So this is an original fantasy story of mine that is largely inspired by The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I started this project, essentially, as a weekly serial that I could write for the entertainment of my (now ex, on good terms though) girlfriend, as well as helping me to write more often because I've been on a writing slump for the last... few years. So, as further motivation, I thought it would be cool to post it here on ZU.
Like The Hobbit, this project is actually a prequel to a much larger work that I hopefully will get to writing someday called The Traveler, but I won't get into that too much.
Also, I post this stuff right after I finish writing it so there's absolutely no editorial revisions whatsoever so please excuse all of the errors within the text. Questions, comments, praise, hate, etc. etc. are all welcome.
Lastly, at the end of each chapter or group of chapters will be some commentary in expandable spoilers. These are to help the reader get a better understanding of the universe at hand, as well as give some insights into my own creative process.
A MERCHANT'S TALE
By Fitoleon Last Updated: 11/15/11
In order to better help the reader to understand the situation during the time of this story, a brief explanation of the world will follow. However, much of the more important issues at hand will be covered in the narration and dialogue, so it is not wholly important that you read through this.
Before all else, there was Aethera, who embodies existence, and Vocitus, who embodies non-existence. For five days they fought, creating Aether (a realm where things might exist) and the Void (a realm of non-existance). In the end, Aethera was victorious and she (both of these beings are gender neutral, but Aethera is always referred to as “she,” while Vocitus is always referred to as “he”) trapped Vocitus and the Void in an sphere of Ether (particles that make up all that exists) called the D’Vúlt, the Dark Vault, so that he might be tortured forever.
After her victory, Aethera created celestial objects to fill Aether. On one particular planet, she made beings out of Ether, the air, water, the trees, the birds, and, most importantly, the Elves, whom she gave authority over all things to. For this reason, the planet is called Elmin, which is Elvish for “World of Elves.” Aethera then gave the D’Vúlt to the Elves for safekeeping and through it they were able to learn the art of magic (the manipulation of Ether particles). Through the use of magic and the words of Aethera, the Elves quickly became wise and strong. Confident in their newfound powers, some of them sailed far away to a lonely island and began to create their own beings.
Of all their experiments, the creation of the Imansé, the Imperfect, was the most notable. For the Elves had tried to make beings like themselves out of the dust and clay of the earth, but had not wholly succeeded, for they created something less beautiful, graceful, wise, and powerful – man (for “man” is derived from the Elvish word Imansé). Nevertheless, they saw that man was their greatest creation thus far and taught him to speak and work and read and write and to worship Aethera, for she was the creator of them all.
Centuries pass and the relations between the Elves and the Men become tighter and tighter. However, being creatures created by the dark power granted by Vocitus, the Men also know the knowledge of good and evil and may easily succumb to it. Jealous of the Elves’ powers, the Men revolved against the Elves. Not wanting to destroy their creations, the Elves fled from the island and went back to their homeland. Among the Elves, the island is called Ildún du Imansé, the Isle of the Imperfect.
Thousands and thousands of years go by and for both races the events of the Isle of the Imperfect eventually become legend. On the Isle, the Men take what they gleaned from the Elves over the centuries and create their own civilization based on the oldest barest teachings of the Elves. However, the Men learn that they must move off their island in search of other lands, for their civilization has outgrown it. So they go out in grand ships according to each man’s family clan in search of new land.
As it happened, the fleet of Men came across the Elvish homeland: the continent of Hommin, Home World. Immediately, the Men tried to tame this newfound land, cutting down trees, building on pastures and meadows, damming rivers, attempting to tame creatures they knew naught of, and other travesties to the land, ever expanding and ever growing larger. The news of this quickly came to the Elves’ capital where it was decided that they would give the Men an ultimatum: stop the mindless destruction of the land or be subjugated by the Elves. The Men refused to stop mining the land’s resources and stop expanding, so the War of the Elves began.
In truth, the war was favorable to the Elves in every way and soon the Men found that they had naught else to do but surrender. However, taking pity on the Men, the Elves gave them a large piece of land on the continent in which they could do whatever they wished.
So many more centuries passed and the civilization of Man continued to become more defined despite the newly-formed connections with the Elves. They Elves usually keep to themselves, though they often come into the Men’s territory to see what is going on. During these centuries, a great empire rose and united all of the warring clans under one banner granting peace and prosperity. Centuries after the unification, a incompetent emperor led the people into revolution. The rebels overthrew the empire and eventually formed the Nine Nations of Man, which split the empire into nine independent countries.
It is about one century after the creation of the Nine Nations that this story takes place.
It was a beautiful summer morning in Crestmarch. It was a Rosday, in fact, and as such, all of the shops and brokers and merchants and tradesmen were all closed. It was a custom all throughout the Nine Nations that had been in effect ever since before the creation of the late and great Galdin Empire, that all Men should take the final day of the week off to be free from their labors and do what pleased them. The only exceptions to this were the Fathers of the Church (although they had a habit of shirking their duties on Rosday as well) and the barkeeps all throughout the land (for they got the most business during those days). The only other exceptions to this rule came from the mercantile town of Crestmarch, and even then only once a month.
Everyone in Crestmarch knew that for the merchant businesses, on which the rebounding economy of the Daln Nation (and, indeed, the economies of the other nations) relied, the first Rosday of each month was for the packing and preparation of merchant caravans so that the goods of Cresmarch might be traded and sold throughout the nations. This day was such a day, so the merchants that were set about to travel could not enjoy the bright beauty of the summer flowers or the quick birdsong of the Crestmarch jays or bask in the sleepy heat of the day or stop to enjoy the occasional cool breeze on their faces or the swishing of the leaves of the Crestmarch maples. No, they could not enjoy such simple pleasures for even a moment because they had to be swift to depart with the rest of the caravan at the allotted time.
For Darrin, though, all of this was new and exciting. He had been on merchant caravan trips before, but never one that went further than Cid’artúr, the Daln Nation’s third biggest city and even then he was never by himself. This would be the first time since he came of age last year that he would be driving his own wagon train. Doubled with the fact that this particular wouldn’t only take him past Cid’artúr, but all throughout the Daln Nation, he packed and prepared with relish, enjoying every minute of it.
Darrin recalled when he had asked his grandfather, who owned the family business in Crestmarch, concerning the trip. It was after dinner four days ago at the beginning of the week, His grandfather was out on the porch, sitting in a chair and watching the sunset and smoking his pipe when he came out and asked quite suddenly, “Can I lead the wagon train in the upcoming caravan?”
The abruptness of the question, coupled with the fact that he did not see Darrin appear beside him, caught the old man off guard and he took in a sudden, sharp breath of his tobacco causing him to splutter and cough all over the ground.
“Don’t you dare do that again,” Darrin’s grandfather wheezed. He coughed for a few moments longer before recollecting himself and asking, “Now what was it that you asked me again?”
“I asked if I could lead the wagon train by myself in the upcoming caravan,” Darrin answered.
“No,” the old man said flatly without even thinking.
Frankly, Darrin had expected this answer and was not deterred or fazed at all. “Please, Pappy?” Everyone in Crestmarch called his grandfather Pappy, to his regret and eventual loathing.
“No,” the old man said again.
At this last beg, the old man shook his fist and no one in particular and shouted, “Gah! Curse the Elves that came up with that accursed word that has assaulted my ears one too many times today!” Variations of this were his general curse to all things that he felt were worth cursing. It was also his way of saying he was done talking about this particular subject for the rest of the day, or at least the next few minutes.
“But Pappy,” Darrin continued, “Mr. Sheldwin let his grandson drive his own wagon train last month and –”
At the mention of Mr. Sheldwin, the old man had gone into another fit of coughing, this time added with the flailing of his arms and the wiping of his shirt as if he had a bug on him and was frantically trying to get it off. “Mr. Shaldwin!?” Do I look like Mr. Shaldwin to you!?”
