The Rise of Al'daer

   The mighty fall and the weak rise. Frailty is forgotten, courage is found. Darkness is overcome and evil perishes, only in the light of the goddess.  12th Cantata of Kreyss'hai

    “Morning, young sir,” the landlord announced to Al’daer as he entered the eating room of the inn.

    Al’daer turned and saw the man dressed exactly as he was the previous day. Dirty cream coloured apron over an equally discoloured roughly woven shirt that was perhaps the same colour as the apron had been, many months ago. “Good morning landlord,” Al’daer said in return.

    “Breakfast?” the landlord asked.

    “Yes, please. Then I would like to ask you about the island. I’ve a mind to ride around the places of significance,” Al’daer added.

    Out of sight, a patron of unremarkable appearance continued to eat, but his attention was now keenly fixed on the conversation. It was as the others of the group had said, the stranger was clearly here for a purpose. Whether he knew the full depth of that purpose would remain to be seen.

    “Places of significance,” the landlord repeated, “Don’t think we have any of those here, what did you have in mind?”

    “Tor Ferendal was one place I’ve heard of, is it easy to ride to?” Al’daer asked. As he did so, he saw the landlord’s eyes flick to a point behind him and back again. Intrigued, Al’daer turned to see what or who the landlord had cast his eyes to.

    Al’daer saw a man on a far table, shoulder length greying hair swept over his head, wearing a jacket of dark wool that reached to his upper thighs. Both hair and clothing contrasted by a pristine white shirt open at the collar. As he watched, the man casually placed down his knife and fork, wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood. He immediately walked over to Al’daer and nodded past him to the landlord. Looking back, Al’daer saw the landlord walk off to the other side of the bar.

    “Granthen,” the man said with a smile, extending his hand in greeting, which Al’daer took in return. “You are Al’daer I believe. I am a friend of the port master,” Granthen added by way of explanation.

“Ah, of course,” Al’daer replied as if that explained everything. Though his mind was now wondering why his mentioning of the Tor had seemingly caught the attention of a man who clearly held some sway with others.

“Come, take a seat with me,” Granthen said, turning slightly and gesturing Al’daer over to his table.

    As he did so, the landlord walked into the eating room with a large breakfast, headed directly over to Granthen’s table and placed it down where he expected Al’daer to sit.

    Al’daer acquiesced to the request and the situation the two men clearly wished to create for him.

    As soon as they were both seated and alone, Granthen wasted no time in recommencing the conversation. “Why do you wish to go to the Tor? You do know they won’t let you in and the west of the island is nothing but wilds and brigands,” he said, “not a worthwhile trip for just sightseeing.”

    “With respect,” Al’daer replied, “these are matters I would only speak in depth about to a friend. Since we have just met…” he trailed off, leaving the sentence incomplete to invite Granthen to balance things off and giving himself the opportunity to start eating the food before him.

“Yes of course, where are my manners,” Granthen replied after he finished a large mouthful of food. “I suppose the most useful thing to say is that I knew your father in his travelling days,” he said with a smile.

    Al’daer shot the man a look of surprise. His father had spoken about many of his travels and shared countless exciting tales as bed time stories on his return from the seas. In front of the great fire, while seated on the soft rug that lay in front of it, a young Al’daer had been told many stories about the world of Malartú.  From the wilds of the South Drenlands to the beasts of the North in Bal’Shir’s domain, even of the gentle rolling Hogs Back mountains of the neighbouring isle of Falmargoroth, where nothing particular ever seemed to happen. What his father had never mentioned though was about his visits to the Sháelarn. Had his father of done so Al’daer would have been prepared for the coming unexpected turn of events.

    “Did your father ever mention the council of Kreyss’hai?” Granthen whispered, leaning forward and looking Al’daer directly in the eye.

    The sudden seriousness of the man’s tone sent a shiver down Al’daer’s spine. “I have never heard of this,” Al’daer replied.

