Thursday, July 7, 2016

I wanna go home!

Survival, loss and rescued pigs

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 1

(The mythology of Hârn  was invented by N. Robin Crossby Kelestia.com | The official online home of Hârn and HârnMaster,  and convoluted by copyright with his game publisher. Thus,  this manuscript will probably never be published -  so it is a gift for you to enjoy,  and for Rich Damon, Bob Huff, and Sheldon Price as the  dedicatees.)

Elkall-Anuz

- Rich Damon

1
Tashal

On the west coast of the main continent of Lythia, there is a huge northerly island – almost the size of Madagascar – which is called Hârn. It is known as the wizards island And lies almost 45° North of the planets ecliptic, and though the planet is slightly smaller, it has a denser core, and therefore much the same gravity as Earth does. There are all sorts of things that go on here, even in a world which has a bit of magic. Not much magic, not as compared with its sister world of Yashain – which has great deal of magic. But Yashain is in a different dimension, only possible to cross by sorcery.
It is a feudal era in these lands – with Kings ruling over Earls, Earls ruling over Barons, who in turn rule over Knights, and over the few town councils which have established their own position. The reason for this is that there are few people, and their were plagues that had wiped out great number of people. In this land terrible people come from both land and sea to raid and loot and despoil. The people here do not know any other way, and are suspicious of people who preach any other. Of course there are mysteries, which the known gods and goddesses protect.he island, there are different people other than humans. There are elves and dwarves – more properly Sindarin and Khuzdul as Tolkien used to call them. But there are other peoples, from the Pradeylki – from the far north, almost race of giants, to the evil gargun which are vaguely humanoid, but have different features – being somewhat doglike and apelike. But that is only the beginning, because after all the named was given to it a reason. In other lands, people, when they speak of it, do so in hush whispers. There are even rumors of dragons.

There are three separate regions: the East the are four kingdoms (well five it you count Chybisa, which is smaller than most baronies) – the kingdom of Melderyn, which lies off the coast of the main island, guards the way; the kingdom of Evael of the elves; the hard Kingdom of Azadmere, belonging to the dwarves; and the landlocked kingdom of Khaldor, ruled by an old king. He has, perhaps an enchantment - which keeps him alive, but in no way healthy. The only hostilities are where the Khaldor engages in the occasional forays in two barbarian lands and occasionally two the Eastern Republic of Tharda: for the purposes of exactly where in the forest wilderness the boundary lies. In the West there are two kingdoms and what loosely passes for a Republic. The North is where the native Jarin are subjugated by a people from the northern islands of Ivinia.

Khador's main city is called Tashal - it is the largest city on the island. Only a bit over 13,000 people in this year of 720 Tuzyn Reckoning - a date which was set by the Kingdom of Melderyn. But none of the people who are visiting Khaldor are anything like this one is, first of all, he is taller than most – easily cresting over 6 and a quarter feet. But this is only the beginning, because rather than robes which are the customary garb, he looks entirely different. First of all, he wears a large steel helmet, with an enormous red plume atop. Going downwards, he had a fine coat of mail and a set of greaves – which made him out to be a warrior, but not one of the knightly type which dominated the local people. Moreover, he was trudging through the road towards the gates with purpose. Which again was unusual for someone who decidedly was not part of the landscape. Others moved aside, for they knew that he was on some business, and they did not want to find a what. So they stared in to his face for just a moment, and seeing a stern jaw and high cheekbones, with a Roman nose – none of which were common in this area – they quickly moved aside.

From the looks of the people around him, he knew that he was out of place, but he welcomed this as his due. He knew he was from far away, and he knew that people would recognize him. But since he could not blend in, event the other way, and stood out completely. So as he walked to the south eastern gate, he looked around for any pickpockets – but discreetly so. On his own turf, people would not dare to do this – but he was not on his own land. He saw the people as rabble, and rather poor rabble at that. There were only a few beasts of burden, where as in his homeland, there would be many more. And he noted other such features which all added up to a poor country indeed. This was not what he had been led to believe, hearing the words of the wizards island more than a few times. He was expecting something exciting, or at least different. Instead, what he saw did not amusing in the least. And is brother, a commander of guards in the same place he was from, would be less amused – because his brother was even more of a stickler for such details.