The old man turned to face Darrin and stared at him with eyes that seemed to try to bore into his skull but fell very short of the mark. In reality, though, the old man did indeed look like Mr. Shaldwin because he was Mr. Shaldwin’s twin brother born only minutes after, but the correct answer in the family was “No, Pappy.”
“Exactly!” said the old man, turning back to the horizon, looking pleased with himself and taking a few triumphant puffs of his pipe. “Now do you think I’ll do as Mr. Shaldwin does?”
“Exactly! Then why do you compare me to the reprehensible man?”
“I dunno,” Darrin said, pretending to look disappointed and defeated. “I just thought I might take my skills out on the road and into the real world. It’s much more profitable out there than here in Crestmarch and you know I’ve been on countless trips outside of here.”
“Indeed you have,” answered the old man.
“And I’ve improved in my selling and haggling over the years.”
“You could sell stone to a Dwarf,” the old man nodded. “And at a nice profit margin, too.”
“And I’m of age… I’ve been of age for a year now, actually.”
“Was it a year ago already?” the old man scratched his chin.
“And I’m the best seller in the family as of –”
Wait, what!?” the old man interrupted. “Since when!?”
“You haven’t been reading the logbooks, Pappy? I’ve been the best in the family for almost four months now.”
“Of course I’ve been reading the logbooks!” the old man spouted. Of course, he hadn’t. “It just must’ve slipped my mind!”
Darrin suppressed a smile and hung his head. “But I suppose despite all this, I have to respect your decision and stay at home.” He turned his back to the old man and began to walk back inside the house.
“Whoa, wait now!” the old man suddenly displayed a massive amount of speed and agility for a man his age and jumped out of his seat and gripped Darrin by the arm, keeping him from returning inside. “I suppose we could work something out.”
“Really?” Darrin looked at his grandfather in an expression of faux surprise.
“I… suppose,” the old man said, releasing his hold on Darrin and slowly returning to his seat. “However, you must be aware of some guidelines before I let you do this. As the leader of the family caravan for this month, you realize that you’ll have to prepare for the entire journey yourself? In fact, all of the preparations are entirely up to you, as well as the safekeeping of the goods and money.”
Darrin nodded quickly. “Mmhmm, I understand.”
“Good, great, now the important part. If you come back and don’t make me any money you will be denounced. I don’t care if you get killed by raiders and have to come back from the Void three times to get to selling the goods and making money, so long as you make money. You understand?”
Darrin smiled. “Yes, sir!”
“Good boy!” Darrin’s grandfather said, reaching over and patting him on the back. “You’ll do just fine. Remember, you’re in charge, so do what you think is best. Don’t make any rash decisions, though. Think through everything if you can and make money!”
“I will,” Darrin said, still smiling as he entered the house.
Spoiler: On "Background"
"For five days they [Aethera and Vocitus] fought..."
-The calendar is thus separated into weeks with 5 days each.
-There is a special week that does not fall into a particular month where the battle between the beings is celebrated.
"...and taught him [Man] to... worship Aethera, for she was the creator of them all."
-This marks the roots of the Church of Aethera.
"On the Isle, the Men take what they gleaned from the Elves over the centuries and create their own civilization based on the oldest barest teachings of the Elves."
-It is here that the Church of Aethera as we know it today is formed.
Spoiler: On "Chapter 1.1"
"It was a Rosday..."
-Rosday is the final day in the week. Translated from the Transitional or Middle Language (the language between Elvish and the current Language of Man), it is literally "Day of Rest."
"...the mercantile town of Crestmarch..."
-Crestmarch is the southwestern-most town in the Daln Nation, the southwestern-most nation in the Nine Nations. Surrounding it is the Crestmarch Forest to the north, the Daln Mountains to the west and the Dwarf Mountains (Dúfmin in the Dwarfish tongue) to the south which come together to make an L-shape around Crestmarch, and the town of Kinwes to the northeast.
"...further than Cid’artúr..."
-The Daln Nation's third biggest city.
-Cid'artúr is near the western border of the Daln Nation.
"...Darrin had expected this answer and was not deterred or fazed at all. “Please, Pappy?”"
-I got the name "Pappy" from episode 117 of NCIS where a character says "I got some grandchildren. They call me 'Pappy.'"
"“And I’m of age… I’ve been of age for a year now, actually.”"
-The age that a boy is considered a man is sixteen, making Darrin seventeen.
That's really all I can say, I love it. Like you said, it is quite similar to The Hobbit, which is a plus for me because I love that book to bits. The 'Background' part kinda reminded me of the Bible a bit, what with the whole good and evil and shizz.
Originally Posted by SacredSturgeon
Remember: if you're going to make blood sacrifices to ancient dark gods of evil, make sure the blood falls inside the pentagram.
That's really all I can say, I love it. Like you said, it is quite similar to The Hobbit, which is a plus for me because I love that book to bits. The 'Background' part kinda reminded me of the Bible a bit, what with the whole good and evil and shizz.
Wow, thanks! I'm really glad you like it. I honestly never expected anyone to say that they love it, so this is actually coming as a surprise to me!
But, yeah, I wanted to incorporate the silliness of The Hobbit and yet still have a large, high fantasy-styled story so this is the best I can come up with. The "Background" part was actually stylized a bit after the Bible. I wanted to give the reader a chance to know that there is a fairly large backstory to this project, yet not get into so much detail where I'm actually narrating the backstory rather than the story at hand. So, to keep it fairly interesting, I did stylize the narration after the Bible.
Anyways, thanks a bunch for the feedback!
Darrin worked all throughout the morning to the early afternoon packing and preparing all of the family goods onto his three wagons. The idea was that one wagon would be enough for two weeks of sales, giving him just enough good to sell off during the month-long trip. He did not need to worry about food, as there was always a well-protected luncheon train amidst all of the other goods.
As he covered the final wagon with a tarp and leashed the oxen into place, he thought of the good he was carrying and how it represented his family. The three wagons were, of course, filled with as much Crestmarch syrup as could be crammed beside one another. Crestmarch village, but the Shaldwin family especially, was famous throughout the Daln Nation for their Crestmarch syrup from its prized Crestmarch maples. Truly, there was nothing in all of the Nine Nations quite like Crestmarch Shaldwin-brand syrup. It had a deep golden color, almost like honey. Simply by looking at a pitcher of it, it was likely that you could get a great craving for the elixir of a condiment. As you would pour the stuff out onto your dish of choice, it would come out with the slow, creeping quality that is typical of all syrups, but it would also have some indescribable quality to it that gave it a sort of decadence. Simply by pouring it out, you could tell that this was, indeed, a delightful and distinct substance. Its smell was deeply rich but was only second to its taste. Now, the taste of Crestmarch syrup has been described in many ways, but they are all conflicting and confusing. Truly, no one knows why, but it seems that each person interprets the syrup with their own taste. And this is one reason that the stuff is so legendary in the first place. Of course, the Shaldwin family has the best syrup in all of Crestmarch, but the recipe is held tightly.
Darrin’s stomach rumbled for the syrup (even he was not immune to the thought of it) as he thought of it, but he could not stop to nab any from the wagon, as Shaldwins are oft to do on caravan journeys like this. He hopped into the seat of the wagon train, gripped the reigns, and led the beasts of burden on a march into town. By horse, the trip from the Shaldwin ranch to the town of Crestmarch was ten minutes. By oxen, however, the trip would take double that time and the caravan was leaving in a short half hour. As he pulled his train onto the road, Darrin heard a rustle in the wagon, a low thud, and a whining “Owww!”
Darrin stopped the wagon and turned around, parting the tarp. Sprawled amongst the pitchers and jars of Crestmarch syrup, was a young boy about twelve years of age. The look in his eyes was that of the wide-eyed frightened hypnosis of being caught red handed in the midst of a crime. Darrin sighed.