    “Then what is it that brought you here?” Granthen asked directly.

    Al’daer composed himself, gathered another fork full of food and replied, “As I’ve mentioned, of this I can only speak about to a friend.”

    “You won’t find many of those around here, my friend,” Granthen said in a low tone. “You see a benign city, aged and rotting, it’s power drained away and wonder if your fortune could be made. Well, so do others. From the North and East we are assaulted though most here do not yet realise it. Kreyss’hai calls to her children and strengthens them, but so does Bal’Shir and at this time, they have the upper hand.”

    Al’daer sat speechless as Granthen pushed aside his plate and drank down his weak morning ale. He held up his hand as Al’daer went to speak.

    “Meet me tonight, at eight, at the south stables. I will introduce you to your true friends and tell you how to make the next step on your journey. You have guessed correctly in thinking to visit the Tor, but journey in ignorance and your return will be marked by a hole in the ground.”

    Al’daer could do no more than sit back in his chair and stare at the man.

    Granthen stood and buttoned his coat, not taking his eyes off Al’daer. “Until tonight and in the meantime, talk to no one about this,” he said, nodding politely and walking off.

    Thoughts raced around Al’daer’s head. He replayed the conversation in his mind and tried to discern if this new acquaintance who claimed friendship with his father was trustworthy or a liar. He searched his memory of childhood and tried to recall any story, any overheard conversation of Kreyss’hai or the council Granthen had spoken of. Minutes passed and memories flashed across his mind but there was nothing of note, nothing he’d read or been told. Only one image stayed before him. His father had returned from the Sháelarn and as was customary, he had returned with a gift. He recalled his father placing a pendant around his mother’s neck and her turning it around in her fingers as she inspected it. She was smiling, a radiant light seemed to be around them. Something Al’daer had always thought was the love they shared. Her response had made no sense to the young child, but now as an adult having experienced the strange conversation he had just had, the pieces had come together and he realised what she had said. He’d heard the words before but in a flash of inspiration now understood them in combination; “Kreyss’hai, abran tu roa”, she had whispered to her husband. “Kreyss’hai, blesses us,” he said under his breath.

    In a second flash of inspiration he recalled the pendant in the possessions he’d travelled with. He dropped his knife and fork and headed directly out of the eating room and up to his room.

                                                                    ∞

    Eight o’clock could not come around fast enough. While Al’daer had taken several gentle rides around town and the immediate countryside, it had all been a vain attempt to distract himself from the impending rendezvous with Granthen. Just before the appointed time he trotted the horse back from the North of the town towards the stables, there in the half-light was a mounted figure he assumed to be Granthen. He touched the short sword at his waist for reassurance and pulled his woolen riding coat over it as he approached.

   “Perfect timing, sir,” Granthen called out as the rider came closer.

    “Good evening, Granthen. You seem assured of my arrival. Where are we headed to?” Al’daer said in return, attempting to display a confident curiosity. He felt the weight of the pendant around his neck and pictured the rough image that had discovered scratched on the reverse. It was clear this was done with the intent of hiding it from all but the closest of inspection. It showed an image of a river and two places marked on it. He had ridden out along the local river during the day to see if he could encounter someplace of note, but after Granthen’s warning had dared not venture too far on his own.

    “To see some friends, of course,” Granthen replied, playing on the conversation from earlier in the day. “Friends who will understand why you are here,” he added. He kicked his horse and commanded it forward. Al’daer followed without a word.

    They left the town by the Southern gate and followed the track to the South, back towards the port town of Tal’Genen. Trotting along at a slow pace Granthen made polite conversation, asking about Al’daer’s travels so far and what he’d learned about the city and island the last few days. When the sun had finally set Granthen’s demeanour became more serious.

    “I see you’ve armed yourself, is it steel?” he asked.

    “Yes, of course” Al’daer replied, “what else would it be?”

