Categories > Original > Fantasy > The Caravan2 Reviews
A merchant caravan making it's way through the desert stumbles upon the remains of a ruined caravan and it's two lone survivors. Who are not as the seem...
~Two Of A Kind~
The sun was setting behind the sand dunes of the Lamahri Desert, bathing the land with a red glow. The air no longer shimmered with the insistent heat that had plagued the merchant caravan since sunrise. The Lamahri Desert wasn't usually the choice route for caravans but this time Mekal hadn't dared risk the Imperial Highway. The last time had nearly ended in disaster and, only after a hefty bribe was paid to Highway Patrol, had Mekal escaped with his life. He had also been forced to abandon half his shipment of goods.
Mekal dealt in everything and anything, from pots and pans, to rare silks and fruits, to exotic drugs and child slaves. As far as Mekal was concerned rules were there only to be broken. Besides the Emperor made enough profit off of the honest merchants, what harm could one more dishonest merchant do?
"I think we should make camp soon." Heraldi said, as he rode up to Mekal.
Mekal nodded slowly, rubbing his brown beard thoughtfully. "We'll ride on for another hour or so. That should take us out of Mehendi territory." Mekal replied.
The Mehendi were known for their ruthlessness and they were not tolerant of unexpected visitors. No one camped in Mehendi territory without a personal invite. And invitations were seldom given.
Heraldi nodded his assent and rode back toward the caravan to relay the orders. Mekal watched the younger man go. He had found Heraldi in stowed away in one of his wagons a good decade ago. Then Heraldi had been nothing but a frightened child, his blonde hair matted with dirt and what appeared to be dried blood. Mekal had taken pity on the lad and had taken him under his wing. Heraldi was the son Mekal never had. Though he had never found out where Heraldi had come from. The lad had never said and Mekal saw no reason to press the issue.
They rode on for half an hour without incident, and Mekal began to think they might make it out of Mehendi territory without incident. His hopes were soon dashed as the caravan crested yet another sand dune. The day's warmth had already begun to leach out of the air, only to be replaced by the bitter cold of a desert night. The day's warmth had already begun to leach out of the air, only to be replaced by the bitter cold of a desert night. But that was not was made Mekal shiver.
Near the base of the dune, now a dark blue under the moon's light, there laid the remains of desecrated caravan. No one moved and, judging by the stench the rose up to their noses on the breeze, no one had been left alive.
"Heraldi, Brazen, Gremahld, and Perio," Mekal called the four men up to him, "go see what became of those unfortunate travelers."
The four men nodded in assent and nudged their horses toward what remained of the ruined caravan. They seemed to have been gone for an eternity, but Mekal knew it only have been mere minutes. When he had begun to wonder what might be keeping them for so long, Mekal heard a shout from below.
"Mekal, you had better come and look at this."
"Jervis, Kehval, you two come with me. The rest of you keep a sharp look out. You never know what kind of desert scum might be lurking in the shadows,"
Mekal stated as he started down the dune with Jervis and Kehval in tow. Once he reached the bottom he found Perio waiting for them.
"This way Sir." he said leading them toward the rear of what remained of the caravan. The wagons all sported at least one broken wheel each, as if to insure no one would be able to escape using them. The ground surrounding them was littered with the dead, people and animals alike. The smell had increased ten fold since their descent. The corpses were dry and shriveled, many with limbs missing.
"No doubt they made the desert animals a nice feast" Perio said, when he noticed Mekal starring. Mekal heard a noise behind him and, upon turning, found that is was merely Kehval being sick. Mekal felt as if he might be sick himself.
"This isn't the work of the Mehendi." Jervis said, as he peered into one of the broken wagons. "The Mehendi loot any caravan they can find, and these are still filled with goods." Mekal frowned at the assessment.
"I think we've found someone who might be able to answer your questions." Perio said, as they rounded the last wagon. Mekal couldn't keep the shocked expression from his face at what stood before them, between Gremahld and Brazen stood two women. Their features were not of any people Mekal had ever seen, in fact their features matched those of Heraldi. They both had long blonde hair and blue eyes, in fact they were identical. The only difference was that the woman on the left was clothed in red and the one on the right was clothed in blue.
