Chapter 3
The Journey Begins

Outside the West Gate of Stormtree, Gladius

"Life isn't a solitary journey. Even if you try to cut yourself off from the rest of humanity, there will always be other people. Relations won't always be friendly,but you can't have the good without the bad. To live well, you mustn't shy from those you meet along the way."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

The unlikely traveling companions set out from Stormtree around midday. Since Cruz was the closest destination, the three opted to go there first. However, upon exiting through the West Gate, Edward motioned for Mark to stop. He pointed to the many flashes of sunlight off metal in the distance.
"You see all that?" Edward asked. "It's the Gladian Guard, a bigger group than a normal patrol. It must be some sort of training exercise. I don't expect them to let us pass without any questions."
"Oi'd ruvah avoid th' Gad i' Oi cood," Jasper added. "Thayah no' loikli ta ask meh any queshuns. Thayl oivah stretch moi neck er lop moi 'ed roi' off moi sholdahs."
"Then we go to Rowan," Mark said.
Edward nodded in agreement and they made their way around to the road on the southern side of Stormtree. Had they set out earlier in the day, they might have reached the next town before sunset. The moon was already high in the sky when Jasper spoke up.
"Oi loike ta ploi moi tred at noi' an' owl, bu' ye too ar' deh peple. Doan' ye fink wi shood gi' sum slep?"
It was a good thing Jasper made the suggestion. Edward's pride surely prevented him from asking for rest and Mark was so eager to get to Rowan that he might have kept going for three days without stopping. They set up camp a short distance from the road, but none of them went to sleep right away.
Edward showed little desire for the company of the others, sitting away from them and nipping at a small metal flask. Probably intended to torment the Prince more than to alleviate his dour mood, Jasper warbled a bawdy drinking song ill-suited to the present situation. All the while Mark wrote in his journal by the light of the campfire. A threatening swing of Edward's axe cut off Jasper's song, so the thief turned his attention to the less bellicose companion.
"Wo' ye dewin'?"
"Writing in my journal," Mark replied. "My uncle encouraged me to keep a record of my life like all my ancestors before me. You never know, really, it might be of some use to posterity. I started as soon as I learned to write and I've hardly missed a single day ever since."
"Oi'm impress'd," the thief said. "Oi tho' onlay th' rich noo thayah le'ahs." Grinning and playfully elbowing Mark in the ribs, Jasper teased, "Ben keppin' secrets, 'ave ye? Yer relly a bloobludd, ain' ye? Oi shood cowll ye 'yun' mahstah' frum new on, shoodn' Oi?"
Mark laughed. "Not at all. My family had some rank back before the war, it would seem, but I've never known any luxury. My uncle didn't have much, never much more than his little farm. By the time he had been given a commission in the army, I was taking my vows."
"Vows, ye seh? Yer a mahnk?"
"Was a monk," Mark corrected. "I left the order to come here."
"Woi'd ye cum ta a ples loike fis? Wo' 'bow' yer famly?"
"That's exactly why I've come here," the swordsman said. "I want to know what happened to my parents and any other kin I might have in this land. But there doesn't seem to much hope..." Mark sighed. "Maybe there never was... Even so, I don't want to give up."
"Will, guhd fah ye," Jasper said, giving Mark a pat on the back for encouragement. "Nevah giv ap, Oi owlweys seh."
Edward snorted in disapproval, but said nothing. Since the Prince had nothing constructive to add, Mark ignored him and continued his conversation with Jasper.
"What about you? Are you a native of this land?"
"Ah, no' rilly. Ye cood seh Oi'm frum ev'rywher an' nowher. Loike th' Trikstah, Oi gew 'ivah an' fivah as Oi plees dewin' wo' Oi wi'."
"Well then, what led you to your current... vocation?"