Now he was inside the gate, and the houses were even less inspiring then the stone wall had been – the wall was only about 20 feet high in the best of places. The houses were made of a wood frame, with plaster filled in - in the manner of stucco - with gabled roofs and canopied terraces. Almost all the houses had an “X” bracing, which was a kind of theme for the local buildings. He did not much like it, but you had to admit, it was distinctive in its flavor. It was clear that each individual house was built by an individual taste – some were grand, others seemed to be slapped up between two houses. He wondered if there were any restrictions on how the buildings were made, and if so, were there any ways to get around them. So while his face was forward, he was looking out of the corners of his eyes. Because he was also looking for places which would not be announced, such as the thieves Guild, the Lia-Kavair. He also wondered what motivated the religious leaders, because they had agreed deal of influence on how a God or Goddess appeared to the supplicants. He made a note of a couple of the buildings, which he would check if he had the time.

But first things first – because he was looking for a person who could help with his current mission. It was not a mission that he, himself, believed in – because it was filled with magic. And while he knew magic existed, he would rather not think about the consequences of that. It was better to rely on the might of the sword, and the cleverness that is brain could supply. But this is not how his brother thought of things, and it was his brother that had implored him to take the mission. First of all he would have to go to the wizards island, in went down from there. First he had to find the elf knew about the patterns left behind by the people known as the earthmasters. These were a long forgotten people – and most did not believe in them. But the elves believed in them, and stop them quite real. But to find the elf, he did not need to go to the kingdom that they inhabited – but in to Tashal, where a woman lived who knew about the strangest of elves, not connected with their own kingdom. He took this on faith, because elves were beyond his keen. That one would be a part from their kingdom, he took on faith.

And how was he to find this woman? In his pocket he had a description of her, and he knew that she was associated with the Temple of Peoni, whom was the goddess of childbirth and redemption. Mind you she was not a priest herself, though she did attract such people. No, she was a scholar – and often times would help people remember things that they had forgotten. He understood this – she was gifted in the area of remembrance. And while he did not understand how this worked, he knew from personal experience, that it did in fact work.

He turned into a street which once upon a time was the beautiful area, but was not any more. He looked for the design which said it was the home of one Astaroc – who was rumored to be the nephew of the King of Kaldor. But it was out of wedlock, and in this time and place, that would be absolutely forbidden. It only walked a little ways from the South end of additional when he reached and in numerous square – which he knew as Haldan square. He also realized he had entered in through the wrong gate, and turn to the south of this square and moved down to a different southern exit. He then went along this route, and walked towards the wall. It was there that he would find the men called Cranlson, but who was actually a very close relative of the Royal household at the time.

Oh, for a sign that would tell him the street he was on – and then he found it, though it was not visible. Most of the people could not read. 'Chidena' it was called. The he did not know what this meant. Then towards the end of the street, just after a small passage that joined with the main street. There were two doors, one long the road, and another long this passageway. It was clear that the second one was for servants. Thus he went to the main one, and knocked three times with his armored hand. He waited for just a moment, and was going to knock again – when he remembered he was not in a land which recognized his status, such as it was. So, instead, waited for the door to open.

And eventually it did. But only a crack, where an old woman answered:

“He is not taking visitors today.” And the woman was going to close the door at that instant, but this was too much for the armored man to take. Thus he slid his right foot into the doorway, and though it was a very small entrance – he was better than most at turning his foot and wedging the door open.

“I have come a long way. A very long way. And I will not be dismissed by some cleaning lady before I have actually spoken to the resident of this place. I will not take a moment, but it is a moment that I shall have.” he was clearing down his nose at her – he was almost a foot taller – and his look said that he was determined. Very determined.

The woman looked up at him, and knew that this was some kind of foreigner – though she did not know where it came from – and it was better to let him in. she would have to explain somehow, but that seemed like a better solution than any other. So she let him in, and pointed towards a bench beside the opening.

“I will get them for you, though it might take some time to pry him away from his work.”

With not a glimmer of hesitation, the helmeted man changed his complexion completely – and he was magnanimous, and tipped his helmet and placed it aside. He then was seated, and waiting.

At which point the woman went in to the next room, though she closed the door it was not tightly shut. Thus, there was a trickle of words between the woman and what he assumed was the voice of the man who he had come to see. The first thing about it, was that it was old, and what is more, crotchety. Clearly the man's voice was not interested in having company.

