Copyright Laurie Mahaffy 1999
The Journal of Talae Coldfoot of the Tribe
As Translated by and Annotated by:
5th of Rebirth:
Well, we didn #146;t really get anywhere trying to figure out
why those horses bolted past the village. The only thing we could
agree on was that something had frightened them very badly.
Whatever it was that had chased them was still unknown, but we
were sure it must be something very large.
Whatever it was, it did not come close to the village last
night. We were all as tense as an overdrawn bowstring but our
fears were not realised. I managed to get some good rest after I
had resolved to track the horses in the morning. Leythan got some
rest after being turned down several times by the young women of
the village. He never seems to get tired of trying for sex. I
wonder if that is a Were trait or just a male thing!
Antonio and Liulni were sitting around the fire discussing the
nature of our unseen foe and going over strategy for defeating
the bandits when I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, shortly
before sunrise, they were still arguing over some point. I rolled
over for a few more winks.
At breakfast I talked to the party about what I planned to do
next. "I think we need to track the horses back to where
they came from,"
"We can #146;t leave the village again," Tony
replied with some heat. "We have agreed to deal with the
bandit threat to this village. If we go off chasing down every
trail around here we are leaving them open to attack."
"Whose horses do you think those were, Tony?" I
asked. "That is probably the leg of a bandit that we found
"If that #146;s true, then maybe the bandits are all
dead," Leythan piped up. "I think Talae is right. We
need to backtrack those horses and make sure our job is
"I agree with Leythan," Liulni commented quietly.
"We need to know what the status of the bandits really is.
I #146;m not very happy about having a large, unknown predator
out here with us, either. Besides, what good is saving the
village from bandits if a big monster comes and eats them."
"All right then," I said. " We mostly agree.
After we finish eating we will backtrail the horses and just see
what we can see. Tony can stay here and guard the village if he
Two hours later I was bent over the parched grasses trying to
find the trail.
"I don #146;t think this is the way they came!"
Leythan said for the tenth time.
"Well, if you think you can do better, be my guest!"
I snapped. Leythan was really on my case today and I was tired of
it. I had lost the trail twice before. There had been no rain for
so long that it was hard to track. If he felt he could do better,
I was more than willing to let him try.
"The way the grasses are bent over here shows that the
horses ran from this way," Leythan gestured in a northerly
direction. He started to move in that direction with a jaunty
step that suggested that he was sure that we would follow. I felt
that it was the wrong way but I followed after the party. Leythan
just might be right. With the difficulty I was having following
the trail we had nothing to lose by trying another direction.
We had trudged along for another hour with no results when
Liulni suggested that we stop for lunch. I was sitting on a rock
enjoying my cheese and fruit, being careful not to eat any meat.
For some reason eating red meat makes me feel sluggish. Ever
since I spoke to Ebu I have had to watch what I eat. I remember
"Pass me another slice of that roast, would you,
Rock?" I said.
The bulky troll tossed another slice at my plate. It landed
in my gravy and splashed the front of my tunic with brown sauce.
Great! Now I would have to go change before afternoon inspection.
I finished up my lunch quickly and was just getting up to go
change when the hall erupted into chaos. It was a Call to Arms!
The Church was under attack!
I stumbled out to the yard with all of the other Paladin
trainees and prepared to defend Ebu. In the yard were all of the
drillmasters and seasoned fighters. As my scrambled wits sorted
themselves out I realised that this was not a real attack. It was
yet another test for the rookies to pass.
Determined to show Ebu that I was ready to serve I quickly
armed myself with the blunted weapons used in practise and took
position in the just-forming skirmish line. The Master at Arms
was shouting instructions to us. The #145;attackers #146; were
already too close to be repelled by missiles so we all waded in
for close quarter fighting. I chose the closest opponent and
charged with my trident, keeping my net in reserve for defence
against his broad sword.
His first cut was a mighty overhead swing. I tried to catch
the edge between the tines of my trident and twist, hoping to
disarm him. Too late, I realised that the overhand was just a
feint. With a deft twist of his wrist the drillmaster avoided my
clumsy parry and swung the flat of his blade at the side of my
head. Instinctively I brought my left hand up to block with my
net. Too late. A bloom of pain exploded in my head #133;
Sulphur! My head jerked to the side. My eyes flew open. I
saw white clouds in a sapphire sky. "I think she is coming
around now," a voice close to my ear hissed. "I thought
this one was skilled enough to avoid that old trick."