“Pete, what’re you doing here?” he asked of the boy.
“Aw, Darrin, you always get to go on all of the fun trips!” Pete whined. “Can’t I tag along?”
“No, you can’t. Now get out.” Darrin answered flatly.
“But Daaaariiiiin,” Pete continued, “we both know that you need a partner to travel with you! It’s, like, rule number two of merchant caravans!”
I wonder what rule number one is, but at the same time I’m afraid to ask, Darrin thought. “Yeah, I know. I planned on hiring a man to help me to help me once we get to Kinwes. Now can you get out and go back home? I need to be in town and ready to go in twenty-five minutes.”
“No! Not until you decide to take me with you!” Pete crossed his arms and sat there defiantly.
“Peter…” Darrin sighed again, trying not to get upset or irritated. “What about Mom and Dad? Won’t they be upset if you just disappear?”
“No, I asked them if I could go already and they said yes.”
Darrin raised an eyebrow. “Did they really?”
“Yeah! Cross my heart and swear to Aethera,” Pete raised his left hand and traced and X mark on his chest.
“Well… tell them that you won’t be coming along because I’m not letting you.”
“Darrin come on!” Is there any real reason I can’t come?” Darrin could tell in Pete’s voice and eyes that he wasn’t expecting this much of a resistance and was coming close to having to face not coming along with his older brother.
“Well, you’re twelve for one thing,” Darrin said.
“But I’m almost thirteen! I’ll be thirteen next month!” Pete rebutted.
“It could also be really dangerous,” Darrin continued. “I don’t want to have to bring your body back to Mom and Dad. I could never live with that.”
“Oh, Darrin, please,” Pete said. “We both know it’s not that bad, even with the raiders out and about recently. I mean, they’d never attack a huge caravan like ours!”
“Peter would you please just get out and let me go!?” Darrin suddenly snapped. “Neither of us are going to go anywhere if you don’t just drop it and stop bothering!”
“Then just let me go with you,” Pete said firmly.
Darrin sighed for a third time, lowered his head, and pinched the skin above the bridge of his nose. He stayed like this for what seemed like a long while. So long, in fact, that Pete was about to leave and let him go, knowing that he’d be late if they stayed any longer. But just as he was about to give in and get out, Darrin raised his head again, let out a fourth, weighty sigh, and smiled at his brother.
“Alright, Pete,” he said. “Come hop up front.”
Pete’s mouth dropped in a huge smile and his eyes beamed with joy.
“Really?” he managed to say after some effort.
“Yeah, really. But hurry up, okay, we need to get going!”
“Alright!” Pete exclaimed and he hopped up into the seat next to his brother.
Spoiler: On "Chapter 1.2"
"...a young boy about twelve years of age... Darrin sighed.
"“Pete, what’re you doing here?” he asked of the boy."
-Peter, Darrin's younger brother, is meant to be the opposite of Darrin's character. While Darrin is very mature and responsible for a boy his age, Pete is immature and irresponsible for a boy his age.
They rode on for a bit before they reached Crestmarch. Even from afar they could see the line of wagons that extended outside of the town. The caravan had been formed down the main street of the town, all facing forwards to the northeast exit which led to the town of Kinwes. Just as Darrin stopped at the end of the line, he heard a “Hello!” from below.
Below him, to his left, Darrin spied a short, stocky man with a large stack of papers in one hand and a stub of a pencil in another. Darrin immediately recognized him as Mayor Frawn, who, everyone in town kidded, was probably the closest thing to a beardless Dwarf anyone in their corner of the Daln Nation would ever see.
“Hello, Mayor Frawn,” Darrin greeted, jumping out of the seat of the wagon to shake the tiny man’s hand.
“Hi, Mayor Frawn!” Pete called from the passenger seat and waved a hand.
“Hello Darrin, hello Peter!” Frawn said to both of them. “My, my, Darrin, we were almost worried you wouldn’t make it! You’ve arrived with just three minutes recreational time before we depart!”
“It’s alright, Mayor Frawn, we’re all packed and ready to go anyway,” Darrin said.
Frawn smiled at Darrin, looked at his wagon train, and suddenly his smile faded. He searched quickly up and down Darrin’s wagon train again and up into the seat of the lead wagon at Pete, who was fiddling around with the reigns.
“Darrin,” the mayor said slowly, “where’s your father? Or your grandfather?”
“Oh, they’re not coming this time,” Darrin answered. “I’m going to head the train this time around.”
The smile on Frawn’s face returned. “Oh, congratulations! I’m sure that you’ll be perfectly well off on your own! Why, it seems like only yesterday that you went on your first merchant trip outside of Crestmarch. I remember that you-”
“Uh, Mayor Frawn, shouldn’t we sign in?” Darrin asked politely.
“Oh, yes! I completely forgot!” He shuffled through the stack of papers that he had. “Ah! Here you are! Just sign your name here… Perfect! Well, I suppose we’re ready to go! Have a good trip, Darrin! I need to get busy with more sign-ins. Goodbye!”
“Bye, Mayor Frawn,” Darrin said as the little man scuttled off to the next wagon that had just pulled up behind Darrin’s.
“So there’s the other side of the Shadwin family!” a deep voice called out. Darrin turned to see a muscular man with a thick, dark beard walking towards him from the town. “I thought that you might miss out on the trip! That would’ve been a shame.”
“Indeed it would have,” Darrin answered.
“But better late than never, I suppose,” the man said. “How’s your father doing? You plan to tackle this whole journey alone?”
“My dad’s doing fine, thanks,” Darrin said. “And, no, I brought Pete along to come with me.”
“Little Pete! Ha, good luck keeping him in line,” the man gave Darrin a wink.
“Hey, I heard that!” Pete called out from the passenger seat. “Who thinks they can talk about me like th- Oh, hey, Mr. Meldrich! Come to sell your iron… uh, stuff?”
“Hello, Pete! And, yes, I am,” the man said. “My son’s been on too many caravans and I’ve been staying in the smithy too long, so, we decided to switch places this time around.”
At the moment Peter was about to respond, a yell was heard from ahead of them in the caravan. The wagons ahead of them began to move forward.
“Oh, looks like we’ll have to cut this conversation short! We’ll pick it up once camp has been made. Good luck to both of you!” Meldrich jumped into the seat of his wagon and the oxen began to move at his command.
Darrin jumped into the seat next to his brother. “Ready to go, Pete?”
“I was born ready,” Pete responded.
“Ha, we’ll see. Let’s go!”
Darrin snapped the reigns down and the oxen began to crawl forward. The wagon behind them wasted no time in moving and it’s driver kept a close watch on the boys ahead of him.
Spoiler: On "Chapter 1.3"
"Darrin immediately recognized him as Mayor Frawn..."
-The name for Frawn came to me when I thought for only an instant about what this character's name should be. The first thing I thought of was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which brought me to "fawn," which I adapted to "Frawn."
Spoiler: On "Chapter 1.4"
"Come to sell your iron… uh, stuff?”"
-The reason this line exists is because I couldn't think of any particular single word that defines the things that blacksmiths make. In retrospect, "metalwork" would probably have been fine.
Spoiler: General Thoughts
-I often find that scenes are much shorter or choppier than I think as I write them out. These two scenes are perfect examples of this.
It was two o’ clock in the afternoon when the caravan started moving. The line of wagons was given salutations by the many people of Crestmarch. As Darrin and Pete rode by, children yelled and waved to them, some even throwing flowers. Women smiled and waved as well, though they liked to follow wagons carrying their own precious cargo – husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sisters, and all other types of relations. Even men liked to stop and give an approving nod to the passing caravan. It was almost a custom in Crestmarch to give a big goodbye like the one that Darrin and Pete and all the other travelers received and it was always a heartwarming experience. Soon, though, their train was outside of the town boundaries.
