This is another original story of mine to act as a companion of sorts to my first original fantasy story, A Merchant's Tale. Though I do plan to continue working on A Merchant's Tale, I've been spending December writing this "shorter" story and it's finally finished. However, the entire thing is still fairly lengthy, so, as with A Merchant's Tale, I will be sectioning the piece off into different posts. A new part of the story will be posted every day for fourteen days, each post containing its own commentary on the universe at hand. (NOTE: Though this particular story does take place in the same universe as A Merchant's Tale, it can be enjoyed completely independent of the aforementioned work.)
Second, this draft is very rough. There are no editorial revisions whatsoever, so please excuse (and point out, that would be helpful too ) all mistakes that you come across.
Finally, as always, questions, comments, praise, hate, etc. etc. are all welcome.
And that explains all of that. So without further ado, here it is.
By Fitoleon Last Updated: 1/14/12
The following is a quotation from A Merchant's Tale describing the world at hand, with a minor revision at the last paragraph:
Originally Posted by Fitoleon
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.
It is twenty years after the end of the Elf Wars, as those battles came to be called, that this story takes place.
The crimson sun was setting upon the sleepy vale near the small town of Trallan. The summer breeze that had been blowing throughout the day continued into the dusk as father and son brought the day’s work to an end. The day had been spent with the beginning of a large project, one that, in the Kilmet Clan, was the final test of manhood: the erection of a home. As the light faded, they wiped the sweat off their brows and nodded and smiled to themselves and each other with the pride that only comes through hard work. The foundation had been laid and the beginnings of a homely and humble habitat began to form. They gathered their tools in the orange half-light, threw them over their shoulders, and began the trek home. The father gave the son a proud and hardy pat on the back and smiled. He couldn’t be more proud of his son. The son hid his face and smiled to himself. He was becoming a man. Nothing was said as they walked down the dirt path with the tall grass on either side, but both knew that at this moment all was right with the world.
Only thirty minutes later, through the silhouettes of the foliage in the darkness, they could see the lights of the family home welcoming their return. Simply upon sight, both of the weary but proud men felt the warmth and coziness of the home fill and invigorate them as they made the final strides to their destination.
“Here, Ärn, I will take your things to the shed,” the father said, offering an outstretched hand. “You go ahead and get ready for dinner.”
The son smiled and relieved himself of his heavy pack. “Thank you, Father.”
As the father went around the house and disappeared, Ärn went into the house. Immediately, he was freed from the chill of the outside and pleasantly assailed by a variety of aromas that caused his stomach to growl ravenously. He immediately went into the kitchen and saw his mother making the final preparations for the evening’s dinner. Without looking up from her work, she noticed him.
“Do not even dare think that you will eat before washing up, sir,” she said firmly but with a soft smile at the same time.
Ärn rolled his eyes and went down to the washroom, calling, “When Father and I finish my home, I will not make anyone need to do wash up!”
“Well, in that case, hopefully you find a good woman who will!” the mother called back. “Speaking of, have you seen Brana girl, recently?”
“Not recently, no,” Ärn said, returning to the kitchen. He gave his busy mother a quick kiss on the forehead and took his place behind his seat at the table. “You know Father and I have been very busy lately, what with the home and the work in town. Sheriff Zytan has been very demanding as of late and–”
“Sheriff Zytan!” said the father as he entered the kitchen. “Why do you mention that man’s name in this house?” He walked over to his wife and tried to give her a kiss, but she kept him at bay with a couple of fingers.
“Wash first,” she said sternly.
The father retreated and made a face to his wife, all in good fun, as he rounded the corner and went down the hallway to the washroom. “I swear this woman would wash us to death, if she could!” he called.
“I would, too, if you boys bothered to stay that way during the day!” she called back.
Ärn chuckled and his mother gave him a sly wink and took her place behind her seat at the table. The father returned and held his arms open and smiled. “Now may I have a kiss?”
The mother pretended to think for a moment and then sighed. “Very well.”
She walked proudly into his arms and they exchanged a warm embrace and a soft kiss.
“Good! Now, then,” the father said once the business was done. “Shall we all take a seat?”
He sat down at the customary head of the table and laid his hands palm up to either side. Once the father had taken a seat, Ärn and his mother took their places and clasped his hands and each other’s, making a small circle, and they all closed their eyes.
“Lah u paye,” the father said in the ancient Elvish. “Most Holy and Gracious Aethera, thank you for giving us our blessed lives. We know there are those that go without family, home, food, and all other things that you bless us with every day. We thank you for all things and humbly ask that you continue to bless us as you see fit. Help us to know that you are the One Good Master Planner and that whatever we may undergo, happiness or trial, is part of your plan and that your plan is good. May our actions show your grace towards us tonight, tomorrow, and all days. Ter paye.”
The father opened his eyes, unclasped his wife and son’s hands and exclaimed, “Now let’s eat, I’m starving!”
Immediately, the family began their evening meal. It was no feast, but it was a hearty meal made with care. They filled their plates with tender, slow-roasted ham that fell apart upon the touch, releasing an aroma of delectable spices and seasonings in conjunction with the native pork, thick and heartening gravy that flowed like liquid gold and tasted of something reminiscent of ambrosia to top on the fluffy, cloud-white mashed potatoes that exploded with flavor that deliciously contrasted yet complimented the gravy, vegetables that were rich and nutritious, yet so agreeable not even a toddler would reject it if it were put into its mouth, and rolls so sweet they were almost like candy and so tasty that it was almost criminal to add butter to. In their mugs was the family spirits, the origin of which reached back to Man’s time on the Isle.
The dinner often lasted far into the night even after the food was all devoured. The conversation would keep each of them awake and entertained for hours on end, though there was truly nothing to talk about. Each one of them, within the first thirty minutes, would have exhausted their store of news and recent events around the sleepy town of Trallan and they would resort to their repertoires of stories and experiences that they had told over and over again. But none of them minded one bit, in fact, because each of them knew how to cherish each other. Each of them knew that they might not have the next day to see their loved ones again and so each moment together had to be cherished. Normally, these reiterated anecdotes would last them into the night, but tonight the family time was cut short by a knock at the door.
As the mother concluded her umpteenth telling of the time when her grandmother locked the family out of their home out in the cold and promptly fell asleep by the fire, the father went to the door. He opened the portal to reveal a group of men from the village, some holding torches or lanterns to cast a light amongst their crew in the darkness of night. A shorter, portly man stepped forward onto the threshold.
“Bredin,” he said, addressing the father, “the men and I are having a meeting down at the pub. I would suggest you come with us.”
The father’s brows furrowed. “Does Zytan know about this meeting?”
The portly man’s eyes grew larger for a second and he looked around at the men behind him nervously. “Uh… No,” he said.
The father sighed and nodded. “Very well. I will come.” He turned and went back into the kitchen. “It would seem the men would like to have a chat down at the pub,” he explained. “I’m going to go with them. Ärn, I want you to stay here and keep an eye on things. Make sure to get to bed at a timely manner, we have to work tomorrow.”
Ärn nodded. “Yes, Father.”
Bredin gave his son a kiss, then his wife. “I will see you soon, Linyah,” he told her.
She nodded as well and smiled to him. “Be safe, my love.”
He kissed her again, went out, waved to his family, and closed the door behind him.
NOTE: Some important commentary is already located in A Merchant's Tale, but the Background commentary has been reproduced as a matter of reference.
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 "Section One"
"The crimson sun was setting upon the sleepy vale near the small town of Trallan."
-Trallan is a small northeastern town far from the coast. It was named after the Kilmet Clan lord's second wife, who loved the rustic beauty of plains.
"The day had been spent with the beginning of a large project, one that, in the Kilmet Clan, was the final test of manhood: the erection of a home."
-The Kilmet Clan, like all of the other clans of Men, was named after the family who originally formed it.
-The building of a home as a trial of manhood is unique to the Kilmet Clan.
"“Here, Ärn, I will take your things to the shed,” the father said..."
-Ärn is the Early Language equivalent of "Aaron."
"...Sheriff Zytan has been very demanding as of late and–”"
-The title of "sheriff" belongs to men who oversee outlying land for their clan lord, like a medieval lord to a king.
"“Lah u paye,” the father said in the ancient Elvish... “Ter paye.”"
-"Let us pray" and "End/Finish/Terminate prayer," respectively. Both phrases are in Elvish, giving reference to Man's origins as Elvish creation.
"“Bredin,” he said, addressing the father, “the men and I are having a meeting down at the pub. I would suggest you come with us.”"
-Bredin is the Early Language equivalent of "Brandon" or "Brendon."
By horse, the trip from the home to town was about fifteen minutes, by foot, thirty. It took something of an hour for the troupe to gather up more men from along the path to go and congregate at the pub. Eventually, though, all of the men that could be mustered had taken a seat within the establishment and they were all treated to a mug of the brew, if they so wished. The pub was a large place, enough to hold all of these men, one hundred and fifty, give or take, with enough elbow room for each of them so that no one could complain. The portly barkeep stood up on the bar and banged a metal pot with a spoon, silencing the crowd.
“Well then,” he said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I have gathered you all in a sort of state of emergency typed thing…”
“What is this about, Mātas?” someone called.
“Does Zytan know about this whole thing?” another called.
The crowd began to murmur and nod in agreement and curiosity. They could all be with their families now, but they had been summoned suddenly for an unknown reason. Mātas stuck the pot again.
“No, Zytan does not know about this and I will be telling you what this is about in a moment!” he called to no one in particular. “It is very important that you all hear this because it concerns all of us. I have recently gained the knowledge that Sheriff Zytan will be calling in more work hours and higher community taxes–”
“Damn that Zytan!” someone yelled, banging their fist on the tabletop.
“Doesn’t he know we all work to the bone every day already?!” someone else screamed. “And the taxes are high enough! No town in the entire clan gives as much tribute as we do and most of it goes to that Zytan anyway!”
