May 1 2018

Arachnophilia – by Womby

The battle had ended
and that’s when I spied her –
surrounded by dead,
a magnificent spider.

There we were, the spider and I.
Facing each other. Eye to eye.
Corpses of people and spiders all ’round…
all but us dead, and nary a sound.

As we studied each other with cautious respect
I lowered my weapon, for I could detect
a sad, lonely tear in one of her eyes –
and what happened next came as quite a surprise.

She lifted a leg, and placed it on me
then beckoned I follow her under a tree.
It was there we discovered a passion so great
that the spider and I decided to mate.

Our 500 children now wander the land –
a sight so inspiring, moving and grand.
Some have two legs, and others have eight
but all think the taste of humans is great.

 

May 1 2018

Firelight – by Bow Vale

When the sky is orange after it has been bright
If I’m lucky I rest with a crackle of sound
Else its back in the box and wearing a frown
My chest as my pillow, my posture not great
Still alert through haze and familiar sounds
I guard the entrance to where my mate can be found
In a warmth that dies off as the hours get spent
I dream of the day and what it all meant

The dark , the undead, hordes of undead
A white beast, half my great size
But with teeth, twice of mine
Unmatched and unequalled when we fight as one
No abomination of nature shall ever overcome

We battle its legions and then itself
With tooth and claw and fire and light
We fight for reward with obvious delight
A prize of meat for I, strange scratchings on hide for they
This continues for what seems a never ending day

A noise, not a crackle or a creak of a board
Causes awaken from slumber, ready to fight
A sniff of the air lends a clue
Mystery solved, with a shout of…No more rabbit for you!

When the sky is orange before it is bright, I can…..usually….. be found by the firelight

April 13 2018

Black Rose Chronicles 2 – by Belladonna Rose – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the second chapter of a wonderful story from Belladonna Rose, entitled
Black Rose Chronicles
Background music by Smartsound

 

After what seemed like hours she opened her eyes and looked about at the strange surroundings. At first she thought it was just a dream. Seeing all that she had before it was obvious to her that it was not a dream. More so a nightmare. Leaning up on her elbows to survey the area again she saw a hooded figure standing off a ways. A hand raised from the figure beckoning for her to approach. Standing slowly she realized that she was not actually walking. But floating barely off the ground. Strange that she should be doing so and when she looked down at the ground she saw nothing but a smoky image of feet.
What was going on? This is not right. Am I Dead?
The hooded figure took a step forward and reached out a pale hand.
“Fear not Avatar. You are not dead. You are merely in a different state of being for a time. Once
I explain you will materialize as you were before and you will then be able to continue on your journey.”
Looking at the hooded figure again she realize that it was a woman. Small in stature. Pale with bright eyes. She could not tell the color as they changed like a kaleidoscope. Swirling and swirling. It was almost mesmerizing. She reached out to the figure and took her hand. Feeling a warmth in that hand that she had never felt before. Or at least had no memory of it. It was comforting and soothing toher soul. Soul. What about the body. Her body was gone. Shaking her head, she felt as if she were going to drift back to the darkness again.

“Hold tight Avatar. Do not slip away from me. I have much to tell you. Much to explain why you are here. Do not falter or fear me. I am not here to harm you but to guide you.”
Again the warmth filled her again and she calmed. Patiently waiting for the woman to tell her what was happening to her. Maybe she knows what happened to her crew as well. She stood before the woman and looked again into those eyes.
“You have been brought here from your world Avatar to help rid our lands of the evil that has besieged us. We alone are not able to defeat such powers. So, we have brought forth others from other worlds and lands to help aide us in our task. If we lose this fight we might very well lose all that we know and love.”
Looking at the woman she tried to find her voice. But no words came from her lips. She was mute and unable to ask any questions. The woman smiled and nodded. “You can ask questions of me. But use your mind. Do not try to speak. I will understand all that you ask “
Struggling she tried to open her mind and form her words there. Easier said than done. She was so used to muttering things to herself. Try again she reached into her mind to find the words. Finally. There. Yes. I can speak to her.
“Where am I? Where is my ship and crew? Why have I been brought here?” Strangely looking at the woman. “Who are you?”
Smiling softly again the woman leaned forward. “You are in Novia. The New Britania. Your ship is but lost I am afraid. But your people are within the realm of Novia. Each one has passed by here just as you have. As I said before. You were brought here to help aide us. The prophecy speaks of an Avatar that will come from another land and time and help us defeat the great Evil.”
Waving her hands up in the air she smiles again and an aura surrounds her.
“I am Arabella. Your guide.”
Looking at the Lady Arabella she swayed a bit. Thinking this cannot be happening. But here she stands in a strange new world and decides to listen to what this woman tells her. It is here she will learn her new found destiny.
“We have been taught to expect one from another world. One distant from our own both in time and space. The world of Earth, of Lord British. Yes, he is here and hopes to meet you one day on your travels. He will be kept informed of your progress or your demise. He told me to relay to you that you have a mighty task ahead of you. For all that he holds true….the Three Virtues have been forsaken here. It is a task for you traveller to choose a path. Although throughout your journeys all three will cross each other.”
Blinking as she absorbed this information she could only nod her head. This was really happening.
And her friends are here doing the same as she is being instructed. She will do anything as long as she can find her crew, and Jack.
Arabella continued to explain the three paths that must be followed.
“There are three paths to follow. Truth, Courage and Love. It will be up to you to decide which you want to start with. But remember as I said all three will intersect at one time. At that time, you will then be forced to confront the hidden ruler of this world and destroy that ruler.”
Blinking again she just stared at Arabella. How is she supposed to defeat such an entity. There must be some mistake. But remembering deep in the recesses of her mind she knows from the past that Lord British would not manouver her to this world if he didn’t feel she would succeed.
“Here now you must follow the pathway down to the Mirror and you will be restored to your former self. Then go up the path to the building atop the hill. Inside is an entity that will ask you which path you choose. Once you answer she will direct you to your destiny. Go now Avatar and begin your quest.”
Slowly she floated down the pathway and near the pool of water where she first awoke was a huge shimmering mirror. She walked to the mirror and gazed into it. At first her reflection was that of a ghost. But slowly she saw her face coming into focus. Face, hair, clothes. She was whole again.

