“This, son, is a sword, long and narrow for piercing yet sharp and double edged for slashing; the perfect weapon, and a distinguishing one. One day, when you’re older, I’ll teach you to use it and then it will be yours.”
The words come from Paulin, a gaunt, pale skinned, young man, dressed all in black from his leather jerkin to his thick sturdy boots and belt; even his hair and eyes are dark in color. He leans heavily over the bar in a small tavern.
“Those were the last words my father said to me. Shortly after, he handed me the weapon so I could hold it, feel its weight and balance.” Paulin then fiddles with his belt quickly before placing on the bar a large scabbard, nearly three feet in length, with the sword’s hilt protruding out the top. “That is the very sword.”
The owner of the tavern, to whom Paulin is speaking, draws the sword halfway out to take a look at it. The hilt itself is only just large enough to accommodate a single hand, the pommel is a simple half-sphere with the round side facing away from the blade, and the hilt consists of a small disc, no thicker around than the blade. The blade, however, is a work of true smithing art. The straight edged blade tapers slightly from the hilt to near the tip where it narrows sharply to a point. Its edge is sharpened on both sides and a single shallow fuller runs down the length. Upon the face of the blade intricate patterns of different colored bands of steel intertwine beautifully turning it from a weapon to a finished canvas. The owner puts the blade away and then Paulin returns it to its place at his left hip.
“When the sword reached my hands, that was when black clouds rolled over the hills. They moved so fast, the Dark Lord himself must have pushed them. At the front edge of this storm stood a wall of dust, hovering above the earth and slowly rising as it moved ever closer at a tremendous speed. As the darkness approached, the wall became a wave and at its front was a strip of black and glinting silver.”
“Aye, sounds like horsemen,” the owner cuts in as he places another mug in front of Paulin, “a great many horsemen in fact.”
“Our village could only stand in awe. We watched, frozen, curious, and more than anything else, ignorant. When we realized what was happening it was simply too late. The ground shook and the rhythmic drum of hoof beats came next. Finally, we heard the bowstrings groan as they were pulled taught. I remember glancing at the sword in my own hands, seeing how the sun glinted off its polished surface, and then realized what I was seeing. That’s when my father grabbed me, pulled me into the nearest building, closed the door, and pushed me behind him as we stood in a dark corner. He put his finger to his mouth to hush me to silence as the screams of other villagers rang out as the first arrows fell.”
“Hmm horse-archers eh? We haven’t heard tell of their type for some time. When did this happen?”
Ignoring the question, Paulin, continues, “then thunderous crashes broke out as boulders smashed into buildings. One smashed through the wall of our house. A rider moved into view at the moment. Darkness clung to him like a thick woolen cloak, and the beast he rode had a fiery mane.”
“Heh, kid, I think you’ve had one drink too many. The wraiths and their nightmare mounts only move with the army of Maron, everyone knows that and,” he is cut off as the man continues.
“My father held up his longsword, as if to do battle, but the dark figure leveled a crossbow and let loose a bolt. It struck him through the head,” the man then aims a hard stare at the owner before averting his gaze once more, “it was Maron himself. I lived in the farmlands near Bercrest. Autumn was closing and our granary was full. Maron’s army was already besieging Grubin then and they needed food.”
“That’s tough kid, but…” Paulin cuts him off once more.
“I swore vengeance that day. I took the longsword from my father’s hand, he had bled all over it, and then I cut my own arm with it. I bled as he did.”
“Sure sure, honoring the slain as the northmen do. But how did you escape? Everyone knows that Maron never leaves a man alive.”
Paulin’s eyes narrow as he speaks and they quickly flash crimson, “my father fell when he was killed. He fell on top of me and for fear of death I could not move. Forced to remain still, I lay there on the ground below him and watched as he bled, watched his expression change, watched his skin turn white and cold. Maron will pay for my loss.” Paulin finishes the last of his beer, stands up, throws some coins on the counter, and walks out of the tavern; a robed man follows him out. The bartender, to whom he had been talking, shakes his head in sorrow, smiles, turns to another customer, and starts up a new conversation.
A frail man in a dark cowled-robe, the very same who followed the young man out, is bent over a desk, flickering candlelight from a nearby lantern dances across his face as he continues writing in a thick leather-bound book.