"Twins," Heraldi said in response to Mekal's puzzled look, "though how they survived undetected I can't begin to guess at."
"A mystery indeed." Mekal murmured. Everyone in the land of Versakal knew of the ban against twins. When born the smaller twin always killed, or the parents risked arousing the ire of the church. Twins were considered unnatural, a bane of the demons that were said to rule the thirteen hells. It would have been impossible for these two to have gone undetected long enough to make it to adulthood.
"We lived on a farm in the mountains, with no one around for miles upon miles." the woman in red replied. Her voice held an accent that Mekal could not quite place.
"How did you come to be here," Jervis said with wave of his hand that encompassed the ruined caravan, the dead merchants, and the desert itself.
"We were forced to flee when a passing Highway Patroller got too suspicious. We joined this caravan only after paying a hefty sum to their chief. " this time it was the woman in blue who answered. Her voice was an exact copy of her sister's. Mekal shivered at the unnaturalness of the situation. He could also see that his men were also uncomfortable.
"Who attacked the caravan you traveled with, and how is it that you survived when all the others perished?" Mekal asked, suspicion lacing his words.
The two women exchanged a glance and after a slight pause the woman in red answered once more. "'Twas sheer luck we survived the attack. They rode out of the hills with great cries and didn't stop until everyone was dead. We had gone ahead and hide until they had ridden away. It was horrible." she said with a shudder.
Mekal frowned at that. It was obvious that it hadn't been the Mehendi who had attacked this caravan. Why these women would lie was anyone's guess and Mekal didn't want to stay put for too long. They were still in Mehendi territory after all and they had just lost precious time here. They needed to get moving and soon. He shifted his attention toward Gremahld and Brazen.
"We need to get moving and we obviously can't leave them here. I'm putting you two in charge of them. Get them settled into one of the wagons and see to it they don't run off with anything." with that he turned and began to make his way away from this ruined caravan and toward his own.
"Meriel." the woman in red said, "I'm Meriel and my sister is Liriel."
Even their names are similar .Mekal thought with a frown.
"Well then, Meriel, Liriel welcome to my caravan." Mekal replied with an extravagant and exaggerated bow. With that he turned once more and made his back to his caravan.
They had made camp between two sand dunes an hour ago. Pitching their tents and starting a fire had taken less then fifteen minutes. The night seemed to have gotten even darker, the moon now obscured behind black clouds. The men seemed unnerved by the presence of Meriel and Liriel and both women seemed unaware, or they simply didn't care, that they made the men nervous.
"It's unnatural." Mekal mutter to himself, for what felt like the hundredth time this night.
"Aye that it is." Heraldi said as he sat down beside Mekal, "They could never have survived in the desert alone that long. And they clearly lied about the attack. It wasn't the Mehendi that attack that caravan, and I think they know who truly did."
"What makes you say that?" Mekal asked curiously.
Heraldi shrugged. "Look at them, they're clearly hiding something." Mekal nodded but he stayed silent.
But after a while he felt compelled to ask. "They look like you, you know." Mekal said as nonchalantly as possible. "And you never did tell me how you happened to be in my wagon all those years ago."
Heraldi sat up suddenly. "I trust you find our accommodations suitable." he said as the two women walked toward them.
"Yes, quite." Liriel answered. At least Mekal thought it was Liriel, for all he knew they could have switched dresses without his knowledge.
"Yes they are as good as any we could hope for out here." Meriel affirmed, and Mekal wasn't sure if it was to be taken as a compliment or an insult. But he didn't waste much time pondering it.
"We'll be reaching the town of Beramund in close to a week and I don't think the town's inhabitants will welcome you with open arms." Mekal said rather bluntly, "And I'm not willing to sacrifice my men for the sake of two travelers I hardly know. We will be parting ways three days before Beramund where we don't run the risk of being seen with you. You'll be given horses and provisions, after that it's up to you to go where ever you wish."