March 22 2018

Black Rose Chronicles 1 – by Belladonna Rose – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the first chapter of a wonderful story from Belladonna Rose, entitled
Black Rose Chronicles
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 1

The skies grew dark as the ship headed into rough seas. Salt spray grew in intensity
and the sails furled and flapped with every gust. Even for a seasoned crew it was obvious
they were a bit more tense than usual. There seemed to be a strange form of energy in the
wind and on the sea.
The captain manned the wheel as usual with Jack at her side. He noticed that the captain
was having a rough time holding the ship steady. But the waves were growing stronger every
minute. The clouds were growing darker making the midday sky look almost that of midnight.
Nary a soul on board said a word but continued to do their jobs. None would balk at the Captain
because of bad weather. If the Captain stayed strong so would they.
Huge waves washed over the deck and one particular one reached high enough to splash
at Jack and the Captain. Shaking off the water Jack reached to take the wheel.
“My Lady….pray let me take the helm. These waters are rougher than usual. None of which
we have seen in a long time.”
Giving Jack a terse look she shrugged him away. Chin up she watched the horizon that was
slowly disappearing in the darkest clouds she had ever seen. She knew Jack was right. The days
of gentle trade winds had come to pass as had the sun. She felt deep in her gut that this was not
right and they were definitely heading into trouble.
As time passed the crashing waves had gained strength and she was starting to waiver her hold
on the wheel. Again Jack bade her to let him have the wheel. Aching muscles and fatigue won out
and she stepped aside once he got hold of the spokes of the wheel. She remained at his side though.
There was no way she was going to leave the deck. She would never let the crew see how worried
she was.
Pulling her compass out of her pocket she held it out. The pointer was going crazy. Spinning
in one direction then the other. This made no sense. She herself plotted this course as she had
done so many times. They all knew this route blindfolded. But this weather was just too strange.
One of the crew yelled down from the crow’s nest but it was hard to hear him over the wailing wind that was blowing. All she could do was look in the direction he was pointing. And there it was. A huge spinning vortex just at the sea horizon. This was something she had only heard about from other sailors and captains. Usually over many pints at local seaport pubs. She never thought she would ever be witness to it herself.

Immediately she grabbed the wheel from Jack and started trying to turn the ship around away from the blue glowing entity. There was no way she was gonna let that thing swallow her ship and crew. The wheel seemed to have a mind of its own though. No matter how hard she and Jack tried the ship was heading straight for the vortex. She called out commands for the crew to man the sails, but they fell on deaf ears. No one could hear her commands. Many, however, jumped to action. Seasoned sailors were good at predicting what the captain would command and this crew was one of the best.

Try as they might the sails were not cooperating with the crew. Just like the wheel. Almost as if the vortex was commanding the ship instead of her. Gripping the wheel harder she tried her best to steer the ship away but there was nothing for it. The Black Rose was no longer under her control and there was nothing she could do about it.

As if by magic or whatever the ship steered straight at the vortex and the all the crew and her captain could do was wait and watch the Black Rose slip away through the swirling blue of the unknown.

Calm winds surrounded them as they passed through the vortex. Sails flapped aimlessly as the crew tried to contain them. The wheel became slack in her hands and slowly steered as if on the calmest of any sea. Looking at Jack she shook her head in disbelief. Jack nodded and stood steady at her side.

Just as quickly as things seemed to calm the ship started for another vortex. This one was different. A huge opening like the other only black as night. Swirling intensely. The winds began to pick up again, but the waves did not. Calm water and wild winds were something none of them had experienced before.

As they got closer the loud wailing of the winds became ear piercing. The crew began collapsing on the deck where they had once stood. Jack as hard as he tried soon joined them. The only one left standing was the captain. And soon the sound overtook her as well. The Black Rose was going through yet another portal only this time with no crew or captain at the helm.

Drenched from head to toe she tried to raise up on her hands. Slowly lifting her head to survey the damage to the ship she realized she was no longer on the ship. Grass. Lush green grass and a fragrance on the air she had never smelled before. No salt in the air except that which came from herself. Looking about the surroundings were strange yet beautiful. Almost in a trance like state she turned looking at all the foliage and lights about her. Some of the plants had a luminous glow about them. Soft chittering of creatures and chirping of birds made it all so tranquil compared to the last thing she remembered. Remember. The crew. Jack. Where were they. Scanning around the area she went to look for them all. Someone had to have survived as well. Walking to the edge she looked out and there was nothing but sheer drop off over the edge.

Slowly she walked the perimeter of the area as close to the edge as she dared. Looking carefully to see if there was land below. She could see specks of land masses below, but they seemed so far away.

Finally making her way back to where she started she sat down to think. But darkness overtook her again from fatigue. As she drifted off into the darkness of sleep she blinked her eyes and saw something coming towards her, but she was too exhausted to stay awake.

March 15 2018

The Tavern Respite 6 – by Elgarion – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the final instalment of this great story from Elgarion, entitled
The Tavern Respite

Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 6, “Briar’s Cafe “

Elgarion De’Kahli hobbled his way up the well trodden cobblestone road, entering the prosperous town of Owl’s Head. Supported by walking stick, weighted by a somewhat cumbersome leather sack of books, the old man pressed forward as if this journey had become one of routine. With keen eyes intent upon the bridge ahead, leading into the town proper, Elgarion stopped a moment to take notice of a quaint yet elegant cafe along the right side of his path. “Briar’s Cafe…” he mumbled to himself as the thinly man considered his options. With feet sore from travel and a shoulder aching from the slung sack, Elgarion decided he would take a pleasant and unexpected break before retiring at Fire Lotus Tavern. This eve, he would sit a while and enjoy something new.
Pleased by the gracious attentiveness of the host, Elgarion was guided to a table of his choosing by the bar, slightly elevated from the rest. The scent of spiced mutton stew caused his parched mouth to find water yet again and spawned a grumble in his belly. Chuckling to himself and before even taking to seat, the elderly man, with a kind smile, stated to the host, “It would seem my body has decided for me, my friend. Please… might I have some of the fine mutton stew that lured me from the streets with its fine savory aroma? Also, a mug of ale… something local, please.” Nodding, the host scurried away without taking anything to paper. Elgarion then placed the sack down onto a bench and began to remove several books, scrolls and parchments, spreading them out before him, yet leaving ample room for a mug and a bowl. Once he felt his dinner was well planned by a carefully arranged assortment of reading materials, the decrepit yet devout follower of Artenius lowered himself down onto the bench with occasional winces of pain from road wearing muscles ranting him for rest.
As Elgarion waited patiently for the mutton and ale, an elegantly bound menu caught his eye resting at the table’s center. He took up the menu with delight, planning what might satiate him upon his next visit to Briar’s Cafe. As his gaze drifted across each page, the old man smiled more and more. In good time, the host dutifully returned with mug, dripping with froth, and bowl steaming with spiced allure, and Elgarion’s eyes widened with ravenous anticipation. “Good man, thank you so much for being so quick and generous. It is not uncommon for one such as I to be delayed service, placed in a corner far from view for other patrons, or simply turned away. And alas, you’ve done me such a kindness. The finest table. Expedient service. And from what I can detect, the most delicious of foods.” The host paused a moment at this comment, bewildered slightly and only bowed and backed away with a gracious smile.
Elgarion, equally bewildered, looked upon his own visage with obvious disappointment. Once… a lord of men, a cortier of kings, a prize for ladies, now a withered husk, frail and bent. White beard scraggly and uncombed. Wisps of hair flaying in the breeze, remnants of what might have been beautiful in his youth. Dusty earthen-toned robes with frayed edges and torn seams, both crying for a sympathetic tailor. Sandals and toes caked with the dried mud of the Kings Road. Nothing about him was pleasant to behold. Elgarion sighed to himself and whispered with some attempt to raise his own spirits, “I have found my home… soon I might appear as though I have one…” Elgarion chuckled a moment at himself, to cover the shame in his appearance behind a guise of humor. To interrupt the old man’s mumblings, having overheard what just transpired, a nearby patron, a soldier in common armor with only a single stripe upon his shoulder, approached and stood stoic beside Elgarion’s table. “My lord… news of your discovery has traveled throughout The Vale. We of Owl’s Head greet our neighbors with open arms. And besides, there are many we serve far more road worn that yourself. We are a proud people, but also prideful in our labors. A days dirt upon one’s clothes merely gives merit to their dedications for duty. But… regardless of which disguise might adorn you, my lord, Marquis De’Kahli is welcome in Owl’s Head.”

