A story in the medieval time period, filled with adventure, magic, and discovery.
Through the crowds of shopping citizens, Eratel navigated the narrow streets of Keratos. Strapped to Eratel's back the massively oversized hammer swung back and forth with each step. The ridiculous weapon had the unfortunate side-effect of increasing the difficulty of weaving through these tighter areas of the city. In Eratel's right hand he held his much lighter purse, although it was not entirely empty. Before leaving Hammer and Anvil, Eratel had purchased five of the iron musket balls. He'd had an idea that he wanted to test.
After coming to a less crowded area of the city, Eratel looked into the sky, noting the positioning of the sun. He still had plenty of time before today's event would begin. With this knowledge in hand, Eratel made his way toward the northeastern edge of the city. As Eratel walked farther from the city center, he noticed how the buildings became more scattered and less likely to be made of stone. In the more crowded city center fires are a threat so wooden buildings were discouraged with higher taxes. This law didn't apply to the more relaxed, less crowded edges of the city, making the atmosphere very different. Here, life moved more slowly, and people weren't as constantly busy. This suited Eratel, who was more comfortable out here than in the busy city center.
Walking down a familiar path, Eratel took a moment to enjoy the view. This street was his favorite in the city due to the lush canopy of leaves that the trees created overhead. The usual ceiling of green was interrupted by flashes of yellow and orange, confirming that fall had finished replacing summer. By the pedestrians' feet, leaves were beginning to litter the ground. Children and adults playfully kicked through the dead vegetation as they walked, enjoying one of the gifts of fall. Mixed amongst the trees, multi-storied lodges stood tall. On this road, almost every building was an inn, catering a higher quality of food, which had helped the road to earn its name, Dinner Lane. Only wealthy traveling merchants, citizens with heavy purses, or people with something to celebrate came to this area. Today, Eratel was here to celebrate. Although he did not eat here often, Eratel knew exactly where he wanted to go.
Stopping at one of the last building at the edge of town, Eratel arrived at Gavin's Tavern. Despite being one of the smallest on the street, the cabin was still large by Eratel's standard. It needed to be big for it to be comfortable for Gavin, his wife, and their four daughters. The walls of the cabin were tall, consisting of overlapping oak timbers. Gavin had built the inn from hand, and other than his daughters, nothing made him more proud. Roughly a dozen apple trees sat in front of the tavern. Eratel's face turned to a frown when he thought about how these trees would not bloom again until the following summer. When the trees did bear fruit, the family would gather the apples and preserve them for use in their famous apple pies and jams. Eratel walked the dirt path to the cabin's quaint entryway, where he opened a small, wooden door and stepped inside.
The inside of the tavern was cozy with low ceilings and as many tables packed together as the small room could reasonably hold. To the left, a large cobblestone fireplace housed a small flame. During the winter the fire would be roaring with passion, but it was not yet cold enough for such measures. On the far wall were two doors, where the family could enter and exit the kitchen easily when the tavern was crowded. Tonight the tavern would be overflowing with hungry guests, but for now Eratel was the only customer apart from two men in a corner. They were discussing something that involved making an exorbitant number of hand gestures. From the way the men dressed and the intensity of their negotiations, Eratel assumed that they were probably merchants. The soldier nodded to the men before strolling across the wooden floor to the other side of the room where he set his hammer against the hearth and took a seat nearby. From his many interactions with Gavin, Eratel knew that the father had made all of the furniture in the house from hand, and he was an incredible wood-worker. Having five women in the tavern to do the cooking allowed Gavin time for his craft, although it also meant he was in a constant state of stress, trying to find husbands for his daughters. Gavin had mentioned his daughters' eligibilities to Eratel during their last encounter, and although it was said in jest, Eratel couldn't resist entertaining the thought. However, Eratel had neither the status nor the gold to be taken seriously as a suitor. If he wanted to ask for a maiden's hand, he would need to have a sizable amount of gold, which would require several more years of saving. Eratel laughed at the thought.
From the closer of the two doors, Gavin's oldest daughter walked into the dining area. Simply saying that she was beautiful would be comparable to saying that her mother's apple pie tasted good or that the sun was warm. She was gorgeous, possibly the most beautiful woman in the entire city at least for Eratel's taste. Arietta had inherited her mother's looks, sharing the same brown, curly hair and slender features. Unlike her mother who had blue eyes, Arietta had her father's eyes, which were a beautiful dark brown. They reminded Eratel of the color of freshly plowed soil after a storm. Today, Arietta was wearing a white shirt under her brown tunic. Eratel felt that the outfit made her eyes stand out even more than usual. Over all of this, the young woman wore an apron with bits of flour smeared around the edges. Eratel felt his heartbeat increase as he looked at the girl. Of Gavin's daughters, Arietta was the closest to Eratel's age and surprisingly had not yet found a husband. Eratel smiled at her as he realized that he was staring. Luckily, she smiled back. Approaching the table, Arietta spoke with a voice which was pleasing to the ear, “Hello Eratel. How are you today?”
