Baynes climb book i of t.., p.5
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       Bayne's Climb: Book I of The Sword of Bayne, p.5

           Ty Johnston
 
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  Chapter V: The Fields

  The road was soon found as it had been described to Bayne. He came to the edge of the grass-covered ledge and below he spotted the road. It was bricked once more, and the bricks looked fresh as if lain sometime within the last several summers.

  The drop was the distance of three men’s height, but that was of no concern to Bayne. He dropped to his knees, clutched the lip of the rocky edge and slung his legs over the side. Hanging there, the distance to fall was narrowed.

  He let loose.

  And landed on his feet, on the road, none the worse for wear.

  He paused to make sure he had not jostled his sword free, then gazed from side to side. By Bayne’s calculations, the way to his left seemed to backtrack around the cave of the three sisters. That way was a dirt path. The road to his right was the bricked path, and it appeared to travel in a new direction, the direction Verkanus would have journeyed.

  Bayne grinned. He was nearer the emperor than he had been in weeks. The man in black was running out of time.

  Pausing no longer, as time was another enemy, Bayne set out once more, his heavy steps taking him along this new road.

  The way remained steady and widened along the side of the mountain as Bayne marched. In some places the road was ample enough a small army could have crossed, and Bayne began to wonder who had built such a road, especially this high where clouds were so near Bayne could almost reach up and touch them.

  For he had come high, he admitted. His days on the road and his climbing and his trip through the tunnels had brought him higher and higher. Now he could look over the ledge and see naught but gray clouds below. The trees were now invisible to him, and the only break along the horizon were other mountains, white-tipped in the distance. Too, the air had cooled, and here and there frozen ground could be spotted. Bayne bore no cold-weather garb, nor was he in need of such yet, but a night on the road would be a chilly one. Perhaps he would come across another tavern, or maybe another traveler who would share or sell a cloak or blanket.

  Or perhaps Bayne would obtain his goal before nightfall.

  Shaking his head, Bayne gave up on such thoughts. His goal was all he must focus upon. The cold would come, but that would not stop him. He would march forever to catch Verkanus if he must.

  Slowly the road began to rise once more in increments. The ascension was so gradual Bayne figured he must have walked nearly around the entire mountain before climbing a height equal to three-story tower. And the road was wider and wider, barely a road now but almost a field of bricks beneath his feet. Keeping to the center of the way, Bayne could barely throw a rock and have it plummet over the mountain edge.

  Still, the mountain itself rose eternal at the center of all, it’s upper heights even here remaining invisible within a roaming circle of gray mist.

  A sign appeared on the side of the road up near the mountain wall. It was a simple wooden sign made of a post as tall as a man and as thick as his wrist. From a distance, Bayne could make out carved words painted black on the wooden plank of the sign’s face.

  He made his way over to it.

  The sign read, “Stagnation.”

  Bayne’s face screwed up in bewilderment. Was Stagnation the name of a place? Or a thing? Did the sign have some hidden meaning? It seemed an odd name for a place, but not much more unusual than The Knotted Mesh.

  Realizing there would be no answers forthcoming by simply staring at a plaque of wood, he made his way past it and continued on.

  It seemed a mile or so he must have walked when the ground opened up even wider than before, though the road itself narrowed once more to only a wagon’s width. Surrounding the road were flat lands of golden grains swaying beneath the heat of the sun. In the distance, on either side of the road, were fences of rough wood fronting the road itself and leading off to Bayne’s left and right as if corrals.

  Here the cliff’s edge was far enough to Bayne’s left he could hardly recognize it as it mingled with the horizon. The mountain proper rose far to the right and continued to climb into the clouds. The surrounding land was large enough and flat enough it seemed Bayne was once more approaching the foot of the mountain. But that could not be. Bayne had already trod a long distance uphill and through caves to find his way here.

  The only conclusion was the mountain must be bigger than he had believed. The mountain now appeared to be large enough to sport its own flatlands, which lay before Bayne as proof. Did this mean the mountain was still truly a mountain, or was it something more? Or had magic been involved? Perhaps Verkanus had sprang a trap, somehow sending Bayne across the nether to another mountain on another continent, or perhaps even on another world.

  Bayne glanced behind himself. The wide road there continued away into the distance.

  No, he was still on the original mountain, what he had come to think of as his mountain. Verkanus may be up to a trick, but Bayne was still confident he was on the mage’s path.

  He put his booted feet to motion once more.

  Soon he came to the corners of the fences on either side of the road. Ahead, past the corners, the two fences faced one another across the road itself. Away in the distance could be seen a tall, wooden house on the left in the center of the field there. A similar structure could be seen on the right in the center of the field there.

  A stone’s throw away from Bayne was a gate. Two gates, to be precise. One in the fencing on the left and one in the fencing on the right. Leading out from each gate to the road was a footway of pumpkin-colored bricks; on the other side of the gates the footways shot straight across the fields of grain and up to the houses.

