As told to Kole and Manoer aub Strok, the nine and twelve year old nephews of Audrac aub Strock, Secate of Kordar, Lord of Thorn
A story, my lords – It would be my pleasure. Is there any particular tale you would like to hear?
My story! That is not one of much interest, my lords. Perhaps the telling of the Last Prince of Deneb?
Truly – well I am honored. Still, I warn you, that while pleasant, it is not such a tale as to stir your hearts or widen your minds.
Very well then. Where to begin? My name is Amman Taleweaver of the Silvercrest Clan of the Free People. I was . . .
What – yes, the Free People – not caged in stone buildings, bound round by fences and tied to a small slice of land. The land and its riches belong to all and a man only owns what he can ride, lead or carry.
The Megsurian Silvercrest clan – well that is our clan mark. You have seen my riding lizard? When I ventured forth from the people, my fathers let me have my pick of beasts from their herds. Naturally, I did not insult them by choosing their breeding stock or weaken the clan by taking a full trained war mount, but none the lest I have a fine, silver-crested riding beast.
No, I'm sorry my lords, I can't tell you how we can make a permanent mark on a beast's scales. It is a gift of Fay to our people. Suffice it to say that a small amount of, shall we say, involuntary property exchange is considered normal and healthy amoung the People. It helps the young one develop useful skills. The markings, being reasonably difficult to change, keep it from getting too out of hand. It is great sport . . .
Yes my lord, I did say fathers. You see when I was very young, only five or six summers, I swore the oath of brotherhood with Tanlong son of Hadrock Greatherdmaster. It is unusual for two so young to do so, but we came determined to the Song Animalhealer who was senior priest of Fay and convinced him of our sincerity. I think he looked within our hearts and saw that we were true brothers. So from that time forward we had two sets of parents who raised us as their own and we grew up together sleeping in whichever tent was most convenient at nightfall.
Where was I? Oh yes, I was born in the dark of the moon, near the Clan nesting grounds, which serve as our winter home.
No, no, I was born in a tent – these tales of the Free People being born in a saddle are just ridiculous. We are not barbarians or stupid. No child can ride until they can sit up.
Walk? Of course you must ride before you walk. I beg my lords to take no insult, but when you are fathers, you will find that letting a child walk before they can balance in a saddle will, how should I say, diminish their sense of balance and impair their seat for life.
Truly? Well that explains much. No wonder your cavalry rides like a sack of stones in a saddle.
So – to resume, I was born to Silvercrest and there I probably would be today, riding by my brother Tanlong Greatherdmaster, hunting, raiding Fayans, tagging Megsurians, and telling tales by the campfire, but I was marked by a God.
Of course, which God had selected me was not clear at the time. But on my firstday of youthling, the elders noted that a rare, triple alignment of the wandering stars had occurred. That is of course a significant omen – particularly for one's second third firstday. While the elders discussed, we more immediate-minded youngsters headed out on to a nearby open hilltop for my celebration – I had a new tale to try out, you see – and as we celebrated there, right at the midnight hour, a star came loose from the heavens. This star did not just fall. It arced across the sky like an arrow shot from a bow towards us. Actually, towards me – for as it came closer it clearly coming directly at me! It puzzled me for an instant – what had I done to deserve the anger of the Sky Gods, for I seemed destined to die. Then the star struck me.
Yes, my lords. The star actually hit me.
You are correct, my lords, I should be dead. But I did not perish that night – nor since for that matter. Instead I looked down in amazement, only to see my body lying below me apparently unharmed – but I was not in it. My recollection becomes somewhat hazy for a while, but when I awoke the next morning, safely back in my body, I was told that the star passed through me and I had collapsed. A God had clearly marked me. There was no question of my life's work; I was to be dedicated to the divine. However, a debate was already raging as to which God had cut me out of the herd.
You see, our clan, as do most of the Free People, follow the way of Fay, Mother of Animals. However, had she wanted to claim me, she would have sent a great bear or some other beast – not a star. Nor did any of the minor gods of the Free People seem likely to make such a gesture. Other theories were espoused and rejected and the debate raged for my next third firstdays.
