“This will take another week to get all of the stains out,” Trinsic muttered to himself. The battle with the bandits had taken place the day before, and yet Trinsic was still complaining. He was examining the blood splattered across his cloak and armor. Despite not moving fast enough to join the battle, Trinsic had moved fast enough to catch most of the blood which fountained from the headless corpse left in Azoloth’s wake. 

“Well, if you moved faster, or maybe wore a more utilitarian cloak, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Azoloth stated simply. Where most of the Knighthood wore a black leather cloak that was very simplistic, Trinsic’s cloak on the other hand was trimmed around the neck in thick fluffy wolf fur. The blood of course had rained down upon him during the brief battle, though Trinsic had not taken note of it until they were burning the bodies.

Trinsic did not both with a reply, instead he just focused on doing his best to clean the spots of blood from the garment as they moved down the road. 

Today marked the fifth day since the attack on the Keep had forced them to take to the road. They passed another village earlier in the day and were quickly approaching Darkshire. Darkshire marked where the road would curve south along the Roanwood. The Roanwood was an even more densely packed and dangerous stretch of wildland than what they were passing by. 

The moon slowly slid from the sky, and the cursed cancerous sun rose, casting its greenish pall across the land. Azoloth let out a sigh once more, feeling the weight of that nightmarish light pressing down upon him. Trinsic was beginning to shift in his seat as if he was anxious about something. Crimson was picking up on his unease and let out that low growl. Trinsic had insisted that they stop here to resupply and Azoloth for once was in agreement. The supplies they had both purchased were dwindling, and this town had a larger population than most along the road. It would be the perfect place to stop for provisions before pushing on south. 

As they neared Darkshire, they could see the Roanwood looming in the distant. The trees there were much larger than those back towards Candlecove Keep. The wildlands of the Roanwood were completely untamed within the boundaries of the Kingdom. Calls had been made to begin clearing the woods to make more room for honest people, yet none were brave enough to do so. Ancient tales spoke of the misfortune who befell those who cleared the forest back in places. Without a Royal decree and promises of protection from the Crown, the forest would never be trimmed back. The Crown had other problems to turn its attention to than the dark looming Roanwood. 

The town loomed ahead, unlike the other villages they passed during their journey, this one had a wall surrounding it. Approaching the gates, Crimson let out a low growl. The growl startled Azoloth because it broke the stillness in the air, wait he thought, why was it so quiet. Normally there would be people scurrying about in the newly risen sun, finishing up the last of their tasks so they could retreat into their homes. Something wasn’t right. He pulled on Stravos’ reigns and brought him to a halt.

“Whats wrong?” Trinsic asked.

“It is too quiet. Where are all the villagers?” Azoloth responded to the question with one of his own.

“They are probably sleeping for the night, why don’t we head on in and get provisions so we can head back out?”

“No, we need to ride now,” Azoloth said with a hint of urgency in his voice. Crimson let out another deep growl as Azoloth wheeled to the left and took off towards the Roanwood at a gallop.

“Wait! No, come back!” Trinsic shouted after him, sounding near panicked. Then suddenly the sound of hooves filled the air as more than a dozen Royal Guardsmen rode out from the village. Several broke off, heading for Trinsic while the other ten headed after Azoloth.

Azoloth never looked back. He lowered himself against Stravos’ mane and urged him on to greater speed. Crimson was at a dead run next to them, easily keeping pace for the moment with the galloping stallion. It was several miles to the edge of the Roanwood, Azoloth left the path heading between wheat fields and rode directly through the tall grain, hoping to slow his pursuers. 

Trinsic swore under his breath as he watched the Guardsmen come bursting out of the city and turned his steed to follow Azoloth. Stravos was a mighty Steed and so was Hamilton, the Knights always obtained the finest horses in the lands. They were easily pulling away from the guards, allowing them to slow down for Crimson’s sake.

Azoloth had no illusions about what would happen if the guards captured them. While not as well trained as the Knights, a dozen Royal Guardsmen were more than a match for two squires. They were not like the zombies or bandits they had dispatched before. As he rode, Azoloth decided, they would take to the Roanwood and chance the wildlands. It seemed that the kingdom roads would prove even more dangerous than the wildlands would. While the monsters who lurked within that dark wood may be fiercer than the Royal Guardsmen, they would not be actively seeking out  the squires.

Azoloth could hear Trinsic swearing loudly as he caught up to him. Trinsic knew the dangers the wildlands would pose to them as well as Azoloth did. Several hours later, Azoloth and Trinsic left the wheat fields behind and found themselves in the cool shade of the Roanwood.

“What now?” Trinsic asked, though he already understood what was about to happen.

“The road to Nezbin is to dangerous, we travel the Roanwood, “ replied Azoloth.

“That is suicide”

“And the Royal Guardsmen along the road aren’t? We are just lucky they were so incompetent. If they had let the villagers go about their day as normal, or had they posted men in the fields along the road to lie in wait, we would have been in real trouble back there. It is only thanks to their incompetence that we escaped so easily. I somehow doubt they will be that incompetent again.” Azoloth said, then as an afterthought added, “especially once their superiors find out what they did. I bet some heads will roll for this.”

Trinsic could only nod and sigh. He looked at Azoloth strangely, as if he was looking at someone he had never really seen before. Azoloth meanwhile was guiding his horse between the tree’s at a slow walk. His confidence proved well founded, and not a single Royal Guardsman followed them into the Roanwood.

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