“That man should be getting his ass kicked into the Void, if you ask me!”
“As if he didn’t already treat us like dirt! Whatever happened to that other sheriff?!”
“He got sent to the Void by Zytan during that damn Trial twenty years ago!”
Gradually, it seemed that everyone excepting for Bredin was in an uproar, shouting their grievances and opinions of the sheriff. Mātas banged and banged on his pot to steady the crowd, but to no avail: they had all gotten themselves into a frenzy. Mātas looked around the room for anyone that was still listening and caught eyes with Bredin. He threw Bredin a sheepish smile and shrugged. Bredin sighed and joined him up on the countertop.
“EVERYONE, SHUT UP!” he yelled.
Immediately, everyone in the room was silenced and looked up at Bredin.
“Now, if you would please all keep your heads and listen to the good Mister Mātas, I am sure he brought us here for a reason other than simply to anger us. Mātas, if you would please.”
“Oh, uh, thank you, Bredin,” Mātas said nervously as he watched him step down and reclaim his seat. “Now, um, I would like to propose that we…” His voice suddenly grew soft. “…overthrow Zytan.”
The sudden stiffness of shock filled the room and the curtains of tension were brought down on every open space. Men stared wide-eyed at the little fat man on the bar and at each other, hoping that they had heard incorrectly. Finally, after what seemed like an age, Bredin broke the silence and the men cast hopeful eyes upon him.
“We cannot simply overthrow him, good Mātas,” he said. “If Lord Kilmet found out about it, his men would be all over us in an instant and we would all be killed on the spot for insubordination. No, rebellion, though simple, is not a possibility if we value our lives.”
The eyes of the men, upon hearing this from a man so esteemed in Trallan, hung their heads. It seemed as if there was no escaping from the tyranny of Zytan. They were forever doomed to be subjects of the corrupt Sheriff Zytan and conform to his will. Suddenly, though, someone raised their head. “What about the Trial?”
More shock and nervousness rippled through the room. Men muttered softly amongst themselves to their neighbors, remembering all the things that came with the last Trial, when Zytan took control, banishing the old sheriff, his own father, all those years ago. They had all seen or heard rumors of Zytan fight and he was a madman. With a style unlike anything that anyone had seen before and the bloodlust of a beast of prey, the man was undefeatable, second only to his father. There was no man that dared come up against him, even the Elves were wary of him during the Elf Wars, which seemed eons ago.
“It… it is the only possibility,” someone said. “The only possibility to be rid of this oppression.”
“But who should we elect?” another man asked. “Surely no man would fight against Zytan. He kills for his own entertainment for Aethera’s sake!”
“Who amongst us is the best fighter?” Mātas asked.
There were more quiet murmurs; nervous glances were made towards acquaintances; heads were bowed in the silent hope that their name would not be dispelled for consideration. Then the voices died down and even the shifting of bodies ceased and the tension grew once again. No one dared move for fear of being called out. Seconds went by, then minutes, minutes went by like years, ticking away slowly. Finally, Bredin stood up.
“I will challenge Zytan,” he said. “I give you my word.”
Some men gasped, others stared in mingled surprise and admiration.
“Bredin, are you sure about this?” Mātas asked. “You have a family, a beautiful wife, a strong son. Would you throw that away if you failed?”
“If it comes to that, yes,” he answered. “However, my family is the least of my worries. They shall both surely understand. Whatever it was that compelled me to stand up and give my promise to initiate the Trial, I do not know. Perhaps fate or Aethera in all of her knowledge and foresight or, perhaps, simple pride. Despite that, I have stood here before you and now there is no turning back. You all know from the Elf Wars that I am amongst the greatest fighters in Trallan and that if anyone has a chance of defeating Zytan, it is me. Do not deny me this thing that I have brought upon myself and do not think that my family will be troubled by my decision, as they are strong in their trust of Aethera. Give me a rod, that I might make the mark and initiate the Trial.”
Bredin reached out his hand and a walking staff was brought out and given to him. He then led to way to the sheriff’s home in town and carved an X on the door using the staff. The stage was set. Now, there truly was no going back. With many witnesses, Bredin had made the Mark of the Trial and with many more would undergo the Questioning and then the Trial itself it the next day.
Spoiler: On "Section Two"
"“What is this about, Mātas?” someone called."
-Matas is the Early Language equivalent of "Matthew."
"“He got sent to the Void by Zytan during that damn Trial twenty years ago!”"
-The Trial is a tradition in the Kilmet Clan. It consists of three parts: the Challenge (initiated by marking the Sign of the Trial of the sheriff's door), the Questioning (where the person suspected of making the Sign is questioned as to their motives), and the Trial itself (a one-on-one battle). It is a practice used to overthrow unjust sheriffs, but has a tendency to be abused.
Morning came and the family ate a quick breakfast in silence. None of them could eat very much for the nervousness of the coming events. Once everyone had their fill, though, Bredin told Ärn to go back to the shed and get the tools.
“We still have a few hours yet,” he said with a shrug. “As long as we do, we might as well work on your house.”
Ärn went out to the back and Bredin got up from the table with a heavy sigh.
“Linyah–” he began.
“Bredin,” she interrupted. “Do not worry yourself so. Whatever is Aethera’s will is good. Do what you must. I will be in the town waiting.”
He looked down on her with a soft smile. “I love you.”
“And I you.”
She gave him a kiss and began to clean up the kitchen table. Ärn walked back in and announced that all was ready. Bredin nodded and they left.
Together Ärn and his father worked into the better part of the day. They were able to get much done in their silence and concentration, though there was still much to do. It was about three o’ clock when Mātas the barkeep came and gave them both the news.
“Zytan has acknowledged the Mark of the Trial,” he said. “It is thereby demanded that I bring you into town immediately…” He paused and looked around. “Bredin, I will give you this chance to run, but only this chance. Once we get to the road, there is no turning back.”
But Bredin shook his head. “There was no turning back when I stood up in the pub the night last. I will go, as per Zytan’s request.”
And so they started off towards town. As they made their journey, the stillness of the day was apparent. No birds sung, no wind stirred, no insects buzzed, no one spoke a word. The only sound made was their footsteps in the dirt and even they held a dazed and somber silence. It was as if the very essence of the day itself knew that the three men traversing into town had a cloud of death over their heads. The trio was a funeral procession and all the world was in silent mourning. Forty-five minutes from the construction site, they had arrived at Trallan.
All were gathered in the town square for the Trial. The citizens were grouped all around the very center of the area, which held a permanent gallows and set of guillotines raised on a platform for all to see. Around the platform was Zytan’s personal guard, which held the people back in a perfect circle. On the platform before the instruments of death stood the large and menacing Sheriff Zytan himself, with his usual deathly look that no man could bear without quivering in fear. He soon spotted Bredin and the two others from his vantage point.
“Ah, here comes the man! Here is Bredin!” he said. The crowd dispersed at the sight of Bredin, as if he were a leper. “Yes, well, arrest him.”
The crowd gave an outburst of shock as the command was issued and Zytan’s men strode forth and seized Bredin, clamping him with chains on the wrists and ankles.
“What–?!” was the only thing Mātas was able to say as the soldiers pushed him away fiercely.
“Father!” Ärn cried, reaching out his arm as he was shoved into the crowd.
But Bredin gave his son a chuckle and a nod and he was forced up onto the platform before Zytan. The soldiers forced him onto his knees and thrust his head down in an involuntary bow. His eyes flitted to his left, where he could just see all of the citizens being held back by the soldiers, despite their commotion and saw his wife. She gave him a smile and her hands clenched into fists.
“Hey, you cannot do that!” someone shouted. “He is protected by the Rights of the Trial!”
“Do you think I care about an old custom?!” Zytan shouted into the crowd, silencing them. “You should have known that customs would die once I became sheriff!” He gave everyone his death glare and their eyes were locked to the dirt ground; a woman even gave a small yelp. Zytan turned his attention back to the man bowed before him and gave a pleased sneer.
“Well, you have certainly saved me from dying from boredom in this dreary old hole,” he said. “Do you know what the consequence of initiating the Trial is, Bredin?” Bredin said not a word. “Well, do you?!” Zytan yelled.
“Death,” Bredin said clearly and confidently. A glimmer of hope could be felt in the crowd.
“Very good: death,” Zytan nodded. He began to pace around Bredin’s arched body. “‘Instant torture and death upon confirmation of the initiator in question,’ is what I believe I wrote into law.” He stopped and stooped down to meet his poor adversary face to face. “You did make the Mark, did you not?”
“I did,” Bredin said in the same tone.
“The Questioning states that I should ask for witnesses to the creation of the Mark. Were there witnesses?”
“Countless,” Bredin said. He looked up at Zytan and locked gazes. “Every man in this town is a witness to this.”
“Yeah!” a man shouted in a burst of enthusiasm.
Zytan made a signal and immediately the man was brought into the clearing by a soldier and beaten. The soldier struck the man with the shaft of his spear one, two, three, four, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty times until it broke. He then took a countless number of kicks to the torso and head until he was far into unconsciousness and bloodied all over. The soldier picked up the body, tossed it mercilessly into the crowd, and returned to his post.
“You see what a simple outburst gets you?” Zytan said, returning to Bredin. “You knew about the penalty and yet you made the Mark anyway? Why?”
“This town deserves better than you,” Bredin answered. “And right now, anyone is better than you.”
Zytan chuckled. “You are lucky that I am in a good mood today and your ramblings entertain me rather than irritating me. But I am bored, you know, so rather than just torture and kill you, I will accept your initiation of the Trial. You have one hour to prepare. Meet me back here then or I will kill you instead.” He nodded to a guard. “Release him.”
The nearest guard came up onto the platform, undid the shackles on Bredin, and escorted him back down into the crowd beside his wife. “I suggest you find some chain mail and a weapon quickly,” he murmured into Bredin’s ear as they came down. “Zytan will not be giving you any armaments in this battle.”