Destiny, my lords? Pah. Don't misunderstand, it is a great honor to be selected to run with a God's Own, but it is no promise. If I ride into a wild herd, select a fine youngster, and mark him to my herd, he can expect succor and support throughout his life – but no guarantee that he will not fall to disease, accident or enemy. I marked him because he is strong and someday valuable – so he had better prove or I can always make something of his hide.
So, by my first first first firstday, my parents had concluded that I was marked by a foreign god and so they rode amoung the stone buildings in Akor settlement, a mid-sized trade town on the edge of the Free lands, to deliver me to the temples there. Much to their surprise, none of the temples wanted a wild young nomad with an even wilder story and four outraged parents. Hah! You should have seen the faces of the priests as my parents paraded me from temple to temple, tramping through sacred gardens, tracing dung onto sparkling floors, spitting in holy burial urns. All in all it came as a great relief and a great disappointment to me. I must admit that I was not thrilled to be forever encased in a stone building and going about moaning and singing all the time, despite the honor of it all.
What, oh yes my lords, now I understand that there is more to your Bound People's priests then moaning and singing, but until then, that was all I had ever seen them do!
Still, there was one man in Akor settlement who saw my family's plight and took pity on me. Audrac, the master goldsmith – yes your very own uncle – for at that time he was a respected, but unassuming, craftsman. He convinced my parents that what a God may see, priests are sometimes blind to and that what was needed was for me to have some years of polish before the priests could learn to see the gold that was within me. In other words, I would need to become familiar with the ways of the Bound People's herd before I could minister to them.
This struck all involved as reasonable, and Audrac offered me an apprenticeship in his shop where I could earn my keep, learn my way and develop a trade that was sought after even amoung the clergy of the Bound People. So I spent my second of years laboring over precious metals rather than holy prayers.
Afraid, my lords. That is difficult to say. It was certainly uncomfortable to leave all I knew and cherished to work among strangers. However, Windsong does not have a word for "fear". It took me a long time to understand that idea. As near as I can tell, fear means that condition where one anticipates something bad happening and is struck helpless by that very anticipation. Free People believe that bad things happen – you avoid it or you embrace it. If you think you will loose a fight you run away. If you can't run, you kill as many as you can. Helpless seems – well pointless.
Your uncle? Yes, my lords he was a good master. Always treated me well and helped me to learn my way amoung the Bound People.
Bound People? Well, my lords, that would include you. We of the Free People consider anyone who isn't free to take up all he owns and venture to new horizons one of the Bound People.
But I was only in your uncle's shop a second of years before the agents of the Secate found him and restored him to his rightful place. Although, I must be honest, to those of us in Akor that restoration looked an awful lot like kidnapping. Your grandfather had sent his men with orders to be persuasive and those men took that to mean, "don't take no for an answer". In fact, they didn't even ask! Audrac was to be brought back, for your father had died and Thorn needed an heir and Audrac was it. All too soon, in fact, for your Grandfather was brought low by evil men and Audrac became Secate.
Be that as it may, from my perspective, Audrac had disappeared without a trace and there was not enough business for his journeymen to keep on the wild nomad apprentice. So off I went, back to the Free People, but with many new tales to tell.
But then, Krister, Runner of Nigel Longstrider, arrived amoung the Free People. He brought the tale of The Landing and the atrocities committed by those who sought the extinction of the warm blooded. He also was seeking, for the Longstriders had had word of a child touched by a falling star – a method Nigel Longstrider had used in the past to bless a new priest.
My place was now before me, and much to my relief for Longstriders are often Free People who move amoung the many Bound Folk of this world. Krister dedicated me at once and I spent the next third carrying words between Bound Folk and Free Folk alike.
Thirds? Yes my lord, in Windsong, the language of the Free People, the number Three is very important. One is a baby for a third of years, then a child until a third third of years. At the end of your third third – that is first first first, or thirteen as Kortar counts – you are an adult. You have a third third years name-years. This is the time of life to learn your trade and earn your honor to seek wisdom, to do battle and to have children. At your second first first you become full clan member. You hold property, raise kids and stock, practice your trade and worship Fay. Those who have their first first first first, yes that is fourty Lord Manoer, are considered elders. They teach their grandchildren and maintain the ancient wisdom. Those who complete their second first first first are revered elders and their words are as silver and carry much weight in clan council.