The road northeast, the Green Path, was one that slowly went downward because the merchant town was actually on a large hill, hence the name Crestmarch. All around the hill were pathways leading down to various outlying farms that the merchants owned. The path leading northeast from the town didn’t have as many farms and homes as other pathways leading from Crestmarch, though the ones that were along the road were usually fairly large and used mainly for growing livestock. In fact, the road that the merchants were taking towards Kinwes was called the Green Path because it led through the Green Hills, the outlying country all around Crestmarch comprised of grassy hillocks with not a tree in sight for miles around.
Their full descent off the hill ended after trekking for the better part on an hour and the farms continued on for the next half hour. Their beasts of burden, and, thus, the entire caravan, were slow but reliable. All of the reliability in the world, though, wouldn’t be able to satiate Pete’s thirst for excitement on their trip.
“Are we there yet?” he asked. It was the eternally unanswered question, no doubt.
“Not just yet,” said Darrin, being abnormally patient now that he was contented with being out on the road.
“Ugh, when will we get there?” Pete whined. “This is boring!”
“You know as well as I that the trip from Crestmarch to Kinwes takes two days by oxen,” Darrin answered. “We’ll arrive there by this time on Finday.”
“But that’s a whole two days away!” Pete cried. “What am I going to do to keep entertained for two days?”
“I dunno,” Darrin shrugged. “Count the jars or something.”
Pete was about to spout some rebuttal to doing what his brother suggested, but then decided that it would probably entertain him for a while. He promptly turned around in his seat, moved the flaps of the wagon cover apart, stuck his head in the compartment, and began counting the crates of syrup. This entertained him for about ten minutes before he turned around again and triumphantly declared, “There has to be more than two hundred jars in this wagon.”
“Very good,” Darrin said. “Now shut up and don’t complain.”
Pete smiled. His brother and he often exchanged comments and commands like that and he knew that he was just trying to help entertain him.
“No, I will continue to be bored until you give me something to do,” Pete replied methodically, crossing his arms.
“Well, maybe you should jump out of the wagon and chase after it. That ought to entertain you.”
“Psh, as if! I could easily catch up with this snail of a wagon train!”
“Oh, really? You want to test that theory?”
“Only if you can make me!”
Darrin reached over with his right hand and tried to shove his brother out of the seat, while Pete resisted with all his might. They continued to struggle and laugh and make condescending remarks at each other for a while longer before Darrin eventually gave up.
“Ah, you got me,” he said with a big grin on his face. “You’re just too good.”
“Yeah, you’re a total wuss,” was the response.
“You think I’m a wuss? I’ll teach you otherwise once we stop and camp for the night!”
“Ha, you’re on!”
Darrin and Pete continued with their antics as the caravan continued moving towards their destination for the rest of the day, climbing, descending, passing through tunnels that were made during the time of the Empire, and outlining the numerous hills that made up the majority of the western Daln Nation. As night fell, they formed small camps just off of the path made of four to six wagon trains in a circle with a fire in the center. As Darrin tethered the oxen, there was a sound that made him jump: the howling of a wolf.
The early wolf… Darrin thought, recalling the old omen and watching the golden sun set behind a hill to the west. Something big is going to happen. Something bad.
When he returned to his camp, Darrin found his brother, Meldrich the blacksmith, a lanky old man, and a large, dark-looking man around the fire. He knew the old man: that was Wilhelm the storyteller. Though he was a travelling storyteller and not actually a citizen of Crestmarch, he was a large part of its community. Everyone, from the smallest of children to the oldest of the town, enjoyed coming to listen to Wilhelm’s stories and he never disappointed. In addition to almost never telling the same story twice, he was a master at throwing his voice, quickly changing costumes, and making use of custom sets, making his one man shows one of the greatest forms of entertainment in all of the Daln Nation. He told stories of everything, ranging from his travels around the Daln Nation and all of the sights and experiences that only he would be able to take part in to the most epic of tales laden with muscle-bound heroes, crafty villains, and damsels in distress. His biggest role in Crestmarch society, though, was to tell news and whisperings of a more precarious nature: things like political struggles, new Church decrees, news from other nations and, more often than usual, Gran Cidun. Though he was indeed a frail old man with silver hair, a short beard, and friendly brown eyes, it was universally accepted that only he could get insider information like the stuff he told.
The other man, though, Darrin had never seen before in his life. As he approached the fire and sat down next to his brother and across from the stranger, his features came into focus. He was large, there was no doubt about that. Darrin estimated that, standing straight, the man would be more than two silms tall. His face was chiseled and sharp, but his skin was rugged and weathered by countless days subjected to the elements. On his chin were the small, stiff beginnings of a beard and on his head was a greasy mat of black hair that seemed to snake down to his shoulders. Though his eyes gazed into the fire with a worldly knowledge unlike anything Darrin had seen before, his eyes were black as chasms. He hid the rest of his body in a dark cloak that wrapped tightly around him. As Darrin sat, the stranger made a quick glance at him and then returned to gazing at the fire.
“Did you hear the wolf, Darrin?” Wilhelm asked.
Darrin shook himself out of gazing at the man and turned to look back at Wilhelm. “Of course I did. But what does it portend, I wonder?”
“Well, I can’t tell you what’s to come of it,” Wilhelm said, “but I can tell you the story of that old omen. Would you all like to hear it?”
Before anyone could answer, the dark man stood up and said sharply with a deep and scratchy voice, “No, thank you. I think I’ll just head off to bed now.” At his full height, and with them sitting around the fire, the man seemed like a giant. Darrin noticed large muscles that glanced out from underneath his cloak.
“But you haven’t even eaten yet!” Meldrich said. “The dinner man will be around here soon enough.”
“I’ll go without,” the man said and he walked away toward his single wagon.
“Strange man, isn’t he?” Wilhelm asked. “He’s a wanderer, like me. You can tell from his eyes. But he’s not the happy kind of wanderer, that he is not.”
“Did he just bring that one wagon?” Pete asked.
“As far as I know, he did,” Wilhelm answered. “Strange business, taking a single wagon out on a month-long trip, isn’t it?”
“Very strange,” Meldrich glared toward the man’s wagon where he was sitting against a wheel. “I have a bad feeling about that man.”
“Nevertheless, let’s not try to get like this on our very first night! I promised you all a story and by Aethera, I’ll give you one! Now, what was it again…?”
Spoiler: On "Chapter 2.1"
"“We’ll arrive there by this time on Finday.”"
-Finday is the second day of the week. Translated from the Transitional Language, it is literally "Day of Finding."
Spoiler: On "Chapter 2.2"
"...news from other nations and, more often than usual, Gran Cidun."
-Gran Cidun is the central seat of power in the Nine Nations. Headquartered there is the Church of Aethera and the Vanguard, though it does not fall into the jurisdiction of any one nation and does not count as one. Rather, it is a neutral ground for nations to peaceably settle their differences.
-Translated from the Transitional Language, it is literally "Grand City."
"...the man would be more than two silms tall."
-Silms are the most commonly used unit of measurement in the Nine Nations. 1 silm = 1 meter, making the man more than 2 meters (roughly 6.5 feet) tall.
-Silms are named after the Silmarils from J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth universe, though they have nothing in common other than name.
