The Warrior Song, verse 1
In the dawn as light blooms and darkness retreats
Spear tips glitter like a quick river flashing in the sunlight
The crash rolls like thunder across the field
Warriors raise the shield wall and march towards the Erhand
Brother beside brother and father beside son
Death comes for all
Erik the Colder
The picture faded from his mind. The images of the girl and their interaction were lost. The memory retreated in disorderly confusion. How often had he experienced this? He could not recall. The boy looked around in surprise and realized he didn’t have any recollection of where he was. He also could not recall travelling to this place. He just was. Something was dreadfully wrong. But what was it?
He did a slow turnabout. He marveled at the grand vista around him. It was majestic and awe inspiring. He was in a large bowl shaped valley surrounded by tall jagged peaks. The highest were still crowned with ice and snow. In the valley below, there was no snow. Apparently, based on how soggy everything seemed, only recently melted away. It felt and smelled like early spring. It was still cool but a warm breeze from the south battled the cool mountain air. The trees and hills were just greening and the rich smell of the earth and resurgent plant life was strong.
He stood just off a muddy rutted dirt road. The road was bracketed by low stone walls and led down a gentle slope of land to a small town below. Farm houses and outbuildings dotted the mid-valley slopes and the land was a haphazard patchwork of orchards, pastures and fields divided by hedgerows and fences. Herds of sheep or goats, on a few of the lower hills, could be seen around the valley.
It was quiet and beautiful but what immediately captured his attention was an impressive large fortress looming over the town below. The huge castle was built on a series of sheer rocky hillocks that rose hundreds of feet above the town. Even now, with his higher elevation on the upper outer slopes of the valley, the upper rooftops of the fortress were just slightly below his vantage point. The castle was actually an elaborate series of interconnected forts on several different rocky spires. The boy stared in wonder at the castle. The fortifications, each with its own towers and ramparts, were precariously perched atop the steep rocky projections jutting up from the floor of the bowl shaped valley. The entire thing was seemingly planted on the tops of the dark blue granite splines by the hands of a god.
He wondered how it had been built. It must have taken forever. The effort and engineering was no small thing. He looked closer at the castle. The main gate of the first and lowest fort could only be reached by a narrow steep switchback road carved into an almost vertical cliff face. The road rose almost two-hundred feet up from the valley floor to the gatehouse. A large round tower flanked the gate. The boy could see guards, tiny at this distance, walking the crenelated walls and towers above the gate. Sun light periodically glinted off mail, spear tip or helm.
Each successive spline of rock rose ever higher and was capped by a group of towers and walls and buildings. The five hillocks rose and bent in series like the steps in a flight of curved stairs. The hill forts from lowest to highest, were linked by slender arched stone causeways pierced with drawbridges that, when raised, denied access to the next higher fort. The largest and tallest hill also boasted the tallest towers, the main keep and the highest walls.
He knew any attacker would have to attack up the narrow road from the town under missile fire from at least two of the forts above. There was no way to scale the sheer cliffs with a sizable force of attackers. If one fort was taken, successive attacks across the causeways and drawbridges would have to be mounted to gain the next fort in the series.
The castle appeared impregnable. The cost in lives to storm the fortress would be in the tens of thousands at the very least. The only other possible way to take it would be to try and topple it from the hillocks with massive war engines or starve the defenders out with a protracted siege.
After several moments he disengaged his attention from the incredible fortress and continued looking over the valley. The road he stood next to wound down to the town and veered around the side of the cliffs that the fortress sat on. Once past the castle the road gradually rose to a pass through a cleft in the mountains beyond. A large lake pushed up against the road and blocked any traffic from circumventing it. The castle controlled the road, access to the valley and the pass beyond. The lake and castle squeezed the road close between them and created a choke point. He knew it was a strategic location and likely of great importance.
He lowered his gaze to the small walled town situated below the lowest forts of the castle. It was nestled under the brooding protection of the fortress above and it looked sleepy in the early morning light. The sheer hills and castle looming over the town left most of the building below in shadow. The population of the town couldn’t be more than a couple thousand. The boy wondered what this place was. He didn’t know its name. Increasingly, he realized he did not know much of anything.
