And arise they do.
The Continuing Story
Here, you can read the first of these scrolls.
The commoners in the square barely noticed nature’s glorious finale. The day had been cold enough for them already and now the weakened sun had abandoned the land to freeze. Only the evening’s entertainment distracted them from their stiff and sorry state; but distract them, it did.
For the people’s eyes were presently fixed on a young, muscular fighter who rose from the sawdust and dirt in the make-shift ring before them.
Stamping their feet on the wooden platforms set up for the contest; they watched the sweat-covered victor as he stood over the body of his opponent and raised his club high over his head to the delighted applause of those all around. The young man was panting for breath and bleeding in not a few places but his eyes shone with the fire of a champion and his cheeks flushed with his well-won success.
He was nowhere near the size of his opponent and he had entered the ring far less protected with leather or steel armour. His only weapon was one wooden pole accompanied by a small but stout shield of oak but his speed and agility, not to mention his audacious self-belief, had enabled him to land several crippling and decisive blows to the legs of the hulking mass who had repeatedly charged him, finally laying him out with a blow to his crown with the end of his pole.
The dazed beast of a man had to be helped out of the sawdust-filled square; his laboured breath freezing almost audibly as it passed out between his blood-stained teeth.
It was Winter; it had been for over a month now and the nights came fast upon the Kingdom of Archayah with a bite that the townsfolk could only fend off with fur and fire.
The quelling of the Absalem rebellion in the Spring that year still fuelled much of what passed as tavern talk, all around the realm. No one in living memory had stood up against a King of Archayah as renegade Earl Tyran had done and, whilst the common people had settled back to normality, relieved the uprising was decisively over, there was still a tangible disquiet lingering in the air. There was still more to be done to bring the heart and soul of this kingdom together.
On top of this, attacks from the Marauders had become more frequent of late. They usually waited until the first signs of spring before braving the turbulent waters that separated their home in the Outer Isles from the mainland but something, whether more of hunger or of greed, had spurred them out of their dark dwellings even whilst Winter’s grip remained across the land.
They tended to raid and steal, rather than kill the inhabitants of the coastal reaches. Wiping them out would mean there would be little to steal by way of food and livestock the next season. It was not only livestock they were known to drag away, however, for that would be far more bearable for the coastlanders. These moral-less invaders had recently made a prize of the young, village girls whom they had snatched from their homes and such kidnappings had been happening more often of late.
Silently, though with a growing sense of anger, King Sapler mused over these matters as he stared out of the Northern tower of his castle home. He was well aware that all was not right within the kingdom.
From the thatched, stone dwellings of the towns to the smoky wooden hovels of the fisherfolk around the Lakes, there was an unwelcomed and haunting whispering of fear that festered just beneath the open conversation. It was the kind of unspoken fear a forester might feel as he joked freely with his fellow lumberers around their evening camp fire but whose eyes squinted warily out at an encroaching darkness; towards uncertain sounds and the flicker of eyes from unnamed creatures in the undergrowth.
The common children felt it too. Older brothers frightened their younger siblings with stories of the forest ghouls and dark sprites as a way of masking their own fears. Those who had heard the songs of the bards would relay the tale of the mythical Ranthayard from bygone years that had been banished by a valiant king but was rumoured to be alive and well, even after a thousand years, and now plotted its return – and its revenge.
The first part of this tale would not be surprising because the Marauders of that region had been growing in number over the past few years. That, coupled with their infamous viciousness and impulsiveness, made them a terrible foe to confront and though Tyran would surely have been seeking their cooperation, they likely prized the opportunity for a fight more than the opportunity for the kind of friendship the renegade Earl sought to offer them.
Any trip westwards, however, would have been a perilous undertaking, if that was indeed their path; as no one had ever returned from the Open Seas to tell of what lay beyond. No one.
At the tavern adjoining the town square that evening, a broad figure with an escort of two, armed but admittedly quite relaxed, bodyguards pushed open the door and stood there for a moment, filling the door. His eyes scanned the timber-vaulted room, through veils of smoke and the flickering shadows of candlelight, until they rested on the face of the young man whose exploits in combat at the square had caught his eye.
The youth grew silent and stood up, his jovial demeanour changing for one cool and serious as the King’s General approached, expectantly waiting for the old warrior to state his intent. Armadig had thought he might simply deliver his invitation to the boy with a quiet word in his ear, whilst the noise of drinking crowd roared on around them, but the whole inn had fallen silent and all eyes were now upon the new guests and their chosen target.
The youngster was uncertain what to expect and so it was with some relief that he heard the General request his presence at a weapons trial the following morning at the castle – adding that he’d best not drink too much this night nor reach his bed too late for neither would help him perform his best.
The crowd roared with approval; celebrating their young hero. The boy, however, had appeared to have immediately sobered up, handed his half-emptied tankard to the bald man beside him and got up to leave, much to the chagrin of his fellow carousers and a couple of somewhat under-dressed women who had, in a somewhat less than subtle fashion, been edging their way closer to his muscular form on the bench where he’d sat.
The course of Eribin’s life, for that was the young warrior’s name, was about to take an upwards turn.