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Ryndel Rochben (Part I)
The wind blew gently through the forest. Golden leaves danced across the earth and seemed to glow in the light of the setting sun. A young man sat on a rock at the forest’s edge, his dark green eyes studying the leaves’ movement intently. His shoulder-length brown hair fell in front of his view of the trees and interrupted his thoughts. A gray squirrel scurried across a branch and into a hole between two limbs. The boy leaned against the stone and sighed. This would be his last night by the forest before he headed to the sea with his uncle. He glanced over his shoulder and watched as the moon rose. Silhouetted against the great yellow moon were three figures. He glanced back at the woods, bid it farewell, and slid off of the rock.
Two of the figures were dragging the third behind them, laughing. “Hey, Ryndel, get over here!” one of them shouted. Ryndel jogged over to the newcomers and raised his eyebrow curiously. “Childeric, I sincerely hope you had a good reason to disturb me. You know that I leave tomorrow.”
“Oh, don’t worry, you won’t regret in. Ronic here has made the mistake of telling us that he is interested in Korineth. Presin and I tried to tell him to go talk to her, but he refused. We thought you could help us in setting him up,” Childeric said amused.
Ryndel laughed and looked at his friends. They had grown up together. All of them were seventeen, except for Presin, who was sixteen. They had gone on their first hunt together and went to the same basic school. Ronic was the tallest of them, aside from Ryndel. He had short black hair and vibrant blue eyes. He had expressed interest in being a soldier since he was five and was heading east to the city of Arnhelm to begin his training. Ryndel often teased him about being a warrior because he tended to be quite clumsy. Childeric was short with curly blonde hair and grey eyes. He was aiming to be the master blacksmith in their village, Vochel. He got an apprenticeship from the present master blacksmith when he was ten. He was also going to Arnhelm in order to speak to the crafter’s guild to move up to a journeyman. Presin had brilliantly bright red hair and had eyes that were so dark they were almost black. He had hated basic school and found no interest in any of the things that they were teaching there. He decided to stay in Vochel as well and become a full time hunter who simply supplied the village with venison and medicinal herbs. Ryndel was going to help his uncle’s business and become a seafaring merchant. He had no true desire to be a merchant, but he liked the idea of travel. The one downside he saw to his future occupation was not being able to see his friends. Arnhelm was to the northeast was only one day away by horseback, so everyone else would be able to visit each other often.
Ryndel took a deep breath and left his thoughts behind. He focused on the task he had now been assigned to. “Ronic, do you really want to talk to her, or did these two pressure you into thinking so?” Ryndel inquired. This question was fairly redundant; Ronic had been staring at Korineth since he was five.
“No, I do. I just have no clue how. I’ve wanted to start up a conversation with her, but I couldn’t because of that bakery incident a few years ago,” Ronic said. Ryndel shuttered at the memory of the burning bakery. Ronic had thought it was a good idea to leave milk unattended in the stove. Somehow the stove exploded and burned the bakery down. The baker, Jarl, had thought that the milk evaporated and the solid fat caught fire. Ronic was dubbed the “Flaming Fatty” in basic school the next day.
Ryndel thought about how he could help his friend. “I have an idea. Why don’t we go to the Butter and Churn with you and help set the mood? Eric, Presin, and I will start playing the song we wrote for the Harvestyme festival last year. All you have to do is ask her to dance and then you’re set! I bet she doesn’t even remember the bakery anyway.” Upon hearing this, Presin and Childeric began dancing together and singing their Harvestyme song. Ryndel broke them up and led the way though the field toward town. Again, Ryndel took in his last view of the forest and the fields before he set off. He had never truly doubted his decision to leave until that week. There was really no future for him even if he stayed or not. At least his friends and family would be close by if he stayed in the area. He would miss his friends very much, especially Childeric, his closest companion. He and Childeric were always getting into trouble when they were growing up. They did not do anything as extreme as setting a building on fire, however.
Everyone in the village knew each other, especially the four boys. They had become celebrities when Ryndel was nine. They had each been secretly practicing music and on Harvestyme, the four children ran up onto the stage at the Butter and Churn and started playing together. They weren’t amazing, but everyone thought it was adorable that little kids played instruments bigger than they were. They were much better than they were then and now they played for weddings, parties, and festivals of all sorts.
As the boys made their way past the first few homes and shops, people would greet them. A group of young boys ran up to Ryndel laughing. “Mister Ryndel, are you going to be playing tonight? We would really like a final concert before the graduates leave tomorrow,” asked one of the children. Ryndel smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. “You bet we are. Spread the news; we will be arriving at the inn shortly.” The boys ran off shouting the news. Ryndel glanced at Ronic. His friend wore a shaky smile and was obviously nervous. Ryndel patted him on the shoulder and they continued through the town.
A group of spectators had gathered around the entrance to the Butter and Churn. The inside was completely packed. Ryndel glanced around and saw Korineth serving customers. Ronic saw her as well and involuntarily began backing up. Presin and Childeric grabbed his arms and dragged him into the inn. The spirit in the room was omnipresent. Men were stumbling about and singing loudly. The noise ceased for a second and then erupted into cheers as the four walked toward the stage. Ryndel waved and jumped up onto the stage with Childeric and Presin. Ronic went into the closet to fetch the instruments. The spectators were finding their places and calming down. Prosk, father of Presin, climbed up onto the stage. Prosk was the head of the village’s council and was essentially the mayor. He always gave a short speech on Harvestyme.