Darkness… such is the way of the land these days. The great empires of the past have fallen, most of the great cities lie in ruins, the countryside is burned and wrecked with its people killed, enslaved, fled, or turned to the will of the Dark Lord.
The free people who remain in the greatest cities try to forget the outside problems. The lords have shut themselves inside their castles, peasants live their lives working until they forget their problems. There has been no news of the white army for months on end and I fear the worst. It is said that chaos is sewn in the seeds of order; but is order sewn in the seeds of chaos? It is in the darkest of times that great heroes will rise, and in this age, it seems dawn is far from the horizon.
However, in all this darkness a shadow stands apart, a man known as Paulin. A peasant, an orphan, a man who is now the creation of the evil of the enemy and lives for nothing but its destruction. I met Paulin when he was fifteen and wandering the countryside. Then he was filled with anger as always, and solemn. He has an aura, a sort of way about him as if he is out of the storybooks. His morbid conversation and solemn appearance just enhance this feeling like he’s fated for greatness. I intend to follow him because his story must be told.
Outside the room the barking yell of Paulin suddenly sounds, “Rainar! There’s a creature here who says he can help us!”
Rainar puts down his quill and slowly shuts the book. The wind from closing pages gently brushes his long grey eyebrows.
“Coming my young friend, coming,” he says softly.
Carefully, he places the large book into a large leather satchel that sits beside him, and then gets up and starts toward the doorway.
Rainar is an average sized man, little more than five feet in height. He hunches his shoulders as he walks however, making him seem smaller than he actually is. He wears a large robe, thick and woolen. It covers his body from shoulder to ankle as well as his arms to the wrists. The robe also has a hood that protects the face during cold or rainy weather. It was once a rich black but has since faded to a dark grey. His face is ovular and a bit wrinkled, however, his well tanned skin and rosy cheeks distract from any signs of aging, while his eyes, a beautiful shade of light blue, are obscured by his large bushy eyebrows.
The rusty hinges on the door creak as the old man slowly opens it. He steps out onto the hardwood floor and walks down the hallway as the torchlight flickers making it seem as though figures are appear on the wooden walls. At the end of the hall is a set of stairs. An intricately carved banister runs down their length and Rainar pauses for a moment to run his hand across its face. The banister tells a story in pictures and as he takes each step the next piece is revealed. From beginning to end a lion appears to be battling its shadow. Each time it comes near, the shadow either strikes back, driving the lion away, or evades the attack. When Rainar reaches the bottom, he notices that the post plain and the stories end remains a mystery.
At the bottom of the stairs is a large open room with many round wooden tables accompanied by small wooden stools. On one wall is a large fireplace burning away giving the room both a homely warmth as well as the earthy scent of burning wood. On another side of the room behind a large wooden bar stand large wooden kegs, shelves of glass bottles and metal flasks, as well as small wooden casks. There are also cups, glasses, mugs, and flagons. The other walls are decorated with amazing objects from throughout the kingdom. These range from crafts such as clocks, ornate wood carvings, and tapestries, to more crude things such as animal heads, weapons, and armor. There is little doubt that patron merchants moving through here had been forced to give up fine objects to pay bar tabs they didn’t have the money for at the time.
Equally interesting as the room itself are the occupants. Marcaelbrin, the first and only capital of the kingdom, sat at the crossroads of the north. This made it a travel hub for people’s of all sorts and thus a place of diversity. This tavern’s ground floor was perhaps the proof to that point. At one table sits a group of local tradesmen, wearing their drab colored work clothing drinking pitchers of beer, and at the next table sit wealthy merchants adorned with the latest fashions and colors, their robes flowing around them, fine elven wines poured into beautiful stemmed glasses. City guards and mercenary warriors sit at other tables enjoying all manners of drink, wearing armors ranging from hardened leather to chain or scale mail, their arms either in sheaths at their hips, on the tables, or on the floor nearby.
However, the variety of occupants goes beyond class and profession, as humans are not the only ones here. At one table sit a group of elves, very similar in appearance to humans, but with delicate features much finer and more beautiful. Their faces have no beards but their hair hangs down below their shoulders and from it protrude their elongated ears, which are pointed at the ends.
