04 – The Breaking of Lord Vorlund
The sun rose steadily over the Shirìsh village, but most people were already busying about. In a small hut not far from the bustling were still fast asleep four teen children. The fifth had already woken and gone away on some errand.
Ardeth woke, and with excitement roused the other sleepers.
‘Where is Meoc?’ He questioned, but none knew the answer.
‘I’m hungry.’ Commented Jorma, yawning, and looking at his stomach.
They had food that fill their stomachs until they could want no more, and now, they are as hungry as someone who hadn’t seen food for days.
Meoc came back after a while and led them to a spot where they bathed and then went back to the hut for breakfast.
‘So what now?’ Questioned Jorma.
‘We were told to keep all the non merchants away from the square until the market is ready.’ Answered Meoc.
‘So where would we go?’ Ardeth asked.
A light of excitement came over Jama as he remembered his previous markets. He knows where they were to go. ‘The circle of trees!’ He exclaimed. ‘An exciting place, if there ever was one.’ And so it was. Meoc led the group through the streets of the city (westwards) until at last the houses ended. Looming far ahead, above the groups of trees, were the tops of the towers. Again Ardeth felt the tower calling him, and he wanted to go. The land was a great grassland, with scattered trees except for the group of trees just in front of them.
The sun was on their backs as they made their way towards these set of trees. More children were seen already in the trees, playing and laughing. Most of them though were younger than Jama and Ardeth. Other children were making their way to the trees too.
When the group arrived, Ardeth noticed that it was not just a group of trees, but a ring of them. Inside the ring was clear and sheltered. Small tree houses were made above in the trees that could support them. The ground was covered in grass and leaved and thus was comfortable enough to sit (or lie) on.
‘The circle of trees.’ Announced Meoc. ‘The play place of all the children of Shirìsh.’
‘This is it.’ Jama said to Ardeth. ‘This is where you could plan your trip to the tower. This is where our journey was planned.’
‘How do I do that?’ Ardeth asked.
‘Just wait, the remainder of the group that I went to will arrive in time.’
And so they waited. Not long after, more and more children came, some as old and older than Jama. Among the children that came were Han from Arák. Jama called the older children together. Present was also the girl Jama danced the night before with.
‘Most of you know Rhogan.’ Jama started, pointing to Ardeth. ‘But he doesn’t know you, so before you begin, why not introduce yourselves?’
One after the other they said their names and the name of their village. There were Kenth, Kilar, Krenin and Indra from the Caarb village. From the Shirìsh village were Larada, Narzim (the girl Jama danced with), Caldrin (the largest and oldest boy) and Jardyn. The ones from Arák were, of course, Jama, Jorma, Han, Kari and Rhogan (Ardeth).
‘This is Rhogan’s first visit to the Shirìsh village, and he wants to visit the tower.’ There were gasps amongst some of the ones from the Shirìsh village. ‘Some of us had gone there before, and thus we would accompany him.’
‘But why does he want to go there?’ Asked Jardyn. ‘Does he not know about the myth of the serpent?’
Ardeth looked at Jama, what serpent, he wondered.
‘A myth.’ Answered Jama. ‘As I said, some of us had gone before and saw no such things. Right?’ He looked at Han and Caldrin, who both acknowledged him.
‘So then why call all of us?’ Larada, the Shirìsh girl, asked. ‘Surely you do not want all of us to accompany him.’
‘No. And all of you would not come anyway, even if you were told to do so by the chief.’ Jama replied. ‘Your job, whoever remains, is to make whoever is gone not be missed by our parents or anyone else.’
‘Some trouble you would get into.’ Said Kenth. ‘I have heard that none goes in that direction, and the only ones who come from there are strangers who never spoke of their lands.’
‘You speak of the lands beyond the great river.’ Han said. ‘The tower is not very far, though we would need a day to get there and back, longer if the river runs faster than usual.’
‘So we’ll be traveling by river?’ questioned Ardeth.
‘The only safe route. We could take the road that we saw, but that might be full of people, now that the market has started.’ Jama said to him, and then turned to the group. ‘So who wants to go?’
‘Of course me.’ Answered Han. ‘Someone needs to protect young Rhogan. Also I miss the tower, it is so old and exciting.’
‘I too.’ Said Caldrin, standing up from the ground.
None else said anything.