“Good evening! Today is both a day of celebration and farewell. As many of you know, the day after Harvestyme is the day the graduates of basic school leave to gain training for their new profession if they haven’t begun already. We will be saying good-bye tonight. To the graduates!” All of the spectators raised their pints and steins and took a deep drink. Prosk continued. “But today is also celebrated. It is the beginning of autumn! Today we drink and relax and tomorrow we begin harvesting this summer’s crops. Farmers, correct me if I am wrong, but this year’s yield is the best that it has been in thirty years!” Farmers cheered in approval along with the others. There was another toast for the farmers and to the summer’s pleasant and fortuitous weather. “Now I do have a word of warning. Be on your guard tonight. Jarl has just returned from selling bread in the west and said that refugees had been fleeing east toward us telling stories about soldiers invading towns and claiming them for a dark man named Morbaror in the west. They said that the soldiers slaughtered and imprisoned many when the townspeople refused. We do not know how far east this army is marching, but we must prepare. We will not give up our home to a tyrant.”
A great murmuring manifested. One man stood up and bellowed to the crowd, “Do not let this ruin the celebration! This is only a rumor! I, too, have heard about this Morbaror. He is very far west and his rule only extends to the Elvafon River, over a three month journey from here. We cannot let this ruin the celebration of Harvestyme!” The crowd settled down nodding in agreement. Prosk looked concerned, but did not seek to ruin the spirit of the party. He turned to the boys and said, “Good luck. I wish you all well on your journeys tomorrow.” He went to Presin and whispered something in his ear. After he had found his seat and everyone was settled, the boys picked up their instruments. Childeric picked up a lute, Presin had a bodhrán, Ronic had a panflute, and Ryndel had a theorbo. Presin gave four beats on his drum and then the music began. It overwhelmed the whispers of the patrons and enveloped the entire central part of Vochel. It started out slow and very melodic. The volume began to decrease and travelers who did not know the song began to applaud. Then Presin began hitting his bodhrán with great speed and volume. With that, the party commenced. They were playing their Harvestyme song with more energy and passion than they ever had before. Spectators began dancing and more kegs were brought out. Time sped past for Ryndel and before long they had finished their forty minute long anthem to the earth. Ronic sighed and stood up. Ryndel watched as he approached Korineth. Ryndel nodded at Presin who gave the rhythm for a slow song. The rest of the band followed. Ryndel grinned as Ronic tapped Kori on the shoulder and began talking. After a few seconds he had lured her onto the stage and was dancing with her.
Ryndel was deep in thought as the night progressed and paid less attention to playing. It was getting late and people had started to go home. Kori and Ronic were still dancing and talking energetically. Ryndel’s wrists were getting tired as he finished the last song. The remaining audience members applauded and began to disperse, wishing each other a good night. Childeric approached Ryndel with a half-hearted smile. “Well,” he sighed, “that will be the last time we do that for a long time if not the last time.” Ryndel sat down on a wooden stool at the counter and the bartender brought the two boys some milk and biscuits. “I’m really going to miss this place,” said Childeric solemnly.
“You should still be excited about going off and continuing your life. I’m sure you will be a better blacksmith than any master crafter,” Ryndel said encouragingly.
“Even if I did, that doesn’t mean I won’t miss everything I have here. I may see Presin and Ronic sometime in the future, but I will probably never see you again.” Childeric and Ryndel ate silently until Presin sat down beside them and scooted in close. “My father wanted me to let you know that the armory is unlocked. He wants to make sure that we are on the alert. Remember your combat training from last summer.” Last summer, the boys had gone through defense training with some of the retired soldiers in the town. They had been practicing with an array of weapons and each child in the village over fifteen knew which one best suited them. Ryndel personally liked the versatility of a longsword, especially the ability to switch between one and two hands. Childeric looked at Presin with an expression of doubt. “Do you really think that will be necessary?”
“It’s never a bad idea to be prepared,” responded Presin. Ryndel turned and saw Korineth and Ronic walking out of the inn together holding hands. He laughed and refocused his attention on spreading honey onto his biscuit. He had just gotten the optimum amount of honey on his snack when Kori and Ronic sprinted back into the inn. “Go outside through the back, hurry!” commanded Ronic. Ryndel didn’t need to ask any questions as to what was going on. The stools tipped over as they rushed out of their seats toward the back door. The bartender ran to the entrance and locked it while the few other patrons ran outside. “The armory is open, follow me!” shouted Presin to the others. He took off down the cobblestone road toward the west end of the town. They stopped in front of the blacksmithing forge and ran to the large storehouse behind it, whose doors had already been opened. Ryndel and the others ran inside and pulled out their preferred weapons. Once the adults had gotten what they needed and left, the teenagers ran outside behind them back toward the center of the town. Korineth stopped suddenly. “Wait a moment, my father owns the tannery. We can take some of the leather clothes that he has in the store. At least it will give us a little extra protection if we need it.” Ryndel nodded and they took off to the tannery across the street. Kori banged on the locked door and cursed. “I know how to get in. I’ll unlock it for you,” said Ronic. Ryndel looked at Childeric puzzled as Ronic dropped his claymore on the ground and scaled the wall up to the second story window, which was unlocked. He climbed in and ran downstairs to the door. They heard a click and Ronic opened the door. “How did you know my window was unlocked?” Kori asked Ronic with suspicion.
