Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 15
A Couple of Rough Characters

Arius yelped. “Look, there’s someone in the river!” The patrol murmured in surprise, turning their heads to look where Arius was pointing. The lithe greyhound was gesturing frantically at a small dot in the river below.

“He’s going to drown!” Arius yelled, and bounded out of the camp, followed by two gazelle and a coyote. The greyhound scout’s paws thundered on the dry grass of the Plainsland-Swampmurd border. The river became treacherous as it crossed the border: Plainsland was separated by rocky cliffs and roiling rapids from Swampmurd – this river plunged almost a hundred feet into the swamplands of eastern Swampmurd. He put another burst of speed into his paws as he caught another glimpse of the poor wretch in the river. He could make out a canine head before the creature was pulled under – he was a red wolf, a relative of the coyote.

He skidded to a stop at the edge of the river, wet sand and pebbles flying around his paws. Arius scanned the shore hastily. There was a point, where if he hurried, he could jump from rock to rock and maybe rescue the drowning wolf. Quick as that thought, he raced to the cape and leaped out, into the river.

He barely reached the first rock, a slippery, slime covered stone. After a tension filled minute of scrabbling at the slick stone, he leapt again and jumped from stone to stone as the wolf drew closer. He was howling in fear and paddling madly with his front paws. His eyes were wide and his tongue hung out of his mouth.

Arius reached the last stone. “Over here, swim to me!” The current was taking the wolf by at an alarming speed, but Arius saw him swim as hard as he could towards the rock. Arius reached out and grabbed the wolf’s neck with his teeth. For a heart-twisting moment, his teeth slipped against the wet skin, but caught. Arius heaved upward with all his strength and the wolf collapsed on the rock next to him.

“T-t-thank y-you,” the wolf stuttered out. Arius panted heavily; he hadn’t run that fast and far in ages. For a few moments, Arius shivered with cold. The river’s spray was frigid; this cataract ran all the way from the Triplets, down through Plainsland, before coming to rest in Swampmurd. He watched the banks, waiting for the patrol.

The patrol had reached the riverside. “Arius, can you get back to land? We can pull you two up if you can reach the first rock,” his gazelle partner yelled.

“I think so!” Arius called back, nudging the red wolf upright. “Ready to jump?”

The exhausted wolf nodded.

Half an hour later, the red wolf was wrapped in a wool blanket by the campfire. He was still shivering violently; the river had chilled him to the core. Arius watched him curiously. He was about his own age, perhaps two or three years younger. His muscles were well developed and his claws and teeth were sharp. He had a nick in his left ear at a raucous angle, and a strange accent that Arius couldn’t quite place. He also wore a rough bracelet carved from Mangrove wood, and a clumsily made gold earring in his ear beneath the nick.

“Thank yaw, greyhound, I don’t knaw how it happen. First I was standing on the bank, minding mi own business, and next I was swimn’ for mi life.” The red wolf pulled the blankets tighter around him and shivered.

“You’re welcome. What’s your name?” Arius asked.

“Ezekiel,” the wolf said, but didn’t volunteer a last name.

“I’m Lord Arius tu Meteoric,” Arius responded, extending a paw.

“Well, Psycadian drill me, I’ve been rescued by a lord of Aerema. Didn’ see that one a-coming,” the red wolf chuckled. His earring flashed in the firelight. Arius smiled.

“Where do you come from?” the greyhound inquired, curiously.

Ezekiel took a gulp of stew. “Swampmurd.”

Arius nodded. “I see. Journeying home, I suppose? Where from?”

“The North.”

“That’s a long way from Swampmurd at such a bad time of year; why so far?” Arius asked. He was surprised; he had expected the wolf to just be visiting one of the small Plainsland towns, not undergoing an epic adventure.

“Why’s you want to knaw?” the wolf growled. “Ya shouldn’t be so kurious.”

“Merely idle curiosity,” Arius replied. “What part of Swampmurd are you headed?”