Well, this probably won't happen often, but there is actually no commentary this time around!
The fourth hour brought with it the beginning of the Trial. Bredin had returned from an hour of seclusion and mental preparation with a one-handed sword and a shirt of mail, both graciously given to him by Phylas the blacksmith, on the way back to the square. The gallows had been hastily removed by Zytan’s soldiers and Zytan himself stood in the center of the square while his men continued to keep the townspeople in a ring. Bredin took one last look at his wife and son before stepping out into the clearing.
“Before we begin, I suppose I will fancy you people with a bit of tradition,” Zytan said to the crowd. “Does anyone here wish to take this man’s place as his champion?”
No one answred.
“Very well, then. Are you ready, old man?” Zytan called out.
“Whenever you are,” Bredin responded.
Zytan held up a giant double-handed blade one and a half men long and a silm wide. Bredin drew his own weapon and advanced cautiously to the center of the ring.
“Do not worry, I will not bite,” Zytan mocked.
But an attack was not what Bredin feared at the moment. He was taking this time to size up the opponent he only now had the luxury of accurately sizing up. Zytan was a silm and a half taller than himself and twice as large. He did not owe his size to fat, however. It was all muscle that made up the great man’s breadth. He was young, too; younger than he by at least ten years, though past his physical prime. Bredin noticed a smaller one-handed sword much like his own on Zytan’s left hip and recalled that it was the sword that he had used in the last Trial. His stance was strong, but he had not practiced swordplay for years. Zytan would obviously use his size and strength as his primary proponents in the battle, so he would have to use speed and agility. It was going to be a tough battle.
Just as Bredin reached within striking distance, Zytan took a mighty swing of his sword. It was an obvious attack, however. He had noticed his opponent’s feet and hands shift and facial expression change which let the attack go heeded. Bredin took a quick step back in time, but only just so. In addition to severity, the attack also had speed. In the same motion, Zytan turned a horizontal attack into a vertical one, using the momentum of the blade to raise it over his head and down towards his opponent. This was also easily sidestepped and left him wide open to attack. Bredin trained his sword and thrust it into Zytan’s chest, but he met unexpected resistance. A clang of metal on metal resounded throughout the square, causing the attacker to reel back in surprise and recoil. A metallic sheen could be discerned from beneath Zytan’s tunic. He was wearing a large piece of plate mail to protect his torso.
The rebound of Bredin’s attack unbalanced him and caused him to fall to the ground. Zytan sneered and used this moment to his advantage, shifting the blade and bringing it diagonally towards Bredin. Even in falling, however, Bredin was alert and rolled out of the way of the attack just in time. He brought himself to his feet before his opponent had time to give another blow.
Zytan smiled again and began to swing the sword at Bredin wildly. He had no sense of strategy in the attacks, they were all erratic and random strikes intended to wear out his adversary. Attack after attack after attack after attack was aimed towards Bredin, but he was quick and observant and was able to dodge every one of them, ducking, sidestepping, even jumping. The large sword was too slow and bulky for true quickness and Bredin was not about to let himself fall behind the pace that Zytan’s arms could keep, no matter how much energy it required. With every dodge, Bredin also looked for an opening. Following one of the final attacks, he dodged and brought his blade down on Zytan’s side. It was there, he guessed, that a strap holding Zytan’s breastplate might be. A sudden slump in Zytan’s posture told him he was correct. In irritation, Zytan tore off his tunic, unfastened his armor, and threw it away, tolling almost like a bell as it hit the ground. He came again, but this time was even quicker. Assault after assault was foiled as each was dodged, no matter how swiftly he swung. Finally, in a last-ditch effort, Zytan hurled the entire sword at Bredin, who dodged nimbly. Screams came from the behind as the huge blade permeated the crowd. Instinct told him to turn around to see if anyone was hurt, but Bredin kept his body in control and focused on his enemy.
“You are pretty fast for an old man!” Zytan said, taking a few gasps to regain his breath. His energy was not nearly as depleted as Bredin’s, however. It was then that his age became apparent. He couldn’t keep this up for much longer. Breaths came quickly and hoarsely and his throat burned with the effort. “But I suppose playtime is over,” Zytan continued. “It is time for the real fight to begin.”
He drew forth his blade and continued his onslaught. This time there was no dodging. The blade Bredin was now up against was both swift itself and had a swift-handed wielder. Attacks had to be parried and diverted in a split second before it met its target and Zytan’s constant advance had both men moving all about the arena. It soon dawned on Bredin that he could not take this much longer. He would have to go on the offensive himself if he were to have any chance of defeating his opponent. With the next block, he shifted is stance and attacked. This time, he took Zytan’s strategy and swung quickly and madly, forcing Zytan to attempt to check his movements with as little a window of counterattacking as possible. With each attack, though, Bredin used the little energy he had left, and Zytan knew it. As Bredin’s final bout of energy was brought down in offence, Zytan took the chance to match the blow. Their swords were locked and the sound of grating metal could be heard.
“It is the end now, Zytan,” Bredin gasped.
“No, you old fool,” was the response. “You forget who commands this town. You forget who is the better swordsman. You forget who has the power. You do not tell me when this has ended, rather, I tell you. And I say this ends…” Zytan shifted his blade and with a sudden bout of strength, brought it swiftly upwards, forcing Bredin’s sword out of his hand and up into the air. “…Now!” He shifted his hands to hold the sword backhandedly and brought it down into Bredin’s chest.
“NO! FATHER! FATHER!” Ärn cried out. The crowd suddenly flew into madness.
Zytan withdrew the blade and Bredin fell to the ground limp and lifeless, a pool of blood forming even as he fell. Ärn rushed forward into the clearing.
“Restrain him!” Zytan called and instantly there were two of his men gripping Ärn’s arms.
“My father!” he continued to wail. “You bastard… You bastard! I will kill you! I swear I will slit your throat!”
“Oh, so the insurgent’s son wants to die, too?” Zytan yelled over the crowd’s clamor. “I think you forget who is still the sheriff here, boy! I think you have yet to learn your place in life! It does not matter now, though. I shall show you your place in the Void!” He raised his sword, but then a voice cried out.
“No! Not my son!” It was Linyah, Ärn’s mother and Bredin’s wife. At her voice, all were silenced. She stepped out into the clearing, tears streaming down her face. “Do not kill my son, I beg of you! Kill me if you must, but spare my son!”
Zytan turned towards her. “Well, I suppose it does not matter who dies.” He put his sword at her neck and turned towards Ärn. “Listen now and know this, boy: at this hour, you father willingly opposed me in the Trial and I took his life, as per the ancient ways. His blood is on my hands. But now for your outburst, your mother dies for you. Her blood stains your hands. It is because of you that she dies.” He raised his sword and brought it down on her.
“NOOOOO!” Ärn screamed. Tears welled out of his eyes and, thrust into a sudden madness, he broke free of the men restraining him and ran out into the streets.
They began to chase after him but Zytan held them at bay.
“You shall not need to worry about him,” he explained. “A self-induced mental torture is far worse than any worldly torture than I could devise. He will torture himself, of this I am sure. If we are lucky, we will never see or hear him ever again. If we are even luckier, I will one day see his body floating down the river.”
Spoiler: On "Section Five"
"“Before we begin, I suppose I will fancy you people with a bit of tradition,” Zytan said to the crowd. “Does anyone here wish to take this man’s place as his champion?”"
-This section of short dialogue probably seems completely out of place because it is. It was actually added a bit later in the writing process so as to give a reason for a later plot device.
-Regarding the fight scene, it's been a while since I've sat down and written one. In my previous works written when I was younger, I've always had quick and flashy action scenes, whereas now I've developed a more methodical, descriptive, and realistic way of doing that (though it still is a bit flashy). I sometimes feel that I have to sacrifice one for the other: either make it something that obviously happens very quick, but is not very detailed, or is very detailed, but has the appearance of not being very quick. I still strive to find a balance of both that I'm satisfied with.
Ärn ran down the path, fueled by his grief. He had flown past his parent’s home and the one that he had been building with his father. The sight of the homes only brought more sorrow to his heart and he continued to run. The images of his parents’ killings flashed over and over again in his mind, all accompanied by the evil laughter of Sheriff Zytan from some memory long past. For hours he continued to run, even once the path had ended and the sun had set. As the hours went by, he could no longer dash on sorrow alone, but he used all of his energy, all of his might to run. All he could do was run, taking no heed of his surroundings or where he was going. Suddenly, he tripped and fell to the cold floor. Looking up, he found that he had placed himself in the midst of a dark forest. But that was all that he could descry before he blacked out from pure exhaustion.
When he came back to his senses, the first thing he noticed was the odor. It was of a soup or stew of some kind and it made his stomach growl. Slowly he stirred and opened his eyes and as his vision came into focus, he noticed that above him was a thatched roof. He was in a bed and, taking a look around, found that he was in a sort of living quarters with a small fireplace in the corner with a great pot over it to his left. The room, other than the fireplace, was sparsely furnished with only one door within view and a small chair on the other side of the room with a window in the wall above it. Sitting in the chair was an elder middle-aged man in simple clothes reading a large tome that sat in his lap.
The man took a glance over at Ärn from his reading, and, seeing him awake, broke out into a large grin. He placed to tome down on the seat and walked out to Ärn, looking down on him with his hands clasped behind his back.
“Hello, there!” he said.
“Uh… Hello,” Ärn responded.
“I was hoping you’d awaken soon!” the man said, walking over to the pot in the fireplace. “I was just about to make some of my infamous beef stew and I was worried I would have to eat it all myself again.”
The man produced two wooden bowls with accompanying spoons from somewhere by the fireplace and poured stew into both bowls. He went back over to Ärn and offered him a bowl. Though the very sight of the amalgam within the vessel looked absolutely repulsive, Ärn found that he was too hungry to refuse, so he took the bowl into his hands and tasted it cautiously. Seeing that the food was not only safe to eat, but delicious, he gulped the stuff down.