“Don’t worry about it, just get inside and get what you need,” Ronic said. Ryndel walked in and picked up long leather gloves and a tunic to put over his clothes. He ran back outside into the cool night air and waited for the others. He heard shouting coming from the town center.
Once his friends had come outside, they continued running down the streets. “Stop!” Ronic whispered harshly. They skidded to a halt and listened. They could hear the clanging of metal and the jingling of chainmail. They rushed into an alley and hid behind some boxes. A small formation of soldiers marched right by them down the main road. Their armor was poorly and swiftly crafted. In the flickering firelight, Ryndel could pick out a subliminal hint of red in their armor that shone in the light like a fish. Their helmets covered their faces from Ryndel’s view. They marched not with discipline, but with desire. As the last of the soldiers passed, one looked into the alley. He stopped one of his comrades and whispered to him. The other nodded and they walked toward the children. They huddled together behind the boxes. Ryndel watched as one of the soldiers took a nearby torch from the wall and walked back out into the street as the other followed. Ryndel crawled to the edge of the alley and looked into the street. He saw the soldiers running with the torch and watched as it was thrown into the tannery. Smoke flowed out of the building and in a few moments became engulfed in flames. The others got up and looked out as well. Kori gasped and clutched her bow, advancing toward the soldiers. Ronic and Presin both leaped forward and restrained her. She slumped down crying. “We can’t afford to try and fight. We may kill some with surprise, but there are too many for us to handle,” Ronic whispered to her.
Ryndel looked up and down the street and beckoned for his companions to follow him. They made their way silently through the streets to the north end of town near the Brightvale Forest. They stayed in the shadows of the buildings near the edge of town until they got to the boulder at the tree line. They turned around and looked at the town square. They saw a large ring of soldiers surrounding a group of townspeople. A few were lying dead on the ground. One of the soldiers with a large helm stepped toward Prosk. The soldier’s armor shone brighter red than any of the others, showing a position of leadership. The commander and Prosk began talking and it was obvious even from far away that tensions were rising. The leader stepped forward swiftly and drew his sword. Prosk stood his ground as the other soldiers drew their swords as well. Prosk looked up to the hill where the children were, although he could not see them. Presin drew in breath sharply as the commander raised his sword. Prosk shouted a quick order before the sword cleaved his head. The villagers had drawn their weapons and were hewing and hacking at their opponents. Arrows dove into the crowd and blades flashed. The ring closed in on the townspeople and after a few moments, they dispersed. Women could be heard screaming as they were dragged toward wagons drawn by large black horses. Presin fell to his knees silently and stared at the ground, tears falling to the earth. Without warning, he grabbed his round shield and short sword and charged down the hill screaming a curse at the soldiers. Ronic and Childeric looked at each other and sprung after him. Ryndel sprinted toward the town with the others as Korineth notched an arrow. Seven soldiers had stayed at the town center to loot the bodies. One heard Presin’s scream and turned as an arrow landed in his shoulder. He fell with a shriek grasping at his wound as the boys raised their weapons. Ronic’s claymore collided with one soldier’s back and Childeric’s axe severed another’s arm. Ryndel parried sword blow and plunged his sword through his opponent’s abdomen. Another arrow pierced the soldier on the ground, bringing about another scream of agony. Presin bashed a soldier’s head with his shield, breaking his neck. He ran to his father’s body as the remaining soldier turned to flee after Ryndel had knocked his helmet off. He picked up his father’s dagger and hurled it at the retreating enemy. A shout echoed through the town as the dagger embedded itself in the neck of the soldier. One was still writhing in pain on the ground. Presin walked toward him and kicked the man’s helmet. There was a sickening crack and the soldier stopped struggling.
Presin dropped down and pulled the arrows out of the armor. Ryndel and the others stepped back and watched in silence. Presin began crying again. He yelled and pounded his fist on the deceased man’s armor, leaving a dent. Ryndel walked to the dead soldier who had tried to run away and pulled out the dagger. He placed it in front of Presin, who took it and held it close to his chest. After a while, he took a deep breath and spun the dagger in his hand. He took the blade and etched a picture of a rabbit onto the man’s armor. He remained still for a time, then began screaming and shouting. He picked up a helmet from the ground and kicked it away, allowing it to bounce loudly down the street. Ryndel heard commotion in the distance and saw shadows dancing on the walls. “Presin, stop!” he shouted. Soldiers turned the corner and saw the scene. Presin turned toward them and spread his arms welcomingly. “Have at it, then! Come on, run me through!” he shouted tauntingly. An arrow whizzed by Childeric, who yelped in surprise. Ryndel and Ronic ran toward Presin. He struggled to get away from the others and tried to knock them aside. Ronic raised his fist and punched Presin in the side of the head. Their friend went limp. Ryndel looked at Ronic with surprise and Ronic smirked and shrugged. “Come on, hurry up!” Childeric shouted. Ronic scooped up Presin and ran toward the hill with Ryndel. They ran toward the forest with all possible speed. Kori and Childeric had already penetrated the tree line. Ryndel glanced over his shoulder. The invaders were in pursuit. The boys caught up with Childeric and Kori and raced on.