“Ah, yes, ‘The Wolf Brother,’ the story of that old wolf omen!” Wilhelm said excitedly after a couple seconds of contemplation. “Yes, I don’t believe I’ve told this one in Crestmarch yet, so you all will probably be hearing this for the very first time. So, here goes:
“Now, you all know the story of the War of the Elves. It occurred only shortly after our far-flung forefathers arrived on this beautiful continent. Eager to take the land for themselves, and not knowing it belonged to the Elves, they began to kill animals they knew naught of and cut down forests to make room for their homes – all of these things the Elves found highly offensive. So they sent the Elf Mesájer to offer the Men an ultimatum:
“ ‘Imperfect,’ Mesájer said to them in his Elvish tongue, ‘it would appear that you are no longer confined to the isle at which we left you. It is good to see our creation, our progeny, develop as a race and a civilization. However, you have stumbled upon our lands and now, although unknowingly, break our laws and customs. Imperfect, you are forgiven for your transgressions against us, your creators, but you must first stop and repent yourselves for what you have done. Then may we work together to form a lasting bond that will live throughout the ages. If you do not cease your genocidal tendencies against our world, we shall not hesitate to bring down the hammer upon you in the name of the Holy Mother of All That Is, Aethera, and we shall not do any wrong by it.’
“Of course, the Men were shocked and amazed. In their small window of time on this new, strange land they had seen many things but nothing as beautiful and powerful as an Elf. As time went by on the lonely island where Man was isolated for so long, they came to believe in the Elves and their culture as a simple myth. But now there was one in front of them, speaking to them, and they were dumbfounded, but also afraid. At this moment, they had truly met their maker and it was speaking to them in a language they could not fully understand, for they were still in the midst of the Middle Language.
“But there were some among them, like the Fathers of Aethera, who had retained the practices of old and understood and translated the message for all the men to hear and to know. And at the mention of the choice they had to make, they shivered for they did not want to see the wrath of the Elves.
“ ‘Give us some time to go back to our leaders,’ they said, ‘and we will have an answer for you.’
“Mesájer gave them the leave to consult their leaders, but with a condition: ‘You must come back to this spot and tell what you have decided within a week, or the hammer shall fall.’ And he noiselessly and gracefully left them through the trees.
“So the men went to their clan leaders and reported what they saw. It was soon apparent to the clan leaders that a foe like the Elves would not be able to be withstood by any one clan. So the leaders met and deliberated on the matter for many days on the subject. It is said that they took no breaks for nourishment or sleep and when they emerged from their meeting, they were all tired and pale of hunger. But they had come up with a decision: they would take their chances with the Elves, unite in a temporary truce, and battle against them.
“This came as a surprise to the clansmen, especially those who had seen the Elf Mesájer personally.
“ ‘No!’ they cried. ‘You cannot fight against those creatures! They are unlike anything you have ever seen and though they may appear to be beautiful and graceful, they are also powerful and mighty. Our armies, even united would stand no chance against but a party of them!’
“But, even so, the clan leaders ignored them and continued preparing for war. On the day of the return of Mesájer, they greeted him not with words, but with a rain of arrows. The rest, of course, is history. Following the resistance of the Men, the Elves sent an overwhelming army towards their camps and villages. Within the month, many of the warriors had been slain by the Elves, though they did spare the women and children and the old, and even those men who would listen to the wise words of the Elfish knights and lay down their arms in peace and not fight to the death. Within the month, the united army of Man was defeated, and though they rose in rebellion against the Elves, they were granted a large piece of the continent to do whatever they pleased with. And so the real story begins.
“In the aftermath of the Elf War, two veterans of the battle were returning home. They were brothers, twins. One was named Mārtyn and the other Tsôlmin. Both were handsome and youthful men and they were among the ones who fought in the final, futile battle against the Elves at the White Plains. By the time the final surrender and the endowing of the area that was to become the Nine Nations to the Men, the brothers, like all the other soldiers, were weary and only too willing to return to their homes.
“From the White Plains, they traveled eastward, towards the town of Senton. At that time, Senton was but a small village of wooden homes and small farms, part of the Sictoor Clan. The brothers and the other men from the village traveled for three weary days and two drowsy nights. When the party arrived at Senton, they were greeted with many yells and cheers from not only their loved ones, but even from ones that they had no relation to. The entire village was in jovial spirits to see their men return home from what could have easily killed them all. Unfortunately, not all of the men who returned came back to good news.
“As the soldiers embraced with everyone they could get their hands on, and even Mārtyn embraced his beloved fiancé, Mitrya, again, Tsôlmin could find his own love. As his parents went to take Tsôlmin into their embrace, he pushed them away and scurried off to her house. Mārtyn, seeing his brother, followed him. Tsôlmin ran down the streets calling out for her. When he reached her home, he burst in and searched frantically for her, continuing to shout her name.
“ ‘Yfel!” he cried. “Yfelia! Yfelia, where are you?!’
“Tsôlmin quickly found that his beloved Yfelia was not at home and he grew angry and began to throw loose objects and topple furniture. But Mārtyn was quick and arrived soon after. From outside, he could hear his brother’s cries and he knew what grieved him.
“ ‘Tsôlmin!” Mārtyn said. ‘Tsôlmin, it’s alright. Don’t be so quick to come to conclusions. It is possible that Yfelia is simply out at the moment and-’
“ ‘At this hour?!’ Tsôlmin retorted.
“ ‘It’s possible!’ Mārtyn said, trying to calm his brother. He walked over to Tsôlmin and placed a firm but sympathetic hand on his shoulder. ‘Just try to keep a level head. We will talk to her parents or ask around the village if we must to find out what has happened. Things may not be as bad as they seem. But promise me this, brother: make an attempt to stay calm.’
“His brother took a few calming breaths and nodded. ‘Very well.’
“ ‘And listen to me,’ Mārtyn added. ‘No matter what happens, not matter what has happened, everything will turn out for the best. Do not worry about what may come. Aethera knows what is best for you and me and all of her children. Never doubt that there is something better in store for you if things do not turn out well.’
“Tsôlmin smiled. ‘Your faith to Aethera is as undying as ever, I see.’
“ ‘But you are right, as you usually are,’ Tsôlmin said. ‘I can only thank Aethera that I have you as my brother.’
“ ‘We are both blessed to have each other as our brother,’ Mārtyn said. ‘But, come. Let us find out what has happened with your lovely Yfelia.’
“And so they went back into the town. By that time, the crowd of embraces had dispersed, but as they wandered, they were able to find Yfelia’s parents. When they asked where she was, their faces became downcast. They did not have to say anything; Tsôlmin knew that she was dead.
“ ‘I-I am sorry, Tsôlmin,’ was the only thing that her father could muster. ‘We know how much she meant to you.’
“There were a few moments of somber silence, then Tsôlmin asked, ‘Have you buried her?’
“ ‘Yes, she is in the church cemetery.’
“Tsôlmin immediately made off for the church in a brisk walk. Mārtyn was close behind. Tsôlmin searched for the Yfelia’s gravestone, taking quick glances at every single one. As much as he wanted to see her, he was also loath to do so and he looked among the graves that he knew could not be hers. Mārtyn kept a respectable distance away. Suddenly, with a quick stiffening, Tsôlmin stopped in front of a gravestone. He stood unmoving before the grave, his face, once a canvas of sadness, frustration, and longing, was now completely and utterly expressionless. Tsôlmin stood there, an unmoving sentinel before his love’s newly-made resting place. But he found a point where his legs could no longer hold him, and he fell to his kness. Slowly, Mārtyn advanced to his brother’s side and together they looked down at the marker.
“ ‘She is dead, Mārtyn,’ Tsôlmin breathed, almost inaudibly. ‘Yfelia is dead.’ A few more minutes passed and Tsôlmin continued slowly. ‘I do not know how or why, but that does not matter. All that matters to me is that she is gone, sentenced to an eternity in the cold dirt. I can no longer see her, I can no longer hold her, I can no longer hear her or speak to her. I do not even remember the last thing I said to her…’ His voice trailed off.
