Year 3633, the Sixth Age, the forty-ninth day of Spring
“Ye really think we can make Cairn afore night?” Kōrrin asked as their party road along.
“Certain we will.” Vhindr replied confidently.
“Hey, you were going to tell us what you sent to the Regional Commander,” Legin exclaimed, “We’re far enough away from the city now.”
“Still in Gaianaus though,” Vhindr replied seriously.
“We’re on the road, who’s gonna hear us?” Kōrrin said and looked around to the empty land around them.
The Gaia Mountains stood imposingly to the south, to the north was naught but flat tundra covered in brown grass and riddled with colourful Spring flowers, and before them was the barren road.
“I suppose no one untoward will hear,” Vhindr agreed as he glanced to the empty trail over his shoulder. “I wrote a brief, but full account of my investigations. I explained Roht Ellengar and Jent Barrgarah’s conspiracy to assassinate Baron Ellengar, and included the assassin’s own statement to myself and Rhalin. I also made a note that Rhalin and I would be open to give evidence once he had established control of Gaianaus. Attached my family seal and signed it.”
“Think it will help?” Bel’eak asked seriously, “It is all still circumstantial evidence.”
“I know,” Vhindr nodded, “I hope it was enough to extract a confession from Roht.”
“Can’t do nothin’ about it now,” Kōrrin snorted.
“Well, I hope it works,” Legin added happily, “Hey Vhindr, I’ve been meaning to ask, the Fog in your eye, how’s that going?”
Vhindr looked away awkwardly from his companions who instinctively all turned to look at his scarred eye.
“Well, I am not dead,” Vhindr offered, “So that is good. Sometimes I see strange things and it throbs painfully, but that does not last overly long. Aside from those random spasms I can see perfectly well and it gives me no discomfort. It seems as though it is simply something I shall have to live with.”
“I think you should see a Magi about it.” Legin said with concern.
“I am a Magi,” Vhindr replied with a slight laugh.
“A Magi who specialises in that field.” Legin was quick to clarify.
Vhindr shrugged and nodded, “Perhaps.”
They continued to talk about this and that as they trotted along on the backs of their horses. Midday drifted by but they did not stop to eat and when Inüer began to drift towards the western horizon the peak of Cairn was much closer.
“See, I told you we could make it,” Vhindr remarked as they rode up the path and into the massive city-cavern. “Have faith Master Dwarf.”
“Except ya were wrong,” Kōrrin snapped, “Looks to me it’s after dark.”
Vhindr and the other chuckled at that and Vhindr did not rebut.
“How ‘bout we just find a good tavern this time?” Kōrrin asked, “I can’t stand all that fancy garbage of highbrow gits an’ their tasteless food, like last time we came through here.”
“Where do you suggest?” asked Vhindr.
“Me an’ Bel’eak found a good place last time,” Kōrrin replied with a grin, “The Sleeping Dragon.”
“Yeah, that place was good,” the Nevārancien agreed heartily.
“Lead the way then,” Vhindr agreed, making Kōrrin clap his hands together happily.
“Yer gonna love this place,” chuckled the dwarf as he took the lead, “They do a grand spit roast. Meat’s just fallin’ off the bone.”
“But I would have liked to stay at that fancy place again,” Legin argued.
“Do you have the money?” Vhindr inquired curiously.
“I am sure I’d find it,” Legin grinned back.
“Don’t ruin it monkey boy,” Kōrrin grumbled, “You’ll like this place, I’m tellin’ ya.”
“Alright,” Legin conceded.
Kōrrin led them through the streets of Cairn and into the merchant class of the city. Across a small plaza they rode and passed a large obelisk that stood as a statue at the square’s center. Sitting right on the edge of the plaza was a large building with a stable yard beside it. Above the open doors was a large sign reading ‘The Sleeping Dragon’. Golden light and music streamed out from the tavern, filling Vhindr with warmth and joy and after they rented some stables for their weary mounts Kōrrin eagerly led the way into the tavern.
As the dwarf had said a roaring fire burned at the center of the common room with two roasting boars on a single spit. Voices and music filled the air and Vhindr breathed in deeply the smell of cooking food, ale and pipe weed.
“You were right,” Vhindr said to Kōrrin as they waded through the crowd to find a table. “This place is good.”
“Told ya.” Kōrrin replied happily.
“Hey look,” Legin said suddenly and pointed across the room to two women sitting in a booth by the window. “Is that Rhalin?”
“It is.” Vhindr smiled wide, “But who is that with her?”
“Bea’trix.” Replied Bel’eak.
“You know her well?” Legin asked and gave him a sly wink.
“Well enough,” Bel’eak said evenly, ignoring Legin’s inference.
“What’re we waitin’ for, come on,” Kōrrin roared and shoved his way passed the people in front of him and to Rhalin’s table.