Trees flashed past them in the moonlight. Ryndel could still hear the clanging of metal close behind them. He looked around desperately for a landmark that he recognized from his multiple hunting trips in the woods. He saw nothing, but could faintly hear the stream. “Go left here!” he shouted. He ran ahead and took the lead. He could hear his friends’ breathing growing steadily heavier as they moved on. Soon he saw it, the small shallow stream that flowed into the Bright River. He ran ahead to the edge of the water and hid behind a log. The others crowded in around him. It was silent for a short while, but then the sound of harsh voices and pounding footsteps overtook them. The footsteps stopped on the bank of the stream. Murmurs of confusion and frustration came from the helmets of the soldiers. “Great. You’ve lost them,” said one with a sinister voice.
A gruff voice replied, “Me? You didn’t see where they went either, so I don’t see how it’s my fault alone.”
“You were at the front. You should have been more observant. Although what can you expect from someone of such minuscule intelligence.”
“I’ll show you minuscule!” A sword was unsheathed and the ringing of metal upon metal jumped off of the trees through the forest. The soldiers began chanting and cheering as the fight ensued. There was a crash as a heap of armor fell onto the ground, followed by cheering. The man with the evil voice spoke softly, put with power. “Yes, yes. That was a good example of the word minuscule. Minuscule intelligence and minuscule strength. Pity. You two! Help me dispose of this pig.” Metal jingled and footsteps echoed directly above the log. Ryndel held his breath. There was a grunt, and then a headless body splashed down right in front of them. Kori gasped in surprise, and then fell back into silence as she realized the soldiers had heard. “Did you hear that?” one asked.
“It came from that log. Go check it out,” another replied. Ryndel’s eyes grew wide and scanned the ground for something, anything to distract them. He spotted a frog sleeping in the mud and scooped it up in his hands. Two pairs of armored feet fell near where the body had landed. They waded through the water and came to the log. Ryndel tossed the frog out from the log. A quick exclamation came from the soldiers, and laughter echoed from the shore. The feet turned away as the soldiers waded back out of the water. “Never fear, it was only a small frog,” said one in a triumphant voice.
“Idiots. Come, we have to get back to the village. I hate leaving Gardus in charge for long,” said the sinister voice. The soldiers marched back toward Vochel and the children breathed again. Ryndel peered over the log and stood up when the soldiers were out of view. “Come on, guys. There is a cave nearby. We will have to stay there for the night,” Ryndel said.
“What are we going to do tomorrow? We can’t go back,” Childeric said solemnly.
“I’m going back,” said Presin defiantly. “Those bastards killed my father!”
“If you go back, you will be killed or taken prisoner like the rest. How much good can you do then?” Childeric asked. Presin glared at him, and then sat down as his lip started trembling. Soon he was sobbing into his tunic. Everyone gathered around, comforting him. After a while Presin sniffled and asked, “We must be able to do something. I can’t just watch this happen. Who knows how many other kids our age this has happened to?”
Ryndel’s eyes widened as an idea forced its way into his head. “Have you forgotten the rabbit you etched into the soldier’s armor? Do you know what that rabbit means?”
“Sure,” answered Presin. “It is like a taunt to say ‘I win, you lose’, right? The rabbit symbolizes quickness and the black fur symbolizes mischief.”
“That is somewhat true. But the rabbit, which we have always taken lightly, is the sign of the Shadow. My uncle told me about it. They are regular people for the most part. They are apparently everywhere. I’m sure there was one in Vochel. They fight to keep their way of life. Guardian angels from tyranny I suppose. Back when Gorgalath’s army began attacking villages over two hundred years ago, the Shadow was formed. The people opposed to Gorgalath banded together and fought at the foot of Rivencleft Mountain and defeated the oppressor and his army. This is where the Shadow supposedly remains, but my uncle wasn’t sure.”
“Okay, but what do we have to do with them?” asked Ronic. Ryndel watched as the company realized what he was planning. Ryndel smirked and said confidently, “We will go and join the Shadow. We will talk more about it in the morning.” With that, Ryndel led his friends into the nearby cave and fell asleep.
He was woken up by Childeric, who had just finished his watch. His eyes were puffy and red, but still determined. Ryndel put his hand on his friend’s shoulder for a moment, then climbed to the top of the nearby rock formation. He crawled into a bush and sat down. He watched the stream for a long while, thinking about what had just happened. Many of the people he had seen die were his friends. They weren’t as good of friends as he was with Presin, Ronic, and Eric, but they got along none the less. He suppressed tears and focused on the water and what he planned to do. “If the stories are true, the Shadow won’t let anyone within fifty leagues of Rivencleft without accompaniment or knowledge of their coming,” Ryndel thought. “We have to go somewhere where we can find people in the Shadow and convince them to let us go to Rivencleft. Arnhelm seems promising.” Ryndel nodded in agreement with himself. Yes, they would make their way northeast to Arnhelm, following the stream through the Brightvale.