Elgarion’s lower jaw quivered slightly as if words had trouble escaping him, “I… I… you do this old man a kindness, friend. Alas, I have not felt so welcome in this new world as I do in this very moment.” Elgarion braced himself against his staff as if to attempt standing for the soldier, but the man insisted the weary traveler remain seated upon the oaken bench. “Please, my lord. Do not rise, your stew awaits, and I distract you from its wonders.” Before Elgarion could respond, the infantryman came to quick attention, issued a flamboyant salute, then hastened southbound onto the nearby road. The venerable sorcerer of Artenius’s eyes followed the soldier for a moment, but as the armored man slowly drifted away from view, Elgarion’s thoughts gradually deepened into his current state of affairs. With one final glance upon the menu of Briar’s Cafe, he set it aside and looked upon the books which were placed around him.
Maps, lore, myth and missives, even magical incantations littered the table around the bowl of mutton stew, now being ladled into Elgarion’s mouth, dripping down his unkempt and wispy beard. With his attentions intent upon study, the delicious meal merely brought the wizard satisfactions deep in the recesses of his mind, as his truer passion and hunger were now being satiated by the knowledge which surrounded him. For hours Elgarion labored over the writings, absorbing anything which might reveal even the slightest hint of where the Moongate within Kahli once stood. Already having discovered Kahli, nestled between The Bone Spires and South Marsh, aside the village of Braemar, Elgarion’s search was now narrowed and refined. A path to his is lost people was no longer concealed amidst an entire world. Now, the search spanned only to an area of mere miles. For behind this elusive and fallen rift, if it could be found… reopened, if he could step inside and return to The Void which he for centuries craved escape, then the Marquis of Kahli could return to the imprisoned and forgotten citizens of the once great city and deliver them from their accursed fate.
“Why”, he wondered, visions from his past overtook the survivor of The Void… “Why… blackness… so long, shrouded. Then the light came… blinding to eye yet soothing to soul. Nearly a year I followed the light within that horrific dark–the light of my Lord Artenius, the Seventh Son, was my beacon. For so, so long, I followed. After so many years, I now bathed in his light once again. And then I saw the opening; a rift in the darkness which revealed the light of the world. The edges of the rift wavered and shuttered as if straining to close again. Tendrils of mystical fire swirling amongst tentacles of enchanted water, these elements grasped one side of the rift while the other was held at bay by ensorcelled dust billowing through incantations of air. The light of The Seventh Son had directed me to the exit, but upon reaching it, the powers which held open the door assaulted my being with an overwhelming feeling of solace. The warmth of Artenius had shined upon me, given me hope, but the energy before me granting my exit was unfamiliar. I felt a presence… one of woman… of a mother… I felt the love of a mother to her son. I felt the essence of The Savior Avatar. The “Son” of Balance. But no… I do not believe the Eighth be son at all. For the powers which displayed before touched my heart as would a woman’s kiss upon my cheek. The two Sons worked in tandem to liberate me. Artenius, the Seventh. And now, The Eighth “Son”? Why? Why did they come for me, guide me to my freedom? Why did they not serve as harbinger to my people in my stead? For it was I, a Sorcerer of Artenius who sealed their dire fate. It was the arrogance of my sect which betrayed them.”
As Elgarion stared onto the runic scribblings adorning a brittle scroll, he remembered his final moments from within The Void. Then, he spoke softly to himself with lips dry and barely parting, with words which brought him great purpose, which defined him, “I weep as do The Seven. But what was lost, will be found again. The light of Artenius guided me then, and his everlasting radiance guides me still. I will not forsake the gift which was bestowed upon me. Sons of the Original Touch, I will not fail thee. Artenius, The Son of Lifeforce and Sunlight. The Savior Avatar, The Son of Balance. I believe you saved me so that I might find repentance for my transgressions. You bless me with divine purpose. I am to liberate those which I doomed to eternal pain. Only then, might my soul heal. Only then, will I find peace. And only then, will I rest. For this gift which I am most undeserving, this chance to redeem myself, I thank thee and give myself to thee for eternity.”
Many hours passed as Elgarion took to his research until the hours grew late. The wizard wiped stew from his beard on a dusty sleeve, gathered his works and placed them gently into the leather sack, took up his gnarled staff, twisted with age just as he, and hobbled his way out of Briar’s Cafe. With a wave to the host who stood diligent at the entrance, Elgarion turned northward up the cobblestone road, heading once again to his lodgings at Fire Lotus Tavern. Upon reaching the bridge, a voice ahead caught his attention. The town crier of Owl’s Head approached, bellowing forth with vivid clarity of the recent happenings in nearby lands. Elgarion stood silent as the man approached, taking in the news with a smile. But what came next pleased the sorcerer greatly. For the crier took to providing the old man a conversation which likely, the wizard would remember for years to come. For the first time, from this interaction, Elgarion began to realize that the lands were healing. The roads were opening and news from abroad was once again reaching the lips of criers and kings. Just as Kahli had been found, so many other villages, towns and crossroads are being revealed to the world. Each with their own amazing stories of how they survived or arose from the ashes of The Fall. The world awaited him. The world await them. New Britannia was ready for the return of The Avatars. And his peoples, once freed, would enter into a new world, vibrant and ready.
((below is the conversation which took place with Elgarion and Markus (played by Tolly Lardbottom) just after Elgarion departed Briar’s Cafe))
