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.
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.
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.

December 21 2017

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 3 – 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 3, “Brittany to Nightshade Pass”
Docking was a long process. Longer than I care to remember. We had to wait our turn amid at least twenty boats in Spindrift Bay outside Brittany. We had to wait for some boats to leave and for our ship to be given permission to dock. When we finally disembarked we were thankful to be able to stand on solid, unmoving ground.

Brittany is huge. Larger than I expected. I could tell that many of us felt the same upon seeing it. I fear we would have gotten lost if we didn’t have the Tailor to guide us. We went to an inn, a crowded building whose name I couldn’t see. It had old, hard beds in it. It was not a comfortable sleep, but it was better than sleeping in the hold of the ship.

The next morning, we gathered in the common area of the inn. We were all very happy, bright and excited. This was the first real day of our pilgrimage.

We all sat at a long table and ordered breakfast. Some, like the Tailor looked comfortable in this busy place, while the Farmer and Scholar looked very out of place – even slightly frightened.

As time went on, the mood changed. Everyone started to warm up to our surroundings on a full stomach.

“What is our plan?” the Elder asked, sipping his third cup of tea,

Everyone looked shocked, surprised and even embarrassed. Here we were, in Brittany without a next step forward.

“Don’t you have a plan?” the Cook asked?

“Did I? When did I say I had a plan? I suggested we go on a pilgrimage, yes, but a plan…” he trailed off with a rough chuckle.

“Where are we going to go next? We are here in Novia proper. What Virtue should we seek first?” the Scholar said.

“Courage or Love,” the Sailor said, “Their cities are closest. Truth is too far, we would have to travel through one of the first two to get to the Truth’s city.”

“The city of Courage is Resolute, west of here, in South Paladis. The city of Love, Ardoris is south. Far south,” the Tailor said.

There was some discussion – philosophical and practical. Some argued a preferential order, others spiritual. Eventually, practicality won over all else.

“It would be easiest to go to Resolute, then Aerie, then Ardoris. Most roads, easiest travel,” the Tailor said.

We had a map at this point, stained now with tea, beer and grease from our meals. Yes, meals. We spoke through lunch, too. There were stubborn members of our group who needed an extraordinary amount of convincing.

After more discussion, we finally agreed on the Tailor’s path. Tomorrow we would head west to Nightshade Pass and into Resolute to see the City of Courage.

There were arguments that went on through the remainder of the day. Some were saying that we could go further, others saying that we could only go halfway to the pass. Expertise in travel versus experience. I stayed out of it and others did too. We were pilgrims, but we never were in agreement. I hope we would be soon.

It still felt like a vacation, though. All that had happened was a trip on a boat and a stay in an inn. We talked, argued, drank, laughed and ate more. It was a vacation and not really a pilgrimage yet.

I wondered what exactly would happen. Would we all be together when we left Ardoris at the end of our pilgrimage? Would some of us get frustrated, angry, or even perish along the way? The Elder already slowed us down; he was old. He never told us just how old, but I would say he is probably eighty years old, if not a good-looking ninety.

I feel like we are off to a rough start. It took us a day to agree on a path for the pilgrimage. And we were already a few days into our pilgrimage. Would we last all the way through Ardoris? Maybe it was foolish.

What is keeping us on this fool’s trek?

I can only speak for myself. I plan on remaining through to the end, if only to record the events. I may end up being the only one to remain, writing how and when we all parted ways.

I hope not. I hope we succeed even in just the journey and not the pilgrimage.

We left Brittany early in the morning. The sun was still young in the sky. It seemed that we all were anxious and excited to travel.

The road was very pleasant. It was well-maintained and well-travelled. It felt safe as it was populated by travellers and traders. We travelled quickly down the road, even the Elder seemingly picking up his pace. Maybe he wasn’t as old as I thought.

“We were in Brittany, why didn’t we try to speak to Lord British?” the Smith asked.

“He wouldn’t see us,” the Cook said.

“Why not? I don’t hear of many going on a pilgrimage of virtue,” the Scholar said.

“There are the Avatars,” the Elder added.

“Lord British is more than a leader of a new philosophy. He is like a king, trying to bring order to the land,” the Farmer said. “Maybe he would be too busy.”

“He might have heard what we were doing and given us a carriage, or something to assist us in our journey,” the Sailor suggested.

“Like an escort,” the Tailor added. The Soldier snorted at that.