“So, what is your name?” the man asked.
Ärn looked up at the man curiously.
“Ah, where are my manners?” his host laughed. “It has been so long since I had guests! I am called Odeir. I am the Father of the place you find yourself in now, Solitude Hall, which resides in the Blessed Forest. I am the only Father here, unfortunately, so I sometimes forget my manners. Please forgive me.”
Ärn finished gulping down his helping of stew. “My name is Ärn. I come from the town of Trallan.”
Odeir’s brow raised in surprise. “Trallan?” he said. “That’s quite a ways from here. Twenty miles, at the least, to the west. How was it that you fell unconscious here in the forest?”
“I… ran,” Ärn felt silly for saying it.
“In one sitting? You must be quite an athlete! But I am sure someone will come looking for you, correct?”
Ärn looked away. “No. No one will be coming to look for me.”
“And why is that?”
Ärn gazed sternly back into the man’s eyes. “My parents are dead, killed by the sheriff of Trallan. I ran away to escape their fate.”
This had stuck a nerve with the old man. “I… I am sorry.” A few seconds of silence went by, but then he perked up again. “Well, it is a blessing of Aethera that you found your way here, then! Would you like another helping of stew?”
“Yes, please.” Ärn gave his bowl back to Odeir, who graciously filled it back up.
“Well, what do you plan to do with yourself, Ärn,” Odeir asked, “now that you find yourself here?”
Ärn thought for a few moments, but he shrugged. “I do not know.”
“Well, that is just fine!” Odeir nodded. “Here in Solitude Hall, you have all the time you need. If you feel that you want to leave, there is no one stopping you, either. Though I would suggest staying here a while, as you do have nowhere to go.”
Ärn allowed himself a small smile. “I thank you for your hospitality,” he said. “I think I shall take you up on your offer until I find out what I want to do next.”
The old man smiled back at him. “Of course, my boy, of course. It is just a small taste of the larger kindness that Aethera has given us. But now that you are filled and fully awake, perhaps you should like to get a bearing on your surroundings. How about joining me for my morning jaunt?”
“I would love to. Thank you.”
Spoiler: On "Section Six"
"“Ah, where are my manners?” his host laughed. “It has been so long since I had guests! I am called Odeir. I am the Father of the place you find yourself in now, Solitude Hall, which resides in the Blessed Forest..."
-The Blessed Forest, a large wooded area in the mountainous northeast, at this point in time, has no official name. It is simply named the "Blessed Forest" by Odeir. It will later come to be called the Faerie Forest, for the discovery of a large fairy colony living in the mountains.
-From here on out, Ärn is referenced to as the "boy" and Odeir as the "old man," though neither of those statements are very true by real-world standards. Ärn is a man by age (he is eighteen, as revealed later) and Odier is only about fifty years old.
Ärn got up from the bed and went with Odeir out of the room. The door had opened into a small passageway with another door across from them and another small hallway reaching out to the left halfway across. They took the second hallway, which led to another room. This was the main room, as it seemed. It was larger than the living quarters and just as scarcely furnished. In the center there grew a large tree through holes in the floor and ceiling. Scattered about were light tree stumps which acted as seats. In each of the four cardinal directions on the tree was the Cube and Wave, the symbol of the Church of Aethera. The walls to the left and right of where they stood each had square holes that acted as windows.
“You built all this yourself?” Ärn asked.
“ ‘All this?’ Odeir asked. “It is not much by any means, but, yes, I built this place. This room is the one that makes me hope. Though I do not usually get visitors, if I do, it is good to bring them here to converse and whatnot. One day, I believe, I will address a congregation here.”
Ärn was just about to ask another question when they walked out of the double doors and out into the courtyard and he was interrupted and surprised by a yapping. Suddenly, a large pink creature came bounding up towards them with its red tongue lolling out of its mouth. It gave another strange bay and made a terrific jump, knocking Odeir off of his feet. Ärn stood wide-eyed at this thing as it proceeded to lick Odeir’s face and cry out happily.
“Get– off– you– big– oaf!” Odeir managed to say between laughs and stifling licks. Finally, he managed to push the thing off of him and it sat up with its tail flitting back and forth.
“What… is that?” Ärn asked.
It was by far the strangest things he had ever seen. It was a large pink reptile with a yellow underbelly and small grey spikes or plates running down its back. Folded down on its back were also wings that contained no real color, but rather shimmered in a rainbow-like pattern in the light. The thing was large, as well, but whether from muscle or fat, Ärn could not tell. On all fours, it stood up to his knees, but was about a silm long from head to tail.
“That… Well, you know, I honestly have no idea what it is!” Odeir laughed, reaching down to stroke the creature’s head. “He came to me from out in the forest one day, only a few weeks ago. He has such a kind heart and I knew just by looking at him that he would not even hurt a fly. Besides that, he is the one that found you unconscious and took you here to me.”
Ärn broke out into a huge smile. “And what is his name?” he asked.
“Bubba is his name,” was the reply.
“Bubba? What is that? Why ‘Bubba?’”
The old man scratched underneath the creature’s chin and it reached out its neck and purred. “Bwa-bwah,” it gurgled contentedly.
“See,” Odeir smiled, “Bubba.”
“Bubba…” Ärn nodded as his smile grew even larger. He kneeled down and stroked its head all the way down to its tail. “Thank you, Bubba.”
Bubba wagged its tail, licked Ärn’s hand, and then proceeded to begin to lick his face.
Odeir laughed. “He seems to have taken a liking to you!”
“I guess so,” Ärn spluttered.
“Well, anyway, we should get going. Come on, Bubba!”
Bubba then leapt away from Ärn and to Odeir’s side. Ärn took a place next to the old man as well and they began their walk.
Spoiler: On "Section Seven"
"In each of the four cardinal directions on the tree was the Cube and Wave, the symbol of the Church of Aethera."
-The Cube and Wave was a symbol of my own creation, meant for something completely different than the Church. It consists of a cube with a waved line cutting across it. The symbol represents space-time in that there are three dimensions of space (the cube) and one dimension of time (the wavy line) that uses space as a medium (intersection of the two). Not knowing what to use as the official symbol for the Church, I opted for this symbol, as they are worshiping a deity that embodies existence, and, thus, space-time.
-Presumably, it was the Elves that originally showed Man the symbol, but it was not until the Elves left the Isle of the Imperfect that they used it as the Church symbol.
"It was a large pink reptile..."
-This is known (out-of-universe) as a Komodogator. The species is the creation of a friend of mine, though I was given the luxury of having a special one designed for me to use in whatever medium I wished. For the picture, click here! (My Komodogator, Bubba, is the furthest to the right.)
-In universe, they have no name and perhaps only this one exists. Or maybe I'll have some more show up or something. I dunno.
They walked together down a forest path and spoke. The warm summer breeze was now a cool drift of air coming from down the mountain and through the trees. Indeed, Ärn soon found out that the entire forest started at the base of a large mountain and the area that he had entered had been up in a much higher elevation than Trallan. How he had run all the way up the mountain to this point on sheer will alone, neither he nor Odeir could find out. But they were both happy that he had, for there was no one living around the mountain within ten miles, and none in the direction of Trallan. Ärn thanked Aethera for his good fortune. He and Odeir continued on down the path, talking and watching Bubba happily chase insects and birds and small animals, barking and its tongue lolling out of its mouth.
“Why did you become a Father, Odeir?” Ärn asked the old man. “You are not like any Father I have known or heard of. You are definitely not like the old Father in Trallan, that is for sure. What did you do beforehand?”
A cloud drifted over Odeir’s brow. “I used to be in a position of power,” he said. “I was a great fighter during the Elf Wars, but after the wars, things… Well, suffice to say, I resigned from my job and came here to find myself and Aethera in the seclusion and wilderness. This is why I am unlike any Father you have ever seen and probably will ever see. Though I was never formally trained in any of the Church doctrine, I know who Aethera is and I have a personal connection with her. Out here, I find myself closer to her, closer to the Aether as a whole. I hope one day that I can help someone else find that kind of connection with her as well.”
“You fought in the Elf Wars?” Ärn asked. “It seems like a strange change of occupation, does it not? From a solider to a Father of the Church of Aethera.”
“Well, I was by no means a warrior,” Odeir said. “I was obligated to serve my lord and was trained in swordplay, like all young men that came over from the Old Lands, but I never enjoyed the spilling of blood. I was the best in my class, sure, but it did not mean that I liked to pick up the sword. I believe that Aethera gave me those qualities for my true calling: this.
“How old are you, by the way, Ärn? I’m curious why you do not seem to remember the Elf Wars.”
“I am eighteen,” Ärn answered. “The wars were two years before my birth.”
“But just about the time that I stepped down,” Odeir mused.
They continued to walk in silence for a short spell. The breeze had settled, leaving the chill of the morning air and its sunny contradiction to mingle against their skin. The day became brighter and the morning dew had all dried, their steps crunched and cracked the leaves and twigs on their path, and the silly creature continued to run back and forth, in and out of sight, chasing creatures seen and unseen. There was no sense of tension or fear in the silence, as Ärn was used to. There was simply peace and quiet and a fullness of the heart.
The placid silence was broken softly by Odeir’s voice. “What about your parents, Ärn? What were they like?”
Ärn’s chest became suddenly empty and his hands clenched into fists.
“My parents were good people,” he said. “They were strong in their faith in Aethera and always willing to help. They were proud but gentle people. My father fought in the Elf Wars, as well. My mother was the backbone of our family. She was one of the best cooks in the entire town and my father one of the best swords and workers. They were leaders in the community, but caring as well. They had a strong sense of justice and between the two of them they could always find out the best thing to do next. They never broke a promise and…”
Ärn’s voice trailed off and he stopped. Odeir had taken a few steps, but turned. Ärn remembered the last thing he said before he flew from Trallan: “I will kill you! I swear I will slit your throat!” Odeir took a step towards his companion.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“I must keep my promise,” Ärn mumbled. He looked up at the old man and said, “I will kill Sheriff Zytan. I will avenge my parents. Aethera has shown me what I must do.”