“Hear ye! Hear ye!” bellowed the town crier, a young man, fair of skin, dark of hair and intent of purpose. “Found: One white rabbit. If you are the owner of this animal and can describe him properly, please contact the refugee family by the river.”
Elgarion waved kindly to the crier, attempting to give sign of thanks to the crier’s services.
“Hear ye! Hear ye!” again he exclaimed. “Lord Enmar decress that all displaced persons declare themselves at the guardhouse by the Upper Marketplace.” The crier returned the wave to Elgarion and approached. “Come to tip the town crier, sir?” The crier bowed to Elgarion, kindly.
“Greetings, friend. A fine voice for a crier, I must say.” Elgarion complimented the crier as he returned the bow with a slight wince, relying heavily upon his staff for support as he did so. “A tip? Why certainly, friend. You do a fine job keeping the citizens here informed.” Elgarion rummaged through a pouch at his hip, which by the jingle, only contained a small number of coins.
“You honor me, sir. It’s thirsty work, I must say…” the crier claimed a fact likely influenced by the man’s love for ale.
As Elgarion handed several coins to the crier, the wizard introduced himself, “I am Elgarion. Elgarion De’Kahli.”
The town crier returned Elgarion’s greeting with a reply, “My name is Markus, sir, and I am pleased that you appreciate my efforts!”
Elgarion thought suddenly of Markus’s mention of thirst, then jumped to a recommendation while smiling broadly, “If ye be thirsty, perhaps I should suggest Briar’s Tavern? I just left my table there, and the ale was magnificent.”
Markus, the town crier, nodded in thanks for the suggestion but offered a counter suggestion, “Tis’ a thought, but the place is so expensive in comparison to the Fire Lotus Tavern… you can get a bowl of mutton there for a mere two gold pieces!”
Elgarion nodded softly, feeling slightly embarrassed to have suggested such an establishment of finery to one unable to afford it, “Oh, indeed Markus. In fact, that is where I now head, for I lodge at the Fire Lotus.” Almost thinking their encounter was ending, Elgarion began to gather himself for the remaining journey up the hill, “I hope our paths might cross again. I typically come to Owl’s Head to…” Elgarion paused as if gathering his words carefully, “regroup my thoughts.” Just as Elgarion was about to bid farewell, the weary old man was pleasantly surprised by Markus’s next remark.
“Would you like me to repeat the news of the day, sir?” the crier suggested with enthusiasm.
“Indeed I would! In fact, I’ll be sure to recount your news to my daily scribbles within my journal.” The sorceror began to listen intently with a smile of appreciation upon his face.
“Very well, let’s make this official, shall we?” Markus stepped back and puffed himself up. “Hear ye! Hear ye! Due to the ongoing refugee crisis in the Vale, the price of flour and grain shall once again be increasing. Hear ye! Hear ye! Owl’s Head mentioned in the latest double issue of The Novian Times, available at the public vendor by the pavilion!”
Markus continued to captivate his audience, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Missing person. Talbot the younger. Son of Talbot the torchbearer. Contact his mother Matilda at the stables, or Guard-Captain Dreyfus at the guardhouse.”
Elgarion shook his head sadly and his expression soured at the unfortunate news.
The crier continued dutifully, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Found: One white rabbit. If you are the owner of this animal and can describe him properly, please contact the refugee family by the river.” And again, he repeated, “Hear ye! Hear ye! Lord Enmar decrees that all displaced persons declare themselves at the guardhouse by the Upper Marketplace.” Upon reaching the end of his script, Markus stepped back to Elgarion and lowered his voice.
Having noticed the wizards mood sadden with news of the torchbearer’s son, Markus spoke softly, “Indeed, it is sad — that poor family has now lost both the father and the eldest son.”
Elgarion took this news with a grimace, influencing even further sympathy for the family. After a pause and a sigh, Elgarion spoke with kindly affection, “Markus, you have a talent. Certainly, if you keep it up, you could announce the arrival of lords and kings at court.” Elgarion bowed slightly to show additional appreciation.
Markus’s face reddened slightly, “You flatter me, sir!”
“This pavillion you speak of… do you think any copies of the newsletter remain?” The old seeker of knowledge inquired.
The crier pondered this a moment, then nodded, “Last I was there, I believe at least two copies remained. It was a double issue printed on two pages.”
“Ah, excellent! I will go at once. I will be retiring to my lodgings shortly, and having some current events to read would make the final hour pass well, I would think.” Elgarion beamed with considerable eagerness. With a smile and a bow the old man readied his walking stick and sack of books, “Well then, lad. I must be off to that pavilion. Likely, I will include the happenings of the newsletter in my journal as well. I wish to be thorough in my accounting of todays fruitful events.”
“Of course, sir! I must return to me duties…” Markus, the town crier said with obvious pride for his trade. Markus aided Elgarion in collection of his staff and sack, then shook the old man’s hand heartily. “It has been a pleasure meeting you, Elgarion, and I wish you well in all your future endeavors.” The town crier stated this farewell with sincerity, then stepped back from the wizard and returned to his duties.
“Likewise, Markus. May your voice carry across the realm, young crier.” Elgarion bowed again, then proceeded at a slow pace up the hill towards the pavilion which Markus had mentioned. The crier’s voice could still be heard in the distance amidst the clamor of the blacksmith’s hammer and tappings of the wood workers mallet and chisel. Grateful that copies remained of the first volume, Elgarion made quick purchase with his remaining coin then made way to his quaint room on the second floor of the Fire Lotus Tavern. There, the wizard spent his remaining hour of this day reading The Novian Times, Septembre 8th edition, Sheet 1. It wasn’t long before sleep swept over the road weary man, bringing him dreams of white rabbits, mystifying airships, and sadly, the terrors of The Void.”