“We don’t need anything,” the Farmer replied, “we have each other, the road and the virtues to guide us. This is how we will learn about the virtues.”

She was right. We were silent as we walked after that. Either pondering her last point or silenced by it. I must admit, though, that I agreed with the Smith; it would have been nice to see, speak and be acknowledged by Lord British.

The land we travelled through was green, fertile and calm as we travelled south. We passed many towns and communities that surrounded Brittany. As we kept south, black cragged mountains came into view. The sun climbed higher in the sky and the mountains continued to grow, and began to look more menacing. The Tailor called them the Blackblade Mountains.

We traded stories about the mountains, mostly hearsay. The Tailor remained quiet, shaking his head at some of the more outrageous tales.

We turned west and began to see the pass, our destination.

“That doesn’t look like much of a pass,” the Scholar said, surprised.

“What did you expect?” the Elder said. They usually walked together.

“A space between mountains. That is what they are defined as.”

The Elder smiled softly and shook his head. “No, no. Well, yes it is, but it is not an easy space. There is a path, mostly uphill. There is a lake up there too, a rather beautiful one. And water does do wonders to the rocks. It is beautiful.”

The Scholar pondered this.

“A pass is a pass, but not all passes are the same,” the Elder said.

A few hours later we stopped at the foot of the mountains and started to make camp. It was eerily dark, so we had a large fire made to bring us light and warmth before our climb tomorrow.

December 7 2017

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 2 – 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 2 – The Soldier’s Tale

It was cold on the ship. I spent the majority of the journey below decks and I was still cold. I wouldn’t have been able to write anything if it was just the temperature, but there was the rocking too. There was a fire, which helped keep us warm, but I thought it was folly. I was assured it wasn’t.
The journey was long – a lot longer than many of us thought. There was small talk, some excitement about reaching Novia proper. Nothing really happened until the Tailor spoke.
“This is going to be a long pilgrimage if we cannot find something to do with times like these,” he said.
There was agreement through the room.
“We need to do something to pass the time. As we are a diverse group, we need to come up with something that we can all partake in equally and fairly.”
There was then a long debate about what we would do – games, knitting, cooking – utterly ridiculous things too that I doubt the one who suggested them could do.
Finally, the Tailor said: “What about stories? We can all tell stories when we have a long leg of our pilgrimage. I think we will be on this ship for quite some time so why not start now?”
“What kind of story?” the Scholar asked.
“Well, we are on a pilgrimage of Virtue, why not stories of Virtue? We have all heard them, and probably have even experienced something that falls in line with the Virtues.”
“Like a fable or something?” the Farmer asked.
“Yes. Anything really. To pass the time and remain true to our pilgrimage.” the Tailor responded.
We were all agreed.
There was another long pause. We all began thinking of stories that would pass the time and fit with the theme of our pilgrimage. The Soldier came down to check on us. He sat and listened to our discussion as we searched for someone and something to talk about.
“You want to hear about Courage?” he said, his voice rougher than it usually was. The hold went silent.
“Everyone knows about war. They hear about it, read about it – some even dream about it. People travel to see great battlefields of past wars imagining the strategies and skill the generals had. Others imagine the individuals that stood on the ground, weapon in hand. They hope to imagine the thrill of battle, the desire to know you are defending something bigger than just you – a village or a way of life. Everyone always goes to battlefields after the battles are done. They should go before.
“I heard a story about a scout. He had been chosen to head out to locate the rumoured forces of his nation’s enemies. There was rumour of an attack, but no evidence. His nations armies would not be allowed to march unless there was evidence of a threat. This scout’s general was prudent and sent the scout out to find evidence instead of waiting to see if evidence showed up.
“You have to understand me, we are talking about rumour. Everyone was on edge. If they waited, they might be overrun. If they acted without threat, they may create a threat in neighbouring nations, or end the career of the general.
“When the scout asked where to go the general didn’t have a location. The enemies were in the east, so that was where the general suggested to go first. But the north had mountain passes they may try to go through. Or, if they had allies and money, they may come from the south via fleet.
” ‘I am only one scout, how can I go in three directions? If there is a threat to the north and I go south, I will fail,’ the scout said. He wanted allies.
” ‘If I send more scouts, our government will call me a warmonger looking for battle. They’d say I’m looking for trouble and stirring the pot. Our allies are trustworthy, I am told. But I cannot let the rumours breaking this trust go unheeded. I must act. You are the best scout in the nation. I am trusting you to make the right choice.’
“This was a great responsibility for the scout. He had the entire nation depending on him.
“He chose to head west. It was the most obvious entrance to his nation. He felt that if an attack came, it would come from there. He walked to the border, spoke to farmers, traders and travellers. There was no news of a muster or movements of a large force.
“The scout grew anxious. Either there was an attack coming from the north or south, or there was no need to worry. But he had to know for certain.
“He chose to go north next. He went to the mountain passes and watched, listened and waited. He grew more anxious. He feared he had chosen incorrectly and that the opposing force was already in his lands.
“He had a choice now, head back and suggest the attack could come from the south. It was the fastest, safest and easiest decision. The general would mobilize the army, head south and either be considered a hero, or declared a warmonger.
“It was an easy way, and he would defend his people, but he had a duty. He started to head south, to see with his own eyes if there was an invasion. If there was no invasion, his people were anxious for no reason. But he would have done his duty in either case.
“As he drew near to the coast he heard news of sightings of a large fleet. They had appeared this morning and were drawing near. They would arrive this evening. he had failed. The invaders were here and he had no idea of their numbers, composition or any weaknesses. He was still a day’s travel from the coast.
“The Scout came to the last town before the coast and showed his Royal Writ in the town square. He asked for the fastest horse and the strongest traveller. He promised them a wealthy payment from his own cache, then wrote it, signed it and sealed it with his personal seal, then sent them on their way.
” ‘Early warning at the least,’ he thought. But he needed to count the soldiers who landed, assess their numbers, equipment and supplies. He took another volunteer and went to the coast.
“The army he saw was large. He couldn’t see clearly as he was trying to hide himself and his companion behind a small hill. It was not an insurmountable problem, especially now that his first message would arrive.
“He needed to see clearly their number and composition, but he also knew he would be seen clearly if he tried. He turned to his companion, a middle aged woman. He told her his plan, to see the invading army and to have her report back at the capital.
“The scout stood tall atop the treeless hill, wearing the tabard of his order. He saw the numbers of his foes, he saw their composition and he saw their provisions. As he watched he told his companion everything even after he was spotted and shot by the sharpshooters. He fell saying what his companion must remember and write. She did, and fled as fast as she could.
“The invaders must have been placated in their kill as they did not go further. Or they did not see his companion.
“His companion made it to the general as the army was being mustered. She told the general what she heard the scout say and it changed the general’s battle plans. Needless to say, the land was protected by the valorous actions of this scout.”
The Soldier fell silent. The hold creaked and shifted. No one spoke. The Cook looked more puzzled than anyone, but didn’t say anything.
“You should all get rest,” the Soldier said, standing up and walking towards the stairs that led to the deck. “We will be docking in the morning, and who knows when we will stop next.”