“ ‘Tsôlmin…’ was all Mārtyn could say. He put a firm hand on his brother’s shoulder. After a few moments, Mārtyn said, ‘Tsôlmin, I do not know why this has happened. I know this is part of some greater plan set about by Aethera, so in that you can take comfort. She does not ordain anything without purpose. Your purpose is greater than this and it must take the unfortunate death of Yfelia for you to come to realize it. Trust me, my brother, all is well.
“ ‘For now, you may do what you think is best for yourself. Only know that our parents and Mitrya and I are all trying to keep your best interests at heart. If you need anything, anything at all, come to us. We are family and Mitrya shall soon be family as well. Ask any of us for anything, and we shall help you as best as we can.
“ ‘You were born for great things, Tsôlmin, I know it. You will be happy and successful. Do not dwell on this long. Look to Aethera for help and answers. She will help you. Speak to the Father, he will help you as well. Things can only get better and we are here to help you through it.’
“Mārtyn squeezed his brother’s shoulder one last time and took his leave.
“Tsôlmin’s thoughts were jumbled. He thought back and forth about his lost beloved and sadness and loneliness and emptiness and the warmth and friendship and brotherhood that he knew that he could get from his brother and… his fiancé. His fiancé. If it had been Mārtyn that had lost his beloved, he wouldn’t be so positive, so hopeful that there was a better future. If it had been Mitrya and not Yfelia who had died, then things would be exactly the same, only Mārtyn would be mourning and not him. Mārtyn didn’t understand. It was his bride-to-be that kept him this way. But he could easily make him understand. Very easily.”
Spoiler: On "Chapter 2.3"
"So they [the Elves] sent the Elf Mesájer to offer the Men an ultimatum..."
-Mesájer is intentionally named to be similar to the word "messenger," though there is no actual connection between the Elvish name and the word in the Language of Men.
"“ ‘Imperfect,’ Mesájer said... ‘we shall not hesitate to bring down the hammer upon you in the name of the Holy Mother of All That Is, Aethera, and we shall not do any wrong by it.’"
-This speech is purposefully written so that you question the truth. Is this what what actually said, or have the Men told it like this so as to make the Elves seem more threatening? We may never know.
"“But there were some among them, like the Fathers of Aethera, who had retained the practices of old..."
-A "Father" is a priest in the Church of Aethera. The highest ranking Father (in essence, the Pope of this world) is called the "Lord Father."
"“ ‘Give us some time to go back to our leaders,’ they said, ‘and we will have an answer for you.’"
-As mentioned later, during this time the Men were living under a clan system. The clan system had existed since soon after the leaving of the Elves from the Isle of the Imperfect up until the formation of the Galdin Empire.
"One was named Mārtyn and the other Tsôlmin."
-"Mārtyn" and "Tsôlmin" are the Transitional Language versions of "Martin" and "Solomon," respectively.
"...the final, futile battle against the Elves at the White Plains."
-The White Plains was named for the forced surrender of the Men. White, of course, represents the white flag of surrender, though the true meaning has been manipulated in many places to be symbolic of the Elves' purity in mercy by allowing the Men to live and by giving them land.
"“From the White Plains, they traveled eastward, towards the town of Senton."
-Senton, translated from the Transitional Language, is literally "Second Town."
-It is notable that translated to the current Language of Men, Transitional Language does not have contractions.
"“ ‘Yfel!” he cried. “Yfelia! Yfelia, where are you?!’"
-"Yfelia" (Yfel, for short) is a Transitional Language version of "Ophelia."
"“Tsôlmin quickly found that his beloved Yfelia was not at home and he grew angry and began to throw loose objects and topple furniture." ... "“ ‘And listen to me,’ Mārtyn added. ‘No matter what happens, not matter what has happened, everything will turn out for the best."
-Tsôlmin is a headstrong and rash character.
-In stark contrast to his brother, Mārtyn is a much more levelheaded character.
“Only a week had passed since the men of Senton had returned and word had spread throughout the town that Mārtyn and Mitrya were to be married on the coming Rosday. Neither individual could walk in public without being given a congratulation or hug or handshake or smile. For the people of Senton, the wedding was a symbol of ringing in the new peace and prosperity that all clansmen believed would come. In truth, they were equally excited to get back into the regular rhythm of things, as well as being genuinely happy for the couple. There was only one man in the entire village that felt ill-will towards the soon-to-be-weds: Mārtyn’s own brother, Tsôlmin.
“For Tsôlmin, things seemed to be getting better as the week passed. Instead of holing himself up in mourning, he continued to work in the family fields, upheld a happy demeanor, and even joined the other men of the village at the tavern for some drinks in the night. It seemed that since his arrival and the news of his beloved’s death, he became more involved in the teachings of Aethera. He would be among the first to arrive at Holy Commune and one of the last to leave, often due to engaging the Father in active conversations about the sermon, amongst other things like the nature of Aethera. It was also a well-known fact that every day, Tsôlmin would visit Yfelia’s grave, though instead of an upset grimace that would adorn any other man’s face, he held a soft smile while looking upon her final resting place. It seemed he was at peace.
“However, his façade could not be further from the truth. During this time, he harbored his growing hate for his brother and plotted how to best make his life miserable. In a few days, he had finalized his plan, but he had to put it into action before his brother and his fiancé got married.
“So three days before the wedding, Tsôlmin went out into the country with his brother in the Marriage Hunt, as was the custom at the time. For two days they travelled throughout the beaches and plains and forests within their reach, but they could find nothing suitable for the wedding feast. On the final night before their return to Senton, they set up camp in the Forest of Warning. Though the night was cold, the brothers dared not get too close to their small fire, for the strange flies and buzzards of the forest were also attracted to the light and heat. The night seemed to carry on for ages to the disappointed duo. They said nothing to each other and could only hear the crackling of the fire, the irritating buzzing of the flies, the loud, cratching chirping of crickets, and the occasional howl of a forest wolf.
“Finally, Tsôlmin broke the silence. ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘I cannot sleep and I cannot have you humiliated by coming back to the village without game to give at the feast. I will go and see what I can find.’
“ ‘I will go with you,’ Mārtyn answered. ‘For I cannot sleep either and the unrest I am getting from this situation is disturbing me to no end. I must find something or I will not come back at all.’
“And so they put out their fire and went out one last time, hunting in the night. For hours they searched but found nothing. Finally, they gave up and turned back to their camp. On the way, they came across a clearing that they seemed to have sidestepped and there, in the moonlight, rested a great stag. Mārtyn gave the signal and while Tsôlmin moved into position, Mārtyn notched an arrow into the bow he held firmly in his grasp. He pulled back the drawstring, aimed, and nodded to where Tsôlmin lay hidden. Tsôlmin threw a rock against a tree, making a loud and deep thump. The stag, awakened by the noise, raised his head it Tsôlmin’s direction. Only a second after the stag had raised its head, there was the twang of a bowstring and the arrow buried itself into the stag’s neck. It didn’t feel a thing.
“Mārtyn and Tsôlmin converged on the beast, hunting knives at the ready. Mārtyn crouched down and began to lay their prize out, so as to get a better look at it.
“ ‘Aethera has smiled on us this night!’ Mārtyn almost cried out to his brother. ‘We have a king of a stag!’ And, indeed, they did, for the thing was not only large in size, but also great in meat and muscle and lean in fat. Mārtyn found himself laughing with joy as he gazed upon the great beast.
“ ‘Aethera has smiled on us, indeed,’ Tsôlmin said in response to his brother. It was then that he raised his knife and brought it down upon his brother’s back.
“It is said that the cry of surprise and betrayal that Mārtyn let loose at that momen was so heart-wrenchingly mournful, that it resonated throughout the forest and that all of the creatures that heard it cried out in response. Nonetheless, Tsôlmin paid no heed. He furiously kicked his brother and spat on him.