Now I could recognise the smell of the packets used to
revive cadets who have been knocked out. I cautiously raised my
head. I would have done better to lie still. Blackness threatened
to close in again. I fought back the pain and darkness through
sheer stubbornness and looked around.
The courtyard was littered with moaning cadets. Some were
bleeding from small cuts and one seemed to be holding his arm at
an unnatural angle. I guessed his arm was broken. The mock battle
seemed to have gone against the defenders. Ebu #146;s Holy Church
would have fallen to the enemy had this been more than a drill. I
hung my head in shame. How could I have been caught out by the
simple trick of the drillmaster? I was still unworthy to serve.
Later, after the Master at Arms soundly dressed us down, I
lay in my cot thinking about my failure. In drill, I was always
one of the best in the class. Why was I so slow and clumsy in the
test today? I replayed the day #146;s events in my mind hoping to
make some sense out of it. I had just finished a lunch of roast
beef and potatoes when the alarm sounded. I ran out #150; wait a
minute! As I thought back to my other failures I realised that
many of the times that I was bested in combat it was right after
lunch! Or dinner, or breakfast! Could that be it?
Could it be that I was sluggish after eating? But no #150;
I remembered that one of my most stunning victories, when I won
the open melee, was first thing in the morning. I remember it
well because after I had won, all of the porridge that I had
eaten for breakfast ended up all over the ground. The drillmaster
said not to worry - that it was just a nervous reaction that most
people get after such a tense fight. He said that I would get
used to it and not puke so much after a while.
Maybe it is not that I have just eaten but what I ate that
is important. The next open melee I was hit hard in the stomach
very early in the combat and lost my steak and eggs, as well as
the fight. In fact I think that I lost badly only after eating
meat. Hmmm #133;
It #146;s been two weeks since I started my diet. No meat;
only fish, grains, fruits and vegetables. In all that time I have
not had a single sluggish incident. My fighting skills have been
consistently good. Good enough to attract the attention of the
Master at Arms himself. The attention of the Master is not an
unmixed blessing #133;
"Talae, are you deaf?" hissed Leythan, with a poke
to the ribs. "I #146;ve already asked you twice if you think
that that might be smoke."
Brought roughly out of my remembrances, I squint in the
direction he is pointing. "Yes, it does look like smoke. It
could be the bandits #146; camp. Let #146;s get closer and have a
Liulni and Tony finish up their lunch and we head out. The sun
is warm on my back and the air is fresh. If we weren #146;t on
such a serious errand I could lose myself in the freedom of the
open country. Crack! I turn quickly, weapon to hand. Tony
gives a sheepish grin and looks down at his feet. A dry branch is
neatly snapped in two under his boot.
"Sorry," he says. "I just can #146;t seem to
"Well, you had better learn," growls Leythan.
"If we were closer to the smoke you could have got us all
killed. In fact I think it would be best if you all stay here
while I check the lay of the land."
"No, I #146;ll do better," says Tony. "We
shouldn #146;t split up!"
"Just stay here! I #146;ll be back soon," Leythan
grates at Tony as he spins away and disappears into the
"That arrogant son-of-a #133;" Tony splutters.
"Take it easy, Tony," Liulni soothes. "He is a
little full of himself, but he does know what he is doing.
He #146;ll be back soon and then we can hear his report and make
"A little full of himself! If his head got any bigger he
would have to turn sideways to get through doors!" Tony
I just check my weapons and wait. I agree with Tony. I really
don #146;t think too much of the Were. He is part of our party
because my superiors ordered me to work with these unbelievers,
but I would never choose to include him.
After what seemed like days, but was probably only a half an
hour, I heard rustling off to my right. As Leythan #146;s head
poked out of the shrubs I lowered my harpoon to a less
"Well," I demanded, "what did you see?"
"I only saw the smoke. There didn #146;t seem to be
anyone around but the smoke was coming from the entrance to a
cave. I couldn #146;t get close enough to get a good look because
there was no cover close to the entrance. The cave is in the
north wall of a small valley," he said as he bent to sketch
in the parched dust at his feet. "If we follow this ridge
line for about a half a mile and then turn north we should crest
the hills on the south side right across from the cave. There was
a big tree about a hundred yards from the opening with enough
cover for someone who knows what he is doing," he glanced at
Tony, "to get there and watch. I think I should go and watch
the cave for a while and the rest of you can wait at the top of
the ridge to reinforce me when I start to take out the
Now I really agreed with Tony. The arrogant bugger thought he
could "take out" the bandits himself and only needed us
as "back-up". Well, I would play along with his plan.