In the morning when everyone had woken up, the company picked up their weapons, washed their faces in the stream, and set off, still on guard. They traveled through the forest all day. More and more leaves were falling around them. Winter was close at hand. As the sun went down, they noticed the water was actually becoming brighter without the sun’s reflection. By night time the water was glowing with small bioluminescent creatures. They came to a small hill and slowly made their way down. The stream grew louder as it flowed downhill. They walked into a small clearing that the stream cut through. A spring was slowly bubbling in the center. The spring, too, was glowing turquoise with small animals. On the opposite side of the spring was the mouth of the Aquania River that flowed just south of Arnhelm. Ryndel stepped across stones to the opposite side of the stream and his friends followed. He sat against a tree at the edge of the clearing and smiled. “Welcome to the Brightvale,” he said.
They ambled about the clearing and the edge of the forest looking for something to eat. Presin recognized a raspberry bush and Childeric spotted some potatoes and onions growing near the Aquania. Kori assembled a pile of sticks and started a fire while Ryndel and Ronic raised a thin flat stone over the flame for the potatoes and onions to cook on. They ate near the spring in silence, watching the small glowing shrimp dart back and forth in the water. Ronic got up and picked up Presin’s dagger. He wiggled into a hole under a tree and came back out smiling. “There’s nothing down there nor has there been for a long while. We can spend the night there,” Ronic said.
The moon was waning, but was still nearly full. Ryndel laid in the grass for a while and looked at the stars. What would he and his friends experience in the next few weeks? He pondered that question for a short time, but was distracted by laughter. He sat up and looked across the spring. Ronic and Korineth were sitting close together and talking quietly and watching the fireflies hover above the spring. Shadows danced on the trees and leaves. The fire crackled and the stream trickled softly. Ryndel began to doze off. He stood up and walked to the spring. He dipped his hands in the water to wash before bed and watched as the small creatures swam through his fingers. He cupped his hands and brought the water to his face. The animals swam about excitedly, glowing more radiantly that before. Ryndel let the water flow back into the spring. He beckoned to Ronic and Kori and turned toward the hole. He squeezed his way through the entrance and down a short tunnel to a large cave. He laid his leather clothes on the ground and used them as a pillow. His eyes grew heavy and soon he was asleep.
In the morning, Ryndel crawled out of the tunnel and squinted his eyes as the sun pierced through the leaves. The water and surrounding area looked much different than it had the night before. Kori and Ronic had already gathered up more potatoes and berries for the day’s journey to Arnhelm. They picked up their weapons and began following the Aquania north.
By about midday, Ryndel’s sword was growing heavy, even in its sheath. Presin’s shield was obviously causing discomfort as was Ronic’s claymore. They came to a small waterfall in the river and took a short rest. The potatoes and berries were passed around amongst them. Ryndel knelt at the river’s edge and drank a few cupfuls of water. Childeric bent down next to him. “Have you ever actually been to Arnhelm? You seem to have a good idea as to where you are going,” Childeric asked.
“No, my uncle just told me where it is. He showed me some of his maps. I’m sure Prosk showed Presin the location as well,” Ryndel responded.
“Do you know if we will be able to find anyone from the Shadow who will take us to Rivencleft? We are only kids you know. It would seem pretty strange; to go up to a random person in the street and ask if he is in an outlawed resistance group and asking if we could join. It’s odd enough that we know about it.”
“I’m sure we’ll find someone. We’ll check the inns; my uncle said that’s where they seem to gather.”
“I hope this turns out right. If not, at least we can get supplies. I have a bit of coin.”
“I do too. I’m sure we will be okay, Eric. I wouldn’t worry too much just yet.” Ryndel and Childeric got up and rejoined their friends. They were sitting in a patch of grass by the river. A pack of wolves could be heard howling in the distance. Presin glanced apprehensively at Ryndel. “Stay near the river. If anything does come to bother us, we will be able to see it as it comes out of the trees,” Ronic said to the group. Ryndel nodded. He remembered stories of great beasts that devoured hunters in the woods. Some he knew to be true, but the majority was made up to keep the kids from wandering about in the forest. The Brightvale hardly had any true dangers, except for the boars and the newly introduced soldiers. For a short time, they practiced sparring with their weapons. Kori shot arrows at a nearby tree. After about an hour, they grew tired and rested again.