His mind seemed to be blocked by something that prevented past memories. He felt something in his hand and looked at the object he was holding. It was a battered old sword and it was almost as tall as he was. Where did it come from? He had no idea. He thought for a minute and realized he didn’t even know how old he was and couldn’t remember his name either. It was there in his mind. Seemingly he almost recalled it but it was always just out of reach. It was like trying to catch a big fat slimy bullfrog. As soon as you sneaked up close and grabbed it, it would wiggle free and hop away. Then you would do it again and again the frog would escape. You never quite caught it. And, he could never quite remember his name. He would get close and it would slip away again and again.
He looked around for someone to help him. He was alone. There was no mother or father or brother or sister beside him. The road was totally empty. The fields nearest him were untilled still and weedy from the new life springing from the rich wet soil ready for the plow.
He searched his mind but it was all a blank. He couldn’t recall anything other than this day, this moment. There was no memory of history, of his childhood, parents or family. No past recollections of anything. He looked at the sword and studied it closely. It was old he saw, very old. The scabbard was battered, worn and covered with mud, grime and old stains. The metal fittings, chape and locket, were scratched and dented. The scabbard’s outer materials, leather and wire looked to be much older than he was.
He pulled it partially from the sheath. It was difficult since it was so long. The metal of the sword was dull and unadorned. There were no precious metals or jewels set in the hilt or cross guard or pommel. It was made simply of a dull gray and purplish blotchy metal. He assumed it was steel. The grip was old and consisted simply of a hollow wooden handle wrapped with stained leather and wound tightly with steel wire. It was worn but the grip felt comfortable in his small hand. It felt like it belonged there.
The pommel itself was a plain dull black metal circular disc with a strange symbol or rune on both sides. He did not know what it meant. The cross-guard was made of the same blotchy swirled steel metal as the blade. He hefted it in his hand. It was very light even though it was so long. The craftsmanship, to his inexpert eye, was excellent. He assumed it was a hand and a half sword. The grip was long as well. He could wrap both of his hands around it with room to spare.
It also had another name he knew, a bastard sword. A bastard sword for a bastard boy he wondered? He grinned. But, he thought to himself, he was more likely an orphan than a bastard right? He just didn’t know. How come he knew so much about swords and forts for that matter but so little about himself?
He shrugged his shoulders. So, he had a sword and what else? He was hungry. His belly seemed to wake up. It gurgled and groaned in protest at being so empty. He checked his pockets and then the burlap bag hanging from his shoulder. He found a few copper coins in one inner pocket. Also in the bag was a richly tooled small leather wallet with a strange symbol on the flap. Inside the wallet was a dried orange flower pressed in wax paper. It was fragrant and had an exotic scent that brought to his mind a summer garden basking in a strange steel grey sunlight. Was this a recollection of his past?
He sat on the low stone wall. It was a beautiful flower. He carefully moved the flower to the side. Next to it was a lock of long black silky hair tied with a pale blue ribbon. Was it a clue? He speculated. Whose hair was it? Was it his mother’s? Something tugged at his memory then speedily fled afore he could pin it down with his mind. The wallet was very girlish. Not something a boy would ever possess and use. It was obviously important though and he decided to keep it safe. He tied a piece of twine he found in the sack to the wallet, put it over his head and tucked it into his shirt. He felt better with the wallet close to him.
He checked the remaining contents of the sack. There was a half loaf of crusty old bread and a piece of dried meat in a leather food pouch, a ratty worn blanket, flint and steel in a tinder box and a small water flask.
He looked down at himself. He wore a pair of dirty stained worn leather breeches and an equally dirty linen shirt. A well-used leather vest was over the shirt and over it all was a damp green cloak that had been patched several times. His shoes were rapidly deteriorating short leather boots. Sturdy and decent once but now, they were succumbing to age and general wear and tear.
He also wore a necklace tucked into his jerkin as well. The chain was gold and the pendant was in the form of a silver and gold four petal flower. Set in the center was a small elegant ruby. It looked expensive. He felt it was not something he could ever part with though. Why was he wearing the necklace? Who gave it to him? He shrugged. He could not recollect.
His situation was not good. He was in possession of very little food. Worse, apparently he was a pauper. He had little money and very poor apparel. The town’s people would hardly welcome him. He nodded, pulled a bread crust from the haversack and munched it as he rose and started down the muddy track and towards the town. Maybe he could find someone in the town that knew him or his family and could guide him home.