The response came so suddenly and sternly that Ärn flinched and blinked in surprise. “What?”
“No,” Odeir said again, a deathly expression on his face. “No, you will not be getting revenge. I may not be familiar with all of the Church’s doctrine, but one thing I do know from my own studies is that Aethera does not condone revenge. Aethera is a being of order and peace. Vengeance brings about and is brought about by just the opposite. You will kill no man out of vengeance in the name of Aethera.”
“Well, forget Aethera then!” Ärn said. “I will avenge my parents!”
He began to storm off.
“No, you will not!” Odeir suddenly whipped out his hand and gripped Ärn’s arm. “You will stay with me until you have cooled down and learned the true meaning of Aethera’s will. You will not leave my sight until you have left these ridiculous notions of revenge behind you!”
“And who is going to stop me, old man,” Ärn snapped. “You?!”
Then, out of the corner of Ärn’s eye, he saw a pink figure crouching near the ground. From the figure came an animal growling.
“Not me,” Odeir said slyly.
Ärn released himself from Odeir’s grip and looked over at the figure. There was Bubba crouched and ready to pounce, growling with his teeth bared. Ärn sighed and resigned himself.
The days from then on came and went in the same manner. Ärn and Odeir would wake up at the crack of dawn. They prayed to Aethera for two hours, thanking her for the new day and praising her power, before eating breakfast, which consisted of whatever it may have been that they could find out in the forest the day before. After breakfast, Odeir would assign Ärn tasks for the day, which were changed from day to day. These tasks could consist of scrubbing the floor and cleaning the walls of Solitude Hall for hours until they gleamed, watering the spice and flower gardens out in the courtyard-clearing, cutting firewood, playing (wrestling, more like) with Bubba to keep his energy down, feeding Bubba, walking with Bubba, going out into the forest to find food for the next few days, or some other menial task. The tasks, of course, would usually last until sunset. It was not to be said that Odeir did not do work, as he did many things during the day, rather, it was Ärn that was given the task that he least wanted to accomplish. By sunset, they would return to the hall and pray to Aethera for another two hours, thanking her for the day that they had enjoyed and kindly asking for the blessing of another. They then ate dinner, whilst Odeir dictated to Ärn about the Aetherion. The dictations would last long into the night and once the old man had concluded, they went to bed to begin they cycle again.
At first, Ärn toiled grudgingly. He awoke cranky and annoyed and he thought of ways to torture the old Father during prayer. He did his work with a heavy heart and a sour face and enjoyed neither his meals nor his situation. At the second prayer, he continued to let his mind wander and he cared not for lecture. As the days turned into months, though, he began to see the care that went into each day. During each meal, though he would not often respond, Odeir tried to talk to Ärn about his life, told him interesting stories, and the like. He was always considerate, but strict in his judgment of the accomplishment of tasks and he was always slow to anger, no matter how much Ärn tried to irk him. Dictation at the end of the day turned from simply reading the Aetherion to more interesting subjects about his own understanding of Church theology. Ärn noticed how, during prayers, Odeir would subtly pray for his safety and happiness, and once the first month living in the Blessed Forest with the old man, Ärn found that he was, indeed, happy.
Despite all of these things, however, Ärn still felt the burning passion of vengeance in his heart. It had not left him since that day and his pride did not allow the promise to not be kept. Though Odeir tried and tried to show him that revenge was unholy every day, Ärn could not stop thinking of the moments when the sheriff slashed his parents, their voices screaming out to him as they died. He understood what the book said about righteousness and he knew that Aethera could not falter and could not support evil, but that did not wipe away the cruel voice that screamed to him every night saying, “Your mother dies for you. Her blood stains your hands. It is because of you that she dies.” Though he had grown to love the man almost as a second father, he knew that in order to accomplish his goal, he would have to deceive the old man.
Spoiler: On "Section Nine"
Sorry this section is really short. If you're following along, there may be at least one other section like this that's kinda lame, but necessary to make as one section alone so as to make the timing correct. Otherwise, read on.
"They then ate dinner, whilst Odeir dictated to Ärn about the Aetherion."
-The Aetherion is like the Bible of this world. It is the official canon of the Church of Aethera, written in Elvish, at this point in time.
Odeir awoke the next morning and looked about him. Ärn was not in the temporary bed on the other side of the room. In fact, he was not in the room at all. Curious, Odeir got up from bed and walked out into the hallway. He found that Ärn was not in the storage room, which was across the hall, so he went down into the main room. Odeir gasped. Before him was the boy with a noose about his neck, tied to the tree in the center of the room. He stood on a stump, but with one kick, he could easily hang.
“Tell me, good Father,” Ärn said slowly, desperation in his eyes, “will Aethrea reject my soul and damn it to the Void if I take my life?”
“No,” Odeir answered cautiously. “But one would question the strength of your faith.”
“I have faith enough,” Ärn answered. “And I have prayed enough. Yet Aethera does not answer me.”
Odeir straightened. “You still seek revenge.”
“You have taught me much,” Ärn said. “You have taught me that nothing happens without Aethera’s consent. You have taught me that Aethera’s will is good and pure. Why, then, does she allow men like Zytan to live?!”
“That is not for us to know,” Odeir said softly.
“Well I damn well should!” Ärn shouted. Odeir jumped at the outburst as the stump beneath the boy’s feet shifted slightly. “He killed my parents. The least I deserve is justice!”
“Justice Aethera may give you, but not revenge!” Odeir said. “I can help you achieve justice, but vengeance is not on my agenda, nor is it on Aethera’s!”
“That man deserves to die!” Ärn cried out. Tears began to stream down his face. “If he will not die, then I am finished.”
He made a motion to kick the wood out from underneath him, but Odeir interrupted. “Look at yourself, Ärn!”
“Look at yourself!” Odeir repeated. “You are doing exactly what Zytan wants you to do! You are torturing yourself because of something out of your hands! You wallow in your self-pity and it brings you to this! Think about your situation! Is it bad?! Does it hurt?!”
Ärn could not speak. Odeir continued.
“In Zytan’s mind, he has brought justice to rebels and look at where you are, look at the things you are feeling. You would rather embrace death than live on another moment, am I correct? Now think about bringing that kind of pain to Zytan. He cannot feel everything you have felt through death. Only justice, letting him live, letting him know what he has done wrong and forcing him to think about it for the rest of his life can bring him to that point. You do not want him dead, you want justice. I can give you justice. I can help you enact justice, but you must come down from there.”
“Odeir…” Ärn said, shocked. “Those are not the words of a Father of the Church.”
“Perhaps not,” Odeir responded. “But I am not a Father.”
“Will you teach me, then? Teach my how to obtain justice?”
“I swear upon Aethera herself you will know how to defeat Zytan by the end of the year. Just… get yourself down from there.”
Ärn continued to stand there shocked for a few moments before lifting the noose from about his neck. He then fell to the ground and began to cry.
“I miss them, Odeir,” he sobbed. “I just miss them so much.”
The old Father put a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I know, Ärn. I know.”
Spoiler: On "Section Ten"
This entire scene I wish was a little bit more involved or a bit longer. Personally, I don't feel that the tension as I wanted it was there at all. I'm confident it's within my skills and if I ever go back to edit this story, I will be sure to do so.
Many more months went by, but with a different schedule, as a result of that day. Each day, if Ärn completed his daily task with time to spare, Odeir would cease his own task and arm himself and the boy with a large stick. Due to the circumstances, Ärn often rushed through his tasks in order to learn. They would train in the courtyard for hours on end, even cutting into their daily prayer and dinner.
The training itself consisted of a short hands-on training of new movies and techniques beforehand, a spar where commands and more tips were shouted, and finally a recap and criticism. The days went by and changes came about in both Ärn and Odeir. Both of them were turning into warriors in their own right. Ärn slowly became a strong fighter and skilled worker. Odeir transformed from a simple and soft spoken Father that wanted to get away from the world to a confident and brash commanding officer, a change that he seemed to accept and enjoy readily.
The months went by and finally the winter month of Witmun arrived. The mountain had gradually gone from the summer greens, to the brown fall, and now settled in the white winter, though the pines retained their liveliness. Despite everything, they continued to work and train.
“You have learned much,” Odeir told him one day just before training. “Today, I wish to see you apply everything you know. I won’t be teaching you anything else. The goal is to simply defeat me in single combat. Are you ready?”
Ärn picked up the combat staff that Odeir had made for him (he had graduated from simple forest branches) and assumed a standard combat position. “Ready.”
Odeir gripped his own staff and readied it. “Then let us begin.”
The two began to step slowly towards each other, their weapons raised between them. Odeir’s words echoed in Ärn’s head: “Always keep your sword in the ‘ready’ position, out in front of you with the blade perpendicular to the ground. A slight slant of the blade with the tip towards your opponent is acceptable and common, as well.”
They met in the center of the courtyard, the tips of their staffs just barely touching. “In the ready position, you are able to both easily attack and deflect blows to all sides. Imagine your opponent in a doorway. You should be able to hit any part of the doorway easily and quickly.” Their eyes met and neither of them flickered away for a moment. “Keep your eyes on your opponent’s eyes, using your peripheral vision to spy their arms and legs. Not only is it necessary to always keep your enemy in your sight, a quick flick of the eyes or a shifting of the limbs will tell you when and how your opponent is attacking. It is impossible for someone to not display at least one of these things before a strike if they wish to land a strong hit.”