It really was a good idea to know your enemy, and watching for a
while before attacking was always prudent if you had the time.
After Liulni had calmed down the insulted Tony, we moved out.
It was tough going for that half mile along the ridge. The
undergrowth was heavy and we had to fight for every yard.
Branches seemed to grasp at my shirt. The roots of trees clutched
my boots and threatened to trip me every ten steps. Moving
quietly was not an option, even for someone who "knew what
he was doing". The ridgeline sheltered us from view and
hearing, thank Ebu. We made enough noise to alert a deaf Troll to
Leythan finally judged that we had gone far enough and
signalled for us to quietly move north, up the hill. The scrub
thinned out a little as we neared the top. I dropped down on my
belly for the final summit approach. Digging hands and toes into
the dusty soil I wormed my way up. The view downslope was not
great. There was a gorse bush right in my face. I tried to move
but as I shifted left I brushed Tony. He had been quite quiet in
his approach. I hadn #146;t heard him coming.
To my right was Liulni. I was stuck with the bush. Through the
wiry branches I could just make out the tree that Leythan had
chosen to observe from. There was no one in sight. If this was
the bandit camp they were either very quiet or all out on a raid.
Maybe they were raiding the village. What if Tony was right? I
was about to whisper to Tony that we should think of going back
when I heard a sharp crack!
I looked up and saw Leythan bounce off a branch about ten feet
up the tree. That arrogant worm! After chewing up and spitting
Tony out for making noise, he falls out of the tree that he is
using as an observation post. So much for knowing what he #146;s
doing! I hope the bandits really are away from camp or
Leythan #146;s fat is in the fire.
Any chance at surprise that we might have had was blown so I
broke cover and ran for the cave. I was just about to say a
prayer of thanks to Ebu when I saw the troll. It seemed to be
nearly as tall as the tree that Leythan had fallen from, and as
wide as a Lizzard. Dressed in rags and screaming defiance, the
troll made it clear that he was out to kill Leythan. The speltch
that he carried was a fearsome weapon indeed, a huge club capable
of flattening a horse. Shouting to Leythan to get up, I changed
course to intercept the monster.
In the time that I had moved ten feet closer to Leythan, the
troll had gained twenty. I would not make it to the helpless sap
in time. Taking careful aim, I hurled my harpoon at the
troll #146;s head. I missed his head, but the shot did graze its
arm, at least. The killing blow aimed at Leythan #146;s head was
deflected to his shoulder.
My second shot quickly followed the first, but it went
altogether wide. As I drew two new weapons and assessed the
situation, I saw Liulni and Tony coming in fast to intercept the
other two trolls. Three trolls! We were in deep trouble! I
activated a rune in my boot and leaped the last thirty feet to
straddle Leythan. He seemed to be disoriented. So much for our
Wham! That really hurt! No time to think on
Leythan #146;s folly, that speltch was coming down on me again! I
looked way up into the ugly face of my adversary and saw hatred,
rage and a huge club! The speltch descended again. My left hand
which was holding my net seemed to rise on it #146;s own to block
the blow. As the force of the troll #146;s strike was deflected,
his balance shifted. This was my chance! With a mighty upward
thrust I planted the tines of my trident squarely in the
troll #146;s chest. Warm blood gushed over my fingers. That was
it for this troll. He was dead but didn #146;t even know it yet.
My trident, however, seemed to be stuck in his chest #133;
Using a manoeuvre that I learned from my Master at Arms in
Smashtown, I lunged backward while maintaining a grip on my
trident. The next step, in theory, was to plant my feet in the
chest of my opponent and use the leverage and weight of his body
to flip him over my head, to roll and finally come up with my
weapon. This troll weighed too much; I nearly ended up pinned.
Abandoning the stuck trident I quickly drew another and
checked the situation. Leythan was finally getting up. Tony,
unbelievably, had just doubled before my eyes! I rubbed my eyes,
puzzled. That was strange, I hadn't been hit on the head, why
were my eyes blurring now? Then I spied Liulni; she was
frantically gesturing as a troll bore down on her.
With a smooth side arm motion my trident flew toward
Liulni #146;s troll. I caught him in the back. There was some
blood, but the monster wasn't distracted from its charge. From
the corner of my eye I noticed a blur of motion. Leythan was
streaking to Liulni #146;s aid. Before the Were could reach the
combatants, the troll dropped! I mean, he just fell on his face!