Three days later the boy stood in front of the Warden of Tanic. He now knew Tanic was the name of the town below the castle on the hilltops. The castle was in fact, Castle Reave, also called Reave Hall. That he knew where he now was did not help him figure out who he was or where he came from. Tanic was still strange to him after his three days of residence or rather, vagrancy. He knew he wasn’t from the town or the surrounding farms in the valley. He’d spoken to many men and women in the town but none knew him or remembered seeing him before. It seemed no one in the town was familiar with his parents or him. It was very frustrating.
He spent his days trying to find chores or small jobs he could do to earn enough copper pennies to buy some food. One day a kind old widow hired him to carry her packages home from the store. Once they arrived at her home, she took him inside and fed him a bowl of mutton stew and a warm biscuit. She explained that her husband was dead and they never had children. As he left, she gave him a shiny new silver coin and told him to go to the town’s temple and ask for shelter and help.
She was helpful and kind so he followed her advice. But, the priest at the temple took one look at him and ran him off. Apparently the gods did not approve of nameless lost beggar children. So, he was still totally alone. He did not know what to do and his coins were quickly spent to purchase a few meager meals. Food was very expensive at the tail-end of the harsh mountain winters.
He was always cold, hungry and wet. The situation was unfathomable and he usually cried himself to sleep, when he was warm enough to be able to rest. The first night in Tanic he tried sleeping outside in a stinky, muddy cold alley under a covered door stoop but almost froze to death. Even in spring the nighttime temperatures coupled with the damp conditions were too extreme for casual outdoors sleeping.
The next night he snuck into a dry wood shed behind a large stone house and that was much better. But, the next morning, he barely escaped when a young man came out to fetch the cook’s firewood. The man yelled a curse at his retreating back but did not pursue him. The boy knew he couldn’t go back to that wood shed again. So, later that day, after a few hours of shoveling coke and coal out of a wagon and into storage bins for a blacksmith, he went looking for a new place to sleep. The few coppers from the smith had bought a puny over cooked chicken leg and a small loaf of warm bread slathered with melted butter. It was his biggest meal in two days.
That night found him ensconced in a nice dry warm hayloft in a large barn near the front gate of Tanic. It was heaven. The old hay was not stinky or overly moldy and the animals warmed the barn nicely. He was so exhausted he over slept and was caught the next morning by a young girl.
It was still dark and gloomy when he woke, confused and not knowing where he was but he felt a pain in his leg. Someone was standing on his leg though and that must be what woke him. He moved and the slight person standing over him in the gloom screeched like a banshee. He sat up abruptly and the young girl, surely it was a young girl, scampered away still howling and screaming. He groggily got to his feet while the girl, now rapidly going down the loft ladder, yelled at him. Still half asleep, paralyzed and confused by the deafening unearthly high pitched girlish shrieks, he didn’t think to try and escape until an older man and boy showed up. It was too late to make his escape by then.
The older man was the owner of the stables and the girl’s father. He gave him a tongue lashing. After confirmation from his daughter that she was just scared and unharmed the man lost interest. The liveryman directed his son, Janus, a large boy about fifteen years old, to drag the trespasser to the warden.
With the breaking dawn, Janus gleefully hauled him through eternally muddy streets to the warden’s lodgings as it was too early for the warden to be at his office. The inn had an old battered harp hung over the door. The harp was painted blood red and it was missing all its strings. The inn was of medium size and looked fairly stout and prosperous. This early in the day it was quiet and still.
As they entered the warmth of the common room the boy began to immediately feel better. The roaring fire felt heavenly. The smells coming from the kitchen started his mouth to watering and his belly to rumbling. The room was empty with only one customer seated in the dining area. The man saw them, frowned and watched their approach. He pushed his plate away and leaned back in his seat.
Janus propelled the young interloper up to the seated man. The man pointed to the bench across the table from him and Janus pushed the boy down onto the bench. The boy was sure Janus was enjoying bullying and pushing him around. The man nodded at the boy and said in a deep gravelly voice, “What do we have here Janus?”
“Warden Bax, a trespasser my little sister found in our hayloft. He scared her to death. Vader told me to bring him to you, sir.”
“I thought I heard a racket on my way downstairs this morn. Was that little Mel doing all that yelling? ”
“Gods, the lass has some pipes and could surely wake the dead.” grumbled the warden.