The thief chuckled at Mark's diplomatic choice of words and replied, "Oi'm quoi' conten' tah sin' fah moi suppah, bu' i' thah' doan' gi' meh moi dely bred, Oi'll pinch sum pokits tah meyk th' diff'rinz." He paused for a moment before adding, "'Cowrse Oi admi' a sof' spo' fah th' shoiny bi's an' moi fingahs ar' ap' tah streh win Oi see 'em, bu' Oi nevah pinch frum blokes wo' kin' affo'd tah lews i'."
"You may be a thief, but you're still a good man, Jasper," Mark said appreciatively. "I could tell when you fought me. A blade reflects the heart of its wielder, you see. There was no intent to kill in your strikes. Even though you ran the risk of getting caught, you deliberately held back. An evil man would've tried to kill me. Even a good man desperate enough would've tried to kill me under the circumstances, but you didn't."
Mildly embarrassed, the thief scratched the back of his head. "Wo' kin Oi seh? Killin's no' moi fin'. 'Cowrse, ye di'n' troi ta kill meh oivah. Oi kin tell, too. Oi gess yer mo' o' a 'oly mahn thahn a sohdsmahn."
"I don't like killing either," Mark replied. "It's as simple as that."
"Rubbish," Edward grumbled. "How do you expect me to believe the son of Luther such a lily-livered, woman-hearted weakling?"
"Oi!" Jasper snapped. "Oi'll no' le' ye spek ta 'im loike thah'! 'E's a mahn's mahn, moi boy is, tin toims th' mahn yel evah beh!"
"Ha!" the Prince scoffed. "Ten times the man? Only a churl and a whoreson like you could could spout such nonsense. What's that whelp to me, one with the blood of the Mountain Kings flowing in his veins? When I take back my throne, I'll see that the law is upheld and your kind gets the axe."
"Oi'll jes' 'ave ta foind a new ples thin, woan' Oi? No profi' i' steyin' i' this kin'dom b'cums any less frindlay. Woan' beh a ples fah minstrils oivah. Wi' th' loikes o' ye as kin', thayl beh no sin'in', onlay croyin'."
"What was that!?" Edward bellowed, sinking the blade of his axe in the ground with a savage chop.
"Enough!" Mark intervened. "There's nothing to be gained by all this bickering. Edward, you're going to have to learn to get along with people if you ever want to be king. Even the strongest man won't be able to hold the throne for long if the hearts of the people are against him.
"And, Jasper, I appreciate you sticking up for me, but Edward's words can't hurt me and you shouldn't provoke him. We haven't even known each other a day, but it's pretty clear how short-tempered he is."
Edward scowled at the lecture, but had lost the inclination to argue any further. Jasper seemed a little more conciliatory, but he put on a bit of a front to keep from looking too obedient in front of the Prince. Pulling his cloak tightly around him, he flopped onto his back and rolled away from the others
"Le's jes' gew ta slep thin. No mo' foi'in' till mohnin'."
It did not quite seem prudent for everyone to go to sleep, so Mark asked, "Shouldn't we have someone on watch?"
"No un's lookin' fah us," Jasper noted, "no' yeh' a' lees'. Wi owl shood enjoy wo' res' wi kin gi' woil wi kin. Thay's no tellin' win ouah lahk teyks a tahn fo' th' wo's an' loife ain' sew esy nomo'. Oi've gow' eyahs loike a fox, ye noo. I' Oi 'eah anyfin', Oi'll beh ap loike a sho'. Ye woodn' las' lang i' moi bizniss uvahwoise. A feef's wo'd meh no' cown' fah much, bu' tres' meh an' gew ta slep. Meh Ol' Nik teyk meh fah a tooah o' th' sevin 'ells i' sumfin' 'appens ta ye b'fo' sanroise."
"Who'd trust the word of a thief?" Edward scoffed. "It's worthless! We'd just as well give him a knife to slit our throats while we sleep." Before Jasper could protest, the Prince pointed his axe at him like an accusing finger. "You'll not get the better of me, thief. I'm watching you."
After all that, perhaps it was a foregone conclusion that Edward would be the first one to fall asleep. Showing uncommon magnanimity, Jasper ceded the opportunity to make sport of the overbearing Prince or to rifle through his pack for anything of value. Mark knew better than to take someone at their word alone, but he had a weakness for trusting people. In spite of the argument between his reason and his nature, he slept that night with surprisingly little anxiety.