November 23 2017

The Pilgrimage of Virtue 1 – by Olthadir – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a wonderful new story from Olthadir, entitled
The Pilgrimage of Virtue
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 1, “Prologue and Introductions”
When we left Owl’s Head the sun was already high enough overhead to start descending. I doubt we would make it very far today. The plan was to go to Brittany. We only got to Kingsport.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. There are nine of us and a good majority of us are not used to travelling. We ended up leaving Owl’s Head much later than I expected. I was at the Fire Lotus Tavern at sun up.
Hours of slow walking later and we arrive in Kingsport just after nightfall. And I am foolishly staying up, writing down the first days journey by candlelight in the inn.
Truly, I should begin with what the journey is about other than the ravings of a tired and impatient traveller.
This entire endeavour – called a ‘pilgrimage’ by some – really began about a week ago in Fire Lotus Tavern. The talk going around was about the large quantity of Outlanders entering our lands. We discussed who they were, where they came from and why they were here. Some of us were pleased, thankful even. Businesses were booming, we had more coin coming in than usual. Work was good. For some, business was too good, they couldn’t keep up with the new demand. Others were driven out of business by powerful Outworlders who seemingly could work through the night.
As we spoke and drank more the conversation became more and more heated. These Outlanders were called Outlanders because they don’t really belong here. They don’t understand Novia like a Novian. If they are here to help, why are they causing so much trouble for a lot of us?
Don’t get me wrong, we do need help. The world is in trouble. Whatever madness caused the moon to shatter and end the Obsidian Empire hasn’t just disappeared and left. We all know that. Lord British knows that – Outlander that he is. He supposedly saved other worlds before coming here. If you believe that, that is your own problem.
The reality is he is here and he has a very large following and there are hundreds if not thousands of Outlanders in Novia. So, what are we going to do?
A few drinks later, we considered our situation.
First, Lord British’s plan to help isn’t all that bad. We all agreed that the virtues he was describing were all well and good. We could not find immediate fault in them.
The major issue, however, is the huge amount of Outlanders rushing into Novia ‘helping’ us.
Lord British’s virtues are easy enough to understand. They would take long to really enact and follow. But the fact that Outlanders have been brought, or called, whatever you believe, is downright insulting. Why can’t we figure them out ourselves and save our own land?
That was the beginning of this pilgrimage. Nine Novians decided to travel our home land, learning all we can about Lord British’s virtues. We intend to show that we Novians can care for ourselves and do not need Outlanders to save us.
We intend to become Avatars.