At a very long table nearby, with benches beside it, sit a large group of mercenary dwarves. They measure just a bit more than half the height of a man but you wouldn’t know it to look at the width of their body. Unlike the elves, they grow large flowing beards, although in their drunken state these are dripping with beer. They wear glittering chainmail and keep finely crafted axes and hammers, as well as large round shields, within arms reach.
Paulin stands there as well, and, seeing Rainar, waves him over to the table. There he sits with a Satyr, a man-like creature of average size, but with some very unusual features. The upper body is normal, although he wears no shirt his hair is thicker and coarser than normal. The legs and feet, however, resemble those of a goat. They are covered in fur even thicker and coarser than the chest and the feet are large hooves. Finally there is the Satyr’s head which is capped by hair that is short, curly and wild, from which protrude two small horns. Horns that are quite similar to those found on a goat.
Paulin whispers, “He’s a satyr, an elusive race from far away. They’re a little lighthearted for my tastes but if he can help me I’ll endure.” They sit down as the satyr takes a massive gulp of the beer in front of him.
However, before he can speak a large man at the next table over yells “attention” quite loudly. He raises his flagon and says enthusiastically, “to the King!” He is a Captain Willas, a prominent soldier in the Emperor’s guard, and his position demands respect from those around him. He wears elaborate chain mail, a cape of deep purple, and carries a sword at his hip.
At the far end of the tavern sits a group of six knights. They are adorned in scale mail and emerald capes bordered in black. Their leader is Sir Jorun and as Willas makes his toast, he stands and calmly responds, “the King is a cretin and I’ll not drink to him, nor should any who value their lives. Its his fault the kingdom is failing.”
Willas, undaunted fires back, “and I suppose the petty duke would have done better?”
At that remark Jorun and his companions toss aside their table and approach Willas, while two royal guardsmen stand and take their places beside the captain.
Jorun sneers, “you’ll not speak of our lord in such a manner, not if you wish to leave this place with your limbs intact.”
Rainar, due to the layout of the floor, happens to be sitting directly between the two conflicting groups, and stands to placate them, Paulin quickly moves to his side.
“My good sirs, I think you’ve all had quite enough to drink and it would be best if you went home. Farrin will look kindly upon you in the morning if you do.”
Jorun shoves Rainar back into his chair, “stay out of this old man, and leave your false gods to die.”
Paulin, with crimson eyes, draws his sword and cooly states, “touch him again.”
Jorun laughs, “quiet peasant, you should repect your betters,” he then draws his own sword and waves it in Willas’s face, “now captain, where were we?”
“I believe I was about to put you under arrest for threatening a soldier of the royal guard, worm.”
Jorun looks at the five knights behind him and smiles back at Willas, “well take me then, if you can.” At that statement he makes to strike the captain, who meets his blow with his own sword. The two guardsmen beside Willas charge draw steel and prepare to battle the five knights of Jorun’s retinue. Paulin, sword still drawn, lunges at the nearest knight and cleaves him straight through the throat, blood spurts everywhere.
The tavern’s patrons, either unwilling or uninterested in the political battle, keep their distance from the fighting. Thus the melee breaks down into a duel between Willas and Jorun while the other four knights trade blows with Paulin and the guardsmen.
Although he is a mere captain, Willas proves himself to be Jorun’s equal, his guardsmen, however, are not so skilled. Paulin, also, finds himself outmatched by the knight who he now faces. The three of them find themselves backed into a corner by the four knights.
Laughing, one of the knights snarls, “well kid, it looks to me that you chose the wrong side. And when we’re done here, the old man will get his too.”
“Will he now?” Rainar questions from behind them. The knights let down their guard for only a moment to look back at him, but Paulin takes that moment and slashes out, hitting behind the legs of one unfortunate knight who falls to the ground screaming. As the other knights turn back, Paulin thrusts his sword up and slices another across the face.
The remaining two throw down their swords in surrender and the guardsmen tie their hands behind their backs. Willas and Jorun, however, are still battling back and forth, many wounds upon them both. Finally, Willas deals the fatal blow and Jorun collapses upon the floor, a pool of blood quickly flowing out around him.
Seeing the two knights subdued and the other three fallen, he smiles, and loudly states, “now where was I? Ah yes,” he picks up the nearest mug of beer, “to the King!” This time the occupants of the tavern raise their glasses as well and repeat his words with great enthusiasm.