Liulni had finished the last gesture of her spell and put the
huge troll to sleep!
As the dust from the troll #146;s fall settled, I drew my last
trident and rushed to help Tony. Before I could get there, the
troll #146;s speltch dropped. Tony partially blocked it with his
shield but I could see that his left arm was hurt. Realisation
dawned, and I became aware that my left arm was less than
functional. My hand was still gripping the net, but my arm hung
useless! The pain rose and fell like gusts of wind as I ran, but
I still tried to help my friend.
Just as I arrived, Tony scored a good hit on the troll. Its
leg seemed to buckle but the thing refused to fall. Standing on
one foot, the troll raised its speltch over its head. An arrow
suddenly sprouted from its armpit. As the blood ran down his side
I turned in time to see the other Tony! There was no time to sort
things out; if I was hallucinating, I just hoped I didn #146;t
kill anything friendly. Another troll was rushing the duplicate
Tony. We must have attacked a family group!
Tony seemed to be holding his own with his falchion so I
rushed over to help the other one who had only a bow. That Tony
got off one last shot before the troll was upon him. If he hit,
it didn #146;t seem to matter. The troll hit him squarely with
the huge speltch and the double went down! I jammed my trident
into the troll #146;s unprotected back. The scream that rent the
air nearly shattered my eardrums but the wounded troll turned and
swung at me regardless.
I managed to dodge the strike but lost my footing and almost
fell. Tony's double was getting up. I parried the troll in front
of me until I gained solid footing again. I could see the double
aiming his bow at a target behind me. I prayed to Ebu that there
were not too many more of these trolls coming.
As my opponent and I danced around, each looking for an
opening, I briefly caught a glimpse of the rest of our party.
Everyone seemed to be still standing. Two trolls were dead on the
ground, Tony #146;s troll was on its last leg, and Leythan was
charging a female wielding twin cook pots.
Then came that speltch again. Ouch! My left shoulder was going
be very bruised tonight! I spied an opening in the troll's
defence and my trident slashed out! Blood ran down the
troll #146;s chest. He was still coming and I had yet
another blow to dodge. This time I did, but my counter-strike
I gave ground while waiting for an opportunity. The troll
lunged. Before I could complete my dodge I realised that the
troll had not lunged at me. He had fallen. Protruding from his
back was Liulni #146;s cuuteur!
Panting, I looked around for another enemy. There were no
trolls standing. The victory was ours!
Everyone seemed to be all right. My arm was already working
again. Tony cast a spell to heal his own arm. No one else was
injured. Even Leythan was in good shape. His biggest
"wound" was a lump on his head from falling out of the
We won the fight, but I no longer had any faith in
Leythan #146;s "scouting" skills. From now on I will do
my own scouting. If Leythan wants to come along, I don #146;t
care. He will have to earn my trust after today #146;s incident.
I dragged the fallen troll closer to its kin in preparation
for looting. It was a hard won battle and to the victors go the
spoils, as they say. Tony and Leythan were also dragging troll
corpses into a pile near the fire. There were five trolls
altogether, four males and a female. They were wearing rags; the
fashionable dress of uncivilised trolls the world over.
This bunch was nothing like the trolls that I had known in
Smashtown. The Smashtown trolls were all very civilised, even if
they were still rough around the edges. One of my best friends at
the academy, Rock, was a troll. In fact about one third of the
Paladin trainees were of trollish descent. It was the wild bands
like the ones piled near the fire that fuelled the popular
opinion that trolls were no better than animals; and sometimes
"Let #146;s check out their cave," Leythan
suggested. "They may have something of value hidden
"I doubt it but you can check if you like," I said.
"This lot seem to have been living like savages."
"We had better be careful," Liulni warned.
"There may be a young one still hiding in there."
Liulni seems to know about these things. She is not a
top-notch fighter, but her magic and her knowledge of the habits
of trolls and undead and the like make her a valuable member of
Taking heed of Liulni #146;s advice Tony and Leythan
cautiously advanced into the mouth of the cave. I chose to remain
outside to guard against the return of any other trolls and try
to clear my head. Could I really have seen two of Tony? Was I
hallucinating? I would have to think about this for a while.
Putting my back to Leythan #146;s tree and breathing deeply of
the fresh air I scanned the area around the cave and tried to
sort out the mystery.