Eratel was confident with girls, but Arietta made him feel like a child, talking to a girl for the first time. “All is good! How is your family?”
“Everything has been running smoothly,” she said, grinning a cute smile. “My sisters have been working on their baking today,” she said, pointing towards the traces of flour on her apron. “Right now they're taking care of the cows and chickens.” Seeing a look of surprise cross Eratel's face, Arietta continued, “We made more money than we expected this summer, so Father decided that it was time to buy some dairy cows.”
“That's wonderful news,” Eratel said, gently pounding his fist on the table, the same way he would if he'd had a pint of ale. “How's the milk?”
Arietta smiled again, “It's wonderful. You'll have to try it.” She looked from Eratel to his hammer, “What is that monstrosity?”
A look of smugness crossed Eratel's face before he answered her, “A hammer that once belonged to a giant. Kurrot, from Hammer and Nail sold it to me, although it took a great deal of convincing and even more gold coins.”
Walking forward to examine the hammer, Arietta exclaimed, “So this is why you haven't come to visit us very often! All your money has gone towards this massive hunk of metal” She teased Eratel more, “And what could possibly drive you to purchase such a monster?”
“A soldier is only as good as his weapon,” Eratel responded. “If I'm going to be the strongest man, then I need to have the strongest weapon.”
“Oh my,” Arietta laughed. “Well that certainly sounds exciting! Let me know if there's any way I can help you with that.”
“Well I suppose some food would help,” Eratel laughed back, although he couldn't work out whether she was still teasing him or being serious. “What do you have today?”
A more serious face crossed over Arietta as she switched into business mode, “Father was lucky to get a good deal from a hunter. We have whole, roasted ducks paired with potatoes and green beans.”
Eratel could feel his stomach growling, anticipating the meal, “That sounds perfect.”
“I'll bring it right out for you,” Arietta replied, winking as she left. Eratel watched her as she left, breathing a sigh of relief once she opened the door to the kitchen. He felt his heart pounding through his entire body. He had been convinced that he would say something to make himself sound like a fool. Somehow, he had avoided this embarrassing possibility.
Turning to face the fire, Eratel enjoyed the feeling of the heat against his skin. He wasn't cold, but he still enjoyed the feeling of a fire. Looking into the flames, the soldier thought about the events that would occur later that day and his body trembled from excitement. Eratel held one of his arms with the other, steadying himself and relaxing. He sat there, staring and contemplating the rest of the day. Today his life was going to change.
Several minutes later, Arietta came out of one of the doors in the back, carrying a variety of items in her arms. “Here you go!” she said as she set down the full spread. Eratel's meal had been split into two wooden trenchers. The first housed a heap of sauteed green beans, tender and juicy, cooked in what appeared to be garlic, butter, salt, and pepper. On the other plate was the main event. On top of a bed of diced potatoes sat the most beautiful duck Eratel had ever seen. Although the head been removed, the skin still sat loosely on the body, burnt to a perfect brown. A white gravy had been poured over the duck and was dripping onto the surrounding potatoes. Eratel guessed that it had probably been made from the duck's fat. To help with this glorious meal, Arietta placed a wooden spoon wrapped in a maroon piece of cloth as well as a wooden tankard filled with a yellow liquid, most likely home-made cider. “How does it look?” Arietta asked.
“It looks fantastic!” Eratel responded. His mind couldn't think of anything except how much he wanted to start devouring the bird.
“I'll leave you to it then!” Arietta said before walking back to the kitchen.
Eratel held his hands together in front of himself and said a silent prayer to the goddesses before preparing for the feast. Starting with the wings, Eratel, tore through the meat, leaving only a small pile of bones. Moving on to the legs, Eratel decided to soak the meat in the gravy before each bite, savoring the tastes that flooded his mouth. Although the duck was crunchy and dark on the outside, the meat within had stayed juicy and tender, making it pair well with the potatoes. After Eratel had finished all of the bird's appendages, he moved on to the green beans, using the spoon more like a shovel than an eating utensil. In a few minutes, almost nothing remained of the meal other than a pile of bones and a few slices of potato. Eratel felt a moment of regret, wishing he had taken more time with the meal, savoring the treat longer. After finishing the last of the food, Eratel sat, drinking his cider and cleaning himself with the piece of cloth. He pondered over the remaining tasks for the day.
