Year 3632, the Sixth Age, the thirty-seventh day of Winter
The dwarf, Bārdin son of Bain, was in a bad mood. His heavy boots sent splatters of mud into the air with each step as he trudged along. He did not know why he was in a bad mood, perhaps it was the cold rainy weather, or perhaps it was due to the fact that he had spent the better half of the year working to rebuild the Sept of Artāre in Woodlands. Maybe he had just gotten out of the wrong side of the bed that morning, he did not know. All Bārdin could really say for certain was that he was in a bad mood, and everyone would soon know about it.
After leaving the company of Vythe and Fairris those few years ago Bārdin had accepted his responsibility as a dwarven King and led a group of his kin around the realms. Things had been enjoyable for the most part, many more dwarves came to the surface looking to earn money and sell their trade joining his clan. Humans had been very excited to buy dwarven goods and paid a fair amount of gold for dwarven Runes, which were the only way people could really benefit from the magicks of the Fog these days. The dwarves had quickly increased the price of Runes, and Rune etchings, to profit from the high demand and many more of his kin joined his clan to cash in on the market.
It had in fact been his large clan that had been part of the massacre in Flottsome, many of his kin died that day along with many more Valenthōr. But that was a while ago now and things had changed, and finally he and his followers were being commissioned for new work.
This was the reason Bārdin was in Woodlands, a large area to the southwest of Crydon, they had been hired by the young Lord Brank to rebuild the destroyed Sept of Artāre. Lord Brank’s father had been one of the many who had died during the battle between King Lienthor and Lord Cardonian, and the eldest son of the family had eagerly taken up his father’s rulership.
Although Bārdin was in a bad mood he could concede that Woodlands was a nice enough place, filled with many trees, streams and small meadows. An old fort stood on the western side of Woodlands which had been used during the war with Gildon in the Third Age, and was where Bārdin and his kin had been forced to camp with none of the villagers too keen on having them around.
Now Bārdin began to realise why he was in such a bad mood, and as he moved through the village centre and towards the building site of the Sept, his mood became worse.
A horde of villagers had gathered at the front of the Sept and were arguing with his clan members as they tried to continue with their work. Thankfully some of the guards were there also, so it was unlikely that things would turn ugly.
“It’s not right I tell you,” shouted one man above the clamour, “Elder Race rebuilding a temple of The Five. Why, they don’t even worship them, how can they be doing it right?”
“It don’t matter,” Bārdin snapped back as he pushed to the front of the crowd and stood beside his clan members. “We were hired to do it, and we will. Dwarven craftsmanship is better than you lot are deserving.”
“I don’t like your tone dwarf,” another villager growled.
“I don’t think I care,” Bārdin growled in response.
“You don’t even worship Artāre,” a woman said, “How do you expect to get his likeness, or that of his demi-god: Vhallar?”
“And you know what they look like do you?” Bārdin snapped. “Clear off the lot of you so we can get back to work. It’s hard enough getting the materials here, we don’t need you lot making it worse.”
“Making it worse?” the first villager to speak argued, “This is our temple, you should be following our instructions.”
“No humans going to order me about,” one of Bārdin’s dwarves bristled angrily.
“You’re not doing it right,” said another woman, “Followers of Artāre and The Five should be building this temple not dwarves.”
“Fine,” Bārdin roared, “Get your Lord to pay out the contract and we will leave the lot of you to finish it.”
“How about you just leave,” shouted a villager at the back.
“How about you make me,” another of Bārdin’s dwarves napped.
“Calm yourselves good people,” called a knight who was riding up on a tall steed. “I am sure we can come to a peaceful solution.”
Bārdin recognised the young knight as Sverth Dunnell, a hero from the battle on the Morrow Plains. It was said Sverth had been right beside the old Lord Brank when he had died, and was seen riding the old Lord’s horse and organising the retreat when the forces of Cardonian overpowered King Lienthor’s army. Perhaps Sverth rode that very horse now.
“We do not want another massacre like the one at Flottsome,” the knight said as he dismounted. “Please let us all talk about this civilly.”
“It’s not right, non-believers building our temple,” a villager called out, “They won’t get Artāre and Vhallar’s likeness right.”