For posterity sake, I suppose I should describe out ragtag group.
We were organized by the individuals who solidified our intent and brought us together: the Smith, the Cook and the Elder.
The Elder is the reason we took nearly more than a day to get from Owl’s Head to Kingsport. He will be the reason for a good deal of delays, I’m sure. As much as I cursed him today I would wager that we wouldn’t be a group of pilgrims actually going on this pilgrimage if it wasn’t for him. He was the main voice in going out into Novia and exploring the Virtues.
I’d guess the Elder is nearing a hundred. He is nearly toothless and has hair only on the back of his head. He walks with a cane and has a very pronounced limp.
The Smith is a tall muscular woman with blonde hair. She is quite a powerful looking person and has an equally powerful voice. She is determined to learn what she can about the virtues – especially to learn if the Virtues are an Outlander plan to subjugate Novians. She is so determined to learn the truth that she left her business to do so.
The Cook is a short, thin man who used to work at the Fire Lotus Tavern. He has short brown hair and a plain, forgettable face. He would often leave the kitchen and listen to the conversation we were having. He quit his job shortly after talk of this pilgrimage began to materialize. I’m sure the tavern doesn’t miss him, he spent more time with us than at his post.
He is a wonderful listener who intently listened to all of us speak. That said, he was the first of us to agree to come along. Maybe he just really wanted out of Owl’s Head.
The rest of us agreed over the next few days – some more reluctantly than others. When the Cook quit we all figured he did so only to sit and listen to us, but when the Smith sold her forge we knew this was serious. The Elder then started calling our trip a pilgrimage.
The Tailor agreed the next day. It wasn’t all that surprising that he agreed. He was a rich man who owned a large business. He wasn’t originally from Owl’s Head, or the Hidden Vale like most of us. He never said where he was from. He only told us that his clothes would sell for quite the amount of coin. We all just nodded. He didn’t look rich, he could be making it all up. He wore the same clothes as everyone else. He didn’t even act rich. But considering he was at the Tavern every time I came in he must have had a lot of coin to spend – or be seriously in debt.
The Soldier was the next to agree. He is a medium sized man of little words. He has a black moustache he carefully grooms and a mop of black hair. I feel like he joined for no other reason than just to protect us. After the Tailor agreed to come along all the Soldier did was say he was coming, drank some more ale, crossed his arms and that was that. He hasn’t said much since. Honestly, I am very surprised he came along.
The next day, I figured we would see the same people in the tavern, maybe less the Tailor or the Elder and never speak again of this pilgrimage. But as soon as the Farmer came in, she said she was coming along. She sold all her land and livestock that morning. I since asked her why she should do such a thing. Her reply was simply that the pilgrimage sounded interesting. I asked her what she thought would happen to her lands and she shrugged and smiled. She is a young woman, red haired and red cheeked. She is plain, homely, as if she was born of the earth itself.
As we discussed the weather over some soup the Scholar – who always sat near to us with an open book and pen – said she was coming along as well. I was especially shocked at this slight, nondescript woman wanting to join. I suppose it was her chance to fill out a book or something. A way to find fame or something. Not that I am one to talk.
The last one to join was the Sailor. He joined a full day later, before we even realized we would need such a companion. We were all discussing our routes, sitting around a map of Novia when the Sailor placed his mug on the table and said he would come along, free of charge – as if money had anything to do with our fools errand. He was a round man, devoid of any hair, save his eyebrows and a long braid coming from his chin.
I asked him why he wanted to come along and he simply said that he had been all over Novia – seen many ports, talked to various kinds of people, but never had heard of such a good reason to go anywhere as he did these past few days.
Sitting here and writing this now I do realize how silly we all were, the nine of us at the Fire Lotus Tavern. Our grand plan to go to Novia proper and learn of the Virtues. But, this is us, the Pilgrims of Virtue who left Owl’s Head, and are about to leave the Hidden Vale, to explore an Outlander’s plan to save us Novians from ourselves and our past.