Warden Bax was a big strong military looking man. Wardens were the local representatives and enforcers of the law. A warden was responsible for enforcing the laws in the political district he or she oversaw. A warden could make arrests, track down criminals, examine crimes and detain prisoners. They worked for and answered to the jarl of their jurisdiction.
Warden Bax had scars on his hands and wrists and even a small one on his cheek. His hair and beard were dark. There were streaks of grey at his temples and in his beard. His countenance was stern but his face was open and kind. His clothing was sturdy, not richly decorated but well-made and functional. He wore a well-used partial set of leather armor. A single-bit light skeggaxe or bearded war axe lay on the table next to the man’s breakfast. A long sword in a scabbard leaned against the wall behind his chair. His interrupted breakfast, partially finished, lay on his plate as he contemplated the boy in front of him. He glanced at his plate and then at Janus, “What are you carrying there?” he asked.
“Just an old beat up sword and a sack. We found these with the vagrant your Honor. Vader thought we should bring them in since they might be stolen or such.”
“Very good, leave them Janus. I will handle this from here. Tell Vader I said hello.”
“Aye Warden Bax.” Janus replied. He glanced at the boy, scowled and turned for the door.
The warden continued his breakfast and looked at the boy while he ate. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry this chilly damp spring morning. Maybe there was no pressing warden business for him to see to. It is a very peaceful town the boy thought.
Warden Bax said, “Do you have a name boy?”
“Sir, I am sure I do but I do not know it.”
That got the warden’s attention. He stared at the boy and put his fork down, “You do not know your own name? Were you hit on the head recently?”
The boy shrugged and glanced at the warden’s plate and said, “I do not know sir. I have no recall of my name, my family or where I live. All I remember is walking into this town three days ago from the south road.”
“So you say? You are not telling me a wild tale are you? You know lying to a warden is a serious matter? We could put you to the Seeker!”
The boy shook his head, “No sir, I am telling you the truth and I do not know what a Seeker is.”
There appeared to be no fear and no deceit in him the warden thought and said, “I hope so, you have been in town for three days doing what?”
“I have been looking for my parents and asking people if they know me. But, no one has recognized me. I thought I would remember something by now or recognize something in the town but so far nothing has come to me. I have also been trying to find work to buy food and a warm place to sleep.”
For a supposed vagabond the boy spoke very well the warden realized. He had some education and didn’t talk like any of the children from around here. His accent put him further west towards Kimera or maybe even Radnja. Come to think of it his accent was totally foreign but he spoke the local Vesfal dialect like a native. All the words and pronunciations were correct but the accent was strange.
“Where did you get the sword? That looks like quite the relic. Pull it from some barrow? Steal it?”
“I wish I knew sir. I would not rob a barrow. But, I know I had it when I walked into town. It must be important to my family so I kept it.”
The warden absently nodded and lifted the boy’s sword off the table. He was immediately surprised at the weight of the sword in relation to its size. All wardens were trained Guild men. They knew the sword and axe better than anyone. It was common for Guild men and women, during times of peace in Vesfalruk, to be appointed as wardens. Their training, martial skills and discipline made them well suited to the solitary responsibilities of a warden.
He looked over the battered old sword and pulled it a third of the way from the sheath and noticed it was clean, apparently sharp and well maintained. The forging marks and patterns in the steel were strange to him but seemed to trigger something in his memory. He wasn’t sure what it meant but it wasn’t just any old sword. There was something more to it.
He frowned and slammed the sword fully into the scabbard and handed it to the boy. He looked the boy up and down more closely and noticed the battered and worn but once decent clothing. He was not dressed in peasant clothing, spoke well and had a unique and mysterious sword. He wondered if some wealthy family or Frey misplaced a son recently. He hadn’t heard any such news from the other wardens. The boy kept glancing at his plate.
The warden grunted and slid the leftovers to the boy. “Here eat up. Looks like you need it more than me.”
In seconds the plate was bare and the warden hollered for Marge to bring another helping for the boy. The warden’s dark brows were knit in frustration but not anger as he pondered the boy’s answers and watched him demolish another full helping of bread, ham and eggs. The situation was very strange and a solution not easy to see. What do you do with a boy with no memory of himself, his family or his place? Was he of noble birth? That could complicate things. He could not just brush him off, not that he would consider that. Normally the temple would handle orphans but Bax knew that was a bad option. The temple priests in Tanic were not nice people. He would not want to give any child, even a stranger, into their charge.