 

March 6 2018

The Tavern Respite 5 – by Elgarion – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another instalment of this great story from Elgarion, entitled
The Tavern Respite
Background music by Smartsound

 

Chapter 5, “The Outlander”

Elgarion hobbled on aching feet up the steep staircase at Bear Tavern, a faint smile upon his weary face. The week had been long with sun, wind and road beating upon him, but again it ended on a pleasant note–amongst the patrons of Bear Tavern, the townsfolk of PaxLair and travelers from beyond its borders. Tonight, he would not write in his journal, save one singular passage.
There was much discussion this evening about Outlanders and Avatars. Having been emboldened by drink, I made suggestion that they were one in the same. Others were in agreement. This is of considerable relief to me. If this be true, then I rejoined the world at a time in which the Avatars have, in fact, returned. Relief… should another emotion instead burden my spirit? Some blame The Fall upon the Avatars. That answer is not clear; even after my considerable research I find too many conflicting texts. Relief… my people… still trapped within The Void, possibly by fault of those whom I now befriend. Avatars. And I feel relief in their return.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps those who agreed with me are also mistaken. Maybe the Avatars are still something of our distant past, never to resurface. All I know, is I am no Outlander. I am of this land and no other. As are my people. And regardless of possible errors of their ancestors, I trust in my new friends, that their offers of aid are genuine. And I trust, if in fact the Avatars have returned, they know not what they did.
Again, Balec treated us as royalty, ensuring we enjoyed our evening. My dearest of friends Blake Blackstone the Dwarf and Stryker Sparhawk from White Hart again took refuge here this eve. Luka, the kind bartender from the Order of the Drunken Elder’s Tavern accompanied us in good spirit. Tolly, a new acquaintance of mine took great interest in our talk of Outlanders and Avatars. Such an odd surname he has. Gabriel Nightshadow happened by, a man which I had not seen for some weeks. It was good to see him again, and I learned something new of him. He openly claims to be of a time forgotten, but the circumstances for his claim seem entirely foreign to my own. I dare not speak as openly as he of my calamity. I fear most would think me insane. Adnor Sundragon sat next to my friend Stryker and provided him good company. Grimace? Another new acquaintance. He also spoke much of The Fall. Grimace. A surname perhaps? A nickname… I am not certain. Interesting, nonetheless. There were others, many of whom I cannot recount. Jack Frost be one, a man who I see often. I shall make better accounting of those in attendance in the future, for these notes might prove valuable, but I truly thank them for their camaraderie this evening. Our spirits were high, and our steins repeatedly empty yet filled again.
Elgarion paused a moment and stretched his aching back. Thinking just to rest his eyes, he let his head sink into his folded arms while sitting at the desk. One minute became two. Then ten. Perhaps another paragraph would have come if sleep did not overtake him. The candle slowly burnt away. The quill in his hand dried, as did eventually his ink well. The darkness took him again, and Elgarion De’Kahli returned to his people. A familiar yet haunting poem echoed in his unconscious mind as his spirit flittered about The Void in hopeless confusion.
Blackness.
Darker than moonless night.
All light escaped my sight.
Time waned, relentless pain.
Why… why? My futile wanderings… in vain.
Whispers teased from the gloom,
I begged for sight.
But nothing came,
Save the night.
Centuries passed,
Memories lapsed.
This endless plight,
All light escaped my sight.
Blackness.
Darker than the moonless night.

February 18 2018

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 7 – by Olthadir – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next chapter in this wonderful story by Olthadur, entitled
The Pilgrimage of Virtue
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 7, “Resolute to Vertas”
We stayed in Resolute for a few more days while we discussed our options for the next leg of the pilgrimage. The morning before the day we left I went to the Bell of Courage devotional and sat at the edge of the fountain. I was reflecting on what it meant to be courageous, and what the Soldier did in the pass, when the Elder slowly walked up and joined me.
“This has been a good journey, has it not?” he said, slowly leaning on the fountain.
“We are not yet half way and already one of us almost died,” I replied.
The Elder nodded slowly but did not look remorseful. The Farmer, noticing us, walked over to join us.
“The world is not a safe place. It never was, and it will never be,” The Elder said.
“But isn’t that what the outlanders are here for? To make this place safe again?” The Farmer asked.
The Elder looked up, taking a slow breath. He watched as the shattered moon began to set.
“Make it better,” he said, slowly, “fix what was broken, help us – perhaps. But they will never make a safe world. Such a thing does not exist. It cannot exist,” the Elder said. In a slow motion he turned, deliberately, and looked up at the carved bell above us. “They don’t seem to suggest they will fix everything. They teach Courage. Courage to leave the places we know and journey to places we have never been. And there is danger in that. If they were going to make us all safe, they would never need to teach us Courage.”

When we got back to the inn, the plan to leave South Paladis was shared. We would head west and make our way through Vertas Pass. Our next stop for provisions would be Vertas. Many thought it was a dangerous plan. The elves of Vertas may not want us there, there is rumour that the elves have been quite violent recently. The rumour started an argument, and we all reconsidered the safety of our pilgrimage. We did finally agree that if we were serious about the Virtues, we would need to have the Courage to continue.
Unlike Nightshade Pass, Vertas Pass wound up into the mountains and was known to be quite cold. There was talk of bears wolves, and elves on the pass. If the animals didn’t kill us, maybe the elves would. And if not that, then the cold.
It may be foolhardy, but we had Courage. Maybe it was the actions of the Soldier, or the fact that we were in Resolute, with the Bell of Courage and the statue of Grannus, but we all agreed that we would take this dangerous leg of the journey.

We arrived at the base of the pass before nightfall. We were already frozen. We built a fire, huddled together under blankets and were spent. Our bodies shook in an attempt to warm us. No stories were shared that night.
We were nine frozen, achy travellers who awoke and ascended into the Vertas Pass that morning. Even though we were tired and cold we needed our wits about is. The pass was populated by hungry animals.
Luckily, we only encountered the wolves. I doubt it was the worst thing we could encounter, and I don’t think we would want to encounter anything else. They were very large, hungry wolves, and when they ran, they were incredibly fast. I did not imagine that such an animal could be that fast.
We bested them with raw meats that were purchased in Resolute, throwing them at the wolves, feeding them with meat rather than our own flesh.
“Don’t run,” the Soldier reminded us, as we moved as quickly away from the wolves as we could without running.
After the wolves we thought we would have much more danger, but all we met was the cold snow. It was very cold, colder than the night before. We were scared for our lives, but the warmth of danger kept us going.
The snow got worse as we continued. It fell so fast and plentiful that we could not see much ahead of us. The Tailor suggested, by yelling over the cold wind, that we slow down and grab a hold of the person ahead of us and slowly walk forward. We wouldn’t need to rely on our sight, which was a relief as we could bend out heads against the wind and snow. It all relied on our leader, which I couldn’t be bothered to look to see who it was.
I do not know which path we took, my eyes were on the white ground beneath me, or the Smith’s fur coat ahead of me. I grasped the end of a scarf or belt that flew behind her. It was awful and cold, the wind flying through our furs and leathers and seeping into our very hearts. The only benefit that I could think of was that any animal or elf that wanted to do us harm would also have to deal with the cold.