“ ‘Tsôlmin…’ Mārtyn gasped. ‘Tsôlmin… What… Why…’
“ ‘Why?’ Tsôlmin said angrily, pacing back and forth. ‘Why? Because I have lost everything! Because nothing can set things right!’
“ ‘You do not know –’ Mārtyn began.
“ ‘I do not know,’ Tsôlmin mocked. ‘I do not know! I know what you were about to say: “You do not know what is in store for you. You do not know how your life will turn out;” well, I do. It will only get worse, I know.’
“Mārtyn said nothing.
“ ‘And you! It is so easy for you to believe in Aethera; it is so easy for you to trust in Aethera, when you have everything! You have everything! And I have nothing. Where has Aethrea been, hm? Where has she been?! She will not stop me from killing you now and taking what I want because she knows – she knows – that I am in the right. The Father told me so. He said, “Aethera will not aid those who wish to do evil for the sake of evil, but will not impede on a righteous man for doing what may be considered evil for the sake of what is right.” ’
“Tsôlmin stopped and crouched down next to his brother’s dying figure. ‘Tonight, I do what is right. Tonight, I take what is rightfully mine. I will make you suffer by taking from you what I have lost and so rightfully deserve: a home, a career, a wife, honor, pride, and happiness. All will be lost to you and soon will be mine.’
“Mārtyn gasped for breath as his blood continued to pool around him. ‘Tsôlmin, you still do not understand.’
“ ‘I understand!’ Tsôlmin cried. ‘And now you will, too! You will understand once your soul goes straight to the Void!’
“And, with that, Tsôlmin raised his dagger and brought it down on his brother’s heart. For a few fleeting seconds, Mārtyn stared, shocked, at his brother and a glazing covered his eyes. Then, his eyes lost their luster and focus and Mārtyn was dead.
“At that moment, a wolf howled into the night.”
Spoiler: On "Chapter 2.4"
"...word had spread throughout the town that Mārtyn and Mitrya were to be married on the coming Rosday."
-A wedding on a Rosday is a symbol of peace and happiness. In context, it represents the willingness of Senton to return to its previous prosperity.
"He [Tsôlmin] would be among the first to arrive at Holy Commune..."
-"Holy Commune" or simply "Commune" is the term for a Church service.
"“So three days before the wedding, Tsôlmin went out into the country with his brother in the Marriage Hunt, as was the custom at the time."
-The custom of the Marriage Hunt is that the groom would take the man with whom he felt he has been closest to and they would go on a hunt for the main entrée for the wedding.
"...they [Mārtyn and Tsôlmin] set up camp in the Forest of Warning."
-The Forest of Warning is the name for the forest where the Elf Mesájer brought the first tidings of the Elf War to the Men.
"He [the Father] said, “Aethera will not aid those who wish to do evil for the sake of evil, but will not impede on a righteous man for doing what may be considered evil for the sake of what is right.”"
-Early twistings of the original Church doctrine.
Spoiler: General Thoughts
-The story "The Wolf Brother" was not supposed to last more than two posts. Unfortunately, with the infrequency of posts, I had need to cut the final part in half so as to keep the thread alive.
-(Added 11/15/11) Due to the general length of the story-within-a-story itself, it actually turned out to be much more than just 4 posts long.
“In Senton, morning the next day did not come on whole. The sun rose and shone through thick grey clouds, hiding the day behind an ashen veil. The birds did not sing, the wind did not stir, the heat of the sun did not warm. It was like the transition between fall and winter, grey, quiet, and only slightly chilly – an overall bland and gloomy day.
“The strange sense of foreboding that Mitrya got when she awoke was a prevalent weight in her breast as the hours went by. It was twenty minutes to noontime that someone was seen carrying a figure towards the town. Those that saw him immediately thought that he was Mārtyn, but as he moved closer, they saw that it was not Mārtyn, but Tsôlmin. And as he walked steadily closer, they saw that the thing he carried was not the fruits of their three days’ labor, but his brother’s body, pale and bloodied.
“Tsôlmin walked into the town and continued unwaveringly as the people of the town gazed in horror. He walked as one who was dead himself to the house of Mitrya and he limply kicked the door twice. Almost immediately, Mitrya’s father came and opened the door. He looked down on the body in Tsôlmin’s arms and became wide-eyed in surprise and terror. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but then he simply shook his head and opened the door wider to invite Tsôlmin in. As he stepped in with the body, Mitrya’s father gestured to a chair for it to be placed. Once that was done, Mitrya’s father walked into an adjacent room. There was some talking and then he returned leading his daughter and wife into the room.
“With a single glance at the body, Mitrya cried out as if she had been struck. She ran over and threw her arms around Mārtyn’s neck and sobbed. Soon, Mitrya’s mother was next to her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. Mitrya’s father made a gesture for Tsôlmin to come and he disappeared into the next room, the kitchen. Tsôlmin followed. Mitrya’s father had his fist clenched on the kitchen table so tightly that it shook with anger. Without looking up from his hand, he asked, ‘What happened?’
“ ‘On the final night, we were hunting far from our camp in an attempt to find something, as we had not been able to kill anything fitting the wedding,’ Tsôlmin said. ‘We had found a stag in a clearing and we moved into our positions, but as Mārtyn neared it, it woke and attacked him, piercing him in the back as he ran. As it attacked him, I ran to him, hearing his cries. By the time I had arrived, he had been impaled and was bloody. He told me to look after Mitrya for him and died thinking of her. I wept bitterly when he died and immediately picked up his body and began walking towards town without stop, without sleep, and without food. He must be buried as soon as possible.’
“Mitrya’s father nodded and his fist unclenched.
“ ‘I see,’ he said shortly. He took a few moments and then added, ‘Mārtyn… He was going to be my son-in-law, yet I already considered him as such. Tsôlmin, I already consider you as my son-in-law’s brother, as well – my own son, as well. I would… I would like to ask you that you could call your own parents to the house so that we could prepare Mārtyn’s funeral together… as a family.’
“Tsôlmin looked at the man and saw the sadness that filled them, nodded, and wordlessly went to his home and fetched his parents. Throughout the day, preparations were made and by the eleventh hour after noon, all was ready.
“The service was given immediately and was given within the hour. There was not a single one of them that did not weep or looked downcast upon the ground with heavy or empty hearts. Even after the last of the earth had been replaced, no one once thought to leave the grounds, for Mārtyn was so beloved, so respected. But it was not only the sorrow of their loss for which they grieved, it was because the hope that they had, the return to a life of peace and normalcy, had been destroyed.
“Seconds went by like minutes, minutes went by like hours. Still none moved, so stricken with grief they were. No one spoke, newborns did not cry out, even the animals of the land made no noise. The only sound was of Mitrya’s sobbing. They could only stand in their sorrow and listen to another’s sorrow. None dared stir.
“Then, suddenly, a wolf howled. It was so loud and rang out with such clarity that it seemed as if the beast were behind the chapel of Aethera that stood off like a sentinel in the gloom and mist. The cry had snapped the mourners to attention, as if out of hypnosis, and they began to move out to their homes in groups. Soon enough, the only ones still at the graveside were Mitrya, Tsôlmin, and their parents. But even then, Tsôlmin’s father gave Mitrya’s father a glance and a nod and both couples went away.
“Tsôlmin stood there gazing not at his brother’s tomb, but at his bride-to-be. She was seated on the ground before the stone, crying out just as she had when she first saw her fiancé’s body. Tsôlmin walked forward and put a firm hand on her shoulder. As he touched her, she gave another large cry and her tears were redoubled.
“ ‘Mitrya…’ was all Tsôlmin could mutter. Recollecting himself he said, ‘Mitrya, we should get going. It’s no longer safe.’
“Mitrya tried to collect herself for a moment. ‘Tsôlmin,’ Mitrya said through her hiccups, ‘how... How did you get over Yfelia’s death? How did you overcome such a devastating blow?’