“May we join you?” Vhindr asked politely.
“Vhindr?” The woman from Gaianaus exclaimed as she looked up from her meal. “How are you here? I thought you went to The Port? What happened? Yes, by all means join us. It is good to see you all.”
They all happily sat down at the booth and Rhalin gathered her composure and Bel’eak and Bea’trix shared a subtle nod.
“Where are my manners, this is Bea’trix,” Rhalin introduced her companion, “She freed me from Issia’s dungeons after … so how are you here Vhindr?”
“During my fighting with Haylien the elf teleported us both back to her hideout on top of the ruined Nevārancien ship.” Vhindr explained. “In the end I managed to kill her.”
As Kōrrin ordered some food and drinks they continued to talk about what had happened and the adventures they had shared whilst apart.
“But Bea’trix, you worked for Barrgarah,” Legin said thoughtfully, “Why did you help Rhalin?”
“I knew she was right when she accused Roht,” Bea’trix shrugged, “I could not let an innocent person die.”
“I guess some things don’t change,” Bel’eak remarked offhandedly, but an awkward silence fell between the group.
“I guess you and Bea’trix are previously acquainted, Bel’eak,” Vhindr stated more than asked, and the two Nevāranciens nodded.
“He has beaten me three years in a row during the tournaments in Nevārance to claim the title of Champion,” Bea’trix explained, her blue-grey eyes narrowing at Bel’eak, who wore a smug expression.
“I thought there was something serious between you two,” Legin laughed in relief, drawing a glare from both the warriors.
“You wouldn’t have beaten me this year,” Bea’trix turned her glare from Legin and back to Bel’eak.
“I wouldn’t be so confident,” Bel’eak smiled back, “I’ve got some knew skills at Ard Thengr that you couldn’t imagine.”
“The tombs in the north?” the Nevārancien woman scrunched up her face. “What could you have possibly learnt there?”
“I’ll show you later,” Bel’eak replied, seeming hesitant to talk about it.
They all continued to talk pleasantly for the remainder of the evening and soon all retired to their rooms. The next dawn came and together they all left Cairn, heading southwards.
“So, what your plans now Rhalin?” Vhindr asked as she rode alongside him several days out from Cairn.
The Northern Longroad had begun to arch to the south, following the edge of the mountain range and running through the pass between The Chasm and the Engle Mountains. It was late afternoon and Inüer’s light cast the snowy peaks in orange flame.
“I don’t know,” Rhalin shrugged, “I was heading to Port Na’brath to see how you fared, but I guess there is no need in doing that now.”
“You would be welcome at the mansion,” Vhindr offered, “And I am sure Valianna would be delighted to see you again.”
“I suppose I can stay a few days in The Port,” Rhalin replied and smiled slightly as she looked to the slanting peaks of the Engle Mountains. “Perhaps on to Sparren then.”
“Do you and Bea’trix plan on joining the Grey Rangers?” Vhindr asked with surprise.
“Bea’trix is considering it.” Rhalin replied, her gaze still to the icy peaks.
“But you wish you were not leaving Gaianaus at all,” Vhindr stated, understanding his companions thoughts.
Rhalin look in surprise to him before sighing and nodding slightly.
“It is my home,” she said sadly, “To think I am wanted woman in my own realm …”
Her voice trailed away and she looked to the back of her horse’s neck.
“You may yet be able to return,” Vhindr offered, “As I told you, I sent that letter onto the Regional Commander, and once we reach The Port I shall have my father pursue legal avenues if Liuden DeVaan has not already.”
“I hope you are right,” Rhalin said quietly and looked back to the peculiar mountain range.
They passed a few army camps on the borders of Gaianaus and Sesserrech during their ride south. But the forces did not accost them, most of them just being remnants of the army, packing up and heading back home. Aside from that their trip was uneventful and no grinlocks attacked their party. It was the evening of the twentieth day since they had set out from Cairn when they arrived at the Varrintine manor at the southern end of Port Na’brath.
“Vhindr,” Valianna exclaimed as she rushed down the stairs as their party entered the manor. “I was so worried when you vanished with that elf, we all were. Father was certain that you were triumphant in beating that assassin, but that did little to dull mother’s anxieties. And Rhalin, so good to see you again.”
“Yeah, greetings Valianna, it’s good to see you alive as well,” Legin said sarcastically, causing Bel’eak to chuckle.
“Kōrrin,” Valianna said happily and rushed to hug the dwarf, “After dinner we will play a game of Bront, and I will win this time.”
“You’re on,” the dwarf roared happly.
“I see how it is,” Legin sighed heavily and looked to his friend.
“Legin, Bel’eak,” Valianna finally said in brief acknowledgement.
“This is Bea’trix,” Rhalin said to Valianna, “She saved me from the dungeons of Issia.”