Ezekiel glared at him, “Stop the questions, yar given me a headache.”

“I merely ask, because we are required to assist all civilians in returning home,” Arius replied, fighting his anger. How dare he order me about?

The fur lay back down on Ezekiel’s neck. “Oh. Naw, I don’t need any halp.”

“You’re sure you don’t need an escort then?” Arius asked politely.

The red wolf gave him a piercing stare. “Yar a nice guy, Arius. I’ll give ya a tip. Don’t be anywhar near Psyche or Nrael on Coronation Day. I’d hate to see yaw get hurt.” With those words, Ezekiel stood, set his cup of stew down, and vanished into the night.

Darius stepped out into the snowy Cremtom streets, closely shadowed by his first mate. The black sky swaddled the city like a woolen cloak, muffling sounds and muting emotions. Fog rose from the river to creep stealthily through the town like a burglar on his night’s work.

The fog instantly enveloped the small blue-green dragon as he set off down the street. Countless taverns were breaking it up for the night; law-abiding moles, deer, turkeys, beavers and muskrat were walking home for the night. He dodged through the tipsy crowd and slipped down a back alley.

Since he began his operations in Cremtom for the winter, his people had become more trusted than the local police, who tended to be complete poltroons. He had received little help from them, though a few officers had proved useful. He heard a clatter on the cobblestones in front of him and beckoned his stocky muskrat partner to duck behind a rainwater barrel with him.

Quick, nervous footsteps rattled down the street. An elderly lady had told him of the water-rat bandit’s hideout this morning, and apparently, she had been correct. The footsteps paused as the rat looked around, then scuffed a little, as the rat tried to slip into a crack. Darius darted out and pulled the thief out by the tail.

A small bag of rings and treasures clattered to the floor – plunder from his raid on a jewelry store across town this evening. The rat went pale. “Ack!” He squirmed wildly until Darius closed his right hand around the rat’s torso.

“Only half of it, sir,” his first mate informed him after rifling through the small bag.

Darius’s deep blue, reptilian eyes narrowed. “Where’s the rest of it?” he asked.

“I have friends, they will get you for this if you don’t let me go!” the rat squealed in his thick Northern Realms accent.

“I’m not interested in your friends, I doubt they could ‘get’ me. I want to know where you stashed the rest,” Darius said. “Its rightful owner wants it back.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I know Ténebrous and he’ll have no problem discharging and executing you for treason if you don’t let me go!” the rat yelled, watching Darius’s huge teeth.

“Like we’ll believe that.” Darius scoffed. “One last chance.”

“You’ll regret this!! The Northern tribes will reign supreme over the whole rest of Aerema! Raven ze Ténebrous will punish all the disloyal army officials and Ryath herself will be punished for her presumptuous behavior, death to Alexandra, death to you, and death to Ryath!” the rat squealed.

“You little punk, how dare you say such things!” Darius growled. The rat squirmed in his hand and pulled a small dagger from a sheath while the dragon captain was distracted. Though it dealt but a small prick, the dagger’s stab was enough to force Darius to release him. “Auigh!” The rat squirmed loose and ran, a little streak of rodent flesh. His first mate dived for the little warrior, but the rat evaded him, slipped down a drainpipe and vanished.

“Sorry, sir,” the muskrat said regretfully. He wiped the snow and mud off of his knees.

Darius pulled the tiny dagger from his hand. “It’s not your fault.” He let some of his breath whistle through his teeth. “Ouch. That’s got quite a bite.” He tucked the blade back into his pocket.

“We got half of it; that’s better than none,” the muskrat said halfheartedly.

“True. And the little wretch will be too scared to put a whisker out of the drainpipe for moons now. We’ll catch him eventually.” Darius said. “We’d better head back; the nurse will want heal this up, or at least put some fireward on it.”

The stocky muskrat nodded, so Darius continued. “And I’m writing a letter to Ryath. He let quite a bit out of that little trap of his, something that both Alexandra and Ryath might find interesting.”


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