While he was deep in thought, Arietta must have come back into the dining room from the kitchen, because she was suddenly standing at the table. “You made short work of that,” she giggled.
Eratel shrugged and made the most serious face that he could muster, “I blame the chefs. It was too good, entirely impossible to eat slowly!”
A fake look of pain crossed Arietta's face, “I'm so sorry sir. Your complaint has been heard, and I promise that we will do our best to make your next visit better.” She smiled at Eratel, “I brought you something.” It was a bowl of apple pie with milk poured over it. “The last of our apple pies from the summer are about to go bad, and some of them will probably go to waste. So don't worry, this slice is on the house.” She started to walk away but stopped, “The milk is from one of our new cows. I hope you like it!”
“Thank you!” Eratel called after her. Spoon in hand, Eratel scooped up a small bite of pie and milk. He examined it for a moment before bringing the food to his mouth. The flavor and temperature combination were perfect. While the milk was cold and smooth, the pie had stayed warm and flaky. This time Eratel did not make the mistake of eating too quickly and let himself savor every delicious bite.
After finishing his meal, Eratel decided that he had stayed in the tavern for long enough. From within his neck pouch, Eratel produced a handful of coins and placed them on the table. The amount was generous for the food he had purchased, but Eratel enjoyed viewing it as an investment. Not just any customer receives free pie after all. Hammer in hand, Eratel went to exit the building, noting that the merchants were still debating. Although Eratel could not understand what they were saying, he could tell that the conversation had become much more heated since he had first entered the restaurant. As he was about to leave Eratel suddenly heard his name. He turned around to see Arietta standing near the kitchen. She had a big smile on her face, and she put up an arm, waving him goodbye. Eratel waved back and smiled in kind before leaving the tavern.
Outside again, Eratel enjoyed the warmth of the sun on his body. It was nearing mid-day. His time had come.
To the west Eratel walked, letting the hammer swing back and forth with each step. It weighed with the anticipation of the next couple hours. Although it was not especially warm, Eratel's neck was sweating. His palms were disgustingly wet with anxiety. There was no calming his nerves now. Eratel felt his legs wobbling as he walked. Too soon or perhaps in an amount of time that felt like forever, Eratel had arrived at the soldiers' arena. This was a special area held for rare occasions and traditions. Once per month it held contests to determine officer advancements. Today was that once per month.
The Coliseum was a massive building, the largest of all in the soldiers' area of the city. The tall walls that kept the arena contained were built from smoothed, interconnected stones with occasional holes where makeshift windows had been placed. As he walked into the entrance way, Eratel looked around. The air was alive with the sound of hundreds of soldiers making their way into the arena. Although the event was not mandatory, everyone always attended. It was a source of entertainment in the dull life of a soldier who was not deployed. As Eratel walked through the entrance hall a fellow soldier was attempting to make some money, “Place your bets here! Right here!” He yelled. “How many contenders? Will we have a victor? Someone could get rich today!” After he finished his speech a couple people walked over to the man. Eratel watched as a pouch full of money was paid and signed papers were exchanged. Someone was about to become either very rich or very poor.
Farther along the stone passage a woman and her child were selling what were apparently, “The best turkey-legs in Keratos!” From the way they smelled, Eratel could believe it. Even though Eratel had just eaten, the scent of the fowl still made his mouth water. He licked his lips and continued on, biting his inner lip at the thought of the meat. Around Eratel, a new group of cadets stampeded through. The new, unhardened soldiers always sounded like gossiping children to Eratel's ear. They would learn soon enough .
Suddenly, Eratel crossed through a threshold and into the Coliseum itself. The air erupted with the sound of thousands of people cheering for bloodshed. The soldiers screamed into the afternoon, making the energy palpable. The event must be about to start. Eratel had arrived later than he had intended. The men screamed out a name, whose, Eratel could not be certain. Farther into the arena he walked, his hammer wading back and forth against his back. Now, Eratel could get a full view of the crowds. There were hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers, filling the arena to its brim. To his left, Eratel made his way clockwise around the field. Along the outer rim of the arena, wooden stands were set up for the crowds. Within the arena, several men stood, bowing to the crowds. “Good,” Eratel muttered to himself. They were only beginning. He walked for roughly thirty paces to where his regiment stood. Sven's wild, white hair was easy to pick out of the crowd. The captain nodded at the site of his friend. Eratel nodded back, acknowledging the gesture Sven deliberately made in front of the other Cadets. Eratel wondered if the captain knew his intentions.