But, this was outside his responsibilities. He wasn’t going to levy a crime of trespassing on the boy until more could be discovered of his situation. After all, the crimes of children under the War Age fell upon their parents. If there were no parents then the closest relatives would do. Apparently, until they could figure out who this boy was there was no one to answer for the boy’s crime and handle recompense. So, what to do with him until that mystery could be unraveled?
He would have to lodge the boy somewhere and he obviously could not afford that. This boy would eat him into the poor house. Bax’s lodging and meals were paid for by the jarl. The jarl wouldn’t pay to keep the lad in an inn. He glanced out the window. Reave Hall towered above. Ah, perfect he thought. He had just the place for him. Why didn’t he think of it sooner?
The warden abruptly stood. “Grab your stuff. I have just the place for you until I can write some inquiries and get some answers. You can stay ‘Above’ until we figure out who you are.”
The boy stuffed the remaining ham and bread from his plate in a pocket. He picked up his pack and sword and followed the warden. He wondered were ‘Above’ was.
Yfiria sat gazing out the window but she saw nothing of Talfur’s gray tinged gardens, rolling hills and forests beyond the glass. Tears ran down her cheeks and dripped onto the window sill. Her head hung low. Her skin was pale and unblemished like flawless porcelain. Her hair, a lustrous rich black, flowed in soft curls around her face and down her back to her waist. Her figure was slim and well-formed and hinted at the beautiful woman she would one day become. She wore her classical ethereal beauty with unmatched grace and charm. But now, her face was drawn and pinched with worry and sadness. She wished she was anywhere but here, in the Druids’ refuge of the Shadow Lands.
She was unhappy and lonely, her misery was utterly complete. He was gone now. Only gone such a short time but already she missed him terribly. She was not sure what that meant but she suspected it had something to do with her heart. When was it that he had captured such a place in her heart? Adults were always talking about affairs of the heart. Her mother always told her to guard her heart closely. Was this what she meant? How she wished her mother was near and she could talk to her about this. It was not fair that without any forewarning such a trick of fate could surmount all her defenses so easily.
That boy infuriated her to no end most times. It took all her patience and restraint to not scream and throw a fit when he frequently did something stupid or inconsiderate. He was so, well just rough and ungentlemanly. He was doubly so when she had first encountered him years ago but, with her careful coaching and cajoling he’d gotten better over time.
Her visits over the years were sporadic. Sometimes it was for a few sennights and sometimes a year. But, over time she became friends with the boy. Now, he was much more refined and mature, almost as cavalier as the courtiers at her father’s court. All the same, he still exasperated her on many occasions. He would not be completely tamed and he rebelled at the most inopportune times.
She really had no idea why he acted the way he did. He did try very hard to please her. Ever since he was a small boy she’d taken on the role of big sister and sometimes surrogate mother. His mother was long dead and Nurse was frequently busy on Aravin’s business. Over time, the boy came to depend on her above all others in the small castle of Talfur.
More tears leaked from her eyes as she remembered how he had been so troubled and confused when she’d first arrived at Talfur. That Druid and Ridynar should have known better. Silly old men, what were they thinking? It was a horrible idea raising the boy with no foster woman to help. Idiots they were for sure.
But just now, her latest vision had caused her poor heart to ache with such fierceness that it felt she would die of this new grief. Her gift was to see the future. But really it was more of a curse she thought. And, she had seen him all alone in that foreign cold place suffering and hungry. It just broke her heart. She sobbed anew, got up and fled the room.
Once she was safely down the hall and out of earshot, Ridynar turned to Aravin, “This is going to be fun. Is she going to be like that the entire time he is gone?”
“You are one to talk my friend but surely even you remember what it was like at that age?”
“You’re jesting Aravin? I canna conceive of such a thing. And you, you’re like a thousand years old now? I am surprised you can remember that far back. Besides, you know I was never that young.”
“Ridynar, give the girl some time. She will come to terms with this in her own way. She will be the stronger for it as well. She has done well and I am glad she has an attachment to the boy. If it comes to pass as we hope, that bond will be sorely needed in the end.
“It will be an adjustment for her. She is already very lonely, troubled and misses her family. It has been some time since she was back. As a matter of fact it may be time for me to take her on a visit to her home. Maybe that will help her get through this.”