  Out by the road, on either side of the road, next to where the road and the footways met, there was a bench. Two benches altogether, each facing the other and each made of sturdy oak and painted dark green. Next to each bench was a small table of whitewashed wicker. Atop each table was a metal cup sweating droplets like dew. On each metal cup was a sturdy hand, for each bench also held a man. Two men together, facing one another across the road.

  Curious, there was naught to do but continue forward, which is what Bayne did.

  As he neared, he could better make out the features and garb of the two fellows seated across from one another.

  The man sitting to Bayne’s left appeared to be about middle age with a grizzled chin and one eye larger than the other. His stomach was the size and shape of a small barrel, and could not be concealed beneath the tattered, baggy tunic covering his arms and chest. His legs were layered in grimy wrappings above leather sandals, from which protruded his rather large, round and stubby toes, most with long, dirty nails. He lounged back on his bench with his legs stretched before him into the road and one arm thrown over the back of his seat.

  The other man was a contrast in opposites. He was a little older than the other fellow, with a thin, white beard guarding his lower chin and wisps of white hair poking from beneath his scarlet, floppy hat made of a heavy material brocaded with images of flowers. He too was corpulent, though his stomach was not the size nor shape of his colleague’s, but rather that of a large pouch in the shape of a ball. Around this ball bulged a doublet without arms, the cloth heavy and the color that of the late-night sky. Beneath this doublet was a silky shirt of the palest yellow which flared out beneath the man’s thick latigo belt above white stockings that ran down his knobby, stick-thin legs into simple, soft walking shoes that matched the shade of his vest.

  Bayne stopped just before crossing in front of the two and stared at them, from one to the other and then back again.

  It was obvious they had been in conversation but had stopped talking upon the intrusion of this stranger.

  “I am looking for a man,” Bayne said.

  The one on the left snickered. “Wouldn’t have taken you for that sort.”

  The one on the right scowled at his companion.

  For sake of learning information, Bayne ignored the tactless mirth and the grimace. “He would have ridden pa
st in the last day. Black robes. Black hair.”

  “I believe he had a streak of white through his hair,” said the one on the right.

  Bayne nodded. “Aye.”

  “Haven’t seen him.” The man to the left said.

  The other fellow glared at the one opposite him.

  Bayne focused his attention on the richly-garbed fellow and pointed down the road. “Did he continue to follow the road?”

  “He did,” the man said, nodding.

  The other fellow, the one in the shabby clothing, laughed again, harder than before. Now it was Bayne’s turn to glare at him.

  “Don’t mind him,” the richly-dressed man said. “He’s not right in the head. And he’s lazy.”

  The other stopped laughing. “I am not lazy!”

  “Then why is your master doing all the work!” The wealthy one pointed past the other seated figure to the field beyond.

  Bayne’s eyes followed the pointing finger. For the first time he noticed a man some distance away in the field. This fellow was pushing a wood and iron plow being pulled by a mule. From the looks of things, the working man was not having an easy time with his labors. The ground being plowed was dry and hard and full of rocks.

  “I hurt my back last week,” the shabby, seated fellow said as way of explanation. “My master is a good master, not like some I know.” He rolled his eyes.

  “Your master is an idiot!”

  Bayne glanced at the two. then shrugged. Whatever business was going on between these men was none of his concern. He marched past them and continued along the road.

  “Wait!” It was the rich man.

  Bayne turned and looked back.

  “You must have walked a long way,” the man said, standing on his stick legs. “Allow me to offer you the hospitality of my fair home. Surely you are in need of food and rest.”

  The man now pointed at the other field, the one that had been behind him when sitting. Bayne looked in that direction. The house there stood unchanged, but now there was a fourth man, this one scything the grain with an iron-headed tool. He too appeared hard at labor, his arms constantly working back and forth. His clothing was more like that of the poorer man seated by the road.

  “Never mind him,” the rich man said, waving a hand at the new worker. “That’s just my servant.”

  Bayne turned as if to leave once more. “I thank you for your hospitality, but I must be on my way.”

  “I know where the man in black is going!” the rich man shouted.

  Bayne paused again and looked back. The rich man appeared almost frantic, as if weighty concerns were upon him.

  By comparison, the shabby fellow was grinning. He leaned back further on his bench and retrieved a clay flask from a pocket. He popped out the cork and began to drink heavily. All the while, that grin kept growing wider and wider.

  Bayne walked back to the two, halting mere yards from them. He stared at the one dressed as a worker. “What is going on here?”

  “I told you, he’s not right in the head,” the other man said.

  “Hush!” Bayne glared at the rich one, then turned back to the poorer one. “What is happening here?”

  The drinker lowered his flask and popped the cork back in. “Why are you asking me?”

  “Because you’re smiling like an idiot,” Bayne said.

  “See, I told you,” the rich one said.

  Bayne glared at him. The fellow shut up.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the poorer of the two said, bouncing his flask in a hand. “I’m just sitting here minding my own business with my little bottle.”

  “The two of you are up to no good,” Bayne said. He shifted to stare at the wealthy fellow again. “I suppose you were offered a bag of gold.”

  “Me?” The rich one took a step back, placing a hand across his heart as if taking an oath. “I have no idea of what you are speaking.”