“What? Why were you imprisoned?” Valianna was quick to ask.
“Questions for after dinner,” Lord Varrintine said loudly as he entered the hall, “Come, all are welcome, and a meal waits.”
“Father,” Vhindr greeted stiffly as they all followed Lord Varrintine. “I see you were quick to repair the damage Haylien and I made.”
“Of course,” Lord Varrintine replied without turning.
In the dining room Vhindr’s mother greeted him joyfully, a tear of happiness trickling from her eye. The food came shortly and all sat down to gleefully eat and talk idly. The rest of Vhindr’s siblings were of course not at home, each of them having their own lives and families. But no doubt Lord Varrintine would send word to each of them of Vhindr success.
“You no doubt will all be surprised to hear the news I received from Issia recently,” Lord Varrintine spoke up. “The Regional Commander Liuden DeVaan sent word that Roht Ellengar was charged with treason and the murder of Baron Ellengar. The man tried to fight these accusations with a sword and was killed by Liuden’s hand.”
“That is good news,” Vhindr smiled wide and shared a pleased glance with Rhalin.
“He also wrote that all charges against you Miss Ragnarr have been absolved,” Lord Varrintine continued, “I imagine you will be eager to return home.”
Rhalin smiled and nodded, but Vhindr did not hear the sincerity in his father’s voice.
“You still want nothing to do with her,” Vhindr remarked quietly, but all around the table heard and looked awkwardly to Lord Varrintine.
“Something you wish to say son?” Lord Varrintine asked seriously, and all glanced to Vhindr.
“No,” Vhindr replied stiffly, “Please excuse me.”
Quickly Vhindr rose from his chair a left the room to stride irritably through the house to the back door leading into the gardens. Outside the air was crisp and crickets chirped in the flower beds as Vhindr walked to the edge of the cultivated garden and gazed across the lawn to the small forest at the far end of the grounds.
“Vhindr,” came the sound of his father’s voice as the man walked up behind him.
“What?” asked Vhindr irritably as he turned to his father.
“I know you wish to say something to me,” Lord Varrintine stated seriously.
“You left Rhalin her mother to live on the streets,” Vhindr erupted angrily, “And you don’t even offer an apology to her.”
“This again,” his father sighed, “Would an apology change anything? No, it would simply open old wounds. We talked on this before, I expressed my regret.”
“That doesn’t change-”
“No it does not,” Lord Varrintine interrupted him, “I know that. I made a decision to return to The Port and look after my own family. You may not remember but that period in our family’s history was very trying, we were eighth in the city and losing influence quickly.”
“Her mother died because you did nothing,” Vhindr snapped back.
“As have hundreds of others,” Lord Varrintine replied loudly, “My own mother died at childbirth, and many more will follow this trend along with fathers, daughters and sons. It is a fact of life Vhindr, and one that I would think you would know well considering your chosen profession. I regret my choice to assume Tolfur’s wife and daughter would be well enough without him, that choice cannot be undone. But I do not regret my decision to return to Port Na’brath to care for my own family.”
Vhindr bared his teeth and looked away in frustration, but he did not reply.
“Do you hate me because of that choice?” his father asked seriously.
“Not hate,” Vhindr shook his head, “But my opinion of you has severely lessened.”
Vhindr did not look at his father and turned back for the house.
“I am proud of you son,” Lord Varrintine called after him, “Of how you resolved Baron Ellengar’s murder.”
Vhindr clenched his jaw angrily and hands clenched at his side he strode towards the house. Without a word to his companions Vhindr retired early for the evening, but his anger towards his father prevented him from finding a restful sleep.
He and his companions lingered around the house for the next few days, venturing into the city every now and then. Bel’eak and Bea’trix spent all the time training on the grounds while Legin and Valianna headed into town for most days, each time returning with Legin carrying a pile of things Valianna had bought.
Kōrrin drank, ate and slept out on the balcony while Rhalin spent a lot of the time in the library reading or talking with Valianna.
Vhindr, however remained in his room only joining the others for meals. He thankfully did not see his father at these gatherings as the man was busy being the Ruling Lord of Sesserrech. He did get the chance to talk with his brothers who lived in The Port, which was pleasant enough. But his frustration and disappointment towards his father would not dissipate.
“I will still join you to Sparren,” Rhalin replied to Bea’trix’s question, the answer bringing Vhindr from his thoughts as they all sat in the living room.
“I thought you wanted to return home?” Vhindr inquired curiously.
“Now that I know I can return at any time the longing is not so great,” Rhalin smiled back. “You should come also, it is clear your time here is not doing you any favours.”
Vhindr nodded and shrugged before looking back to the low burning fire.
“Well me and Bel’eak will come along,” Legin spoke up happily, “All this sitting around in one place has me stir-crazy. You coming Kōrrin?”