“That's a nice weapon you have there,” Sven muttered.
“It should do the trick,” Eratel smiled back.
Sven looked both ways, before leaning in to say something to Eratel. The captain looked especially reserved. He whispered to Eratel only something that they could hear. “The less he bleeds, the weaker he is.” Sven handed Eratel two small balls of cloth as he spoke, doing so in a way that he obviously didn't want others to see. Eratel began to reply, but Sven turned away, looking back to the arena, where he procured more pieces of cloth from his pocket and placed them into his ears. The man gave forth a mighty yell with the rest of the crowd. Behind Eratel, the other soldiers in the regiment howled with their captain. Eratel pulled two balls of cloth from his pocket, wetted them in his mouth, and then placed them into his ears. He then erupted into a deep, animalistic yell that would make the goddess of victory, Rennaus and her wolves proud.
The noises began to die out and the men took their final bows. Within the middle of the arena the six men were all in a circle around a table. Each of them wore only their leather breeches, leaving their chests exposed. One of the men had scores of scars across his chest, a freakish red and pink dominating his skin. Eratel felt repulsed yet intimidated by the wounds. The man's skin had a purplish hue overall, comparable to a toad-like creature. He had no hair that Eratel could see anywhere, but this wasn't even his strangest feature. His eyes were an angry red, like the heated red of a blacksmith's sword while he hammers it cool. He looked to be the very embodiment of a demon.
They soldiers paced around, yelling back to the crowd, waving their hands up and down, stirring the men back up. They held various one or two-handed weapons or no weapons at all. These men were Eratel's superiors and rivals, the six Majors of the Goltari. Today they were the enemy.
“QUIET!” one of them yelled, his voice amplified to a roar, easily overpowering the the mass of soldiers. Immediately the crowd silenced. Eratel thought to himself that it was sound's equivalent of a candle being blown out. The Major who had spoken was Leopoldus, a massive man who could make himself sound like cannon-fire. He had long, blonde, unkempt hair that vaguely resembled a lion's mane. His exposed chest rippled with muscles and more of his sandy, yellow hair. Many of the newest Cadets reacted to the unexpected explosion of sound by shooting their hands to their ears, attempting to protect themselves from his power. The more seasoned soldiers, including Eratel smirked. Preparing yourself for Leopoldus' voice was a necessity at these events. The beast of a man yelled out again, “I want to know something! ARE YOU READY?!”
The crowd grew wild once more, yelling with anticipation. Their blood was heated. They were ready to see a fight. Leopoldus reveled in the energy of the crowd for a few moments before quieting everyone with his outspoken hands. He spoke once more, this time his voice sounded like he was speaking directly in front of Eratel, even though he was over fifty paces away. Sven, Eratel, and a sea of other men removed the cloth from their ears, allowing themselves to hear Leopoldus at his more relaxed volume. “For those of you who are new,” the man spoke to each of them, “what we are doing today is an ancient tradition of extreme importance. We, the Goltari, believe in only one thing. AND WHAT IS THAT, MEN?!”
All of the other Majors and many of the captains, roared out together, “Strong links make a strong chain!” Their perfect unison sent a chilling effect down Eratel's spine.
“That they do.” Leopoldus agreed and nodded his head. “And we, believe that only the strongest links can join our chain.” As he said this, Leopoldus waved his hand around, indicating the other Majors. “These five men are the Goltari second Majors, and they have achieved their ranks through the language they know best. Can anyone tell me what language that is?”
The soldiers of the arena knew their queue. They yelled out as one, “Combat!”
“Combat,” repeated Leopoldus. “The universal language that all men and beasts understand! Either fight and live.” Leopoldus grew quieter, “Or give up and die.”
The men cheered out again, applauding and screaming.
“Well I know you're ready for a fight so let's find out who you'll be fighting!” Leopoldus voice had returned to a more relaxed tone, although still loud. “It's time to spin the wheel of fate! Each of these men holds a number, one through five. If the die lands on that man's number then he will be your opponent! Men, hold up your numbers! Each of the men held up a certain number of fingers equal to his number. The more normal looking men each held up a number one through four. The strange-looking man held up an open palm, all five purple fingers extended.
“Alright men! Without any farther wait, let's find out who Edu has picked for today!” From the ground in front of his feet, Leopoldus picked up a massive stone that had been carved into a five-sided die. He threw it up and down in his hands a few times before launching it high into the sky. The stone flew higher and higher before eventually coming back down, bouncing a few times and landing. Even though Eratel was far away, he could still see the number of runes at the top. The demonic-looking Major smiled as he too saw that his number had been picked.