“Lord Brank gave us the plans, and we will stick to them,” Bārdin huffed, “Like I keep saying, now all of you be off and let us work.”
“The reason they stay is because they want to make sure it will turn out well, master Bārdin,” Sverth interjected.
“Yeah, well, be off and it will be done quicker,” Bārdin retorted.
“Can a few of them not stay and help?” Sverth asked sincerely.
“Help?” Laughed on dwarf, “What could they do?”
“All they can,” the young knight was quick to reply, “This temple is very dear to us in Woodlands, and we all want to help rebuild it. If you but let us.”
Bārdin grumbled in his beard and studied the young knight who was showing wisdom beyond his years.
“Fine,” Bārdin threw up his hands in defeat, “But not all of you, and make sure you don’t get in the way. And we ain’t paying you either.”
“Thank you good dwarf,” Sverth smiled and turned to the crowd, “Let us help breathe new life into our temple.”
The crowd cheered and many moved to help build with instruction from the dwarven workers. Others went and gathered some food and drink, but most simply went back to their daily chores without complaint.
Bārdin was surprised how the day played out, the villagers did pull their weight with the building and followed instructions without becoming a hassle. But by that evening Bārdin was still in a bad mood.
He was being followed, but Lieut did not much care as he walked the darkening streets of Alabast. For too long had he and his brother been lingering in this city as they waited for some form of instruction from Kreha.
Lieut hated waiting, it made him irritable and it was worse when he had nothing to vent that irritation upon. But maybe these men that were following him would give him some relief.
The group of five men and two women had been tailing him for some time now, trying to be stealthy and keeping to the shadows as to not appear too obvious. It was clear that they were hesitant for Lieut had gone down several darkened alleyways in hope that the group would confront him, but they had not.
A lot had happened in Alabast since Lieut and Raith had killed King Arendt and destroyed the castle. The Lords of I’ender had arrived the afternoon of the very day of the assassination. Immediately they began bickering among themselves as to who was more appropriate to become the next King. This arose because Arendt had no heirs and under the laws in I’ender there could not just be a Queen.
The debate of leadership had been tiresome and very vocal, two poisonings had occurred and also several challenges to combat. As it stood five Lords had died another three seriously injured and still no agreement had resulted. Although two favourites had emerged from the group of Lords, Lord Haron of Valier in the north and Lord Aggman of Suthron in the south. Being a hero of the battle of the Morrow Plain Lord Haron seemed to be receiving the greatest following from the commoners of Alabast, but Lord Aggman had a lot of land in the south and was buying much influence among the rich merchants of I’ender. As things stood it seemed that the debate would not be resolved any time soon.
Lieut stopped in a side road, Inüer had disappeared below the western horizon and the street lights were yet to come alight. His patience with this group following him had run out, so he waited.
Minutes past and the shadows grew darker, Lieut heard several feet scuffing the ground behind him and ahead.
“Let’s make this quick,” Lieut said loudly as several of the group came around the corner in front of him.
“Damn ya Nevārancien,” a tall man ahead of him spat, “Damn ya to the Abyss.”
The tall man raced towards him, fist balled, and a thin smile came to Lieut’s face.
Lieut was the first to strike, he quickly spun on his toes and sent a powerful back kick into the gut of one of the women that had been sneaking up behind him. The woman fell to the ground and Lieut darted ahead and towards the tall man.
Lieut could have drawn his sword, but he wanted to enjoy this fight. There was nothing more satisfying then feeling bones break under his blows and it had been too long since he had any satisfaction.
The tall man tried to tackle him around the waist but Lieut sprung off his toes and flipped easily over the back of the tall man. A shorter man was there and ready for him as Lieut landed, but he fell quickly as Lieut sent an fist into the bridge of his nose.
Then there were three others on top of him, kicking and punching at him. But Lieut was too quick for them and he darted around the strikes and dropped them one by one all to the ground with broken limbs and cracked skulls.
The man was back on his feet now and drew a small dagger, but Lieut continued to smile. The tall man tried to stab at Lieut’s face, but Lieut was quicker and grabbed the man’s wrist and spun under the arm forcing the dagger into the tall man’s gut.