Of course, Three is the number of stability and good fortune. My companions number three – Chali Vlu'Xoss Godwarrior, Rel Swordmaster and Raven Stark the Wolfgang. An ancient rule of wilderness travel is to venture in threes, thus if one gets hurt there is one to protect and one to go for help. As well, I carry a third third third of arrows and a thrid third third of items in my sacred bundle.
My sacred bundle, yes my lords it is this pouch I wear at my side. It is called a sacred bag or bundle because it contains things that help me to remember who I am and where I came from. It aids in my meditations and brings me luck. For instance, look here is a small pouch of dirt from that hill near the clan nesting grounds where the star struck me. This was take from beneath me as I lay unconscious and so contains some of the star essence. This coin was the first I ever earned telling tales – it has three meanings by itself. First, it represents my love of storytelling. Second, it is to remind me that my word has value – and that value must not be given lightly.
Yes Kole, like the word of a noble, the word of man marked by a God is seen to have extra weight. I must therefore be sure before I spend my word, lest others think my God frivolous. Especially once I was dedicated to Longstrider – one must be able to trust the word of messenger implicitly.
The third meaning of the coin, is that tales are themselves valuable.
Tis true, my lords. Hah, but think of it. Free People cannot carry a great many books, so how do we carry wisdom. If I tell of Voulker, my father, and his famous fight with the dragonman Castor, all who hear learn something that might, someday, help them defeat a dragonman in battle. Besides, I have heard your Bound Folk priests lecture from their boxes – not for me. I can get more people to listen gladly round a friendly fire then any sermon-roarer in a temple.
Eh, but we have drifted from our tale. Where were we?
Ah yes, thank you my lords. I was dedicated to Longstrider, delivering messages and spreading the word of invasion. Certainly, you know that Longstrider is a messenger faith and part of the Kordar Pantheon, but perhaps you didn't know Longstrider as a Keeper of Order. Yes, we of the Longstrider herd seek to further the growth of humanity and warmkind by fostering peace and stability. Longstrider supported Kordar's rise to end the bloody squabbles and waste of humanity that preceded it.
However, the rise of any power, including Kordar, creates enemies and there are those who would fight it just because it is. One such is the BlueTail Clan of the Free People. They nurse an ancient grievance going back to the beginning of the Kordar Empire. Some of the BlueTail Clan rode, as mercenaries, with the side that was betrayed and destroyed. Regrettable, I agree, but ancient history. They have forgotten that at the time they would just as willing sent mercenaries to the other side and would have thought nothing of the outcome.
I have some cousins, distant relations really, who ride with BlueTail. They took great insult in my dedication to Longstrider – not understanding or carrying that Longstrider is with Kordar but is not Kordar. In these times when all warmbloods must come together, they nurse ancient, pointless, feuds. These young stallions of the BlueTail Clan began to ride against me, seeking to thwart my message and slay me.
Oh, no my lords, don't misunderstand. The fate of your father will not be mine. My BlueTail cousins cannot slay me out of hand. The laws of the Free People do not permit it, and unlike the laws of the Bound People, these laws are respected. Never mistake great buildings for superiority. The learned ones of the great libraries would tell you that the great stinking stock-pens called cities are the height of "civilization". Stand back a ways and look as a stranger would see it. I have yet to see a "barbarian" people with as little respect for their own laws and kin as those in a city.
Still, the laws do permit dispute and in the proper time and place, even fights to the death. My cousins seek those times and places; I seek to avoid my cousins – eh?
