They stopped overnight in the small plains between the mountain, the capital, and the pass to Malamut. Once they woke up, they ate the food Jonathan had packed for them.
The morning was hazy, with heavy clouds that blocked out the yellow sun. There was dew on the plants in the fields they passed; there were berries, grasses, and flowers of strange hues that still impressed Jonathan after a few years in this world.
With four people on the road together—and two of them chatterboxes—conversation was inevitable.
“How did you meet Jonathan?” Chester asked. He seemed to have been making an effort to push past the old man’s negativity.
“I met him when he wrecked one of my flower beds. He’s still better than this one old geezer I know. I think he purposefully rides over my gardens.” Marcus roughly scratched behind his steed’s mane despite the deep scowl on his face. “I’ve complained to him several times, and he still does it!”
“I paid you back,” Jonathan said to defend himself.
Marcus grumbled, but nodded. He waited a few seconds and then tossed the question back to someone else, “You, lady, how’d you meet him?”
“I’m a bounty hunter who became a bodyguard. Jonathan and I just ran into each while I was on a hunt. We were going the same way and decided to head there together.”
“Bounty hunter.” Marcus eyed the spear on the young woman’s back. He could believe it. “And you, lucky undead?”
“It’s Chester.” The smile was momentarily gone. His temporarily serious expression looked worse with his eyes a pure white. “I’m a bard. I traveled the continent, but didn’t make much through performing. Jonathan’s help once actually worked quite well, and just as Aderes said, we were going the same way.”
Once they arrived at the mountain pass, they dismounted.
It would have been soggy from melted snow if they had come in Spring. They, however, were here in Summer. The grass was past their ankles in some parts, while it struggled to grow around the large rocks and pebble beds around the sides of the pass.
Chester immediately located his grave and walked over. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of the half destroyed dirt mound partially overtaken by plants. “Alright, alright. We’re here. It’s a bit weird to see your own grave from the outside.”
“About as weird as seeing it with your weird dead friend,” Aderes replied. She had still had her horse on a lead behind her; the steed seemed content to nibble at the grass around them. “How exactly did. . . you die?” She was fidgeting with her spear, running her thumb up and down the weapon. She had never blamed Chester for dying, nor Jonathan for not being able to stop it from happening. She just wished she could have been there.
Chester crouched down and hesitantly tapped the makeshift grave. He shivered slightly. There was a reason he had kept avoiding talking about it to Aderes. He remembered the feeling of dirt pressed around him, almost suffocating. The pure ice lodged through his chest was something he had never forgotten; even now, he could feel it. The blood and cold water had dripped down from the wound, coagulating into a gel-like substance. The explanation was said quietly, “She managed to hit me with her ice.”
Jonathan stood near the two of them. He was in the same spot where he had killed Ciley; he knew it. The tree line hadn’t changed. There was a sour taste on his tongue and he remembered Chester’s last breath. He regretted nothing about his decisions at that time, only that he hadn’t been enough to keep his friend alive.
Marcus had been inspecting the remains of carvings on the trees, and the ground. He was lining everything up with the drawings he had been given, and trying to confirm or fill in the missing bits. He had started to create his own diagram of the composition. From what he knew, and he knew quite a bit, this was all rather textbook, rather old. Quick and risky, with only a few fail safes. Either this was from a grimoire, or that necromancer’s teacher was ridiculously old school. “Come over here and help!” He bellowed, breaking the three friends out of their thoughts and memories.
He only explained some of his thought process to the trio of youngsters that followed him. They couldn’t for sure stop anyone from being brought back forever, but they could create some preventive measures. Some were going to be obvious to necromancers. Then, there would be one or two sneaky ones concealed on pebbles and hidden that would interfere with any necromancy attempted in the general vicinity. Part of ritualistic magic was always the application of things, and the prevention of ritualistic magic involved creative and strategic solutions.
With their job finished, they got back on to their horses and started back to the mountain near the small Village of Tesriff. The way up the mountain was harder than walking through the plains, and their horses were starting to sweat.
Chester started talking again when they were close to his home. “What if they don’t want me back? I’m undead.”
“I don’t think-”
“That’s swill. Living or undead, if they love you, why does it matter?” Marcus harshly cut in. “You’re not a mindless summon.”
Aderes glared at the older man.
“I…” Chester paused.
“I don’t think they will,” Jonathan said. He understood the doubt. He had felt the paranoia of being considered Roscoe and rejected for being Jonathan. “They cried when I told them you had died. They’ve gone out of their way to look out for me, especially the first year, because I was your friend.”
“Okay.” Chester waited for a bit and then continued, “Old mister, you remind me a bit of my older brother. He’s a lot less harsh, but he always says what he wants.”
“Oh right, you ran into him,” Aderes commented. There had been a delegation from Pinscher, and by some luck, Elysius had been one of the knights accompanying them.
Jonathan threw his own two cents into the conversation. “I had two little sisters, one was like that. Her name was Orion.”
“Weird name,” Marcus judged.
Jonathan couldn’t help but agree despite knowing the stories from his world. He wasn’t sure why his dad had picked that name. His mother had chosen his name, Jonathan, and his father had named his two sisters after Greek myths.
“You’ve been prying into our lives, so what’s your story?” Chester asked. He was looking back at the necromancer again.
Marcus scowled. “Why should I tell you?”
“You know some of ours.” Aderes smirked.
“Fine.” Marcus slowed down a bit, yanked his pipe out of his pocket and lit it. “I was a necromancer in Malamut. I left after the war with the Hrea Empire ended. That’s all.”
It was clear he didn’t want to talk about it further, and the younger three respected that and dropped the topic.
The cabin where Jonathan lived came into view. There was one more horse in the small stables than before, and most of them were sleeping. The three friends dismounted and added their two steeds.
Marcus was going back to his home. He was satisfied with the gold in his pocket, and the experience. “It hasn’t been enjoyable, but it was rather interesting.”
“Same to you,” Aderes said.
The three friends watched the old florist ride away into the forest, then cleaned their boots on the porch mat and went inside.
I’m putting up this chapter and chapter 30 today because I will be busy next week.
The fan day was a fun time. Come check out the art and the retelling of An Unwilling Prince in Shakespearean prose. https://aupfanevent.carrd.co/#creations2023
New prologue and chapter 1 for An Unwilling Prince here: https://eatapplepies.com/prince-0/ https://eatapplepies.com/prince-1/
New animation here: https://youtu.be/l3VsS8fluoU