He then motions for Paulin to return to his table and pulls a chair over for himself. “Young sir, that was very honorable of you to defend the royal name, we could use you in the king’s guard.”
Paulin laughs, “I don’t fight for the king, I fight for myself. Those men angered me and so I slew them.”
“Well whatever your reasons, we would not have won without you. I won’t forget this.”
Willas and the guardsmen gather the corpses and pile them on the street, then they take the two prisoners and march them off towards the city barracks.
Rainar inspects Paulin briefly, “well once again you’ve come through a scrap unscathed. Not a mark on you.” Then, turning to the satyr, he says, “now then, sir Satyr, my name is Rainar, who might you be”
“Tully they call me. Rain, cane, mane, bane, a cloaked man came, he sat down at my table beside me, but at midnight he is none too timely.”
“Well you certainly are good at rhyming. Do you compose?”
“Do I compose? As the wind blows, and the sun does shine, poems I have written poems all mine.”
“That’s enough. No more of this childish banter you annoying creature.” Paulin breaks in. “You told me you could help me.”
“Ah, Dark Eyes says a word. He seems so very perturbed. Perhaps in battling the knight, he received a horrid fright.”
“Enough! Just answer the question”
“Ha ha you need to lighten your spirit young one. Only a playful nature and a merry heart will save your spirits in these dark times,” Tully says this and then pats Paulin on the head. He attempts a second pat but Paulin grabs his wrist.
Paulin growls, “do that again Satyr, my blade thirsts for blood and tonight’s battle has not yet sated it.”
Tully pauses for a moment then pulls his arm back shaking it about before turning back to Rainar.
“As I was telling Dark Eyes here, I do travel quite a bit. In my travels I have encountered creatures of all kinds and many people great and small. Although I have never seen Maron himself, I once met a captain of his, the great orc named Grukar the Foul. Foul green skinned creatures, the great orcs, taller than a regular orc by at least a foot, hell they’ve got a least two heads on your young friend here or that Willas character.”
“Yes, we’ve seen them once before, although it was at a great distance, remember Paulin?”
“A few years ago I think. I can hardly picture them though, it seems so long.”
“Yes well the orcs were made for one thing, and that’s war. This one is especially cruel though, that’s why I think Maron likes him. You see I was sojourning through Urk’s forest a few years ago. I was beset by a raiding party of his though and I nearly lost my life. At the time I thought the leader was just a brute but after escaping, I found myself in a town nearby where they told me who he was, and that he had taken dominion of the forest. He’s been slowly taking the entire area as a petty orcish kingdom.”
“But can he lead me to Maron?” Paulin asks.
“That I cannot say, but I don’t see as how Maron would leave a creature like that entirely to its own devices. Torture Grukar a bit,” Tully grins at Paulin, “and I think we can get what want.”
“Well alright then, that’s good enough for me, how about you Rainar?”
“I believe it is a start my young friend.”
Tully clasps his hands together happily, “Then I shall guide you both to Urk’s woods. I still have a score to settle with that creature and I’ll be glad to have your help. I can leave as soon as you both are ready. All I need is my trusty bow and a quiver of arrows.” Tully grabs a long wooden bow from the floor and lays it on the table.
Rainar joins in, “We must make some arrangements before we leave Sir Satyr, so I think tomorrow would be best. I suggest that the both of you get some rest because it will not come easy on the road ahead.” With that, he departs to his room and quickly falls asleep. Paulin joins him, although he lays awake for most of the night avoiding the nightmares of ghosts and battles that haunt his dreams.
Tully, however, engages in the traditional Satyr ritual that they perform before a journey. He orders an entire keg of the darkest beer at the inn, takes it to the dwarven table, and with them, drinks it down the very last drop, merrily singing and laughing throughout the night.