It was on one such mission in my first third first year that I – ah, yes Lord Manoer, that would be nineteen – I was delivering a message to the Wall. The message was from a southern merchant looking for some troll mercenaries, when I spotted Bluetails on my trail. It was a long chase, but I broke free because Longstrider grants us the ability to cast magic on our beasts that allows them to run more effortlessly. Still I was well off my path and had come to an area of TreeFell – a ruined elvish city once of great beauty and might. Of course, elves, of all peoples, should know better then to dwell in a city. Still, this city had been fair, by the standards of cities, but in its current state it is home to many things twisted foul by the lingering magics that brought it down. There I picked up the sign of a wounded lizard and – fearing for a member of the Free People – I tracked it down. Now, I am no great hunter like my father Tanlong or my mother Woella, but the blood spoor was easy to follow – as were the great troll prints that overstepped it. I approach cautiously, urging my beast to step lightly and peering from a copse of trees, that had once been a beautiful garden, I saw seven trolls, hideously twisted by the evil magics, gathered around a great stone column. Atop the column was a fair maiden, struggling valiantly to keep the trolls from climbing after her and pulling her down.
Yes, it was peril most dire. The only thing that saved her to this point is that several of the trolls were engaged in eating her poor lizard. Well, I had a few moments to prepare, then I rode forth to challenge the trolls.
Well actually, my Lord Kole, I burst forth and cut one down with my warstaff before the others they had a chance to turn. When starting a fight with seven trolls, my custom has always been to take the first shot from behind.
We were away then. My faithful beast at that time, Thunderfoot, needed no urging to speed away from six angry trolls.
Yes away, my Lord Kole. That's right Lord Manoer, we Free People see no dishonor in fighting while moving away. If I was "afraid" I would not have started the fight. As I rode, I shot backwards at them. Now, I have some capacity with a bow, but am not reckoned by my people a fighter or they would have been slain to a troll. As it was, one went down to a lucky arrow and another crashed headlong into a stone that seemed to be in the wrong place.
Yes a bit of trickery that Longstrider granted me. Not the standard bit, but effective none the less.
Well, by this time the remaining four felt that they had punished me enough and turned back towards their treed prey. This, of course, is exactly the wrong thing to do, for Thunderfoot immediately swung around and we raced past them hailing them with arrows. I was concentrating on wounding many rather than killing a few so that I could carry out a rescue. Sure enough, I reached the rock and the maiden leaped down to Thunderfoot and we were off again. Much to my delight, it was my old friend Chali Vlu'Xoss. Chali had been on that hill with me all those years ago when I was struck by the star. Knowing her to be a better shot, I passed her my bow and she managed to dispatch still another troll before exhausting my arrows.
But – things were not to be easy. Two of the trolls were fresh enough that they could begin to overhaul the double burdened Thunderfoot. After all this action, I was sorrily reduced in magic and I calculated that two trolls would ormatch we two. Especially, if the battle went long and the limping troll caught up.
So, I turned and grinned at Chali – wished her a nice afterlife if it came to that, and wheeled Thunderfoot around. We screamed like deamon banshees in heat as we charged. And I had one last trick left. Longstrider's star granted me a talent, akin to magic but drawing on different powers and I sent forth a spell. One of the trolls lost control of his left leg and stumbled into the path of the other. Both fell. As we swept by, Chali swept the one troll's head from his body. At this both remaining trolls suddenly remember safer prey and vanished into that evil, beautiful, once-city.
Needless to say, we high-tailed it out of there.
Chali's tale was that she had been following an exceptional stag that had sought refuge in that place and was ambushed by those trolls. She has decided that we make a good team and so has ridden with me since.
Eh, no not quite the end of the story, my lords. Two years later, Chali and I returned to that place for we had heard a tale around Elvish fires of a Great Stag that was the protector of one of the noble families that perished in the foul fall of that ancient, lost-named city. We uncovered a cache of jewels and gold that had once graced the halls of that noble's home, not a dozen steps from the column where Chali had made her stand. Alas, many other treasures buried there were withered to dust.
My fathers and mothers were most grateful for the gifts – especially Voulker and Woella who were not so wealthy as Tanlong and Shourka. Although by now father Voulker will probably have given half of it away. I was much aided in selling these goods by a new convert to Longstrider's ways – an Ulfgang named Raven Stark. Yes, she too studied as a goldsmith but was more fortunate than I to complete her training. She has agreed to join Chali and I – which is a great relief for three is lucker than two.
Her tale – ah it is a darker one by far. And it is too much for tonight. Perhaps another night, young Lords. I do believe your uncle would reprove me if I kept you up much later.
Fare thee well and sleep tight.
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