‘Very well.’ Continued Jama. ‘The four of us will go.’
‘Four?’ Questioned Kari. ‘I said I wanted to come too.’
‘I thought of something.’ Jama said. ‘Rhogan is so famous that if he is gone for a day, then someone will miss him. So we need to row to the tower and back faster than we did on our previous trip. Thus I suggest we take one boat, and Rhogan rows, for none in the three villages rows faster.’
‘When do we leave?’ Questioned Caldrin.
‘I figured that we could leave in three days, the middle of the market.’ Jama said.
‘No, we’ll leave in five days.’ Han said. ‘The ending of the market, everyone is most busy then, getting their last bit of shopping. They won’t think to search for us.’
‘So be it. In five days at dawn.’ Jama said. ‘Meoc, you’re responsible for getting the food for our breakfast and the days journey.’ Meoc nod his head. ‘Jorma, you’re responsible directly to father and mother, for they are the ones most likely to search for us. Kari you help him. Others, just indicate to all the other children that they should say that they’ve seen us, if asked. We’ll leave at the dock, be there Han and Caldrin.’
‘It would take us a miracle to keep this away from the elders.’ Said Kari, and with that the meeting ended. Everyone went there own ways.
Not long after came lunch, immediately after which came the opening of the market. The children, however waited until mid-afternoon until they dare enter the crowed market.
It was noisy and hot, and people were everywhere. And the things to sell were numerous. There was everything from food to weapons. And as many things to sell as there were, there were as many people to buy them. People from Arák, Shirìsh, Caarb, Guijan and places Ardeth never heard of. Some came from far south and were weirdly clothed and hid their faces in hoods. They were tall, even taller than the people of Guijan. There were also very short people (from the far west they said) shorter than the peoples of the Three Free Villages, and they wore long beards. They most visited the weapons stands (and tended to most of the stands themselves.)
Ardeth wanted to ask one of the short men of the far west for information on the tower, but never found the chance; Kari kept pulling him in her own direction. The only word he heard one of them said to him was ‘Good sword Ardeth O’Atlantia. Never seen a better one.’
Kari pulled Ardeth towards a cloth stand, and Jama and his friends left them. There were many cloth merchants, most from Shirìsh and most women. But one was not familiar. She was one of the hooded people from the south, as Kari told Ardeth. Ardeth gazed at this woman for a long while, for something drew his gaze to her, like the same desire that draws his attention to the towers to the west.
‘Ardeth.’ The woman spoke from beneath her hood after a while that seemed like forever. Her voice was sweet and soft, yet cold, with no emotions whatsoever. ‘Beware. One walks behind you who wants something. He must not have it. But do not challenge him. His power is beyond yours.’ The woman lifted her face slightly and Ardeth saw her lips, rose red, everything else remained hooded.
‘The traveler?’ Ardeth questioned. ‘The one the warrior called Anul warned me about?’
‘Yes the great warrior Anul. But he does not know why he warns you.’
‘Do you know why?’ Ardeth questioned. ‘What does this stranger want?’
‘You are already seeking the answer, I see.’ The woman answered, and gave a quick glance to the west. ‘But beware, many dangers lie between here and where you’re going. That itself will be a test.’
‘A test of what? Seeking what?’
‘It is not my place to say. Just remember that however strange myths might seem, wise men are those who learn from them.’
Kari tugged at Ardeth’s arm. ‘We should go on.’ She said. ‘There’re more things to see.’
‘Won’t you buy something from me?’ Asked the hooded woman. ‘Have this.’ And she handed a gray cloth to Kari. ‘It is a gift, for the friend of Ardeth.’
The cloth felt cold to the touch, and Kari always kept it close to her, though she did not know why.
‘Thanks for the warning.’ Ardeth said, and they were off again.
Not long after, the two met with an old rugged man. He was clothed in rags and his hair was scruffy. He seemed to be a beggar, with the exception that he didn’t beg. Indeed he carried himself more upright and noble than most others in the market. Ardeth noticed that he looked like the people of Guijan, and regarded him as such.
‘Are you the Rhogan?’ The man asked.
‘Ah, yes.’ Answered Ardeth. ‘Why?’
‘Many tales are spreading about you son, and fast. One such tale tells that you carry a sword like none any have ever seen, and like none any can make.’
‘What is it to you?’ Ardeth questioned.