“Ye need to ask?” the dwarf asked back as he looked up from the game of Bront he and Valianna were playing.
“I will come also,” Valianna said loudly, not wanting to be left out.
“Not this time child,” Lady Varrintine cut in, “Your studies at the Magi Guild are almost finished. Once you graduate you may go on your own way, though I will be dismayed to see you leave me.”
“Mother I am almost a lady now,” Valianna comlained.
“Almost means not yet,” Vhindr’s mother replied seriously, “And I will hold on to you as long as I can.”
“Fine.” Valianna grumbled, “I will graduate and then I will join you all.”
“An’ ye will be more than welcome,’ Kōrrin said heartily. “Ye should brush up on yer Bront skill as well ‘cause I just won the game, again.”
“Not fair,” Valianna exclaimed, “I hate it when you use that card.”
Kōrrin chuckled to himself as he gathered up his cards and began shuffling them.
“Ye will learn,” grinned the dwarf, “There is a right time to play every card. Another round?”
Valianna agreed, promising that she would win this time, as the others continued to talk. The night wore on and the fire burned lower until Vhindr finally decided it was time he headed for his bed.
“Good evening all,” Vhindr said and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek, “I will see you all bright and early for departure tomorrow.”
“Does that mean you will join us?” Legin asked gleefully and Vhindr offered a slight smile before heading to his room.
The next morning came quickly and after a brief meal and a long goodbye Vhindr led the party out of the south gate of Port Na’brath and onto the road of adventure.
Her breath came back to her in a sharp gasp as her green eyes flickered open. The chill wind felt fresh on her cheeks and the light on Inüer in the west caused the Nevārancien ship to glow brightly.
Slumped on her knees Haylien looked down to her stiff fingers, but her eyes widened as she saw the hilt of her own sword embedded between her breasts. The fight with Vhindr Varrintine came flooding back to her and with shaking hands she reached for the sword.
Before she reached the handle another hand reached down and pulled her sword free.
“Don’t-” Haylien began to object but her voice gurgled as the strange feeling of the sword being pulled out her took a hold.
As the tip pulled free she fell to her back in horror and pulling open her shirt she rushed to try and stop the bleeding and cast a spell of healing. But she stopped in surprise as she looked to her chest to see no blood pour forth. There was not even a wound.
“What?” the snow elf wondered aloud.
“An illusion,” said a calm voice and she looked to see and unimposing man holding her blade, his pale green eyes smiling at her.
Right before her eyes the metal of the sword he held vanished until only the hilt remained, which the man casually tossed to the side.
Standing up Haylien regarded the man with concern. He wore simple clothes, though the design was foreign to her, and of average height and appearance. But she felt a strange power coming from the man, it pushed on her chest and made her breathing heavy, and his eyes, those peculiar green orbs made her feel very insignificant.
“I destroyed the sword seconds before it plunged into your chest,” the green eyes man continued to explain. “I then placed you in a form of stasis, offering the illusion of death.”
“The other-” Haylien began slowly, but the man cut her off.
“Vhindr Varrintine lives,” the green eyes man stated simply, “Some of his friends arrived and helped him. They would be just passing Iceguard by now.”
“Good.” Haylien smiled evilly and tried to teleport.
“No.” the man said firmly his eyes suddenly changing colour to a fierce yellow. “Your vendetta against Vhindr and his father is no more.”
“Yes I can,” the man interrupted again, and again his eyes changed colour, this time to a burning pink. “And you will do as I say else realise death in its entirety.”
Haylien’s eyes narrowed cautiously and the pressure she felt emanate form the man forced to take a few steps back.
“Who are you?” the elf breathed in horror.
“That does not matter,” he replied calmly, his eyes turning back to the pale green.
“Why save you?” the man smiled, “It is quite simple really. A war is coming and like any war I need an army. An army of skilled individuals. Individuals such as yourself. I have in fact recruited quite a few soldiers on this recent trip to Gaianaus, but none show the promise you do.”
Haylien’s brow furrowed in confusion.
“I am not about to force you to join,” the man continued, “But if you do not I shall finish what Vhindr started.”
“Not much of a choice,” Haylien replied snidely, drawing a sly smile from the green eyed man.
“No, but one you still have to make,” he stated and Haylien clenched her jaw.
“Fine.” The elf decided angrily, “What will you have me do?”
A wide smile spread across the man’s face, and his green eyes sparkled unsettlingly.
“Wise decision.” The man said, “For now you can go where you wish, so long as it is nowhere near Vhindr or his family. I will call on your aid soon, when the time is right.”
With that the man simply vanished leaving Haylien alone on the top of the ruined Nevārancien ship, concern filling her mind.
“A war is coming,” Haylien echoed the man’s words and looked to the ominous skies.