Odier, though, was a master swordsman, but Ärn was not to be fooled. A shifting of Odeir’s left foot meant he was going to attack on his left side, meaning Ärn had to block right. There was no twist of Odeir’s hand that would facilitate an attack going from the bottom up, so the strike would come down. In a split second, Ärn had his staff up above his head, off to the right, and almost horizontal to the ground, blocking Odeir’s attack. “It is not enough to simply react quickly to an attack,” Odeir echoed in Ärn’s mind. “Do not simply absorb a blow with your blade. Step into the blow while defending and push away with your weapon at the same time. This will lessen the impact of the attack, lessen the shock on your sword arm, and possibly knock your opponent off balance.”
Odeir continued his assault with quick attacks in all directions, but Ärn deflected each blow with ease. “If you are defending, continue to defend. It is a matter of stamina and you have the easier job. Attacking uses more energy than defending. Eventually, your attacker will make a mistake in his tiredness and that is your time to counter and make the final blows.” The onslaught did not lessen, however. Odeir kept up the pace, as did Ärn. There seemed like no end in sight as they traded blows back and forth across the courtyard. Bubba watched in amusement, his tongue lolling and his tail wagging.
“In the event that your opponent does not let up or you find yourself running out of energy defending,” Odeir’s voice said, “try a dodge or try to knock your opponent off balance.” At the next attack, Ärn added an extra punch to his block-push, knocking Odeir slightly off balance. He then, quickly jumped to Odeir’s unprotected side and swung. Even with his opponent at an advantage, however, Odeir was able to twist his wrist to absorb the attack on his unprotected side. “Oftentimes, body control is very important.” Ärn was reminded. “Even when you are temporarily disabled, keeping yourself cool and in control will save you.”
Odeir stepped back to recollect himself, but Ärn was unrelenting. It was his turn to attack and he did so with a flurry of strikes in all directions. Finding that none of the attacks connected, Ärn tried one of the desperation moves that he was taught. “A sweep of the legs, if done correctly and at the right time, will completely disable your opponent. Be very wary when using this attack, however, as it leaves you completely open for a counter during and after the attack. If possible, combine the leg sweep with a move backwards and out of danger immediately after completing the move.” Ärn lifted his rod up and to the left as if he were going to make a downward attack, but quickly brought it around, over Odeir’s head, and, crouching slightly, across his opponent’s feet.
Though he saw the feint and noticed the opening, Odeir did not have time to counter, so quick was Ärn’s execution. He jumped to avoid the attack and lifted his staff over his head in a large counterattack. “Never raise your sword up over your head to attempt a large blow unless you know that you will not be countered.” Coming back down, Odeir only struck the snow-covered ground, as Ärn had successfully rolled away after the follow-through of the attack. Ärn quickly got on his feet again and assumed combat position again. Odeir turned towards him, sword pointed.
Suddenly, Ärn charged with a yell and a flurry of strong attacks. Odeir blocked each one, but was too slow to punch out each defending stroke. On the final attack, Ärn pushed inward on his blow once the staffs had connected, causing Odeir to reel downwards in shock and unbalance. This was something he had not taught the boy. Ärn then landed a quick blow to his opponent’s side, bringing him down to the ground underneath a pine. Despite the unexpected attack and hit, Odeir kept his grip on his weapon. Ärn brought the point to Odeir’s chest.
“Looks like I win,” he said.
“Not quite,” Odeir responded. “You forgot the lesson on use of the terrain around you.”
With that, the old man struck the tree with his staff, causing the snow caught in the branches to fall down on his adversary. In the confusion, Odeir got up and struck at the mound of snow that had been created. But all his staff met was the force absorbing ice crystals, not another man. Odeir sifted through the mound of snow with his staff and found that there was nothing there but the snow that had fallen out from the tree. He then noticed footprints leading behind him. Too late, Odeir spun around with his weapon outwards. Ärn, behind the old man, struck his opponent’s weapon out of his hand and pointed his own weapon once again at Odeir’s chest.
“Now I win,” Ärn said with a smile.
Odeir conceded. “Yes, you do. Very well done, I must say. Let us finish this lesson inside.”
Spoiler: On "Section Eleven"
This is my personal favorite section. I tried to envision not only an elaborate fight scene that concluded Ärn's training, but also a way to show that he had come a long way. The way to do this was to echo Odeir's old instructions to Ärn during the final fight and I think it worked out really well.
This scene is also partially inspired by the training scenes inBatman Begins when Ra's al Ghul is training Bruce Wayne in different times and trials, with Liam Neeson's voice echoing throughout the entire sequence. As an extra tie-in, I purposefully made Odeir's “You forgot the lesson on use of the terrain around you” similar to Ghul's "Always mind your surroundings" and Batman's "You never learned to mind your surroundings!" in the film.
“I believe you are ready to face Zytan,” Odeir said when they entered the hall.
Ärn stopped in his tracks. “Really? Do you really think so?”
“Ärn, you are the best student I have ever taught,” Odeir said. “You have defeated me and you can no longer learn more from me. If anything, you are indeed ready.”
Ärn stood there in amazement. It had only been a few months, yet the strides that he had taken in that time had been enormous. The realization of his accomplishments struck and stunned him.
“There is, of course, the matter of the method with which you will face him,” Odeir said.
Ärn snapped out of his bewilderment and shook his head. “I will defeat him in a Trial and succeed where my father could not. It is the only way.”
Odeir nodded. “A just end to an unjust reign.” The old man sighed. “However, there is the matter of the title that is bestowed upon the winner of the Trial. You do realize that if you are successful in defeating Zytan, you will be the next sheriff of Trallan.”
The boy shook his head. “I am not ready for a position of leadership such as that,” he said. “I think you would be better suited for the job. If I win, I will resign my title to you.”
“I feared as much,” Odeir said grimacing. “However, I am unsure whether I am ready to regain a position of power, myself. Though I know your mind will not be easily changed, let us pray to Aethera and meditate on our upcoming decisions. Maybe then we will find a change of heart or mind. If you would please, Ärn, get the Aetherion from our room?”
“Of course,” Ärn said and he walked down the short halls into the bedroom.
The large tome was the only book that Odeir had, and Ärn recognized it as the book that the man had been reading when he came to all those months ago. In Trallan, the penalty for touching a copy of the Aetherion was apparently eternal and straight damnation to the Void once you died, but Odeir took no note of that. Besides, why would someone keep another from touching such a wonderful book? It was filled with great truths that all should know (though not necessarily everyone could read due to the text being in Elvish), so why keep it from people and go so far as to be threatened with the Void? Odeir had explained one day that it was so that no one read the book, study it, and could challenge the teachings of the Fathers.
Regardless, Ärn took the book from off of the chair underneath the window and turned to bring it back to the main room. However, he was halted when a folded piece of paper fell out of the binding of the book and fell onto the floor. It had been folded neatly in half and appeared fairly old at a glance, but it had fallen open as it fell. Ordinarily, Ärn would have picked it up and not given it a second thought, if it were not for one word that caught his eye: “Zytan.” Curious, Ärn picked up the paper and read.
Suddenly angry, Ärn stormed back into the main room where Odeir sat in wait.
“What is this?!” Ärn said just as he entered, brandishing the paper.
Odeir looked up and was only a bit surprised to see the document in Ärn’s hand. “A letter,” he said simply.
“A letter,” Ärn repeated. “A letter naming you as the former sheriff of Trallan and saying that you left your position to your only son, Zytan!”
“Ärn, do not be rash,” Odier said, rising from his seat. “Let me explain.”
“No,” Ärn shook his head and stepped back. “How can I trust you anymore? Did you know Zytan was a tyrant, terrorizing the people of Trallan? Did you convince me to enact ‘justice’ on him because he was your son? Are you using me to just get your position back? When was this sent, anyway?”
“That letter was meant to be posted in the village square,” Odeir said. “It was never posted; I figured that a defeat by the Trial would be less shameful than a perfectly capable sheriff resigning because he didn’t feel up to the job anymore. I kept that letter as motivation to remind myself why I was out here in the first place.”
“So that is it then?” Ärn said, his voice rising. “You are the sheriff that was defeated and banished by Trial all those years ago, just after the Elf Wars? You came out here and let that monster in?” Ärn shook his head. His breath was getting quicker and quicker, his head was swimming. “How can I trust anything you say? Anything you have told me in these last few months?”
“Ärn–” Odeir began, but it was too late.
The boy dropped both the book and the letter and ran past the old man and out the door. Odeir followed but Ärn was soon lost in the gloom. Bubba barked and began to run after him, but Odier called him back. He immediately went into a deep prayer and meditation. For hours into the night, Odeir humbled himself and begged for guidance from Aethera. At the stroke of midnight, the old man lifted his head. His prayers had suddenly ceased and the only thing he could think to do was to go to Trallan and initiate the Trial himself. He must make amends somehow. Immediately, he picked us his combat staff, called Bubba to his side, and began his descent down the mountain.
Spoiler: On "Section Twelve"
-I thought that the entire thing with Ärn running away, the way it was presented, was a little unfounded. Having planned the plot in advance, I knew this was how I wanted it to go, but I don't think that I did an extremely good job doing it. This would be another scene that I would attempt to redo if I were to take the time to make a second draft.
Day had come and gone and night had descended upon Trallan when Odeir had arrived. He went forth unflinchingly with firm and confident strides towards Zytan’s home. It bad been his own home, eighteen years ago, and he knew the way by heart. As he came to the door, he stopped suddenly and looked upon it. Though the Mark that had been made but a few months earlier had been repaired, its etchings were still faintly visible. Odeir stared at the faint marking for a few seconds, and then raised his staff. Slowly he retraced the Mark on Zytan’s door. The grinding sound of wood on wood resounded through the town and men and women came out to see what was going on. Immediately whispers began to spread.
“Is not that the old sheriff?”
“Old man Odeir? It cannot be.”
“It looks like him…”
Odeir turned and addressed the crowd. “It is indeed me, Odeir,” he said. “I realize that I have done this town a large offence by letting myself be defeated and banished. Therefore, I have come back to redeem myself and bring peace back to this land.”
