The road they were traveling on was sufficiently flat, without too many bumps or dents, that Ezkil was able to relax. The hay behind him did make his backside itch, however. He was wearing his usual garb beneath a ragged, dark-green cloak, but knowing the hay was there made his backside itch nevertheless. The ridiculous notion failed to make him smile.
He read the letter from his father again, tolerating the grinding and slight swerving that the cart's crooked wheels caused.
I hope to have you for dinner soon. Before I hear of what you learned, however, I'm afraid I bear ill tidings. Know that during your absence, the scout's guild I helped found in Raghunan is no more. I now head the Scout's Guild in Galhearn, along with a few other Scout Masters. Suffice it to say I'm too old for the field.
Know also that in recent days Raghunan has had its share of wayward incidents, gruesome deaths of fellows not human. The tension is palpable, my scouts report, as races look upon others with unveiled distrust. The same is happening in other towns, I fear. As this is the case, I enforce upon you my will as your father: pack your belongings and leave Raghunan. Come stay with me here in Galhearn for some days. Despite my old age, I have learnt a few new veteran scouting tricks, and these, my son, I must teach you. I shall await your response.
I sent a scout ahead of your return to secure me the details of the current situation in Raghunan, and also to meet with you. Send your reply through him, if it please you.
Your Father as always,
Ezkil folded the letter and slipped it back to its compartment inside his garb, beneath his cloak. A fine return this is to be, and a fitting end to a journey of five years with its own unsettling revelations, Ezkil thought.
"Are you okay there, young feller? Hope it isn't too bumpy for your preference!" The old cart driver intoned, making the donkey pull slightly faster.
"Oh it's perfect, my dear old host." Ezkil reached behind him to scratch involuntarily. "But your hay is going up my backside!"
The old farmer laughed heartily. "Try to fend the stalks away, m'lad, or they won't be too good for my cows when I get back."
Dawn had settled, shining triumphantly. Ezkil's mood was not as vibrant as he reached out to scoop up the apple beside him before it fell off the cart. He placed it in an inner pocket of his cloak, then stared forlornly at the sword lying on the hay to his left. It was sheathed in its dark blue, onyx-mithrilate scabbard, imbued with suppressive runic incantations on the inside that helped contain the blade it held. The sheathed sword was wrapped in fine, teal silk tied to the tip of the scabbard, going around the length of the sword to the hilt and up to Ezkil's left hand, where the other end of the silken strip of cloth was sloppily tied to his wrist. Parts of the dark blue scabbard can be seen, as can the tip of its black hilt.
Five years discovering the Eastern Continent yielded this treasure. Ezkil wished it was not his right to have it, and that he did not have it at all. His thoughts were disturbed by his host's enthusiastic, terrible singing: a haphazard rendition of the same tune the old tiller had been singing since the middle of yester night. Ezkil was about to tease the old man again when he felt imminent danger. Twisting in his seat to look forward, he saw a black figure shoot out of a nearby bush, knocking the old singing tiller out of his coach-seat.
The two tumbled away from the cart as the donkey pulling it stopped and snorted in alarm. Ezkil alighted, and stood back to observe. The old farmer was being beaten by his human assailant's bare hands in a frantic flurry of strikes. It was pure bloodlust. The brute had to be in a rage - not many would consider robbing a poor farmer of a cart of hay.
Ezkil stepped forward after he was quite certain the old farmer did not have enough fight in him to fend off the attacking brute. "Pardon me," he said in a friendly, albeit loud, tone. "You are keeping my coachman from bringing me to Raghunan."