“ ‘Tsôlmin sighed. ‘I redoubled my faith in Aethera,’ he answered. ‘I prayed to her and asked, begged, her to give me hope. I admit, there were times when I did not ask for what I should have first. There were times when I yelled, screamed, swore at her and demanded that she divine to me why Yfelia had died and where my life was going. But… as time went on, I found peace. I know that Aethera is good and she only allows bad things to happen for a reason. Though it may not seem like it, things are going just as they should be and it was my part to go along with it and look forward to what was next.’
“Tsôlmin sighed again and tightened his grip on Mitrya’s shoulder. He then kneeled down next to her. She looked from Mārtyn’s grave and looked into his face. It was calm, without tears, and had a gentle smile and soft, caring eyes that shone, even in the darkness. ‘Mitrya, I hope the same peace that I have achieved can be bestowed upon you as well. Mārtyn is dead, yes and now it is only right to grieve. But once this is over, I hope that you can soon look forward to the future. Pray to Aethera – she is only here to help. Soon you will see that she will provide everything you could ever wish for and more.
‘Mārtyn told me with his dying breath to take care of you and I intend to uphold his wish until the last. If you ever need anything – anything at all – I am here for you. Good night, Mitrya.’
“With that, Tsôlmin stood up and turned away. Before he could take three steps, Mitrya called his name.
“ ‘Yes?’ he said, turning back to Mitrya.
“She stood there for a moment, looking into Tsôlmin’s soft eyes. ‘Thank you.’
“Tsôlmin nodded and gave a small smile. Without a word, he reached out his arms to Mitrya and she allowed herself to be walked home in his arms.”
“That night, Tsôlmin went to his bed without a second thought about the great betrayal he had set in motion. Once his head was laid upon his pillow, he found himself in a deep sleep.
“The dream began pleasantly enough, for a kin-slayer: he dreamed of his plot and his future of lies. He dreamt of his future of happiness and pleasure, one that had been formed by deceit and murder. He thought of his brother’s fiancé, Mitrya, and he thought of her beauty and of their family that would live in the soft comfort of a large countryside manor near Senton where he himself did not have to work and how they would grow old and wise together and their children would grow, as would their children’s children and their family would grow and be truly joyful. Then, his dream took a sudden and dark turn.
“Suddenly, Tsôlmin found himself in the midst of the streets of Senton in the gloom. As he realized where he was, he was suddenly assailed by heavy feelings of oppression, fright, and paranoia, as if he knew that something extremely powerful and omnipotent, something that could and would, perhaps even wanted to, destroy him was out there somewhere hidden in the mists of the night, watching him. He could not move, so stricken by fear he was, but that did not matter. The dream, or whatever it was that was out there, forced him to step forward.
Once he took the first step, he heard a cry. It was a scream, one that only a soul that had been tortured for centuries could release, but the voice was distorted, like it came from some creature out of the depths of the earth. He was forced to take another step and the scream of brutal pain and sorrow rang forth again, this time louder, with more pain in its sound. Another step and the cry again assailed his ears, louder, more painful. Another step, the cry again. Another step, the pain again. Soon, it became so loud and so forlorn with agony that Tsôlmin himself thought that he could feel the pain, the sharp pain in his back, like the lashes of whips. Now, as he took more step forward, the burden of his own pain was added and soon the torment became so much that he wept bitterly. With every step and with every cry that rang out and with every sharp jab, he cried harder and harder until his vision was blurred and he could no longer see where he was being forced.
“It was not long, however, until the tears were forced from his eyes by the unseen force and the march was brought to an end. Suddenly, Tsôlmin could see his surroundings clearly. He was in the graveyard behind the chapel, just as he had been but a few moments ago. In the distance, he could see his brother’s grave marker and standing before it a tall and slender figure. Tsôlmin was paralyzed and could do nothing as he watched the figure stare solemnly at the headstone. It then knelt down before the stone and gave a heavy-handed, slow, and deliberate stroke of the ground before it. Then, it stood and turned, looking straight at Tsôlmin. Suddenly, it was as if he had been stabbed in the heart. He could see nothing but the figure’s dark outline and it’s piercing white eyes that felt as if they stared straight into his soul and spied the evil deeds in his heart and mind and hated them. The pain in Tsôlmin’s chest grew and grew, filling his body with blinding, searing pain. He tried to writhe, he tried to escape the figure’s deathly gaze, he tried to cry out, but no matter how desperately he tried, he could do nothing but match the figure’s gaze and feel the pain that seethed throughout his body.
“Then, behind the figure, the grave began shift. Tsôlmin saw it while still being forced to succumb to the nakedness that the figure’s gaze gave. He saw the ground below its feet move and break open. Something was coming from the grave, Tsôlmin could feel it. The earth was pierced and the light at the figure’s feet was sucked away by the portal, leaving utter darkness. And in return the newly-made hole released a feeling of such hatred that Tsôlmin was once again struck dumb. He had felt hatred before, but nothing like this. It was hatred that came from the grave, pure and simple. The ground continued to writhe and shift as something began to arise. As more earth was removed and displaced, the hatred grew and now it was accompanied by one more simple feeling, one that is often paired with hatred: vengeance. Hatred and vengeance. Tsôlmin could no longer take it. He was going insane, surely, simply by being here. But he could do nothing and something began to come up from the grave. Tsôlmin’s heart began to beat. He knew the thing that would come from the hole would be his brother, but he feared the form he would take and what vengeance he would enact. His heart beat faster and faster with each passing second, with each tin-sil that the thing arose from the grave. Just as Tsôlmin was about to see his brother rising at the figure’s feet, though, a noise erupted.
“A wolf howled, that same wolf from before, and Tsôlmin awoke. Tsôlmin found himself gasping, panting for breath and in a hot sweat. He felt compelled to go out immediately and check on the grave. He quickly threw on a shirt, put on some pants, and was sure to take the sword that he had fought in the Elf Wars with. He immediately set out for the church and just outside of his doorway he realized that it was here that the dream started. With that sudden realization, he stopped cold. The memory of his dream had been so vivid, so real, and so recent that the fear and pain he felt was still running back and forth in his mind. Taking a quick breath, though, he started forward.
“This time, each step did not bring a scream or pain and this time there was no omnipotent power to oppress him. It was simply him in the cold night and with this knowledge, he determined forward. With each step he realized the ludicrous-ness of his dream, how some thing so simple had frightened him – it was probably his subconscious, in truth. So long as he could master it, he had nothing to fear. But when he arrived at the graveyard, he soon realized how wrong he was.
“He stepped into the position where he was entranced by the dark figure and there, before the open grave, was a wolf. The wolf took no notice of Tsôlmin, but continued to look at the grave. Tsôlmin unsheathed his sword and took a few cautious steps forward. The wolf continued to stare, not heeding him so he took a few more steps. And a few more. And a few more, until the wolf was within his clear line of sight. He could see the details of this wolf, but before he could mark anything in particular, the wolf turned and stared into Tsôlmin’s eyes. He gasped and dropped his sword. The wolf did not have the eyes of a beast, but the eyes of a man. They were his brother’s eyes, the glazed-over eyes that signified death. The wolf continued to gaze into Tsôlmin’s eyes for a few moments, then turned and scampered off into the gloom, leaving Tsôlmin standing in shock and awe.”
Spoiler: On "Chapter 2.5"
-I tried to make Tsôlmin’s dialogue much more eloquent this time around. It's supposed to symbolize his transformation from a quick to anger, hardheaded killer to a methodical speaker and thinker. Perhaps he thought in advance what he would say to whom?
Spoiler: On "Chapter 2.6"
-I'm absolutely terrible at making things seem dark and ominous, so I could never in my life write a horror story. Hopefully, I captured the right amount of fear in the dream sequences.