November 9 2017

Virtue’s Forge – ch 11 – by Ulf Berht – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another chapter in this great story by Ulf Berht, entitled
Virtue’s Forge
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 11, “The Climb”

Cook pointed toward distant sand-colored hills. “This is as close to the Sequanna Colossus as we dare venture. The place is infested with well-armed bandits ready to split any one they can catch.”

“Why there?” asked Merlin.

“There have been whispers of ruins lost to the shifting sands, buried treasure, and Obsidian secrets. Lurking behind every boulder are unnaturally huge corpions whose ancestors, some say, carried Obsidian warriors into battle. A very dangerous place, to be sure.”

Kaia packed away her navigation equipment and showed her map to Merlin, Abrams, and Cook. “This is our current position, far off any marked trail. We must go here,” she said, pointing to another spot on the map. “We must be into the Northern Barrens before sunset tomorrow. Get some water into your bellies, gents, then we must get underway. Remember, voices low and no fires tonight.”

The long walk, much of it in silence, provided Merlin with ample time to reflect upon his situation.

People see what they expect to see and believe what they have been told to believe, he thought. They see miracles in the mundane and fail to see the miraculous. Are we truly seeking to rescue Ulf, to save him from a gruesome fate at the hands of an old enemy, or are we just playing along until an opportunity arises to enact secret agendas? Sunstones, as described by Kaia, must be incredibly powerful. The mere presence of one in this world has put in motion plans and events beyond my understanding. Ulf is here because of one. I am here because of one. Ancient enemies vie for one, and enigmatic adventurers seek to meddle in the outcome. Without a doubt, my return to Avalon rests with my acquisition of this stone. I loved Nianne but she betrayed me, and now she is free to manipulate King Arthur for her own ends. Once it is in her hands, will Kaia part with it? I must have that stone at all costs and return to Avalon before the witch corrupts the young king.

“Three Palms Oasis,” Cook announced, pointing to a miserable cluster of palms and struggling green shrubs. “Our rendezvous. There is plenty of water, but we must dig for it.”

“Excellent,” said Kaia. “There is plenty of time to get to the top before sunset. We can rest for an hour before Cook and I begin the climb. Merlin, you may join or wait with Abrams, as you wish.”

“Climb? Climb what,” asked a bewildered Merlin.

“Why, that tiny pile of stone over there,” she said with a grin.

Merlin took a glance at the nearby towering mesa. “We scurried through this inhospitable place for two days, hurrying to recover my friend, and now you will take time for a climb? What madness is this?”

“It will be time well spent. Atop yon rock we have a friend who will give us an accurate accounting of the comings and goings from Desolis. We will come to know whether Ulf is indeed held inside or is still in transit. Besides, if what Cook tells me is true, there is a panoramic view second to none in all Novia. You may wait here with Abrams. We will be back tomorrow before noon and continue our quest. The choice is yours, but I must have this intelligence.”

“I will join you, if only to keep abreast the truth. I fear there is much more afoot than the comfort of one man.”

“You are not a simple man, Merlin but while you are at risk for capture, there is much I cannot reveal. The simple truth is that Outlanders operating outside of the Oracle’s ken and in the hands of the Obsidian Cabal present an intolerable risk.”

“Aspirations of acquiring the Sunstone do not influence your actions then?” challenged Merlin.

“The Sunstone is Ulf’s. I have no plan to own it,” said Kaia looking straight into Merlin’s eyes.

“Enough chatter. We must be at the summit before nightfall. Pack only food and water for the climb—and warm clothes. We will find adequate accommodations at the top. Cook, outline the route for us.”

“There is but one route to the top and it is not easy. On the west face of the mesa, we must first find and scramble up a rock scree. The crumbled broken rock is loose and easily set into motion, so it may take several attempts before we reach the actual cliff face. Once we are all on the ledge, we are faced with a difficult northeasterly traverse until we reach the gap between the two peaks. In my youth, it took me many tries before I successfully made it up both peaks, including the taller easterly one.”

“There we have it. Cook leads, Merlin in the middle, and I bring up the rear. Let’s get underway.”

