The carriage bumped as it traveled over the uneven dirt road. “Well, at least we’re not walking anymore,” muttered Aethelstan.
“You know, brother,” noted the Graharz, “sarcasm never suits you.”
Aethelstan turned to the Graharz, his expression slightly exasperated. “What? I’m not being sarcastic. I’m glad not to be walking! My blisters have blisters, and those blisters are threatening to spawn a third generation! Being able to ride in a cart is an undeniable pleasure!” The carriage hit another bump. “Though not an unmitigated one, I will admit!”
“Will you two cease your prattle?” muttered an Erl sitting in the corner.
“He is prattling,” said the Graharz. “I am enduring it, same as you.”
“Well, could you endure it more quietly?” asked the Erl. “It might inspire him to follow your example.”
“You don’t know my brother as I do,” replied the Graharz. “He’s not a man who suffers in silence.”
“And neither are you, apparently,” muttered a Goblin, seated nearby.
“Oh ho!” said Aethelstan, turning towards the shorter figure. “Another speaks! We might just have enough people here to hold a genuine conversation, soon.” He shook his head. “That is something my brother and I have sorely missed since Bitterleaves.”
“I would think you could get from your fellows,” said the Goblin, nodding towards the other Milesians in the cart.
“And you would be wrong,” laughed Aethelstan. “These are all Tall Hill Folk. They only speak their own strange tongues--of which there are half a dozen--and a few phrases of Imperial. The only ones who spoke Dark Tongue would be their captains, who are all dead, the poor bastards.”
The Goblin shook his head. “I have never understood you Milesians. You make the Ogres look like a harmonious lot--and I see less difference between you all then the children of Earth, Fire and Ice.”
“Only because you’re untrained,” said Aethelstan. “We can spot the differences easily. And we deal with these people on a regular basis. The Tall Hills aren’t as nice as the Low Hills, and their women not as beautiful as ours. So they regularly come charging down to try and get both.” He stroked his chin. “Though sometimes, they grab our livestock by mistake when they’re trying for the second. I’m not sure whether it’s an inability to recognize a woman based on the extraordinary ugliness of theirs, or simply a force of habit.” One of the other Milesians spat at this.
The Erl who’d spoken previously had been staring intently at Aethelstan. “You said you were at Bitterleaves. Are… are the rumors I’ve heard true…?”
“If you heard that it was a rout, then yes,” replied the Milesian.
“Aethelstan,” snapped the Graharz.
Aethelstan rolled his eyes. “Well, brother, it’s not as if they won’t be able to guess by the fact that we’re here with this merry company, instead of back home in Caer Dyfed.”
“Caer Dyfed,” muttered the Erl dimly. “Then… you are members of the Revered Band?”
“He is the Graharz,” said Aethelstan, gesturing to his brother.
The Erl turned towards the other in shock. “I… This… Is he telling…?”
The Graharz nodded brusquely. “I am who he says I am.”
“Then all is lost,” moaned the Erl, shutting his eyes. “Sutekh has buried us all.”
“Not yet. The Northern League fights still, last I heard,” said the Graharz. “And I am not dead yet.”
“You will be soon,” said the Goblin. “You know where we’re going.”
“Everyone keeps saying ‘Mount Cthonique’,” said Aethelstan. “As if it means something to us.”
The Erl shook his head. “It will, Milesian. It most certainly will.”