Many times on our journey I pressed the knight to tell me about his city. On these occasions he would simply smile, and say that I would have to see it for myself. Of course my personal interests were constantly being drawn to the subject of his sister. I didn’t want to arouse Norar Remontar’s ire by accidentally disgracing her somehow, and truth be told, I was somewhat embarrassed by my single-minded desire to see this woman again. Of course being no fool, he saw through my efforts to artificially generalize the subject, but played along with me anyway. It seemed that in Amatharian society, both the men and the women were able to become knights and pursue careers in any field. The culture was a matrilineal one. The Amatharians passed on their family name from mother to daughter, but even more important than the family name, were the family crests, and these were passed from elder family members, to those children, grandchildren, and even nephews and nieces, who managed to achieve knighthood. Norar Remontar and a cousin had received their crests from an uncle who was a war hero. His sister inherited her crest from her grandfather.
We crossed planes and hills and valleys and an occasional mountain range, and must have been some thousands of miles from the sight of the airship battle when we reached the edge of an immense forest. It stretched to the left and right as far as the eye could see. Of course as with all things of this scale, when we came up close to the edge of the woodland, we found that it was not one great forest, but a vast area of connected forests with small glens and meadows scattered here and there. We plunged into this new terrain and continued on our way.
The first several hundred miles of the forest land was lightly wooded. There were a great many open areas and we found many fruits and vegetables along the way to supplement our hunting. As the miles went on by though, we left the lightly wooded areas behind us, and entered an increasingly dark and forbidding landscape. It was the kind of forest that one might find in an old black and white horror movie, or one of those fantasy novels with pointed-eared goblins peaking out from behind large oak trees. In this densely wooded country, hunting became more difficult, but because of the urgency of our quest, we could not take any more time than was absolutely necessary in any one location. So it was that when once more we had to make camp, for the first time, we sat looking at one another over an empty spot on the ground where our food might normally be found roasting on a spit above a small camp fire.
“This is most discouraging to me,” said Malagor. “It is not right for a Malagor to go without food.”
“At least we have water,” said Norar Remontar. “I am surprised that we have been able to stay as well fed as we have. Before this trip I had been hunting only three or four times with my uncle, and I mean no disrespect when I say that Alexander seems to be as unskilled as I am in this arena.”
“He has led a soft life,” explained Malagor. “I am guessing that even though you have done little hunting, your life has not been soft. You are a warrior.”
“You are mistaken my friend,” the Amatharian replied. “My life has not been a hard one. We in Amathar live well, and I as the son of a Kurar Ka have lived too well. I have never wanted. All my life I was provided for, was given everything that I desired, and was tutored by masters in every subject.
“When I reached manhood I set out to explore the distant lands of Ecos by signing on to my uncle’s trading group. As a warrior and then a swordsman, I was required to fight pirates and monsters, and I did so without fear. I proved myself in battle, at least my soul thought that I had. I went to the Garden of Souls and I found my soul. Then on my first mission as a knight, in my first confrontation with the enemy of my people, I lose my ship and my sister.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” I interjected quickly. “It was a tremendous battle and you fought bravely.”
“It was my duty to protect my sister,” said the knight. “She was conveying an important diplomatic mission for our grandfather. Beside, she is my sister.” He lay down and then rolled over so that his back was facing Malagor and myself.
Malagor looked at me, nodded, and lay down. There was a chill in the air, and the sky was becoming overcast, so much so that I almost imagined that the sun was going down. Of course it remained directly above, as always, but it did grow rather dark. I began to wish that we had built a fire, despite the fact that we had nothing to cook over it. I leaned back and prepared for my turn at watch. I was very tired though, and after a moments reflection, as I have just recounted, that the thick green canopy above, in combination with the storm clouds rolling in provided almost enough darkness to remind one of night time, I fell into a state of half sleep.
The first thing that aroused me from my slumber was a low growl coming from Malagor. I rolled over and looked at him. He was trussed up tightly in some kind of white netting, and he obviously didn’t like it. Suddenly I was knocked back onto my back by something large and black and hairy. I stared, horror-struck at a big black spider, fully fifty pounds, and with a body fully three feet across, sitting astride my chest. With the strength of my earth-born muscles combined with a great rush of adrenaline, I thrust the creature away from me. It was quite an impressive push, for it flew a about twenty feet and crashed with a splat into the bole of a large tree. I stood up, but before I could draw my sword or do anything else, I found myself being wrapped by strands of sticky white netting, and I looked to find a dozen more of the spiders encircling me and coating me with webbing silk. Scant seconds later I fell down onto my side, completely incased, with the exception of my head, in a silk cocoon.
My position on the ground put me face to face with Norar Remontar, and he looked at me and shook his head.
“You fell asleep.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“You were supposed to be on guard.”
“Now you have killed us. These are Pell.”
“We’re not dead yet,” I offered.
“You will be soon.” A grotesque, high-pitched, squeaking voice said.