Mekal had watched the two women's expressions go from shock to out right furry as he talked. Strangely he found that he didn't care if he was being offensive. All Mekal wanted was to put as much distance as possible between his caravan and these two women. And the sooner the better, he thought to himself.
Liriel-rather the woman Mekal assumed to be Liriel-was the first to recover. "We thank you for your hospitality and generosity." she said calmly, as if she had not just been insulted mere moments before, "Now if you will excuse us we must retire for the night." she gave a slight tug on her sister's arm and they both turned and walked away toward the tent they had been given.
Heraldi stood before Mekal could ask him anymore questions. "I believe I will go relieve Kehval as sentry. A good night to you Sir." and with that he strode off without another word, leaving Mekal with a puzzle that was growing bigger with each passing day.
They rest of the journey passed by rather uneventfully and soon they were but a mere three days ride from Beramund. It was late in the day and they were all eager to push on and reach the town but Mekal called a halt.
"The sun will set in an hour's time and we all deserve a rest." he told Heraldi who, as usual, was riding beside him, "We'll make camp here tonight and get an early start tomorrow morning." The younger man nodded, turned his horse and rode off to go relay the orders to the others. Mekal watched him go. Heraldi had been awfully quiet of late.
The mood as they made camp was more jovial than it had been since they had come upon Meriel and Liriel with the ruined caravan. Some of the men even went so far as to joke with the two women. Mekal found himself smiling as well. Tomorrow they would be rid of those two and everything would be as it had been before. The happenings of the past few days could then be forgotten.
As the sun began to set, bathing the land in a fiery glow, they started up a fire and began to cook their evening meal. When they settled down to eat Meriel and Liriel emerged fro their tent clad in garments that left little to the imagination. One clad in blue and the other in red they circled the fire and stopped in front of Mekal.
"Just a small token of our appreciation." the woman in red-Meriel, Mekal thought-said with a sly smile. With that they began to dance.
They started out slow and gradually began to pick up speed as they went. Their movements were graceful and elegant, never staying in place for more than a heartbeat. As they progressed the movements became more intricate and Mekal found himself lost in their whirling motion. Suddenly they began to twirl faster and faster. Mekal couldn't keep track of which girl was where. When he thought he was watching the woman in blue, he would blink and she would be clad in red.
As suddenly as they had started they stopped. Mekal went to clap but found that he couldn't lift his arms. His limbs felt wooden and his vision wouldn't stop spinning. He tried to rise but his movements were slow and sluggish. Mekal cast a look around the fire and saw that many of the men were sprawled on the ground, unmoving. Plates and tankards of ale lay on the ground, their contents spilled on the desert floor. They poisoned the food...Mekal began to panic.
"It is such a shame, you were kinder than the others." a voice whispered into his ear. Mekal strained to find the speaker. What others? he wanted to ask.
"Yes so much nicer." the same voice said, but this time it came from above him. Suddenly he knew who was speaking. Meriel and Liriel. The twins. "The men in the other caravan wanted to leave us a week away from Beramund. You were willing
to take us three days away from the town." the one above him continued.
"Yes, but we found what we wanted without having to set foot in Beramund." the one next to his ear whispered. What do you want? Mekal wanted to shout but his lips wouldn't form the words. Then a face swam into his blurred vision. He couldn't make out the features, but he could make out blonde hair surrounding a tanned face. But the two women weren't tanned, they hadn't spent enough time in the desert to be tanned. Their complexions were as pale as any northerner's.
Suddenly Mekal realized who stood before him. But it couldn't be. Heraldi wouldn't betray me. Not like this. But even as he said it Mekal knew he was lying. But why? After all it was Mekal who had saved him when he could just as easily have left the boy to die.
"I'm sorry. I truly am." Heraldi's voice said, tinged with genuine sorrow, "But there was no other way. First and foremost I have to protect my sisters. May the Gods have mercy on you Mekal. You took me in and raised me, even if you didn't have too, and for that I thank you."
Those were the last words Mekal heard before the darkness swallowed him up and he knew no more.