But no cry of happiness or cheer came from the crowd before the great house. The memory of the death of Bredin was still fresh in their minds and it seemed to them that Zytan could never be defeated and would kill them all due to work before dying himself. The crowd dispersed back to their homes with downcast hearts and heads. Odeir, however, remained vigilant at the door of Zytan and waited with Bubba at his feet.
“So you have come to face me, old man?” Zytan mocked. “You made the Mark?”
It was the next day and the Questioning was progress. Odeir had stayed up with a heart of stone and an unwavering will until Zytan acknowledged the Mark of the Trial. The townspeople were once again communed in a circle in the town square. The old man was bent before the sheriff.
“Yes, I did,” Odeir answered. “The entire town saw it.”
“Hm, this seems familiar somehow,” Zytan mused sarcastically. But he shook his head and continued. “Father, you have disregarded the conditions of your banishment as a result of your defeat in the Trial. I should kill you now. Why should I accept this challenge?”
Suddenly enraged, Odeir quickly stood up despite the guards holding him down and, without turning, both of them back and off of the gallows with a sweep of his hands. More guards began to rush up, but Zytan motioned them off as Odeir pointed an accusatory finger at his son. In a cautionary habit, Zytan fingered the hilt of the sword strapped to his hip.
“What has happened to you, Zytan?!” he said. “I thought I was leaving this town in good hands. You were a good young man! But apparently the fumes of power have gotten to your head. I see now that it was a mistake to leave you in power and shun this good town like I did. I will redeem myself for the wrongs I have committed to the people of this town and my friends. I will not let you defeat me today, Zytan. Today, you will fall.”
A moment of silence, then Zytan let loose a great bellowing laugh. “You do not understand, you do, old man?!” he said. “You lost the Trial eighteen years ago! As a result, you are no longer a citizen of Trallan or the Kilmet Clan! You do not have the right to initiate the Trial! Your words are for naught!” He laughed again.
“He has the right!” someone called out. A figure in a brown robe with hood cast stepped out. “As per the Rights of the Trial, a non-citizen has the right to initiate the Trial, given that they have a citizen champion to fight for them.”
Zytan suddenly stopped laughing. He turned and faced the figure. “Huh. A champion, eh?” he said. “I do not suppose you would mind being his champion, would you?”
The figure cast off its robe. Underneath the cloth was Ärn, who gripped the blade his father had last fought with. “Gladly,” he said.
“Ärn!” Odeir gasped.
But the boy ignored him. He lifted the blade and pointed it up at Zytan on the gallows. “I will kill you rightfully for killing my parents. Today, you will not only fall, you will die.”
Spoiler: On "Section Thirteen"
-Hopefully I did this right. You see, I counted so that all of the sections of the story are done by Saturday the 14th, but I once counted that I would have to post this section alone to make it to that day, then I counted again and I found that I didn't have to... Kinda confusing. Hopefully, I do this right and stuff.
-Other than that, nothing story-related at all.
Spoiler: On "Section Fourteen"
"“As per the Rights of the Trial, a non-citizen has the right to initiate the Trial, given that they have a citizen champion to fight for them.”"
-This is the plot device I mentioned earlier. It's in the guise of an old custom, but it's really just something to get Ärn to fight the final battle against Zytan.
Zytan scowled. “It is you, is it not? The son of that rebel filth!” He spat at Ärn, who did not flinch. “It was clever of you to be doing this with my father, if it is indeed your plan. Killing two birds with one stone, as they say. But whether or not it is true, you will fare no better than your dogs for parents. I will accept this challenge, if only to finish what I started and get the satisfaction of killing you!”
He jumped down from the gallows and drew his sword. Zytan and Ärn stepped forward and their swords met in a neutral position. Slowly, Zytan brought his sword back to bring it down on Ärn’s head. It was a huge mistake, obviously one founded on the assumption that Ärn was a novice swordsman. He quickly showed the man otherwise by sidestepping the blade and performing a crushing shoulder ram into Zytan’s chest, knocking the air out of him. As Zytan reeled back, Ärn made a horizontal slash just at the last moment and caught the huge man across the stomach. Though it was only a flesh wound, the blood was visible in an instant.
Zytan looked up at his opponent in complete, wide-eyed shock. He had not expected much of a fight, but here was a strong and youthful foe, who not only knew how to use a sword, but was willing to fight dirty and put his wrath into each blow. The physical attack was at the point of Zytan’s confusion. It was strong for a boy his size, too strong. He could feel the pure malice behind the strike and see it in his face. He looked across at the boy, his sword pointed towards him, aimed at his throat, and still he saw the hatred in his eyes. Suddenly, Ärn let out a great yell that caused everyone in attendance of the Trial to jump and shiver with fear and then he charged.
Zytan no longer had time to rest, for there was a demon of vengeance upon him that was bent on his slaughter. Ärn’s blade was but a series of quick flashes that Zytan could only just spy and deflect. Not only were the attacks swift, they were brutal in their strength. He had the strength of a madman and was unrelenting. Over and over and over Ärn brought down his full fury onto his opponent, the man that had killed his parents in cold blood, and each time the strike was parried, though with slightly less speed. Zytan soon realized that at this rate, he would fall victim to the boy’s onslaught. He then decided to perform a life threatening maneuver. If he died, he would only be hastening the inevitable, but if he succeeded in his next move, he would live for a few moments longer. Zytan closed his eyes, tried to predict Ärn’s next move in his mind, and put all of his remaining strength into a quick counterattack.
By some will of Aethera’s or just sheer luck, Zytan’s last-ditch effort had succeeded and Ärn’s sword flew into the air and the boy himself reeled back. Quickly, Zytan followed through with a horizontal slash of his own, but Ärn was swifter. Moving with his body’s natural recoil, he ducked below the stroke and, as Zytan’s arms twisted around and the move finished, jumped back up and landed two punches in his opponent’s wound and a third in the side of his face. Now it was Zytan that staggered. Ärn, seeing his opponent fall back, in his anger, made to cripple his foe. He took a grip on Zytan’s left arm with one hand, pulled it out towards him, stretching it out, and brought the elbow of his other arm down on Zytan’s left forearm, breaking it. Zytan cried out in pain, a deep and hideous scream like a lion roaring. In desperation, he swung his right arm wildly and powerfully towards Ärn and caught him in the side, audibly cracking his ribs.
Ärn released Zytan’s arm and took a few steps back before falling at a guard’s feet. There he lay screaming out in pain and coughing, almost regurgitating, blood with a terrible hacking sound. The guard looked down at Ärn with shock and pity. Zytan was but a few silms away with his arm hanging limply. He pointed at Ärn with his good hand.
“Kill him,” was the only thing he could manage.
The guard’s head shook at the shock of the situation that had been thrust upon him.
“But… sir–” he babbled. “The Trial–”
“I do not care about the damn Trial!” Zytan screamed. “Just kill that son of a ❤❤❤❤❤! Kill him or I will make you suffer, I swear by Aethera herself!”
The guard looked down at Ärn. He was faring no better than he was before. Nonetheless, the guard unsheathed his sword and raised it up above his head, its point downward with an intention to stab in the heart. Suddenly, there was a bark and then the guard saw a large pink blur. Bubba had come out from his place in the crowd, leapt onto the guard, and was biting the man furiously in an attempt to save Ärn. More guards came to the victim’s aid, but then the old man Odeir, who had escaped into the crowd during the fighting as well, beat them off with his combat staff. He then called the winged lizard-creature off of the man, who had only a few bite marks.
“Leave the boy alone, or you face the wrath of both of us,” Odeir said, addressing the guards.
They cautiously stepped back, despite Zytan’s commands otherwise. Odeir stooped down and spoke to Ärn.
“Ärn? Ärn? Are you alright? Can you move?”
Ärn was gasping for breath. The pain was almost unbearable. “If you could help me up, I will finish this,” he answered.
Odeir grimaced. “Are you sure? You are grievously wounded.”
“Just get me up,” Ärn gasped. “Get me up and I will finish this.”
Odeir nodded and called for Bubba to help him up onto his feet. Together, it was an easy feat. Odeir handed Ärn his combat staff to lean on and he thankfully accepted it. Then the boy made his way slowly to where Zytan stood. With each step, he could feel his ribs shift painfully within him. Then they stood but two strides from each other and for a few moments they did nothing but stare.
Then Zytan made a move. He attacked with a swing of his sword, aiming to behead Ärn in one sweep. But Ärn quickly blocked with the thick combat staff. Zytan pulled back to dislodge his sword but it would not come out of the wood. Taking advantage of this, Ärn pulled back and disarmed his opponent. Painfully removing the blade from the wood, Ärn then stuck Zytan again and again with the staff until the large man fell to his knees before him. Ärn cast the staff away and raised the sword above his head. Pain shot through his side like never before. He could not hold the blade aloft for long.
His thoughts went back to all of the events of the last few months, all of the things that were said. “Here, Ärn, I’ll take your things to the shed.” “Do not even dare think that you will eat before washing up, sir!” “I’m going to go with them. Ärn, I want you to stay here and keep an eye on things. Make sure to get to bed at a timely manner, we have to work tomorrow.” “Do not worry yourself so. Whatever is Aethera’s will is good. Do what you must.” “You knew about the penalty and yet you made the Mark anyway? Why?” “This town deserves better than you. And right now, anyone is better than you.” “No, you old fool. You do not tell me when this has ended, rather, I tell you. And I say this ends… Now!” “You bastard… You bastard! I will kill you! I swear I will slit your throat!” “Now for your outburst, your mother dies for you. Her blood stains your hands. It is because of you that she dies.” “I am called Odeir. I am the Father of the place you find yourself in now, Solitude Hall.” “He is the one that found you unconscious and took you here to me. Bubba is his name.” “I may not be familiar with all of the Church’s doctrine, but one thing I do know from my own studies is that Aethera does not condone revenge. Aethera is a being of order and peace. Vengeance brings about and is brought about by just the opposite. You will kill no man out of vengeance in the name of Aethera.” “I believe you are ready to face Zytan.” “What is this?!” “That letter was meant to be posted in the village square.”