After a short break, they continued on, walking on the rocks near the water. The river lapped gently at the shore as they navigated the twists and turns of the land. It was almost evening when they stopped again. They began removing their swords when the undergrowth a short way off began shaking. The company looked at each other and silently unsheathed their blades. Korineth notched an arrow and aimed at the bushes. They rustled and then were still. All of the plants began shaking violently and a path was being plowed right to them. They formed a semicircle and held their weapons tightly. Loud, harsh grunting could be heard, rapidly becoming louder. With a tremendous snort, a wild boar burst from the bushes. Kori yelled in surprise and released an arrow. The missile bounced off of the boar’s hide with a soft ‘tink’. The boar charged at Ronic, gouging his calf. Ronic screamed in agony as blood poured from his leg. Kori ran and pulled him out of the way to the water. The animal ran back and forth amongst them, swinging its head madly. Presin he dropped his sword and shield and jumped back. With a quick glance at his group, he ran off into the woods. Ryndel called after him, but was cut off as he dodged the beast. He grazed it with his longsword, but it was ineffective. Childeric jumped behind it and slammed his axe onto its spine. The axe head flew off and the handle splintered. The boar stumbled and limped for a moment, but then turned and charged at Childeric. Ryndel closed his eyes and hear a crack and a high-pitched squeal. He opened his eyes and saw Childeric lying on his back holding Presin’s cloven shield in one hand and holding Presin’s sword in the other. The blade was imbedded into the boar’s underbelly. The animal slumped over and kicked for a moment, but was soon still. Childeric rubbed his bruised arm and Ryndel patted him on the back happily. The moment was interrupted by loud anguished groans.
Ryndel and Childeric ran to the river and saw blood streaming down the rocks into the water. Kori looked up urgently and said, “I can’t do anything about this! We need to get him to town!” Ryndel ripped off a piece of Ronic’s shirt and wrapped it around the wound. Ronic’s face grew pale as he writhed in pain. Childeric hoisted Ronic onto his shoulders and nodded. Ryndel rushed to the boar corpse, sliced off the tusk that had injured his friend, and joined his companions as they jogged down the river toward Arnhelm. Ronic stirred and looked around. “Where is Presin?” he asked. Ryndel frowned and shrugged.
The sun had just started going down as they approached the outskirts of the city. The main part was walled off, but there was a bit of farmland surrounding it. Ryndel and the others passed through the tree line and exited the Brightvale Forest. They picked up speed and ran down the dirt road to the gates of the city of Arnhelm.
The iron gates to the city were open. The sun was going down, casting an orange glow on the wooden buildings. Vendor stands were being pulled away and people had begun heading home. Ronic was groaning with discomfort. “Don’t worry, friend, we’ll find somewhere soon,” Ryndel said encouragingly. They caught curious gazes as they raced through the main street of town. Ryndel look up and saw a hanging sign that read: “Pewter Mug Inn”. He beckoned to the door and they stopped in front of the inn. Ryndel held his breath and opened the door and walked inside.
The commotion in the inn ceased as the attendants turned to look at him. Childeric carried Ronic in and said urgently, “We need help! Our friend is hurt and needs treatment! It is beyond our care!” Ryndel expected a howl of laughter from the crowd, but instead many of the people inside jumped up and took Ronic to the bar. The man behind the bar was bald and very large. He was not heavy in weight, but in muscle. He had multiple scars on his arms and a few on his face. The bartender cleared the counter and helped set the boy on it. A ring formed around Ronic as people backed up. One man brought aloe from a closet along with some willow bark. Murmurs arose when the old wrapping was taken off, exposing the deep gash in Ronic’s leg. The bartender looked up and looked at Ryndel. “It looks as if a boar gave you guys a bit of trouble. Is anyone else hurt?” asked the man. Ryndel shook his head no. The bartender placed the aloe strips on Ronic’s leg. Ryndel’s friend cringed as the cool plant touched his wound, but calmed down when he began chewing on the willow bark. “The aloe will keep the wound fairly clean and let it heal quicker. The bark will reduce any pain he may have and reduce the fever,” said the bartender. Ryndel and Childeric exchanged glances of astonishment and Korineth grinned happily. The bartender extended his hand to Ryndel. “The name’s Hunchek. Can I help you anymore than I have already?” Ryndel extended his own hand and shook with Hunchek.
“I’m Ryndel. This is Childeric and Korineth. The boy there is Ronic. We will need a room. How much would it cost for a small one?” Ryndel asked.
“Well, considering the state of your friend, Ronic, I’d put it on the house for tonight.”
Ryndel smiled. “Thank you very much!” Hunchek picked up Ronic easily and started up the stairs. Ryndel, Childeric, and Kori followed. The bartender opened a door and walked inside, setting Ronic on a bed. Ronic murmured his thanks. Hunchek put a few coins on the nightstand and nodded to Ryndel. “Use it wisely,” he said. Ryndel smiled and picked up the money. When Hunchek left the room, he gave some of the coins to Childeric. “Buy some food and maybe a backpack. Some bottles would be a good idea as well,” Ryndel told him. Childeric nodded and walked out of the room. “Kori, you can stay here with Ronic if you want.” She smiled and sat down leaning against the bed. Ryndel walked through the doorway and headed down the stairs. He strode into the main lobby, admiring some of the animal heads that hung on the wall. A few people watched him as he exited the inn, but said nothing.
Ryndel roamed the streets looking for open vendors. He found a tailor shop a few meters from the inn and walked in. He browsed through the shop and purchased four heavy long sleeved tunics. He paid the tailor and thanked him and headed back outside. He was grabbed by the arm and pulled back into the store. Ryndel spun on his heels and ended up facing an old man. “Do you need something?” Ryndel asked.