Lieut turned to face the remaining two assailants as they both charged at him, trying to overwhelm him. But with a few quick pirouettes and powerful blows both of the assailants fell into the mud, groaning in pain.
“Damn ya Nevārancien,” the tall man spat as he kneeled in the mud clutching at the wound in his gut. “It’s because of you lot everything’s gone to the Abyss. You should all be killed.”
Lieut calmly walked over to the tall man, a bemused expression on his face as he looked at the wound and the blood dribbling down the tall man’s chin.
“Then you should have brought more men,” Lieut replied coldly.
As quick as lightning Lieut twisted on his toe and sent a devastating turning kick into the tall man’s head, breaking his neck.
The thin smile remained on Lieut’s face as he left the alley way and headed for The Unicorns Urchin where he would find his brother. The streets were dark and the crystal streetlights had come on by the time he moved through the doors of the tavern. Thick clouds of smoke hung in the air and a fiddler played in the corner, on the spit over a roaring fire was some form of animal that was cooked beyond recognition.
Lieut moved through the crowded room, avoiding barmaids carrying drinks and sat down at the table at the back of the room where his brother and Rivian sat. The Helwry was enjoying some over cooked meat and ale, while Raith confined himself to a mug of water.
Lieut sat down without greeting them and poured himself a mug of water from the pitcher in the middle of the table.
“How was your walk around town, Lieut?” Rivian asked pleasantly.
“Surprisingly enjoyable,” replied Lieut, causing Raith to raise an eyebrow. “Find any jobs going, Rivian?”
“Yes I did,” Rivian nodded, “I hear there is an insect problem up in Aierthian. The cleaning out for the new college of Collumburt has upset some Manngits.”
“What are they?” Raith asked curiously.
“Dog sized beetle like creatures that eat parchment and wood,” Rivian replied, “Nice easy job, but it pays well.”
“When do you leave?” Raith asked hesitantly.
“With the morning.”
Raith nodded stiffly.
“I will be sad to say farewell to you two,” Rivian sighed, “You have made my time here in Alabast not as tedious as it could have been.”
“I feel the same,” Raith replied with a slight smile.
“Then let’s make this night one to remember,” Rivian laughed, “We will drink and sing, and make merry. Or rather I will drink and sing and make merry while you two act surly and have only water.”
“I suppose I could try some ale,” Raith said hesitantly.
“What?” Lieut balked.
“Why not?” Raith shrugged, “What is the worse that could happen?”
Rivian laughed louder, “Next minute you are naked and riding a whore like a horse through the streets, shouting that you are the new King of Alabast.”
Lieut looked in surprise as a genuine smile crept across Raith’s face and a laugh erupted from his gut.
“Wench. More ale,” Rivian shouted above the clamour of the tavern.
As the barmaid came to them with a pitcher of foaming ale a group of men entered the tavern, all wearing white armour and cloaks, and shouting for quiet in the room.
“Not this lot again,” Rivian mumbled as the room silenced.
“If I could have the attention of you all,” called a strong looking man at the head of the white group. “We of the United Concord are here to gather recruits to join our ranks of Peacemakers. This country is ripping itself apart with disagreements and corruption. The Lords bicker and make war while we common folk are forced to fight for them. Say no more and help your fellow countrymen, join our ranks and aid those who are in trouble, those who are picked on by the rich and powerful, and those who cannot defend themselves. We Peacemakers are a direct initiative of the High Commission to help those who the Lords and Kings will not. For those who wish to join we will be accepting recruits all night in this tavern.”
The group wearing white moved to a table at the centre of the tavern and ordered drink and food. Almost immediately many in the pub jumped to sign up with the United Concord.
“I cannot believe how many are joining those fools,” Rivian shook her head, “It looks like they will get more recruits tonight than they did last night.”
“Reckon they will steal your work, hey Helwry?” called an older man from the table next to theirs.
“Hardly,” Rivian called back, “The green skins they pick up could not even challenge a Managit. All they are good for is prancing around in their shiny white armour and feeding the hungry. It is disgusting to think that folk need to be a member of a Concord to help those in need.”