As predicted by Cook, getting up the broken rock proved very difficult, but persistence paid off. After several attempts, the trio achieved the ledge. The traverse was not difficult in spite of the steep drop to the desert floor. They carefully made their way along the ledge to the large flat area between the mesa peaks.

“My agent will not leave his post until darkness obscures the desert below, so we have several hours to wait. Until then, feel free to accompany Cook. He has a particular interest in planetary movements and their influence upon this wretched globe, “ said Kaia.

“Indeed,” said Cook. “Cabalists are known to time their raids and sieges according to celestial events. I have observations to make that will aid those defending settlements. Are you with me Merlin?”

Again Cook proved to be an exemplary guide. The duo was atop the peak within an hour, and the entire western half of Novia was laid out before them. Due west, Cook pointed out the fiery glow of the Hilt in the Blackblade Mountains, the placid blue of Lake Equitas, and the sweeping light of Elad’s Lighthouse. In the north, Spindrift Bay and the glow from the newly risen volcano of Blood Bay could be seen. Above them, the whole of the night sky was unblocked by anything, no buildings or trees or mountains, just sky.

“There is much I could teach you, Merlin, and even more to learn. But duty calls. We must descend.” Cook said, packing away his astrolabe. “The Captain will grow impatient if we dally any longer. These torches will light our path.”

No one waited at their departures spot, and Merlin feared some misadventure or abandonment had occurred. Then he made out an entrance to a cavern. “This was not here earlier,” he said. Cook merely grunted and indicated that they should enter.

Captain Kaia could be seen crouched near a small fire, seemingly talking to no one. The pair approached the fire. Suddenly, what Merlin had taken for boulders resolved themselves into a gigantic being, daintily munching on what must be the carcass of an entire sheep.

“Ahh, Merlin. I’d like you to meet Bently. He is an ogre, my spy I told you about. Have no fear. He only harms outlanders who deserve it.”

October 26 2017

Virtue’s Forge – ch 10 – by Ulf Berht – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a further chapter in this great story by Ulf Berht, entitled
Virtue’s Forge
Background music by Smartsound

Chapter 10, “Epitaph”