I write now on the other side of the pass, warmed by a large fire and blankets. We sat around, each of us in a daze, the ice and snow still melting from our furs.
“How did we manage to survive that?” the Scholar asked.
“Strength,” the Soldier said, as he was rubbing his healing arm.
“Determination,” the Cook said, “We didn’t want to die up there.”
“Because we had each other,” the Tailor said, “We all wanted each other to survive, so we went beyond what we would normally do so that others would survive also.”
The Elder nodded and smiled. “All true, all true. We relied on each other’s strength and determination, what a team we are!”
There were some smiles that went around the campfire, then. The Cook handed out the stew.
It was a cold night, but we slept comfortably. The snows and winds of Vertas Pass were behind us and we slept in our bedrolls near a well stoked fire.
There was some trepidation about our next step. There were the rumours about the elves that we now had to face. We didn’t want to venture to Vertas and be shot on sight.
“They are savage, or so I’ve heard,” the Smith said.
“They have attacked cities, caravans and travellers,” the Sailor said. “I’d be more comfortable just staying in the wild until we get somewhere else.”
“You are applying the actions of some to the whole,” the Scholar said, “I’m sure the same could be said about humans. We’ve attacked the elves and kobolds, but that doesn’t mean we would kill a kobold or elf suddenly if we met one.”
“That is true,” the Farmer spoke softly, “I’ve heard the Vertas Elves are quite… nice. All they want is to learn about Truth. It sounds quite noble.”
“We are not a war party,” the Tailor pointed out. “We are on a pilgrimage. And we want to learn about the Virtues. If they do want to learn about Truth, then we seek the same thing.”
We arrived in Vertas the next afternoon and were stopped by a pair of guards who asked us what our intentions were. There was a long pause before anyone spoke.
The Scholar spoke then, explaining very succinctly that we were on a pilgrimage to explore the Virtues. Seemingly content, the two guards nodded their grey heads at each other and showed us into the town.
Vertas is a beautiful place, filled with life. Although it is a cold town, covered in snow the streets are lined with fragrant flowering trees and bushes. There was care and love built into everything here. It was a surprisingly beautiful town.
The elves themselves were aloof but pleasant. They were very curious about our pilgrimage and asked us many questions.
“We seek to learn about the Virtues,” The Elder explained, “But instead of sitting around and talking, debating their importance, we decided to explore, to walk the land and see this world and learn about the Virtues first hand.”
“There is wisdom in your actions,” an important looking elf said. “Our kind is exploring the Virtues as well, but in a different way. We look inward trying to find meaning in our existence.”
“Isn’t that what all living things yearn for?” the Elder replied. The two seemed to get along quite well. They spoke at great length together, discussing philosophy and other deep topics that I could not follow and do justice on paper.

February 1 2018

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 6 – by Olthadir – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next chapter in this wonderful story by Olthadur, entitled
The Pilgrimage of Virtue
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 6, “The Cooks Tale”

I sat in the Courage Plaza for most of the morning. I looked at the statue of Grannus, staring off into the distance in stoic strength. It has been a week since the soldier was injured. He will survive and will walk with us. His arm is badly broken – shattered they told us. But he demanded he be allowed to leave with us.
Determination and Courage. Where was the line between Courage and foolishness?

We sat in the tavern that afternoon with the Soldier. He was glad to be out of his bed and eating. He refused his normal mead, but seemed in good spirits.
“Maybe we should think about going back?” the Farmer said, nodding once to the Soldier.
There was a quiet pause. No one said anything.
The Cook cleared his throat.
“If every time someone got hurt they stopped what they were doing, no one would have done anything worthwhile.”
“That’s easy to say when you aren’t the one who almost died,” the Farmer said.
“You assume that I was never hurt before. You must have been hurt before as well, all of you. And yet, here we are, like the Soldier, continuing on.”
“Tell us more,” the Elder said, picking up his fork and eating once again.
The Cook took a look around the table and nodded.
“I suppose it is my turn,” he said.

“I knew a woman who lived in Braemar. She was not a well off woman by any stretch. But she could afford to survive. She had a small house, a garden and hunted enough to feed herself and earn some coin.
“She was considered beautiful and was courted by many. She refused all advances. She did not really care for such things. She focussed more on her work, hunting, tanning, and making leathers. She became quite good at it.
“Hunters and artisans looked for her leathers and paid good coin for them. Others, who were more ambitious, asked her for her hand in marriage, hoping for both love and wealth.
“She denied the marriage, but took the coin. Eventually this got tiring, and a little lonely. She wouldn’t mind a companion, one who could hunt with her, help in her chores and learn from her. Maybe, and she was very reluctant and afraid to admit it, love her.
“She believed she found someone and reciprocated his affections. Many were surprised at this change in the Lonely Huntress, as they called her.
“She was excited and nervous. The relationship was good, for both of them.
“She used her coin to build a larger house and together they hunted, stretched and tanned leathers.
“One fall the Lonely Huntress found out she was pregnant. This was unexpected for both of them. The news meant that things would change. The man she fell in love with said things would be fine. She could care for the child and he would hunt, tan and sew. She said she could hunt, tan and sew with child. She loves what she does and will find a way to care for the child and continue her work.
“As time went on the Lonely Huntress grew with child. She hunted as much as she could, but took many more breaks than she anticipated.
“When the child was born she had to remain indoors for some time. Her child was beautiful and strong, but birth took a toll on the mother.
“She lived, being strong herself, and used a wrap she had made to carry her child into the wild to hunt with. The hunting never stopped, but it did change. The child did not yet know of stealth and patience. Soon, the Huntress remained home to care for the child while her partner did the work.
“‘This was temporary,’ she thought. When the child could learn, she would hunt again. She did the stretching and drying of the leathers as the child grew, but that too waned as she had to spend more time caring and feeding the child.
“Again, she felt that this was temporary. Years went on and things changed yet again, but not in the way the Huntress wished.
“The child was sick often, causing her to spend more and more time tending to the child as opposed to hunting and preparing skins.
“Soon business began to falter. Stress overcame the family. The Huntress needed coin to pay for the child’s medicine and she still yearned to hunt. Her partner was unable to hunt well enough to make the money the needed. She wished to go out and hunt more than anything. She knew she was a better hunter than her partner. She had been at home with the child for far too long, yes, but her skill could not be denied.
“Yet, he did deny it. He demanded he remain the hunter. He demanded she teach him the skills needed to keep the business, and their life, afloat.
“There was no way this could work. It would be easier to teach her partner to care for the child and hunt herself. On top of that, her partner did not have the skill she had – no amount of teaching, or time, would change that.
“There was only one thing she could do to ensure the survival of her child: sell the business, the tools, the workshop, the property and the house. Use the coin to purchase a smaller dwelling and the excess coin to care for the child.
“Her partner did not agree. He held onto the life they had before the child and refused to allow the business to be sold. ‘Without the business, he would be nothing,’ he said.
“The Huntress replied, ‘I have not hunted in three years. The business and name I created are no longer mine. You do everything while I care for our child. My very identity has changed. No one calls me the Lonely Huntress any longer. They don’t even call me a Huntress. I am a mother. Our child needs us. Let the business go. You will not be nothing, you would be a father.’
“Her partner did not agree. His work was his identity and giving that up would not do. Over the course of the next year the two fought, stopped talking, broke up, and the business was sold.
“Now, the Lonely Huntress was an out of work mother who had the business she started sold off. She had to give some of the money from the sale to her partner, which meant she did not have enough as she had planned for herself and the child.
“The next few years were difficult. The mother had purchased a small house, barely large enough for the two of them to live in. There was a small garden which she worked, and it provided them with enough food to stretch every coin they had.
“As the child grew older she grew stronger. She grew out of the sickness that held her back and the Love of her mother made her stronger.
“The mother took the daughter hunting. She patiently taught her everything, nursing the child’s natural skill. The hunts were not as productive as the mother would like, but they were more a lesson to the child than a job. The leathers they created were damaged and imperfect, both from an untrained huntress and an untrained tanner.
“Many years passed like this. The daughter grew into a good huntress. Her kills yielded more and more usable skin and her tanning gave high quality leather.
“Soon both mother and daughter were hunting, tanning and sewing together.
“Through all this the mother reflected. She lost a good deal of time and money to this child. She lost her identity, her business, and her love. She really did love her partner, contrary to the fact that he chose his own happiness and identity to theirs and their child. She very likely could have been famous and rich throughout the island if she continued to hunt for the last fifteen years. Instead she chose to care for her child, the child who survived childhood sickness and became a strong independent woman.
“For many days, the mother wished she could just be herself and hunt, but the child interfered with that. It was frustrating, but necessary. Now, aged beyond her prime she sat outside her house waiting for her daughter to return from a hunt, a cart filled with carefully chosen and compassionately killed game to be turned into food, tools and leather.
“She was no longer the Lonely Huntress. She was a mother. The mother who gave her daughter everything so she could live and provide her herself. In exchange the daughter became what the mother always wanted, a Huntress.