The older man did not reply and Rivian turned back to their table and poured herself another drink and one for Raith.
“Cheers Raith,” Rivian said and she and Raith clashed mugs and took a swallow of the golden liquid.
Lieut shook his head in disbelief as Raith took another long swallow.
“It’s not bad,” Raith smiled at Lieut, “You should try some Lieut.”
“I’m fine,” Lieut shook his head.
“More for us than,” Rivian laughed.
Lieut clenched his jaw and looked away and to the line of recruits that were signing up to be Peacemakers of the United Concord.
“Why do you drink this liquid?” Raith asked Rivian as he swallowed another mug, “Is there a point to relentlessly consuming it?”
Rivian shrugged, “Some people do it for fun, others because they considered themselves connoisseurs of the drink. But most drink because they want to drown their woes.”
“And what are your woes?” Lieut asked seriously.
Rivian’s yellow eyes locked with his.
“I could be doing it for fun,” the Helwry shrugged and looked away.
“But you are not,” Raith observed.
Rivian stared into her cup and did not answer.
“You are right,” Rivian finally sighed, “I drink to drown my woes and forget for several hours. We Helwry are born for the sole purpose of killing monsters, but did anyone consider that I might have wanted to be a lady of a court, or a mother with children. I don’t, but that’s not the point. Of course they didn’t consider it, they were doing the will of Artāre and my free will was stolen, that choice taken. I drink to forget about the life I could have had, and drink because the next monster I come across might be the one to kill me.”
“Why not choose now?” Lieut asked, drawing Rivian’s eyes to him, “Forget about Artāre’s will, and do what you want.”
Rivian smirked, “Killing monsters is what I do. I do think I know how to do anything else.”
The Helwry poured herself another drink and Lieut and Raith did not continue the conversation.
The night rifted by and Lieut was becoming more annoyed with his brother. Drink followed by drink went down Raith’s throat and it was obvious that the alcohol was starting to have an effect on his brother. Raith was laughing more and joining in games with Rivian.
But what concerned Lieut the most was that he remembered clearly the instructions at his very beginning to not consume alcohol or any other drug. His teachers had given the impression that consuming such things would have serious and damaging effects on his body and mind. Had that all just been a lie to keep him under their control, or was their truth to it and Raith could be seriously harmed? Both issues concerned him, and Lieut continued to watch his brother closely.
The night soon became late and the tavern near on empty. Several empty pitchers sat on their table and Rivian was asleep on the floor. Raith was still conscious, but he was resting his head in his hands and not looking too well. Lieut’s golden eyes lingered on Raith as he wondered about the teachings that had once been given to him and whether there was any shred of truth to any of it.
A welcome distraction came when a young woman with straight black hair and a small light dress floated through the entrance of the tavern. The woman’s large dark eyes instantly fell upon him and she skipped over to the table.
“Where have you been Kreha?” Lieut asked as the young woman sat down.
Kreha looked at him indignantly, “Busy we have been. Very busy indeed. This is no type greeting for us.”
“How have you been Kreha?” Raith asked, lifting his head from his hands.
“Much better greeting,” smiled Kreha, “We have been well, yes we have. And you have been enjoying yourself, we knows, yes we do, we can see. We remember the time when we would drink wines and have a good time.”
Kreha’s eyes became distant and smile crept across her face, but it soon turned to a look of anger.
“But that time was taken from us,” Kreha said through clenched teeth.
“Would you like a drink?” Raith asked, “There should be some left.”
Kreha laughed, “Don’t be silly. We have not come for fun, but for help. We need you both to do some things for us.”
“Kill another King?” Lieut asked with a sigh.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Kreha shook her head, “Something much more better. We needs Lieut to go to Skelledaris and find the half Yineth Princess of Crydon.”
“Raith killed Princess Xanthia,” Lieut replied causing Kreha to look at him curiously.
“Yes, of course, I remember that,” Raith said in surprise, sitting up straight.
“You remember wrong,” Kreha said quickly, “Raith did not kill her, someone made it look as if she was dead. But it was not so, we knows, yes we do.”