At dawn a large white owl lands on the windowsill of Paulin and Rainar’s room. It hoots forebodingly and causes Paulin to wake with a start and rub his eyes. It swiftly flies off the perch as he looks towards the window. Paulin pays it no mind and quickly gets ready for the day. He puts on his clothes and then pulls a chainmail hauberk over his head. It is worn, rusted, and bloodstained with large holes and gashes throughout. The sleeves reach halfway from his forearm and the hem terminates above his knees. Over this he straps his belt and then takes his sheathe from its place beside him on the bed and straps it in its place. Finally ready, he hurriedly shakes Rainar awake before scampering down the stairs. Not even noticing the passed out satyr at the long table he orders two hot breakfasts and sits down, searching about the tavern, fidgeting unusually.
It’s not long after he sits that he is approached by a wrinkly old man, with wispy grey hair and a thick white robe with the hood swept back.“You are Paulin of Narshire if I’m not mistaken,” he states assuredly, “and I am never mistaken.”
Paulin jumps from his seat and grabs the hilt of his sword. “Who are you and how do you know me?”
“Who I am is not important. I am merely a… messenger. My lord simply wanted to confirm your progress. You are now ready to move into action?”
“Who is your lord and how do you know of my actions!? I demand an answer immediately!”
“Alas I am not to give you that information but I will see you again later. Under more favorable circumstances I hope. In the meantime keep yourself safe, and work hard toward your goals. They are all that matter not only for you but many others as well.”
“Enough of this,” Paulin draws his sword and holds it toward the man, “answer my questions or taste steel. Your decision.” he then smiles wickedly.
The man however, appears un-phased and simply smiles back before disappearing in a bright flash of light. Paulin thinks of the encounter for a moment. Strange wizards and all manner of creatures can disappear briefly or pull all manner of strange tricks of the eye. This one however, seemed to know far too much about me for my liking. But I suppose there’s nothing I can do about it now and the man seemed harmless enough, if he’d wanted me dead then we’d be matching steel, well the man didn’t carry a weapon but that’s beside the point.
Bewildered, Paulin just turns and begins work on the bowl in front of him instead. Back home when he was younger they would add fresh apples from orchard to the oats for flavor. Fruit was always plentiful in Narshire. However, with food supplies stretched in the city the tasteless mush is the best available although it never seems quite the same.
It isn’t long before Rainar gathers his things into his satchel, and carries it, sauntering down the stairs. He taps Tully on the shoulder to no avail. Realizing the satyr is passed out he orders a chilled pitcher of water and sits down to eat his meal, handing the water to Paulin who has no moral objection to waking the poor creature. Paulin gleefully dumps the water on Tully’s head and as it washes over him, the Satyr pulls a short dagger out of his belt and blindly thrusts at some unknown foe. Then he trips on a stool and falls to the ground. He stands up slowly to the laughter of the tavern’s few morning occupants.
Shaking his head dry the Satyr proclaims, in as dignified a manner as he can muster, “I am going for a walk.” He steps out and slams the tavern’s door shut behind him.
“I suppose he’s not a morning creature?” Rainar jests. As they eat, Rainar strikes up a conversation with the owner of the tavern.
“Your banister is quite extraordinary my good man, is there a story behind it?” He begins.
“Well ya see, I purchased the place from an old elven chap ya see, and he told me that he’d sell but I couldn’t do nothing to the banister ya see. Well not that I’d want to change it or nothin’ but it’s just an odd request you know.”
“Yes I suppose it is. Any idea what happened to him?”
“Well he said he was movin’ on and findin’ something or some such ya see and that he’d be away for a real long time. He said it’s an important banister though, that it has special meanin’ or somethin’ like that ya know; said it came from an old city that’s been sacked.”
“Well this is a marvelous mystery is it not? I can’t help but ask, however, about the missing last piece.”
“Ah yes, the bottom post. Well ya see he told me that it’d be delivered to me when it was finished. He said someone out there was workin’ on it or some such and that eventually I’d get it. Sounds awful strange to me though.
“Yes it is, how long has it been?”
“Hmm well I was a young man then, so near on thirty years then, give or take ya know. I suppose he’s an elf though, and they say thirty years is nothin’ to them. They live centuries or somethin’ like that.”
“Well that certainly is a pity, I’m sure it will all make sense in time, everything always does.” Rainar finishes speaking and then looks down at the bowl that Paulin put in front of him.
After they finish their food Paulin walks over to the door. He takes one step out into the morning mist and looks around. As his eyes adjust, he notices Tully to his right, just a few yards away, with an arrow notched in his bow and pointed straight at his head.