Kyheart the Luminous turned to his right, looking over the horizon as the sun glistened off the Crown Mountains off in the east. He spoke softly to his produce in the back of his cart, “Remember foreigner, if they catch you the Border Guard will be the least of your worries.” The pile of vegetables and fruits from the southern lands coughed only once. The cart rolled slowly to a stop.
“Hail Kyheart.” The guard bowed at the waist. “I did not expect a man of your standing out here at the borders.” The man wore the uniform of his station, a long black robe with a scarlet sash diagonally across his chest and horizontal around his waist. Unlike most in the Northern Lakes, he and his kind wore a cossack hat rather than a hood. Scarlet ran across this is two strands to denote his mid-level station.
Kyheart gave a charming chuckle. “Indeed Scothar, but someone must bring in the produce for the winter, and who better to deal with those Slingers to the south?”
Scothar roared with a laugh shaking his entire body. Kyheart thought that, had he not been in a profession that required him to stay fit, Scothar’s personality would lend itself better to a body more corpulent. The guard gave him a wink. “Indeed, indeed, Luminous one. Well as always we thank you for your service. May I take a look? It will be many months before I see such beautiful stock growing in our parts again.”
“Of course my friend, and because I know your great love for such delicacies, please help yourself to a sample.”
“I suppose one piece wouldn’t hurt. The council doesn’t need to know, of course, and the peasants will not miss an apple or an orange.” Scothar walked around the back of the huge wagon and surveyed the wide array of carrots, broccoli, watermelon, limes, and more. “Pineapple. I was always partial to its tartness. This is the last shipment coming in before the frost, I assume?”
“It is indeed, Scothar. Now, if you don’t mind, the commune is expecting me back and we must prepare our stocks for distribution.”
“Of course. Please give Mathira my love. It has been too long. I really must come and visit that niece of mine. But the life of the Guard is lonely.”
“Your sister will be joyed to hear of you, as will Nina.”
Scothar returned an empty smile and patted the wagon horse on the rear as the wagon began along the road.
After the crossing disappeared below the horizon Kyheart spoke again, “You may come out Count Wisen, carefully, for that is precious cargo I carry.” He stopped the wagon.
He was not unlike the few Baladians Kyhaert had seen and talked with, and whereas the southern Baladians wore the fashions of their Empire occupiers, this northerner wore the traditional forest garb of the free people. He removed his felt green hat, letting the hang by the string from his neck and down his back. He took a deep breath as the cool autumn air blew through his hair. He wore a belted tunic of similar green, double breasted and tight fitting. His pants were dark brown denim. He carried a Baladian sword at his side, but had left his bow at the insistence of Kyheart. An archaic people they were, thought Kyheart.
“You didn’t change into the clothes I gave you, Wisen. There will be hell to pay when you’re recognized as a foreigner.”
“It’s just a hood and a robe.” The Baladian gave an annoyed look to the Lakeman. “I’ll merely slip it over my clothes before we meet anyone.”
Kyheart slowed the cart to stop and faced his passenger. “The plains are flat, we can be seen for a mile. Put the robe on now, or any alliance we may have had will be naught.”
Count Wisen laughed. “Very well. You are my host and this is your land. I shall do what you ask.” He slipped the dull grey robe over his clothes and sword, and threw his hat into the back he carried with him.
“I will take you my house. For the safety of my family, I ask that you stay hidden and quiet. If you should encounter anyone else stick to the story we created. You remember what that is?”
Wisen laughed and clapped Kyheart on the back. “Of course, dear friend, you have nothing to worry about. I am your brother, taken in my youth as a slave to the Empire. I have escaped and have come back to live with my family.”
“Very good. I am assured to know that you have prepared yourself. Though we have just met, I know the potential for a friendship is growing.” Kyheart had heard the Baladians were a friendly, open sort. He didn’t see much point in such things--he had been let down too many times to make friends lightly. Still, in good faith he would attempt to be as friendly as required to fulfill his purpose.
“I see now why you call this region Lake Fold,” Count Wisen said, a smile crossing his face again. “It reminds me of home, in a way. It is not like the big cities of Oldenfold, that buzz about you and oppress you with the stench of humans pressing in on you. It is much like the serenity of our forests.”
Kyheart took a deep breath, a smile crossing his face as he nodded. “Yes. Serenity. The way of magic necessitates it, for our minds must be calm and our actions purposeful. Those Slingers to the south seek to distract their minds with technology...technology that could not be powered were it not for us! For five hundred years our dead has been theirs, all in the name of peace.” He spat on the ground. “A new time is dawning, Count Wisen, the time of the steam is ending, and the time of the wizard is rising again. You will see. When we help you, they will all see.”
One of the horses neighed and Kyheart, broken from his trance, stopped the cart. He looked at Count Wisen, now sweating profusely, and handed him a rag from inside his robe. Wisen, brow creased and his hand trembling almost imperceptibly, took it and wiped his forehead.
“I apologize, Wisen, I let my emotions get the better of me.” He waited to make sure the Count had recovered before spurring on the wagon again. “Progress is a pernicious god to follow--powerful of course, until it consumes you, but not more powerful than Magic. Equal, perhaps in its own way, I’ll grant. The difference between us who follow magic, and them who follow the tech are that we know magic can consume us, we are aware there is nothing greater than our human weakness. That is where we have the advantage.”
Count Wisen frowned and furrowed his brow. It was, Kyheart was beginning to realize, rare for the man to show a negative emotion. Perhaps that is why his people loved him so much. “I see I have much to learn about the Quarterfold. In Baladia we do not talk about power--only of balance. Everything began in balance and everything will end in balance. All else is inconsequential. Still, it is good to hear other ways of thinking from people whom share this world. I will ponder what you say, for I am equally intrigued by magic and technology.”
Kyheart grunted. They sat in silence for a while, countryside staying consistent as a horizon of lakes and sparse fields between. They rounded the bend of a lake and ahead Kyheart saw the familiar sight of home--row after row of single story long houses with thin roads between each of them.
“We are about to enter the commune. Stick to our story and our purpose may be met with ease,” Kyheart said. “But cause problems for me and my family, and I will end you myself.”
Count Wisen gave Kyheart a half-hearted smile, but the wizard could still see sweat upon the man despite the falling temperature of the late afternoon. Kyheart wondered if he was a fool for trusting this man, for wanting to help him. The Empire was strong, but they could be overthrown. The challenge would be uniting the quarterfold.