    “Just asking, friend. Many strange creatures abound these days. I wondered if it was Calnesio, always good to have a Calnesio blade about you when the dark hits. Just a shame they’re so rare.” Granthen gave no time for Al’daer to question the statement as he suddenly gave instructions to ride towards their left, off the path.

    Al’daer tried to spot something to indicate where they had turned, but this point in the trail looked exactly as the rest. They rode east for about an hour and the conversation grew more direct.

    “Where are we going? And don’t just tell me to see friends,” Al’daer said, having begun to find the use of the word somewhat grating.

    “To a Council meeting, brother Al’daer. Tell me; why you are here, what drew you here?”

    Al’daer wondered what the Council was. Why he was going to it he didn’t know, but the fact he believed he was headed to one of the markings on the pendant and remembering his parents speaking of Kreyss’hai had calmed his initial nervousness more then he’d anticipated. He looked up at the rising moon and saw its silvery light bathing the two men and the fields around them. Glancing around he saw Cer’Synden at the foot of the Tor, reflecting the moonlight and glistening as if wet from a recent downpour. It was a moment of peace, of silence; only the sounds of the horses and a gentle breeze coming from the coast.

    He turned back and looked at Granthen, who was looking at him and smiling. “It’s beautiful isn’t it? When things are calm on the island, I often stand under the moonlight and renew my vows to the goddess.”

    Al’daer said nothing in return but felt a sincerity in the man’s words that reassured him. He remembered he’d left Granthen’s question unanswered, “Anomalies,” he offered as a reply.

    “Oh? What kind of anomalies?” Granthen asked.

    “Navigational anomalies, reported by sailors. I made a map as a child and tried to connect them, it seems they all emanate from here.  So, here I am.”

    “As good a reason as any for a man to set out on his destiny,” Granthen said in a slightly amused tone. “They’re not anomalies by the way, they’re disturbances in the flow of energy around Malartú and they have not only your attention,” he concluded at the same time as pointing to a small house of stone and thatch in the near distance, “We’re here.”

    The two men rode on towards the house and no more than 30 feet away a man burst forth from the front door, blade in hand and ready to fight. “Brother?” he shouted at the riders.

    “Parvul, it’s me! What’s happening?” Granthen called out.

    “Bandits of course, we already killed three of them,” he replied shouting the last part as an announcement to anyone hiding in the darkness nearby. “Get your horses in the stables,” Parvul called to the two men.

    Just as he did the door to the stables, which made up the back half of the house, swung open and the light of the lanterns inside flooded out to greet them. Granthen kicked his horse and with a cry it shot forward and into the stables, past a tall, skinny man guarding the door he’d just opened. Al’daer did the same and the moment he was inside the heavy doors were swung shut and secured with a beam of wood.

    A shout was heard from the front of the house. Granthen leapt from his horse without tethering it, pulled his sword from its sheath and raced through the door connecting the stables to the front of the house, “with me, Al’daer!” he shouted and Al’daer raced after Granthen as fast as he could.

    Dashing through the house Al’daer saw the front door was open and a woman was standing guard just inside the house. “Make way, Ufradict,” Granthen bellowed and she stepped aside.

    For a heartbeat Al’daer was afraid she’d see him as an attacker, but she lowered a cruel looking dagger and the two men ran past. Outside, Parvul was slashing back and forth at two attackers. The men were clad in black leather and wielding curved blades. While obviously cautious of Parvul they were returning his jabs and slashes looking for an opportunity to inflict damage.

    With their focus on Parvul they lost the valuable few seconds of initiative that would have saved them from the blades of the new arrivals. Granthen had burst through the door like a hound out of the traps and shot straight for the attacker closest to him. Before the assailant could react, Granthen had slashed him from the chest bone to the stomach. As the second attacker froze to consider his next move Granthen seized the initiative and stabbed him through his ribs, a wet crunching noise confirming the hit.