January 18 2018

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 5 – by Olthadir – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next chapter in this wonderful story by Olthadur, entitled
The Pilgrimage of Virtue
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 5, “Nightshade Pass to Resolute”

We awoke early the next morning. There were some obligatory troll jokes commenting on our survival. The Sailor, the Tailor and myself did not partake in the commentary. Mostly because I didn’t feel quite comfortable saying anything.

“You all know that the Troll is in the Pass we are about to go through,” the Soldier said. “If something is to happen, it will happen today.”

With that our pilgrimage took a very serious tone. Some must have believed the danger was in the night, but the Soldier reminded us that it wasn’t.

We packed our camp in silence.

The pass itself is beautiful. It is quiet and pleasant. The path went up into the mountains and opened into a beautiful valley. We followed it until the soldier made us stop.

“The troll is ahead. It lives near the bridge. If we are lucky, we can simply walk past. If not, it will be on the bridge and we will have to wait for it to decide to leave,” the Soldier said quietly.

The tension in the group was high. No one spoke, even though the surroundings were calm and beautiful. Other than the Soldier’s words, we had no reason to be frightened.

The Soldier went forward, cautiously, down the path to scout the bridge. He returned a short time later and said that we were clear to go.

“We must remain quiet, and go quickly,” he reminded.

The bridge was an ancient stone bridge crossing a river that came from the surrounding mountains and emptied in a lake that dominated the valley. I wish I could have stopped here and described it more, but the threat of the Troll kept us going and focussed on that. Perhaps one day I can go back when there is no longer a troll.

There was a loud gasp from the Cook, then the Soldier drew his sword and told us all to run.

The troll was walking towards the bridge from a path on the right. We all ran onto our own path, turning left. The Soldier walked towards the troll.

“Go! I will join shortly!” he said. We all went, the Scholar and the Smith helping the Elder move quicker than normal.

We rounded a corner and were out of sight and sound of the Soldier and troll. There was a wall of rock and woods between us. We all stopped and argued between waiting for the Soldier to return and leaving to save ourselves.

“His sacrifice is valiant and seemingly necessary,” the Smith said. “If we wait, it will be for nothing. The troll saw us, it will come when it finishes with the Soldier.”

“We wait,” the Tailor said bluntly. “I’m not leaving without one of our own. Either he is dead and should be buried, alive and well and we will be abandoning him, or injured and in need of care.”

“And you would go and see?” the Scholar said. “You would risk your life just to see if he is alive or dead?”

“I will,” the Cook said.

“I can, if you all wish it,” the Farmer raised her hand.

There was a small argument before it became clear that the Cook and Farmer were not going to change their minds. They were going to go back for the Soldier.

“They are going to die, same as the Soldier,” the Smith said as they walked off and turned the corner beyond our sight.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t wait, for them and the Soldier,” the Elder said. He was sitting on a rock behind the group, catching his breath. “I still have hope, as we all should.”

“We will give them a fair amount of time. But we shouldn’t have to die because of hope if there is no hope,” the Smith said, crossing her arms.

We waited in anxious silence for the Smith’s fair amount of time. Before she could comment that we should go the Farmer came around the corner raising a hand high and coming forward quickly.

“He is alive!” she said, “The Cook is helping him back. He broke his arm and hurt his leg. He drove off the troll for now. He says as soon as he comes we all need to get out of the pass.”

“We should get out of the pass by nightfall. There are wolves in these hills,” the Tailor commented.

The soldier was beaten, but alive. He was favouring his leg and his left arm looked limp. He was still holding his sword, it’s tip dragging on the path. The Cook was helping him walk, allowing the injured man to lean on him.

We all rushed forward and helped, saw the blood and dirt and the clearly broken bone in the Soldier’s arm.

“We must go on,” the Soldier said breathlessly, “out of the pass. I injured the troll, but we must go before it decides to look for revenge.”

We spent the rest of the day helping the Soldier – who didn’t complain about the help once. We moved quickly, our energies spent entirely on getting each other out of the pass. Only when we were out on the other side did the Soldier say we could stop and rest. He instructed some of us in what to do to set up a reasonably safe camp and we rested.

The Tailor and the Scholar tended to the Soldier’s wounds, gave him a sling for his arm, while the Elder fashioned him a sturdy cane.

We all wanted to get to Resolute to get some medical care for the Soldier – something better than sticks and cloth.

