. The only possible conclusion being that the Empire was heading for a devastating civil war, with his own clan, the Karow-Tan, at the very heart of all that would ensue. Ever since discovering this worrying news he had been frantically riding to reach home to inform Gavlon, the Karow-Tan Chief. At first he had ridden all day and rested only at night. Now he had reached the Vale of Pratha, which was Karow-Tan territory, he decided there was no time for rest and rode incessantly.
Rouast was jolted out of deep thought by the beautiful sunrise as both suns rose slowly and hauntingly above the horizon to illuminate the Vale. The Vale was always a sight to behold at this time of year. The Sharo birds were always the first birds to appear each spring. Their plume, a myriad of all colours of the rainbow, from red to violet. A cascade of colour, ushering in a New Year. Their mating call was like an undulating lullaby, a counterpoint, to soothe away the stress and strains of a barren winter spent far away from home. The Sharo bird had been adopted as the Ceremonial Symbol of the Karow-Tan clan since the early days of the Empire, 340 years hence, and they were regarded with a great sense of affection.
Rouast allowed himself a smile. He had been away for the best part of three months continuing to build his network of agents and obtaining updated information
from those operatives already in place. His life was extremely fulfilling yet incredibly lonely. Now that he was nearly home a sense of relief gently washed over him. Despite the disturbing events of the last ten days he could not wait to see his friends and family. He had missed them terribly.
Once again on this frantic journey he told himself how lucky he was to have such an understanding wife. He spent up to nine months a year away from home working. Of course his family, and the majority of his clansmen, were oblivious to his real activities. Only a handful of people knew that he was not just a wealthy merchant but was in fact a spy. It was perfect cover and gave him freedom to move around the Empire unimpeded while conducting business deals and also undertaking his secret missions. The whole operation was also self financing. The majority of the profits from his business deals paying for the upkeep and expansion of the spying network. He smiled proudly as he remembered the day fifteen years hence when he had approached his second cousin, the Karow-Tan Chief Gavlon, with the idea of setting up a network of spies. Fifteen years later he had succeeded in planting spies in all but one of the major clans. He had also managed to infiltrate the Emperor's palace and the information garnered with the use of this network had proved useful many times.
As Rouast rode furiously towards Relvek, his home town and the capital of Tarow-Tan territory, he noticed a patrol of soldiers on horseback heading straight for him. As they approached he found he could not suppress the huge grin etched on his face.
“Dervel, you old dog! How goes it?”
“The army life is gruelling, the women demanding. Couldn't be happier! How about you? How's the merchant trade treating you, Rouast? Find any nice women to keep your bed-roll warm on your travels?”
Rouast laughed. “Chance would be a fine thing. Besides, I've spent the majority of the last 3 months trading with the Jinn-Wa. Lean pickings among the Jinn-Wa women folk, for men like me at least.”
“Of course, old friend. I forget you like your women to be of a fuller figure. How do you put it.......oh yes....you like a bit of meat with your gravy!”
Rouast smiled. “You haven't changed one bit, I see. Still have a one-track mind, Dervel.”
“A one-track mind well travelled, if you dont mind” Dervel riposted.
“It really is good to see you, Dervel. Wish I had time to spare chatting but duty calls. I must be on my way. I must speak to Gavlon as a matter of urgency.”
“Not like you to sound so worried old friend.” Dervel said while noticing the poor state of Rouasts steed. Need a fresh horse? That one looks fit to drop!”
“That would be most welcome. This horse is on its last legs. Come to think of it, it may be best if you were to return to Relvek with me. No doubt Gavlon will want you to hear the news I have for him. It will save time if you return with me.”
Dervel frowned. Something in the tone of his old friends voice made him uneasy. “Alex!” he shouted, “I am returning with Rouast. Take the rest of the men and continue the patrol paying particular attention to the mountains. Something important is afoot. Investigate anything unusual and report back as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir!” Alex replied, glad that Dervel had entrusted him with leading the patrol in his absence.
“Oh, Alex”, Rouast added, “If you should happen to spot any deer on your patrol, let loose your bow and arrows. Afterall, you rarely get chance to practice your bowmanship and I am starving. I cant remember when I last had of a decent belly full of food."
Alex nodded in agreement and then commenced the patrol. As the patrol rode off into the distance, Rouast dismounted his horse and Dervel leaned downwards and
held out his strong calloused hand and lifted Rouast up to help him up onto his horse.
Dervel gripped the reins tightly and spoke, “Now the men are gone we can speak. What the hell is going on, old friend. You look exhausted. What can be so important that you are rushing back early. I thought you were working on inserting an agent into the Jinn-Wa clan?”
Rouast sighed heavily, and then spoke tearfully in a tone befitting one on the verge of total emotional and physical exhaustion. He spoke. Just one word. “War!”
(Note: This is intended to be the prologue to a much larger fantasy novel I am trying to write. Would love some feedback. Thanks.)