    Al’daer instinctively knew it was an opportunity to gain favour with the men. He stepped forward and in one move sent his short sword slashing through the first attacker’s outstretched sword arm. It wasn’t a clean cut, instead the blade only made it through the upper part of the forearm, leaving his arm momentarily hanging on broken bones and flesh. A second later it tore and dropped to the ground with a thud, blade still gripped in the now severed hand. The man staggered and leaned over from the shock. Granthen saw his opportunity and reaching over the stunned figure, drove his blade straight down and through the man’s back.

    During those few seconds the second attacker had merely held his side and staggered backwards with Parvul stepping slowly towards him. Granthen ran over and with the flat of his blade knocked the man’s sword arm down. Using the momentum to carry him he span his body around and swung the sword up and around to the man’s opposite side, bashing him across the head with the flat of the blade. Knocked out cold he slumped straight to the ground.

    “Let’s drag him inside, we’ll leave the other to the animals,” Granthen said as he reached down and took a firm grip of one of the unconscious man’s shoulders. Al’daer grabbed the other shoulder and the two men pulled the assailant through the house and into the stables. After a few minutes he was securely tied and lashed to a supporting wooden pillar, leaving the defenders to pick up their evening where they intended it to be.

                                                                      ∞

    Granthen and Ufradict were seated in chairs around the fire, with Al’daer in another to one side. Small talk had started to slow down when Parvul made a timely return from the kitchen with several mugs of hot oats and honey. It was a very traditional country drink Al’daer had been told and he faked his liking of it with a few quick sips and appreciative noises; even though to him it tasted like the most watery porridge that could ever be made.

    “Why were they attacking you?” Al’daer asked.

    “They’re not attacking us as such,” Ufradict replied, “they’ve been attacking outlying farms and houses for months.”

    “Since the Talghaern have been on the move again the Taikstow Pirates, and various bandits that take shelter in their camps on the island of Palan, have started lands raids to the south. They’ve been regularly attacking Soronel, the 2nd Isle and as you’ve seen, Sháelarn,” Parvul said.

    “But Palan is Galrach’s 3rd Isle isn’t it?,” Al’daer asked.

    Granthen spoke up, “Galrach has many grand and stupid ideas and that an island with a fishing village full or pirates would be part of his kingdom is the stupidest of the era!”

    “We’re at war, Al’daer,” Ufradict said in a strained and serious tone, “that island will be gone in days and then it’s Soronel or the 2nd Isle, possibly even us. Possibly all three. Galrach is weak and it’s time for others to take matters into their own hands.”

    “That’s why I’m here?” Al’daer asked.

    “Yes,” Granthen confirmed, “your father was a member of the Council of Kreyss’hai and we are they, but missing our fourth head. That is a position we may offer you and with it the chance to change the history of the islands. If and I do mean if, you are ready for this challenge and worthy of the honour.”

    Al’daer felt a nervous tension enter his body, “How will I know on either count?”

    “You will go to the Tor and speak to the Scholars. Ufradict will guide you and vouch for you. They know who we are and will trust her when she presents you. At the Tor you will be tested and the Scholars will advise us,” Parvul said.

    “And if I pass this test?”

    Granthen turned and looked Al’daer in the eyes and in a soft voice said “You will take your father’s place on the Council and we shall address the issue of Galrach and others who attack our home. It is time for you to step into the light of Kreyss’hai, and rise to your destiny, Al’daer.”

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CHANNILLO

6 ~ Granthen 1 ~ E2
Series Info | Table of Contents

The Rise of Al'daer

   The mighty fall and the weak rise. Frailty is forgotten, courage is found. Darkness is overcome and evil perishes, only in the light of the goddess.  12th Cantata of Kreyss'hai

    “Morning, young sir,” the landlord announced to Al’daer as he entered the eating room of the inn.

    Al’daer turned and saw the man dressed exactly as he was the previous day. Dirty cream coloured apron over an equally discoloured roughly woven shirt that was perhaps the sa...

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Series Info