Raith nodded his head, “That’s right, I remember now. Both Lieut and I were there on The Night of the Watchers, but the princess was already dead. Don’t you remember Lieut?”
“Vaguely,” Lieut shrugged.
“I was the one instructed to kill her, it was my Purpose,” Raith was smiling as he remembered, “I should be the one to go after her now.”
“No, no, no,” Kreha said emphatically, “Lieut must do this. Raith needs to go to Gun Dürin and meet with another of our associates.”
“But that is not right,” Raith argued, “Killing the princess was my Purpose to begin with, it should be so now.”
“I said no,” Kreha said menacingly, and the room darkened around them. “You will go to Gun Dürin, Raith, for it is there you will find help with your memory.”
That seemed to change Raith’s mind and he nodded.
Kreha smiled widely and the darkness dissipated, “Very good. Raith will leave tomorrow, but Lieut will have to wait for a ship to take him to the islands of Skelledaris. And we will take our leave.”
Kreha hopped up from her seat suddenly and skipped from the tavern.
“Looks like we will be parting ways brother,” Lieut remarked.
Raith nodded slowly, “It should be me going to Skelledriss.”
Lieut smirked, “And miss the chance to discover who the blonde haired woman of your dreams is?”
Raith smiled slightly and looked away.
“You can also leave with Rivian tomorrow,” Lieut added, and they both looked to the unconscious Helwry under the table.
Rivian suddenly awoke and tried to get to her feet but failed and stumbled to the side and back to the floor.
Raith laughed and moved to help Rivian to her feet.
“Get our clothes off Raith and lets find a whore to ride through the snow,” Rivian slurred as she accepted Raith’s help.
“No,” Raith laughed, “To bed I think.”
Rivian did not argue and together they moved from the main room and Raith helped the Helwry up the stairs to the rooms.
Lieut tore his eyes from the stairs and angrily moved through the tavern and towards the exit.
“You Nevāranciens are strong folk,” one of the United Concord Peacemakers in white said standing up. “Sign up with us and help those you have wronged.”
Lieut ignored the man and forcefully shoved past and out the tavern. The night passed with him aimlessly walking about the city streets, his mind conflicted and confused about his brother and himself. The next day came soon and he returned to The Unicorns Urchin to say farewell to his brother and Rivian. As Lieut arrived both were saddling their horses and looking tired and vacant. Raith proclaimed that he had a fierce ach in his head, and Rivian laughed and said he was experiencing a hangover. This made Lieut feel even more annoyed and frustrated, so his farewell to Raith was short and he headed for the docks as Raith and Rivian left through the city gates.
When Lieut arrived at the docks he looked for the harbour master as quickly as he could. Luck was with him and he found the portly and balding man soon as he was going through some books at his station.
“Harbour master,” Lieut called as he walked up to the man.
“What does a Nevārancien want?” the man asked with annoyance.
“Are there any ships going to Skelledaris?”
“What is your business in the isles?” the harbour master asked and dipped his quill in some ink.
“My business is my own.” Lieut was quick to reply.
The portly man sighed, “I am harbour master, and as such I am required to keep a log of who comes and goes, to where and when and for what purpose. That is the law and although you may be from Nevārance you must still obey our laws. So, what business do you have in Skelledaris?”
“Business.” Lieut glared at the portly man.
“Your business is business?”
The harbour master sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of his nose, forcing his small round glasses up to his forehead.
“Fine I shall put business,” the portly man said and scribbled something down on his parchment.
“The ship to Skelledaris?” Lieut growled in frustration.
“You just missed one,” replied the harbour master.
Lieut nearly punched the man in the face, but he held his temper in check.
“There should be another one coming through this afternoon,” the portly man continued as he studied his papers, “The Sparrow it is called and will be at wharf thirty-two.”
Lieut turned and headed away from the harbour master and further into the docks.
“You’re welcome,” the harbour master shouted after him, but Lieut ignored the man’s sarcasm and strode towards wharf thirty-two. He found it in short time and found a bench to sit down on and wait. The day passed slowly and Inüer was hot and bright even though it was well into the month of Winter.