“Yes,” said the man. The man frowned and his face wrinkled as he started to cry. “I need my son back.” The man began sobbing heavily, each breath shaking him.
“I don’t think I can help, sir, but I suppose I can try. Where did your son go?” The man took a deep breath and glared at the ceiling.
“He was taken by a demon. His army of hellcats swept through our village and killed many. My son was one of those who fell. The demon’s name is Morbaror.” Ryndel’s eyes grew as he realized the situation. Ryndel put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “How much do you know about the Shadow?” asked Ryndel.
The man scoffed. “I know more about them than anyone you will ever meet. I am eighty six years old. My great grandfather was sixty when he fought against Gorgalath with the rest of the Shadow. He was one of the oldest original members as I am one of the oldest current members. My son was also a part of the Shadow and was going to continue my path after I have gone, but now that is no longer possible. Why do you mention the Shadow?”
“Our village, Vochel, fell to the same enemy only two nights ago. Many of my friends were killed. My companions have job opportunities here in Arnhelm, but now we have a personal urge to help fight this Morbaror. We wish to join the Shadow and help their cause.” The man nodded with approval and smiled.
“The Shadow is not for the faint of heart. We are all very serious about what we stand for: liberty, freedom, and justice. What more could you ask for besides material goods such as wealth? When we aren’t fighting an imminent threat, we serve as policemen catching bandits and putting down murderers. It is a never ending job, always filled with danger. Are you sure you are up to it?” Ryndel looked the man dead in the eye and nodded. The man smiled again. “Good,” he said. “Come.”
The man left the shop guiding Ryndel through the torch-lit town. They passed through the northern gates and came to a relatively large house. The man walked inside and Ryndel followed close behind. The entry room was astonishing. Swords hung on the wall along with foreign treasures. In front of the staircase was a large purple and black banner with a rabbit in the center. The man turned and faced a closet. He opened the door carefully and lit a candle. The room was illuminated. In the center stood a suit of armor, glowing dark blue in the firelight. The old man opened a long cabinet and removed a sword of equal color. Ryndel smiled when he noticed it was a longsword. The man smiled as well. “This was my great grandfather’s armor. It was melted down in the forges of Rivencleft and recreated after being imbued by blue lapis lazuli and sapphire stones, my ancestor’s family stones. This has been passed down for ever since. My son was going to inherit it, but that is no longer possible. When I saw you, I saw much of my son. I want you to take my armor and sword. It is surprisingly light and the sword is well balanced.” Ryndel was stunned. He slowly reached out and grasped the sword hilt. He raised it to the light, admiring the craftsmanship. He swung it and the blade hummed melodically. He looked at the old man, who gave Ryndel a note. “This will get you admittance to Rivencleft and give you good status with the Shadow. If you prove yourself, you will take my place now that my son cannot. Tell me, what is your name?”
“My name is Ryndel. Sir, I don’t know what to say…”
“Then say nothing. Accept my gifts, I beg you. It would bring me peace.” Ryndel smiled widely and the old man embraced him. He looked at Ryndel happily with tear-filled eyes. “I am Rochben. Please, use my name when you tell other’s yours. It will be comforting to know my legacy will live on.” Ryndel nodded again.
The old man helped Ryndel into the armor. He was right, it was very light. Ryndel moved easily in it and it fit him quite well. The blue tint glowed beautifully when it caught the light. The sword belt was encrusted with rectangular lapis stones. He put the sword in its sheath and turned toward the door. The old man nodded in approval and followed Ryndel as he left the house. Ryndel turned and smiled at the man. He bowed deeply and said, “I, Ryndel Rochben, offer my greatest thanks.” Rochben bowed as well and watched as Ryndel walked back into the city.
As Ryndel got closer to the inn, he noticed there was more commotion than expected. A few men were running down the road with their hands on their swords. Ryndel grew tense as his suspicions grew. Soon he found his fears pulling him into a sprint toward the inn. He came to the sign and rushed in the door. Hunchek and another man were passing out assorted weapons to the people inside. He noticed that the bartender had a rabbit tattooed on his forearm. Ryndel ran upstairs and saw Childeric holding an iron axe and helping Ronic out of the room. Kori was right behind them. “What’s going on?” Ryndel asked over the noise downstairs. His friends turned and stared at him wide eyed.
“What are you wearing?” asked Ronic in amazement.
“I’ll explain later, just tell me what everyone is getting ready for. Don’t tell me that…”
“It turns out that Morbaror’s soldiers were only hours behind us,” Childeric said, cutting him off. “They have arrived.” Ryndel had a flashback of the soldiers marching past the alley and slaughtering the innocent. He grasped the hilt of his new sword with anger, his knuckles turning bright white and his green eyes blazing. He turned and started off down the stairs, his companions following close. He ran out into the street with a group of the inn guests. They headed toward the south gates that Ryndel’s company had gone through. Ronic limped up beside them. “Please, Ronic, stay here. We don’t doubt your ability, but why risk it?” asked Kori desperately. Hunchek came up next to her. “Yes, son, stay here with some of my men and defend the inner city.” Ronic looked disappointed, but also relieved. He followed a group of militia down the road and around the corner. Hunchek stood on a crate and shouted orders at the men standing around him. “We need some volunteers to go to the north gate and make sure none of the dogs try to pull one past us and sneak in that way. The rest of us will go to the main fight at the south gate!” Hunchek shouted. “Kayden, you’re in charge of the men at the north gate. You kids go with him, it will be safer.” With that he jumped off of the crate and led his men to the south. Kayden led the rest north. Ryndel followed along with Childeric and Korineth.