Then the woman explained that this company was from far away, and what is more would not be refused entrance at that time. He then heard a tirade from the old man's voice, to the effect that he was busy, and why could she not shoe him away. Then the woman explained that he was tall and in some sort of armor – though it was like the legions of Tharda, it was more ornate than not. What she did not say was that he had a presence, and she was not going to question it. The men heard this in her tone – and guest that the old man had heard it as well. The old man began in a different way – almost kindly in its demeanor. He said that he would deal with the man, and the woman should go on to clean something – which meant clean anything.

It was at this point that the inner door open – behind which was a room overstuffed with books, flasks filled with liquids, loose paper – which was stopped on bookshelves, furniture, and the floor. Standing in the doorway was A very old man, with gray eyes and white hair along the back of his skull. Is close mark him as a polished person, with adornments on his neck and wrists – they should mean something to the armored man, because they look like things that he knows – but not quite. But what caught his attention was the old man's face – he was relatively spry for his age, and was still in good health. While his head was slightly stooped – it was better than a man 20 years younger than himself. His eyes were peering outwards, and have closed with suspicion.

“Well what do you want? You said be just a moment, so a moment is what I am can you. Use it wisely, and then be gone.” There was a tenor of command, which the helmeted man noted. This was going to be a contest between two extremely competent men for control. If they would let it, that is. But two would have to make it so.

So at this point, having been a warrior, he decided that the best route was to late out his request with deference to whatever status that the old man thought he possessed. After all, all he wanted was to find out where a particular woman was, and then depart. There was no point in quarreling about this. And it was obvious that the old man did not want any of his attention. But he noted that the old man knew something about his attire – and thus unlike the majority of people, had traveled to the mainland.

“I was told you would be the person who would know a female, by the name of Gwynwyffer. She is associated with Peoni's group.”

At this point the old man softened his countenance quite a bit and even curled his lips from a deep frown, but not to a smile. At this point the old man responded in a language from the mainland, it was not spoken on the island at all. “Is this better for you? And hear sit down, because I think I shall have to give you directions.” And he produced a pen, and handed it to the armored man. With a blaés attitude, the man took the pen and from his belt pocket produced some papyrus to write upon.

While the front room is for entertaining, including a large dining room table, but unlike most inhabitants there were neither dogs nor cats to feast on the scraps. There was a tapestry along the back wall, and it seemed like it had some significance to the old man – but he did not say what it was. Then he was dictating the directions, and waiting for the younger man to copy them down. The anger of man was quick to do so, which delighted the old man so that he actually broke a smile. But only for an instant.

The directions were complex, because he would have the journey out of the city – and place and offering to Peony by the side of the West road. Then the next day he would come back, and get further instructions as to where the woman he sought could be found. This did not bother the armored man, because he had retained several people who were hard to get a hold of. It was, quite literally, his job as the intelligence officer of the Legion.

“Is that all you want?” Requested the old man. He was half expecting a further request. Clearly he was thinking that his visitor was one of a select group of people, who had other desires. And while he was have opened up, there was still a lingering question as to when the other shoe would drop.
But the man scooped up his helmet, and then replied “I only came for that, thank you.” And checking his belt for all components made ready to leave. The old man was surprised, but waved him off. 

When the door was shut he just heard the inner door open and words to the woman. But the armored man did not know what they consisted of. Nor was he particularly concerned, this was local politics, of the kind he did not concern himself of less asked by his superior. After all, this was a tiny kingdom, very much the size of a Barony where he came from. And the old man must have realized it, since he had spent time on the continent. Though the old man was sharp, was actually very responsive in his own way. Which was more than he got from most people.

Once on the street he again checked his belongings, he thought he saw a pickpocket ducking out of the way. But it was nothing, and he decided that it would be better to allow the constables to pick up pickpockets and the like. This was again, this was not his concern. But he did note that this area was littered with an amazing diversity of low level life.



  So he sat out for the Eastern wall, and he was sure that whatever guardsman's unit was going to question him when he got there. If not before then.

Here’s What Comes Next

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The Dogs of War - 4

iii

There was a wash of sound, a combination of roar, rush, hiss, and the fizz of beer, he woke and looked upwards, blinking. He heard the sound of the sea coming in and out over sand, and found himself blinking at an unfrettered sky, soft blue, and with clouds that wandered like unshorn sheep. He turned, and saw that Eorl was in the sky, its summer wheat yellow a comfort. He turned left and right, and caught the beginnings of grassy land to his right, and in the distance a jumble of rooftops that indicated a city.