The ruined castle of Alabast stood to the north of the docks and already Lieut could see that they had begun to rebuild it. Wooden scaffolds stood about the place and many carts laden with rubble trundled out of the gates of the keep. If magicks were still prevalent the castle would have already been rebuilt by now, but these days it was manual labour that was required and would take a long time to rebuild it but at least people were employed.
Seagulls cried overhead and the gentle lapping of water filed the air along with the thick smell of salt. Lieut watched quietly as a couple of old men came along the wharf and to a small fishing boat that was tied nearby.
“Lovely day for it ay Jack? Look at that water, almost crystal clear,” the shorter of the two men laughed as he dropped his fishing rod and tackle box into the boat.
“Perfect day for it,” Jack laughed as he began to untie the boat, “I couldn’t think of anything better to do ay Angus.”
“I am surprised ya missus let you out,” Angus laughed.
“Course she did,” Jack replied, “So what do you think of these two Lords?”
Angus shrugged, “I don’t think much of neither of them. Haron is a war hero and Aggman a rich bastard. Is there anything else to think?”
Jack laughed, “Hopefully this tourney will sort things out.”
“What are you on about?” Angus asked.
“Ain’t you heard, Haron challenge Aggman to combat to decide,” Jack explained, “Four day tourney to decide. Archery, sword on foot, mounted combat and a joust. Should be good stuff, an the rest of the Lords and knights are participating too.”
“That’s out of control,” Angus laughed, “Aggman’s more of a fool then I thought. If Haron don’t kill him he will lose terribly.”
Jack was nodding his agreement, “Stupid, honourable fool. But that’s Lords for you.”
The two old fishermen pushed their boat away from the wharf and rowed out into the bay, their conversation fading into the rattle of wooden oars and the cry of gulls.
Lieut’s annoyance increased as the day slipped by and was pacing by the time he spotted the three masted Caravel called The Sparrow come into the port. When the ship had finished docking and the gangplank dropped to the wharf Lieut was standing there ready to speak to the Captain.
A sudden sense of recognition flowed over him as he watched the Captain of The Sparrow strut down the gangplank. Her sun bleached blonde hair blowing in the salty breeze and her bright blue eyes sparkling.
Where did he know this young woman from? Where had he seen her before?
The blonde haired Captain smiled widely and called out in excitement when she noticed Lieut standing on the wharf.
“Lieut?” the Captain called, “It is you, I cannot believe it, I thought you dead, we all did. Where is Raith, is he nearby? Wait don’t tell me, is he dead?”
“Raith is fine,” Lieut managed to stammer his confusion mounting, “Do I know you?”
The blonde haired Captain’s bright smile vanished in a flash and an awkward silence filled the air to accompany the crying gulls.
“It’s me Elza, you and Raith sailed with me on your way to Crystallis Isle,” the Captain said, her expression confused. “Don’t you remember?”
Lieut looked away from Elza, the side of his head aching from the strain of trying to recall the events.
“What happened to you there Lieut?” Elza asked curiously.
A flash of pain darted across his skull and began to pulse from the scar on the left side in his head. Lieut dropped to the wood of the jetty and grabbed at his head. Lieut cried out in pain as he felt the scar begin to peel apart from his left eyebrow and across his scalp above his ear. Blood flowed from the wound and Fog began of drift around him. Lieut grabbed at his head and slammed his fists onto the wharf, but the pain would not relent. The colourful Fog swirled before his eyes and images of the trip from Scaroul to Crystallis Isle darted through his mind.
He watched himself walk through the dark streets of Pentra and saw himself unexpectedly meet up with Raith who was under instruction from Kil’dar. He remembered the tension between him and his brother as Raith came to grips with the changes in his own mind. He saw the maze of razor islands they sailed through, he watched the friendship between Elza and Raith grow with jealousy, he saw the huge volcano with white clouds and Fog gushing out its caldera. Lieut could see the giant crystal that held Kreha as its prisoner and he watched his sword shatter it.
The memories stopped and the pain subsided, and now all Lieut saw was his blood pooling on the wood of the jetty. Breathing heavily he staggered to his feet to watch the wisps of Fog drift off into the clear blue sky instead of receding back into his head. He also saw the terrified expressions of Elza and her crew.