As they approached the gates, they could hear commotion from just outside the wall. Once they got there, a man ran into the city from outside the doors. He was missing his hand. Kori looked around and ran into a tall building, already notching an arrow. Kayden skidded to a halt, looked through a small crack in the wall, and signaled for silence. The silence outside the wall faded. Ryndel looked up and saw Korineth crouching behind a window looking down at the field beyond the city. They heard hoots coming from the other side and heard footsteps approaching them. “Get against the wall!” whispered Kayden. Everyone did as he said and stayed silent. A formation of soldiers walked through the gates proudly. The shadows hid the militia from their view. “Ha! The only opposition we faced was a few farmers! I thought Syndale said this would have the most resistance. Why did he leave anyway?” asked one soldier. He never got an answer. Kayden had jumped out from the wall and ran his sword through the man’s armor. The rest followed. Ryndel jumped in the fray as an arrow shot passed him. He drew his new sword and slashed at a nearby enemy with the accumulation of anger and hate from Vochel. The man shrieked and fell to the ground. After a few seconds of bloodshed, they fight had ended. One militiaman had a scratch, but otherwise the volunteers were fine. Kori came down and retrieved some of her arrows. Childeric struggled to remove his axe from a helmet. The inn guests congratulated each other, but stayed on guard. Kayden walked outside with a torch and looked around. The orange light danced in the fields, exposing more dead. Some were soldiers, the rest were farmers. In the center laid Rochben with a sword in one hand and a smile on his face. Ryndel looked away as sadness gripped him. Kayden, too, looked stricken. He approached the old man’s corpse with care and rolled up his sleeve. He lightly punctured his own black rabbit tattoo and allowed some of the blood to drip onto Rochben’s own arm. He stood up and nodded to Ryndel. “I was hoping he would do something with that armor. Don’t let him down,” Kayden said with a wide range of emotions. Ryndel returned to Childeric and Korineth at the gates. At the same time, a messenger arrived bearing the enemy commander’s head. The men cheered and ran back to the inn.
Drinks were passed around in the tavern. Hunchek was pouring mead and smiling proudly, but something was bothering him. Ryndel relayed the fight to Ronic once they got back to the room. Ronic pictured the scene and smiled. It was obvious that they had a personal hatred for Morbaror’s soldiers. Korineth walked in the room and Ryndel left, giving them some time together. He went downstairs and found Childeric looking at the crackling embers in the fireplace. Ryndel sat next to him. Childeric stared intently at the flames. “I can’t believe we’ve actually killed another person. I shattered one soldier’s helmet hard enough that my axe got stuck. When I finally pulled it out, the helmet fell off. The soldier was about our age and looked vaguely like me. He was only following orders, but I executed him like he was the main source of all of this evil.”
Ryndel nodded as the realization that he was a killer entered his mind. A part of him should have been sickened by the fact, but in reality he wasn’t. Childeric sat up suddenly and shouted, “What about Presin? I’ve forgotten about him! He ran away when the boar attacked us!”
“There is nothing we can do right now, Eric. He knew we were coming here and he knows how to get here. If he means to return, he will. I just have no idea why he wouldn’t have stayed in our company in the first place.” Ryndel stood up and walked over to the bar. He sat on a stool near the staircase. Hunchek was hard at work shining the commander’s cloven helmet to put on the wall. “How are you faring? Is there anything on your mind?” he asked.
“You’re a member of the Shadow, aren’t you?” Ryndel asked.
“Yes, indeed I am. Not many know about us, save travelers and members’ families. I was especially surprised to see you return with Rochben’s armor. It is a shame about his son. He was one of my finest men. You see, the Shadow is split up into sections based off of cities. We keep crime down and protect the town from such incidents like you saw tonight. I overheard the injured boy mention you were from Vochel. I’m sorry to hear what happened. Do you know what became of Prosk? He was the leader in your town and a high ranking member in the Shadow.”
“He is dead. He died leading a last attempt to fight off the soldiers. His son, Presin, was with us for a time, but he fled during the boar attack.”
“Oh, that is a terrible shame. Prosk was a good man. Jarl, your baker, served as a messenger between our towns. You will be happy to hear he is safe, he came to us a day before you did. He knows many fast secret paths through the Brightvale. He warned us of the danger.” Now Hunchek leaned in toward Ryndel. “I must leave with him. We are going to Rivencleft in the morning. I would suggest you and your companions gather some supplies if you wish to accompany us. I have a feeling that you in particular will play a large part in this conflict. Songs will be sung about our upcoming quest, Ryndel Rochben, and you will have the lead role.”