“You bastard! I will kill you! I swear I will slit your throat!” “I may not be familiar with all of the Church’s doctrine, but one thing I do know from my own studies is that Aethera does not condone revenge. Aethera is a being of order and peace. Vengeance brings about and is brought about by just the opposite. You will kill no man out of vengeance in the name of Aethera.” “I will kill you! I swear I will slit your throat!” “This town deserves better than you. And right now, anyone is better than you.” “Aethera does not condone revenge. Aethera is a being of order and peace. Vengeance brings about and is brought about by just the opposite. You will kill no man out of vengeance in the name of Aethera.” “This town deserves better than you.” “I will kill you!” “Aethera does not condone revenge. You will kill no man out of vengeance in the name of Aethera.” “Better than you.” “I will slit your throat!” “Aethera does not condone revenge.”
Suddenly, Ärn let out a scream unlike anything let out before. It was a bellow of hatred and anguish and pain and remorse all mingled into one. He brought his blade down on Zytan and he fell to the ground. Odeir looked away just as the final blow was made. But now he looked at the defeated man upon the ground and saw no blood. He looked at Ärn’s blade. It was not stained with blood either. The old man realized that Ärn, at the last moment, must have spared Zytan by striking him with the flat of the blade! Ärn thrust the sword into the ground and leaned upon it.
“Zytan,” he said in as loud a voice he could muster, “you have been defeated in the Trial and spared. As a result, you are no longer a citizen of the Kilmet Clan or its beloved town of Trallan. You are cast down from your seat as Sheriff of Trallan and you are to never return to Trallan, or any territory of the Kilmet Clan, without risking a sentence of death.” He then turned to Odeir. “Now, as Odeir’s champion in this Trial, I proclaim him the new Sheriff of Trallan. May his judgment be wise, his authority good, and his reign prosperous.”
Ärn then stumbled without aid towards the crowd where Odeir and Bubba waited. As he walked the crowd of people cheered and whooped and blessed Ärn and Sheriff Odeir. They picked up Zytan and passed him from one person to the other until he lay unconscious outside of the town boundaries. Even Zytan’s guard celebrated; they threw off their armor and cast down their weapons and leapt and whooped. Ärn stopped next to the old man, looking onwards into the roaring crowd. They said nothing for a few moments, simply taking in the excitement.
Finally, Odeir said, “Thank you, Ärn.”
Ärn turned his head and his eyes locked with the old man’s. Ärn nodded and walked into the crowd and returned home.
Spoiler: On "Section Fifteen"
-The point of this final battle was to show the ferocity between the protagonist and antagonist, particularly of the former's towards the latter. It's supposed to give you the idea that Ärn will slaughter Zytan mercilessly and then give a "shock" when he doesn't. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't. Either way, I tried my best.
I'm really unsure of the two paragraphs of flashback quotes. Something that works well in movies and the like may not necessarily translate well to text, but I thought it would be interesting to summarize the story in one moment and then give a glimpse into Ärn's final internal struggle.
A year and more passed by until it was spring once again. Odeir had filled the office of Sheriff of Trallan in those days and helped to repair the town and reimburse its people for all of the wrongs that they suffered. Eventually, though, all was sorted out and things went about quite peacefully, as they should have. The people were joyous and the town prospered. No one had heard of what had happened to Zytan and no one cared to find out. The days were slow and harmonious and no one had a single complaint about their new way of life, even those that had to work.
It was on one of these beautiful, bright, and wonderfully fragrant spring mornings that the old man got a knock on his door. He was at work behind his desk scribbling down some notes in the sheriff’s home, which doubled as his main offices. Anyone was welcome to come into the home and talk to the sheriff, though most kept him to himself unless what they had to offer was very important, knowing how busy he was. Because of this, Odeir was surprised when he saw the boy Ärn appear from behind the wooden doors. He set his pen back in the inkwell and stood.
“Ärn,” he said, “what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”
Ärn had been keeping mostly to himself since the day that he felled Zytan. He had stayed in his home much of the day for many days while he healed from his injuries. He had refused to see the doctor, saying that if he did not heal himself up correctly, he would have only himself to blame. Thankfully, his ribs had repaired perfectly despite professional assistance and from then on, he could be found continuing to build the house that he and his father had left unfinished. As with his ribs, he refused any help on the project, but was miraculously able to finish up the home within a few months. Once it was finished, he could be found practicing his swordsmanship by himself in the yard. He never lived in the home, however. Every night, even after its completion, he would return to his mother and father’s house and sleep there. No one ever asked him why. When Ärn did come into town, it was for necessary supplies like food and he never tarried. No man or woman could hold his attention for long, no matter what method of distracting they pursued, so the citizens eventually gave up and would simply call out to him in appreciation or happiness whenever he passed by.
Bubba, who was curled up in the corner of the room, looked up and gave a small “Bra-brwah,” as Ärn took a seat opposite of Odeir and the old man returned to his own.
“Do you want anything?” Odeir asked. “Is there anything I can get you?”
“No, thank you,” was the distant response.
They sat for a short moment and Ärn gazed out of the window. Odeir finally asked, “Then what is wrong?”
Ärn pulled himself away from the outside to meet the sheriff’s gaze. “I am going to leave Trallan.”
Odeir nodded. One part of him was surprised to hear the news, but the other told him that this was something that he had expected for a while now.
“You and I have not talked since that day,” Odeir said.
“No.” Ärn looked out through the window again. Odeir remembered that that window looked out onto the town square where the gallows used to hang. Now there was a brightly tiled surface centered around the sword that Ärn had thrust into the ground all those days ago.
“I do not expect you to explain yourself,” Ärn continued, still looked out the window. “Nor do I wish for you to do so.” He paused as if he wanted to say something, but then closed his mouth and instead said, “I have not told anyone I am leaving.”
Odeir looked at the man across from him, young, proud, and alone. He would not say what was on his mind without coaxing.
“Then why did you come here?” Odeir asked. “Why did you feel that you had to tell me?”
“Because…” Ärn’s voice trailed off. Then he looked Odeir in the face again, but his eyes cast down at the last moment.
“You are like a second father to me,” he said finally. “You are all I have left. You have taught me much and I have learned much from all of the experiences I have had with you. Despite everything, things turned out for the better. Aethera’s will worked out.”
“She works in strange ways,” Odeir said. “Ways that we cannot often comprehend when we are in the midst of them, but understand fully in hindsight.”
“Yes,” Ärn nodded in agreement. Then he shook his head lightly. “I came to let you know that I do not hate you. That I have no ill will against you. I can only hope you have none against me.”
“You have done nothing wrong,” Odeir said, but Ärn shook his head.
“Nonetheless, I simply came to tell you I am leaving and… to thank you.” Ärn lifted his eyes again and stared into the old man’s. “Thank you for everything you have done for me.”
“Ärn…” Odeir sighed. “Thank you. I wish you only the best in your future life.”
Ärn smiled and stood. Odeir stood also and gave the boy a quick embrace. They said nothing as Ärn went out of the room. The old man sighed. Things were right again. He went and sat down behind his table again and began to write. Then, struck with a sudden curiosity, he stood again and looked out of the window overlooking the square. There was Ärn gazing at the spots where his parents had been killed. He took a large and visible inhale, balled his hands into fists, and scrunched his face, closing his eyes and furrowing his brow. Then, as he released his breath, all of the tension was gone and Odeir saw a true happiness return to the boy’s eyes, one that he had never seen before.
Then he watched as he turned around and strode confidently out of town.
Spoiler: On "Section Sixteen"
"The days were slow and harmonious and no one had a single complaint about their new way of life, even those that had to work."
-This sentence is supposed to be reminiscent, though opposite of, Tolkien's sentence from The Return of the King, "...and everyone was pleased, except those who had to mow the grass."
First and foremost, I would like to humbly thank God for my gift. I like to think I can write well, I know that I have a bunch of room to improve, but I think it's so great that I have something that I love to do and that I'm fairly good at. My talents are something that I prize dearly and it's thanks to God that I have them. I don't care if you don't believe in God, I'm grateful to Him for what I have and I hope that one day I can share it with much more than just ZU.
Second, I would like to give a big shout-out to my great, great friend Ashley. Once again (though she didn't know it), she acted as a sort of inspiration for me to write this whole thing. It's been a long, long time since I ever finished anything I worked on and to finally have a current work that is complete is something that's really amazing. Ashley, if you're reading this, thank you so much for everything you've done for me, regarding my writing and regarding everything else. Happy birthday, and I hope you liked this silly old thing.
Finally, I would like to thank anyone who takes the time to read this, even if you read a paragraph and went, "This is crap!" You usually don't expect to get very many reads on ZU unless you're an extremely popular or bothersome person and I'm really neither of them, so if you even bothered to read a single word of this, I am indebted to you. To all those who read this entire thing or just a section and comment, or whatever the case may be, the same goes to all of you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Anyways, I guess that's just about it. Hopefully, I can get on to working on A Merchant's Tale again or working on some more shorter projects in the same universe. I wish you all the best and I hope that you enjoyed reading.
Just finished reading section one. While I enjoyed it there was something that stuck out for me:
“I would, too, if you boys bothered to stay that way during the day!” she called back.
In addition to a few other places I feel as though you go a bit overboard with commas. While it isn't much of a problem in dialogue (Personally whenever I use them in dialogue it's to indicate a pause), it can seem cluttered and chopped if they're used too often.
Yeah. perhaps my biggest problem when writing has always been my usage of commas. Unfortunately, there's really no way for me to fix it by myself since it's just kinda me throwing commas around wherever. I really hope it doesn't get in the way too much and distracting from the reading as a whole... :S
Nonetheless, thanks so much for the critique and the read and I look forward to hearing more.