Albrecht knew at this moment that he was dreaming, and that it was a vivid dream, though not yet the most vivid he had had. He slowly rolled his way to his feet, and found himself in a pair of soft leather ankle boots, and only his white shirt with puffed sleeves, and a draw string front. He was not red from the sun, though he could feel its warmth on his face and on his legs, he turned and saw, going down the line of the shore, a row of windmills that stretched, he guessed east, and then another stretching in the other. He counted four in each direction, their arms lazily turning in the stiff breeze, with white jib sales that were gradually unfurling to capture more of the wind.

He looked out over the water, and saw at least two boats under sail, both rigged as caravels, the older style with triangular sails. He watched their motion slowly, and then turned to look towards the town. He pondered whether there was a point to this dream, or whether it was merely a reflection to his past, incorporating the events of the day. But since no sign, nor other signal of meaning came into view, he simply began walking down the beach, enjoying the slight spring to the sand that was half packed from waves rolling in, and then air bubbling out. When he saw motion, it was nothing more than a small blue crab, moving to the right, with claws in a defensive posture, eyes fixed on him. It had a wide but short body, which had points on either side, its claws were long in proportion to their width, and it seemed to be made of lobes everywhere, with few projecting spines. The back seemed to have a pattern of bumps that resembled a five pointed star.

Eating such crabs, but not on inner Eo - the place of his birth- but on Tianxin, when he had been sent there to paint a portrait. The fee had been quite large, as the Eo style portraits were, then and now, very much in fashion among some of the trading families. The individual had been such a merchant, and Albrecht had spent no small amount of time capturing the details of his attire, including a meticulous rendering of the golden and silver threads of the embroidery on his outer robe. He watched the crab disappear into the water, the surf gradually engulfing it.

There was no other movement, save the bending of yellow green reeds in the wind. Again, these were not the grasses of youth, which were bluer, and flat, rather than tall and round. He could not remember where he had seen these before, but they seemed recently familiar. He could not, however, place them even after running his hands through some, and feeling their round stiffness.
He wandered slowly towards the town, and the startled as he saw some motion. It was too small and low to the ground to be a person, but too large to be an ordinary rat. He guessed a cat from its fluidity, but it was a blur otherwise, so he began ambling towards it. It was a dream, he was, as yet, in no hurry.

The sounds of the tides began mixing with a groaning squeak that was coming from the direction of the windmill. He again saw a flash of movement, but this time he could tell it was a cat, white and orange, white belly, with two orange patches. He blinked and realized it was the cat he had drawn before. It turned, looked up at him and stared.

Fortunately fluency in cat is almost a requisite for anyone who lives in sea side towns with much trade. He did his best formal yowl.

And the cat replied: “Rawwrr.” Exactly as the real one had.

Albrecht whistled and walked passed it, but rubbed his fingers on the left hand together as he passed in a gesture that implied he had food. He could feel, rather than hear, the cat following him as he approached the windmill, its 8 arms with triangular sails turning with increased vigor. The wind was picking up, and starting to reach that point where it's bite went through the shirt. It was of little difficulty to walk between the arms, and into the dark.

That cat bounced its way in front of him and began going up the spiral wooden stair on the inside. The stones that made up the wall were small, though regular, and a middling gray speckled with white. There was an earthy, mossy smell inside, protected from the salt, and drawing on the fresh water being pumped up from below. He saw the central wooden shaft turning, roughly in accord with the arms, and began taking slow deliberate steps upwards. Even though this was a dream, he could feel the pains in his belly where he had been stabbed, and his insides gurgled as they had not fully healed.

After four turns he reached the to, panting a bit, to a small keel room that was a dome of eight parts. It was undecorated, and the floorboards were worn. There were four windows, elongated with an arched top, which narrowed as they went to the outer wall. He looked through one over the sea, and again saw one of the carvels, but it had an ensign flying from it, a black one, with some white device that he could not read. His heart skipped, as he had seen death's banner a few too many times of late. He looked inland, and saw littered about a few buildings, one smoking. There were rows of trees in the central street of the town, and he thought he could seen motion from them in the growing wind. 

However, it was beyond the very low rises and in the distance that something very out of place caught his eye. The country side was from his youth: ditches, canals, clumps and mounds of earth, and in between them ponds and inlets like tongues from the sea. He expected then to see the same off into the distance. In the main, he did, however farther behind this, almost lost in the sky, were two sharp sides of what was taller than any hill of his native earth. And the sides were sharp enough to betray them as being of no accidental occurance.