The men were gone for quite some time but as there was no
screaming I remained vigilant outside. Liulni seemed content to
stay with me and scan the valley for intruders. After about
fifteen minutes passed Tony and Leythan reappeared from the cave
carrying several bundles.
Tony handed me a tabard with some fancy stitching and a
valent. I recognised the weapon immediately. It was a pole arm
that is equipped with a crossbow; a rare find. The symbol on the
tabard was unfamiliar to me.
"We found these in there beside the remains of a horse. I
think that this troll intercepted and ate a priest of the church
of Longstrider. Longstrider messengers carry letters for its
devotees or for anyone who will pay their fees. I found the
message pouch in there as well," Tony explained.
I guess Liulni is not the only one who knows things about the
world that do not involve fighting. Tony has a useful store of
information about Kordar and things Kordairian. It is good to
travel with companions like these.
"I think we should take these things back to Thorn with
us when we go," I said. "I #146;m sure the church of
Longstrider would like to know what happened to their messenger.
What else did you find?"
"Just some spoiled food and dirty rags," Leythan
replied in disgust. "These trolls were poor."
We wrapped up the looting and headed back to the village.
Being the biggest and strongest in the party, it fell to me to
carry all of the acquired gear. I also had to carry the heads of
three of the trolls. We had decided to ask the villagers if these
were the bandits. I personally didn #146;t think so but better
safe than sorry.
We walked for about half an hour before I dropped back to walk
beside Tony. The pace that we were setting was brisk but I still
had the breath to ask Tony my question.
"Tony," I began, "I know things were a bit
crazy back there when the trolls rushed us but I thought that I
saw two of you. I usually have a good grasp of the
situation in a fight; I #146;m not prone to imagining things.
Were there really two of you?"
Sighing slightly, Tony replied, "Yes, Talae, there really
were two of me. To be more precise, my shadow took on solid form
and became an exact duplicate of me. I had hoped that I could get
to know you better before I would have to explain this about
myself but we were in trouble and needed help. Leythan asked me
about this too, while we were in the cave. Instead of explaining
it three times I will tell all of you more about myself at
Having said this much, Tony seemed to want to keep his own
council so I lengthened my stride and resumed the lead for the
rest of the way back to the village. We saw no people or wildlife
on our return trip. Between the trolls and the unknown predator
that spooked the horses I #146;m not surprised. Anyone or
anything living near here had either been eaten or had run away.
The wait for supper seemed centuries long. I had so many
questions for Tony. How did his shadow come to life? Why did he
have this ability? Where had his shadow gone after the fight
I feel like the members of this party are all hiding something
or pretending to be something they #146;re not. Leythan claims to
be a good scout but in my opinion could not stalk his way into a
dark room with an orchestra playing. Tony can animate his shadow
to come and fight with him if he gets in trouble. Ebu only knows
what Liulni is hiding. I may be the only one of this group who is
what they appear to be: a servant of Ebu who is out to fight the
evil in the world. I have no secrets #133;
Quickly looking around to make sure no one is out here to
see me, I slide down the slope of earth into my secret
"cave". Laying the fresh flowers on the stones of my
makeshift altar and sitting on the floor in front of it I begin
my prayer. "Oh Holy Ebu, hear my call. I have waited for
many suns for You to guide me. When You first spoke to me through
Twig You said that I would know the time of my calling. I have
waited and prayed to You but still Twig seems to be only a
sparrow. I have a feeling of time flying by and I am afraid that
I have missed my time and that You have already found me
Silence. There is not even a stirring of wind. No songs of
the night birds. Ebu still seems unwilling to reveal His plan for
I come to my secret "temple" as often as I dare.
Torae is giving me more responsibilities lately and I find it
harder to sneak off to be by myself. My adoptive mother thought
that if I had more to do I would be less likely to get into
trouble. I tried to tell her that it wasn #146;t my fault. Byar
and Drea just won #146;t leave me alone. If I get into a fight it
is almost always because they are teasing me.
I come here to get away from them as much as to pray. I
need to be alone sometimes. I don #146;t fit in with "The
People" no matter how hard I try. Being alone, in fact, is
easier than being surrounded by people and still being alone. If
only Ebu would Call me! #133;
"Talae #133;Supper!" calls Liulni.
"I #146;m coming," I reply.
Supper at last! I can't wait to hear Tony's explanation of his
secret.It should make a good entry into my journal later #133;
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