Photo by Sofia S on Unsplash

The weeks after the fae army’s arrival were a whirlwind of activity.

Almost immediately, the Golden Paladin sent a group of them to each of the other five main cities of Archaic Earth: Kha Jir Rah, housing the beastfolk; Grush, housing the ogres and some smallfolk; Lumis, housing the half-elves and Race of Man; Theramis, housing the gnolls and some humans; and the Bannory territories, a united group of smaller cities established for trading (and therefore containing the kind of melting pot that only trade could produce).

The fae needed to integrate into the military maneuvers the other species were practicing, and they had little time to do so.

What’s more, the leadership of Arthur’s Kingdom had its hands full plenty of times over even without the other species’ involvement.

Merlin apparently had decided to stop testing his boundaries on the attack front and instead turned his efforts to hunkering down, so at least their time had been without further skirmishes. Aside from the intensive military training under the Golden Paladin, the amberrock weaponry still needed to finalize mass-production; the mages had to untangle the threads and provide their own counsel for assaulting the towers; and, the final and most pressing concern, the very practical logistics of an army on the move: food, fuel, medical supplies, etc.

It was this last priority that found Hesa in one of the underground larders scowling alternately between a stack of crates and a parchment in her hand.

This was how the Golden Paladin found her.

“Lady Hesa?”

She jumped and turned to look at him with wide eyes. “My Lord, you startled me. How can someone as big as you move with no sound?”

The Golden Paladin lopsidedly grinned under his helmet, knowing she would at least sense the expression. “You mean to tell me you didn’t notice the walking torch? My Lady, you must be very distracted indeed.”

She furrowed her brow in irritation. “If you’re just here to tease me, you can shove off. I’m too busy for nonsense.” Glancing down changed her expression, but didn’t resolve the crease between her brows. “What’s that?”

‘That’ was a pot carried by the Golden Paladin, in which was a very small sproutling with delicate fronds that moved of their own accord.

“Ah,” the Golden Paladin said, “I found it in the woods while crystal-hunting with Master Dart. Its parent had been killed, so I asked it if it wanted to come with me and find a new home, and it agreed.”

“How – “ Hesa stopped herself and pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. She muttered to herself: “No, stop asking that question,” then, to the Golden Paladin: “You do know what it is?”

“Yes, but from Availeon — I didn’t know they grew here. It’s a mana-plant, correct?”

Hesa stepped closer and gave her full attention to the little sproutling, whose fronds drooped for a moment suddenly as if in surprise, then slowly turned towards Hesa. She smiled gently.

“Poor thing, you must have been so scared being all alone,” she said to it softly and offered her fingers, much as one would to a scared kitten. The Golden Paladin stood still, an obliging piece of furniture for the sweet scene. The fronds reached for Hesa’s fingers, trembling, then bumped up against her in invitation. She stroked it, then straightened. “Well, it doesn’t seem to dislike me, so I suppose I could take care of it. That’s why you brought it here, I assume?”

“Ah, sort of. More to ask what to do with it. I offered it a new home on a whim, but I wasn’t even sure if I could provide it with one. And since I knew it was a magical creature, I figured I would consult our resident expert on the subject.”

Hesa crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes at him, but it wasn’t an expression of disapproval. More … appraisal. Then she snorted and turned her head slightly, and it seemed like even in the face of the Golden Paladin’s radiant light, her cheeks lit up.

“Well,” she said brusquely, “yes. I can take it. But in return, you’ll help me with this.” She waved an arm at the crates.

“I was going to ask what had you so vexed.” The Golden Paladin transferred the pot to Hesa, then took the parchment she offered and scanned it. “Dried protein?”

“Yes, a dreadful lack of it. You know better than most that soldiers march on their stomachs, and as it stands, we’ll have to strictly ration what we do have, and that will affect both our fighting potential and morale.”

“Oh, is that all? I have some rather fortunate news for you, then,” the Golden Paladin said. “I was visiting the village a few days ago and found that it was their slaughter season. It came up that there would be waste, and the village was distressed. I suppose the rear haunch of the animal is so tough that it can only be consumed by being extensively smoked, and Arthur’s Kingdom is such a place of plenty that most people keep it as a last resort meal and usually don’t end up using it. We could easily send representatives to gather last year’s dried meat and requisition this year’s, and that should do it. Sure, an army marches on their stomach, but hunger is the best seasoning. Leave the good meals for just before battle and home.”

“That … is indeed a fortunate solution.” Hesa said, sounding both bewildered and relieved. She sighed, closed her eyes, and rested one of her hands on his armored forearm as though steadying herself. “Then, with the exception of a few minor details and any last-minute hiccups, we are prepared.”

“Shall we conduct our rounds, then, my Lady?”

Hesa’s expression was grim as she said, “Let’s. If all goes well, we will be on the road by sunrise. I, for one, would welcome a final end to this madness.”

Our heroes are now as ready as they will ever be to begin the journey that will ultimately lead them to confronting Merlin and releasing Archaic Earth from its tangled trap!! But Merlin is crafty… what trouble will they run into while on the road?! Find out next time!  

Short Metacosm trivia for this month: Why did Hesa’s cheeks ‘light up’? That’s the elf version of blushing! They can sometimes glow when embarrassed.

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.

Land of Chaos is a serial novel that we'll pick back up after these recaps! You can read previous Metacosm Chronicles stories in past issues of Tumbleweird.