Clouds were coming over zenith and racing towards that horizon, and the contrast between the eddifice, which had to be as high as the highest spire he had ever seen, and the sky, grew more distinct. The vast, squat, equilateral triangular face of it was reflecting the distant horizon, still blue, and a bit of Eorl's glint. Behind it were low grey clouds that were closing in around it like a vault. Then the triangle itself grew dark, and conveyed some turmoil as it too became dark and gray. The cat perched itself on the sill, with its front paws holding on to the small flat lip of the window, while behind it used its rear paws to maintain balance. It was not settled, but looked more as if it were preparing to pounce.

“No mouse there kitty.” Then looking up, “I wonder what that building is.” He judged it to be at least miles away, and perhaps further, because it was difficult to tell the scale, since the base of it was hidden by the town and the land beyond it. He took this as an important sign, because it was the only thing in the dream that he did not recognize.

“Between death and a monument, and caught in a dream.”

The cat turned, looked up at him, then did two short jumps. The first turned him around and landed on the floor, the second launched him up, with claws sinking into the shirt. Strangely, though he could feel the claws sink into his skin, there was no pain. Then he pulled his hands up under the feline, and placed it on his shoulder, where it proceeded to wind about and begin to purr. He allowed this to go on for a moment and then scooped it up, and dropped it unceremoniously on the floor, before beginning to walk down. Somehow, in one of those transitions that happen often in dreams, the next room down was not the windmill, but the kitchen of a row house that he had worked in, with large black iron pots along one wall, and copper saucepans hanging next to a stove that jutted out from a large brick hearth. He also noted that he was now wearing a full set of clothes, most specifically, a brown leather jerkin, puffed pants, a lace collar and lace cuffs, and full boots with large turned down cuffs. His doublet was no longer plain, but with a branch a leaf laurel pattern, pale green background with some accenting threads.

Beams of the house were heavy, thick, dark, and low. From them hung meats and cheeses, herbs, flowers, baskets. Clearly blessed by prosperity, there were plates hung decoratively on the walls, and draps wrapped around think rods at the window, though pulled open to let in the light.

A deep breath in - clearly this is where his dream wanted him to be next. He looked out through the window, made of 12 panes of blown glass, the bubbles and rifts distorting the shapes and colors outside. They had been tinted slightly rose, and this gave a starker quality to the image. He looked out edge on, and saw the source of the movement he had seen in the trees: bodies hanging from the branches, still fully dressed, of women in their gowns, of men still with their boots on. None dripped blood, nor showed hurts of any kind. He counted 8 from the nearby tree, two from each branch, one man, and one woman. He ducked under the window, and looked down the other way, he saw two more trees similarly adorned: though one had children as well as adults. Beyond that, he saw a rustle of movement, larger than a man, and guessed it to be men on horseback, he could see the sawing motion of men marching with pikes behind it.

Ducked down, to be out of sight, and then leaned against the wall - looking outward through as an oblique an angle as he could manage in the window, and pry out as much as he could. The glass made the figures shift, split, and reform. He ducked down again as the clopped up to the outside of the very house he was in. A gruff voice resonated outside, it was not a human voice, but it was not the inhuman voice of death.

“These are your orders: Commit. Atrocities. Spare every second house, starting with this one, for we will be through again. Slay all the men and but set aside the boys unhurt, and save the women for the later. We will see how many will beg to join us after they see what is to come. Leave no limb attached on any who halt your progress.”

“And remember: Commit. Atrocities. Imagination, is to be your only guide.”

Hearimg the horseman move on, armor rattling, and which was followed by yelps and cries, and the sounds of scattering bodies. - he hiding beneath the window frame, his ear canals became the apertures to events that unfolded outside: he heard whacking sounds and cries, thumps and crunches, cries and moans. He leaned back against the wall, looked at the cat, and felt the dream fading into darkness.

Not telling how much longer after the dream it was when he awoke, but he was bathed in sweat. There was a crack of light coming from the mouth of the cave, which opened out on to a near dawn sky, with only one bright star still shining in. The silhouette of the horse was there, sleeping exactly as he left it, and nothing else seemed to be disturbed. He roused himself, took a quick dip in the water of the seat to cleanse himself again, slapping his face and shaking the water from his hair and growing beard. Shortly, he was on his way again, walking in front of the horse. The only oddity was near the mouth of the cave, where he found pawprints in the sand. They moved in circles, stopped, and then went off along the beach. They were definitely paw prints.

 From a cat.