  Bayne’s eyes narrowed. A fist tightened at his side. “I believe you do.”

  “If you don’t believe me, ask my servant there.” The wealthy-garbed man pointed toward the worker in the field behind him.

  “Ha!” The poorer fellow slapped at his knee. “That’s a good one. As if your slave wouldn’t lie for you.”

  “He’s not a slave!”

  “Might as well be!”

  The two men glared at one another, their chest’s heaving and their teeth grinding.

  “This is nonsense.” Bayne turned away once more.

  “Wait!” It was the rich man again. He hobbled around to one side of Bayne. “Alright! Alright! The fellow in black offered gold for your capture. I admit it.”

  Bayne halted and stared at the man. “But not for my death?”

  A sheepish look spread across the rich man’s face.

  “Of course for your death,” said the poorer man. “He offered a bag of gold to anyone who would slay you. Said he’d take your head as proof.”

  “Why tell me now?” Bayne glanced from one fellow to the other.

  The rich man smiled. “You are a stout fellow, strong and hardy. I could use someone like you.”

  “I’m not interested.” Bayne took a step away.

  “I’d pay handsomely!”

  Bayne paused and stared. “I have no need of your gold.”

  “There must be something you want,” the rich man said. “I could use you in my fields. Why, a big, strong man like you could do the work of ten in a day’s time. In a week you’d make me more than that pittance offered by the man you are following. Name your price.”

  Bayne sneered. “All I want is to catch my prey.”

  “What about a horse?” the other fellow said from his bench. “You’re on foot. Maybe a good horse would help.”

  Bayne didn’t bother looking at him. “I have no need of a horse.”

  The rich man slapped Bayne on his solid, chain-clad chest. “Of course not, a big, strong ox such as you.” He glared at the seated fellow, then back to Bayne with a grin on his lips. “But something else perhaps? Women? Clothing? A new sword?”

  “You have nothing to offer that I would want,” Bayne said. Then he turned and walked away.

  “There has to be something!” the rich man shouted behind the departing warrior. “Everyone has a price.”

  The poor man only laughed and sucked at his flask before emptying it and tossing it onto the bench next to himself.

  Bayne walked on.

  The rich man once more ambled after Bayne. “But you --”

  “Cease!” Bayne spun to face the man and reached up to half-draw his sword from its sheath. “Another word and I’ll lop off your head.”

  The rich man visibly gulped.

  The poor man slapped his knee again and chortled.

  “I’ll lop off both your heads,” Bayne said. “I should anyway. It would leave the world with a less annoying pair. One of you working your servant nearly to death --”

  The poor man nodded here.

  “-- and the other so lazy his master has to do his job for him!”

  The rich man nodded here.

  “Enough!” Bayne shouted. “Not everything is about gold!” He slammed his sword back home and turned and walked away.

  The two men were quiet and did not try to follow this time, though they did give one another knowing glances and shrugs.

  Ahead of Bayne, the road rose in a slight hill, the mountain proper rising far off to the right. The fences remained on the left and right of the road, as did the fields beyond, but soon the antics of the two men could no longer be heard nor seen behind Bayne. Not that he was bothering to look or listen.

  Presently another figure appeared alongside the road, a man standing in the distance next to a small, turned over field. As Bayne neared him, he could make out the fellow was dressed in simple, homespun clothing, a tunic, drawstring pants and battered boots. He gripped a long spade and leaned against the handle, the iron of the tool resting in the dirt beside the road. Sweat was running down hi
s face, though he did not appear overly tired. If anything, he seemed somewhat fresh and pleasant. He smiled as Bayne drew near.

  “Hello there!” this new man shouted.

  Bayne said nothing as he approached. Two idiots seemed enough for one day.

  The stranger chuckled when Bayne came up to him, but the laughter seemed not pointed toward the big man with the sword.

  “I see you met those two down the road,” the fellow said.

  Bayne stopped and nodded.

  “My apologies,” the man said. “They have a tendency to view the world from quite narrow positions.”

  Bayne nodded again.

  “I would not have stopped you,” the man went on, “but just this morning I came upon a fellow who required of me to give you a message.”

  Bayne raised an eyebrow.

  “He said he would meet you at the top of the mountain,” the man said, “and he said he would not be alone.”

  “Anything else?” Bayne asked.

  “No, I don’t believe so,” the man said with a smile. “He said a big, well-muscled chap such as yourself would be along. He said you’d carry a sword and had no hair atop your head.”

  “My thanks,” Bayne said, then he moved past and continued on his way.

  After a few steps, Bayne stopped and glanced back. “One question.”

  The stranger had turned to watch Bayne. “Yes?”

  “Before I reached those other two,” Bayne said, “I came across a sign.”

  “Stagnation.”

  “Yes. What does it mean?”

  “It’s the name of the farm,” the man said, “the farm split by two fields and two ways of thought. Unfortunately, those who domesticate the farm have limited themselves to only two ways of thinking based upon material goods.”

  Bayne nodded. “Again, my thanks.”

  Then the big man walked on, showing little concern for the philosophies and economics of these farmers, his sword rattling above his shoulder.

 
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