“I am told you are awake. Welcome to the Epitaph, Outlander. I see you are not too badly damaged. Satyrs are not known for their gentleness. You may call me Lord Talon. I am the Grand Imperator of the Obsidian Empire. I am a direct descendant of the great General Karcheck and destined to rule all Novia.”
Ulf, too weak to say anything, struggled to piece together the world.
“Your life was in immediate peril, assassins were closing in, and I needed you here without delay. The trip would have been exceedingly uncomfortable had you not been drugged. No time…no time at all for food and whatnot. Damned meddlers. Meddlers always getting in my way.”
Talon turned to his attendants and pointed at Ulf. “I want him tidied up and ready to talk this evening. Yes, for supper, suitable clothes….suitable clothes and not stinking of satyr.” With that, Talon strode out and Ulf faded back into oblivion.
Several hours later, Ulf was awakened by three aged attendants, one carrying a large bowl of stew and water, another with clothes, and the third with bandages and various unguents and ointments.
“A hot bath awaits, sire, through that door. After which we are told to attend to any injuries you may have and to help you dress. Talon will also expect us to trim your hair and beard. We can tell you nothing, so do not ask.”
“Then get on with it. I will wash and dress myself.”
No longer starving and somewhat refreshed, Ulf could begin to take stock of the situation. He was in a windowless room with worn tapestries hanging over stone walls, presumably a forlorn attempt to bring some cheer to the drabness. The door opened with a creak of ancient hinges, but no bars or lock blocked the way into a long corridor dimly lit by glowing crystals. Ulf stepped out, hoping for some obvious escape route.
“Don’t wander too far,” a leather clad fighter said while passing by, seemingly on some errand. “It’s a maze in here and there are many unpleasant surprises lurking in darkened hallways.”
One of the aged attendants materialized beside Ulf. “Please don’t wander or they will make me into spider food. Let me show you around a bit. You can get more food in the dining hall,” he said, pointing down the hall behind them. “lt would give me great pleasure to take you to the library. Talon will send for you. Trust me, you cannot get out of here without his permission.”
“I have been drugged, kidnapped, and made a prisoner in a dismal dungeon, and you think I am looking for a library?”
“Apologies, Sire. Please take no offense, but Lord Talon has amassed a considerable collection of rare editions, some of which may be of interest to you, perhaps even vital,” the attendant whispered to Ulf. Then he hurried off down the orange lit corridor. Several open doors between massive stone columns revealed additional well appointed rooms.
The attendant stopped partway down the corridor. He looked back to see if Ulf followed, and waited until Ulf caught up with him. Stone dragons’ heads, lit by yellow crystals, lined the wall. The old man pointed left down some stairs. “Do not go down this corridor without an escort. The satyr guards will not treat you well. This hallway leads to the old Chamber of Souls that Talon calls his council chambers and it is strictly out of bounds. Not that there is a Council any more. It also leads to places you don’t want to go, places no one returns from.”
In the dim light, Ulf could just make out a hallway guarded by two very large and very pale horse-like creatures standing on two legs.
“Are they satyrs?” Ulf asked. “The ones that carried me here?”
“Indeed they are satyrs, Sire. Lord Talon has many. He claims to have created this particular breed. Underdwellers, he calls them. They hate the sun, run around in the dark, and squeak like bats, they do.” The old man shivered. “I hate them even more than the pale elves.”
“Elves? Here? Underground?” Ulf asked.
“Quick, we must go before they report us,” the old man said, and continued down the corridor. It ended with two doors. The old man put his finger to his lip and whispered, “Talon.” He pointed to the right hand door, opened the left one, and whispered, “library.”
Once through this door, they reached the entrance to the library. Although the dimly lit chamber was not as big as Ulf had imagined, rows of bookcases almost filled the room completely. A few brown-robed individuals were seated around long tables trying to read by candlelight. “Follow me. Speak to no one,” he told Ulf.
They wormed their way between bookcases and the wall until the old man reached a corner of the room and began working on a loose brick. A secret door opened and they entered a small hidden room.
After carefully closing the door, the attendant spoke. “We can speak more freely in here. My name is Jaren and we all have to get out of here.”
“An excellent idea my friend, but this room goes nowhere that I can see,” said Ulf.
“No it does not, but we have been digging a tunnel that does. This is just a good place to talk. The tunnel is accessed through a secret door in your room. It makes me wonder if Talon suspects something and put you in there to trap us.”
“And here you are confessing to me. That cannot be wise.”
“A risk we had to undertake. Talon has plans for you, and I am sure they will not be pleasant. We are but a few days from breaking through and, unless you want to die right now, say you are with us. You may be able to stop me from sticking you with this poison knife, but one tug on this string and that spider above you will be released.”
Ulf looked up a saw a giant, red-spotted spider suspended in a net, mere feet from his head. “I have no love for Talon, nor for his lovely accommodation. Your secret is safe with me, but truly, what are the chances of success?”
“Much better than they would be by staying near that madman. Remember, this is a prison, not a fortress. The outer wall is to keep prisoners in, not invaders out. We would never be able to dig deep enough to get under the wall, so we have sought other ways to get out. Some of the southeastern part of the inner wall has collapsed, and if you get to the dining hall you will see where an old entrance is blocked. We have found a secret door in your accommodations that leads around the rubble and connects to a hallway.
“I assume you remember nothing of the entrance to The Epitaph. The guards occupy a large balcony that overlooks the entrance to the prison, the pit, and the stairs down. The balcony once encircled the pit but no longer does. A section of the wall out there has also collapsed, and we have found another blocked entrance high up in the rubble. All our tests convince us that the secret door in your room leads to this entrance and, once cleared, a way out.”
“These plans have been long in the making. Can you not just walk out of here?” asked Ulf.
“No. Talon’s men have orders to shoot on sight anyone trying to leave without permission. He pays the guards well and they are loyal. Over a decade ago, I was part of a group of scholars studying the Epitaph. We discovered a secret room above the old dragons’ pen. Before we realized what we had found, Talon and his men marched in and took over. Three of my students were killed trying to get out, and the rest of us were forced to serve.”
“And I, here for less than a day, get to just enjoy the fruits of your labors?”
“Essentially, yes,” said Jaren. “But it is highly unlikely that all of us will manage to escape before the guards are alerted and kill the unlucky ones. We will draw lots in order to determine the order of escape. Neither of us may live to see the light of day.”
“Your truthfulness gives little comfort,” said Ulf, just as there was a light tap on the room’s door.
Jaren opened it. “Talon has summoned you,” said a pale brown-robed man.”
“Quick! Back to your room. Some finery has been laid out for you. Get dressed and I will escort you to Lord Talon.”