The night passed uneventfully. We heard the wolves of the pass howling back and forth. No one slept all the way through the night. There were whispered conversations between our bedrolls; discussions on our safety and whether it was worth continuing our pilgrimage.

At first sign of the sun rising many were up. The Scholar washed and tended to the Soldier’s wounds. She asked him if we should go on.

“Why wouldn’t we?” he responded.

“You are hurt,” she answered, “We are only a few days into the pilgrimage and we already nearly lost a fellow pilgrim. Maybe it is a fool’s dream.”

“We made it through the pass. I fought off the troll because I said I would protect all of you. If you decide to turn back and stop the pilgrimage now, what does that say about what I did?”

“It’s dangerous though!”

“You don’t think I knew that?” the Soldier replied softly with a rare smile. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to fight off that troll forever. I also knew that I was likely sacrificing myself for this pilgrimage. If I did die, I’d hope you would continue so my sacrifice wasn’t for nothing. I hope you don’t stop now.” He spoke these words softly, without emotion. To him they were mere facts he was sharing to a friend.

“That is why we are on this pilgrimage,” the Elder said, carrying a bucket of hot water. “Did you think we would not encounter deeds of Courage and Love while we were out here?” He placed the bucket next to the Scholar and smiled.

It took us two days to get to Resolute. With the Soldier hurt our pace slowed down considerably. No one complained. We took it all with stride.

We spoke about Courage – mostly about what the Soldier did for us, knowing he would likely perish. The Scholar told us that she had believed that the Soldier was the least likely to remain with us when we left Owl’s Head. She didn’t think that any more.

As we ascended into Resolute it became clear that the Soldier was ill. The Scholar’s work in tending his wounds was good work, but infection was still setting in. We took him to the apothecary and let them tend to him with medicines.

We sit now in the tavern awaiting news. We are all optimistic.

January 8 2018

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 4 – by Olthadir – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with the next chapter in this wonderful story by Olthadur, entitled
The Pilgrimage of Virtue
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 4, “The Sailor’s Tale”

The campfire crackled as we all got comfortable. Our eyes and, more importantly, our ears were directed to the Sailor.

“You are certain it is safe? I heard there is a troll that lives in the pass,” the Scholar said.

“There are nine of us,” the Sailor said.

“Not all of us are fighters,” the Tailor added.

“Virtue is on our side,” the Elder said. “Tell your story, Sailor.”

“Worry not, this is a happy tale,” began the Sailor. “It ends well, unlike the Soldier’s.

“My tale is about a boy. A man, verily, when this tale is all told. He was born in a small village in Verdantis in a modest home. He had little to show for himself. His father was a cobbler. His mother was a seamstress. They made clothing and shoes in the hamlet they lived in. It kept them fed, but gave them little else.

“This boy was well liked, true to himself, fair to look at despite the dirt that was seemingly always on his young face.

“His heart was set on the mayor’s daughter. She was his age and beautiful. She was well dressed, wealthy and well educated – for the area. She wasn’t a Brittany scholar, or a wealthy Lady of Resolute – but she was beautiful.

“Our hero courted her, picked daffodils and dandelions for her, cleaned his face in the puddles of the street, and learnt to sew his own fine clothes from his mother.

“His love, the mayor’s daughter, endured him. She smiled and accepted the flowers. She spent time with him and was kind to him. But she did always speak about going to Harvest to live. Other times she spoke about leaving to Valhold. Or even Brittany. She wanted to live in a large city with stone houses and stone streets and hundreds of people.

“Our hero smiled and nodded and said ‘Where ever you go, I will follow.’ He said this so often that the Mayor’s daughter began to believe it to be true.

“By the time they were in their late teens they were the couple of the hamlet. When they walked by, hand in hand, people would smile and say ‘There walks true love!’ and ‘He saw through the class and silk and she saw through the burlap and dirt.’

“It was true, you know. They did love each other. As much as they were able to.

“Time went on. Our hero wanted to give the entire Island of Norgard to his love. So he started to look at how to get her there and give her a place to live in a stone house on a stone street.

“He needed a job, something that would pay their way and would buy that stone house on the stone street. He couldn’t make that coin in the small hamlet they lived in.

” ‘I must go my love!’ he said one day, holding her hand tightly.

” ‘No! I can’t go on without you!’ she replied.

“They went on like this, as lovers do. Our hero eventually persuaded his love that he must, indeed, go. He was offering her everything she wanted, and it was the only way she believed she could get it. They would talk through letters. He would constantly update her on how things were progressing and how close they were to moving to Norgard.

“I won’t tell you the details of what he did. But he worked. More than most would. His heart was in it. He worked two jobs if finding work was difficult. He worked through his free time. He worked the land, on boats, underground, protecting caravans, anything that gave coin. And he saved every coin he could.

“And he wrote a book of letters to his love. He spoke of his work, where he went, his friends and how close he was to delivering her to her dream.

“Her responses were always joyful, excited. She was very thankful and reminded him in every letter of what she wanted, and how much she loved him. As time went on, the letters from the mayor’s daughter got shorter and further apart. Our hero kept working. When his coworkers went to the brothel, he would stay away. Even close to the end of his work when he hadn’t received a letter in months.

“He would imagine the delays in her responses would be from her travelling to him to surprise him one day. Maybe tomorrow. But she never did come to him.

“Years after, he returned home. He was so excited to see the mayor’s daughter. When he finally saw her, he grabbed her and held her close and started telling her to gather her things. She was shy, hesitant, and avoided his gaze.

” ‘I’ve…’ she began.

“He knew. Right then and there. It all made sense. She didn’t wait. It took him years to get what she needed. He nodded, gave her one last kiss on her cheek and handed her a bag of coin, then walked away.”

“That… that’s not a happy ending!” the Smith yelled.

“No? And why not?” the Sailor replied. “Also, I’m not yet finished.”

“I don’t see how this is a good happy story. And I don’t see the value in it,” the Smith said.

“Well, you see, it’s quite simple,” the Sailor said. “The entire time, the boy, our hero, kept true to his love. He lived his entire life in her service. In the end when she proved not to have been true to him he had the Courage to remain true to her, hence he gave her what he had earned for her, and the Courage to return to the unknown. This time by himself for the first time.”

We all grew silent.

“Truth and Courage. The boy, the man now, is free to do what he will, knowing that he held true his oath. He will find happiness in the end,” the Sailor said.

“I don’t think,” the Elder said, clearing his throat softly, “that we should explain our tales. They may affect us differently, teach us lessons we may not know we needed to be taught. They may leave us riddles we may need to answer ourselves. After all, that is why we are on this pilgrimage.”

And so we all agreed. Some of us got into our bedrolls, while others had hushed conversations. The Soldier kept watch, probably for the troll.