The Marshal's Road:The Song of Erik of Candar... - 2.

It was to accept such an honor that Erik of Candar found himself so far from home, riding along on the back of a worn out mare as he made his way to the Marshal's Court. It was a few days ride along the Road, a well worn gravel trail that cut through much of the Marshal's land. His beloved Angeline was stuck at home, only a few weeks away from the birth of their first born. The Old Woman by the stream, a woman known to still be familiar with the Ancient Ways, had told Angeline that she would birth a boy... News that Eric greatly relished. A grand promotion and the birth of a son... The well earned fruits of a life of struggle. Though at the time it didn't seem like that; finding himself so far from home, astride a withering horse as he rode the final stretches to the capital. He would have another day ahead of him, he was told as he rode out of Marshal's Keep- the final village between him and the Marshal's Grand Garrison.  

Erik fancied himself a man of steely, steady resolve... Not easily thrown by jitters or fear. He had grown up hard, fending for himself at such a young age. But as he rode past the final stretches of Marshals Keep, he felt his stomach grow heavy. The heaviness grew as he rode, intensifying as the high forbidding walls of the fortress loomed off in the horizon. All the villages were in its shadow, and even Candar- as distant as it was- could still see on a clear day the faintest of silhouettes of the castle's spires off in the southern horizon, but as he fast approached the marshal's garrison the ominousness of the fortress became apparent. He could see the heavy grey stones clearly now, stained red with the blood of failed invaders, stacked a hundred foot high... The black and Crimson flags, proudly bearing on either side the Marshal's citadel, waving in the tumultuous mountain air like a violent bloody mist... He could even faintly see the crowning of the archer's helmets, keeping a watchful eye on the horizons. 

This heaviness forced him to drink as he rode, hoping to settle his nerves a bit as he trudged along the final leg of his journey. 

It was known as the "Sinner's Stretch", the road side lined with examples the Lord Marshal had chosen to make of those foolish enough to break his Laws. For the most part, the law breakers were confined to these large steel egg shaped cages, dangling precarious off jagged steel riggings. They were set there, many for days or weeks, others infinitely longer, to remind themselves and others what happened to those who broke the Laws of the Marshal. The various villages had similar forms of public chastisement, with similar charges and stockades gathered on the outskirts of town... But nothing like the collection on Sinner's Stretch. There, the cages went on for miles, dangling eerily in the still air. The creak of weathered, rusted metal sliding across weathered rusted metal was ear piercing at times, echoing off the jagged peaks of the forbidding mountain train opening a few hundred yards before him. Most of the cages went empty the further along he went, the crimes on this bit of the road reserved for the highest order. These criminals were treated with harsher punishments...

Long spears impaling decaying corpses broke up the clutter of steel pods, the rotting flesh sliding down the stained, greasy spears. Erik rode by as quickly as he could, feverishly pulling off his flask of wine as he dared not stare at the macabre spectacle that crawled too slowly for his taste by his lowly nag as they limped along their way. 

It took most of the day to get through the worst of the nightmarish scenery, the grotesque torments of the condemned dwindling to a scant few collections of the black steel cages again. They eerily creaked as he rode past them, singing an eery hymn to the dwindling sun as it slowly fades off into the distant horizon. It tucked behind the jagged peaks of the mountains lining the walls of the roadway, hastening the departure of the sun's last rays as they were consumed by the shadows of the mountain. With his ride not near finished and the road growing too dark to continue, Erik's mind (a bit dulled by the wine he had been drinking all day) turned to finding a place to rest for the night. He had anticipated such a need for days now, the rest of his ride spent enjoying the comforts that his well earned station in life had earned (in the shape of a soft warm bed in a secured inn and warm meals every night), and in truth was looking forward to a night in the wilderness. He had longed for a night to recapture the ferrel days of his youth... To feel the night air on his skin, feel the crackle of energy as critters rolled in the nearby brush; fingers quickly clutching a sharpened blade as he determined if the scurry was friend or foe... He enjoyed his new life of comfort, but felt a night in his past skin might do him a bit of good. 


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