‘I am a sword maker from Luijan, a city in the Guijan Kingdom. I just want to examine this great sword of yours. Do you have it?’
Ardeth unsheathed his sword, and held it up for the man to see. The man ran his fingers along the blade, and felt the hilt. He looked at the gems in the hilt and the carvings in the blade, carvings even Ardeth can’t decipher.
‘The best does not suitably describe it.’ The man exclaimed. ‘I would try for all my years, but never could I find the alloy that made this blade, or create such remarkable a hilt. I might never be able to create any sword to match it.’
‘What is so great about my sword?’ Ardeth questioned. ‘It is just fancily designed. Nothing more.’
‘Nothing more?’ The man looked surprised. ‘Come with me, and I will show you the ways of sword making and all you need to know about swords. That is if you will come with me.’ ‘Sure.’ Ardeth answered, but more because he wanted to see swords and weapons, rather than look at cloths with Kari.
They walked through the market, turning, squeezing through crowds. A lot of the elders of the Free Villages knew the old man, and yet Ardeth knew not his name. Apparently he had made swords for most of the older warriors of the Free Villages.
They reached the weapons and armor section. Almost every piece of armory could be found to equip a knight for war. A lot of the bearded short men of the west were here, selling their merchandise.
They went to the sword stands, and the man took up a sword from one of the stands. ‘Put that back, old man.’ The stand merchant said.
The old man did not heed the merchant, but kept looking at the sword. ‘Look here Rhogan.’ He said. ‘This blade is made of an alloy that would brake if it cut anything harder than wood.’ He threw up a rock in the air and sliced at it with the sword with great skill. The rock shattered to dusts, the sword vendor shuddered. The old man took down the sword and Ardeth saw that it was notched in the spot where it had hit the rock.
‘Now who is going to pay for that sword?’ The vendor asked. And took up another of his swords threatening the old man.
‘Lower your sword, Isàwan.’ Said the vendor next to the one holding up the sword. ‘Do you not know who this is? This is Lakud of Luijan, the greatest sword-maker of our time.’ The vendor then turned to Lakud, the old man, and said. ‘I would gladly replace the sword, sir, if you would give me a few pointers on the art of sword-making.’
Ardeth was surprised at the high honor this seemingly old man got. He was even more proud that the greatest sword-maker of the time gave his sword the highest compliment. The vendor called Isàwan got the sword replaced by the neighboring vendor, while everyone waited for Lakud to continue speaking, even Isàwan and a few passer-bys.
‘You see, a sword is can only cut a metal softer than itself, no matter how sharp its blade is.’ Lakud continued. ‘The strength of the blade therefore depends on the alloy used to make the blade. And no alloy have I found that is as strong as the one that made your sword, Rhogan. And that is why I can never replicate nor forge a sword better than yours. For a sword’s strength depends not on its sharpness, but the material it is made of, and the same can be said of other things as well.’ And Lakud turned away from everyone else but Ardeth and whispered, ‘the wizard may seem frail on the outside, but that is not what he is, he is made of stronger material than us. He stalks you, beware.’ And then loudly, ‘Goodbye, Rhogan! Keep your sword well!’ And away he went.
Ardeth turned around, more than half expecting to see the old wizard standing behind him. But he was not there, but neither was Kari, who he was walking with all the time, or so he thought. He then realized that she was probably left in the clothes section, for he can’t remember seeing her following him with Lakud.
The evening wore on, and the sun crept lower in the sky. It was cooler now, and the crowds had died down. People of Shirìsh were busying about filling lamps with oil, which Ardeth guessed were for the night. He never thought the market would go on into the night.
All the while Ardeth had been walking around, looking for interesting things (mostly weapons and armor and strange things that he had never seen), but most importantly, he was looking for Kari. He had gone back to the clothes section, but she was not there. He searched in every other section that she might visit; but no result. Yet he was not worried. ‘Kari was at such a market before.’ He thought. ‘She knows he way.’
Not long after, he met up with Jama and Caldrin.
‘Hey, Rhogan.’ Caldrin said, a piece of cooked meat in his hand.
‘Where did you get that?’ Ardeth asked, looking at the meat. ‘I’m starved.’
‘One of the people of my village sells it. It tastes great! I can take you there, if you like.’
‘Hey, where’s Kari? Weren’t you two together, looking at girls stuff?’ Jama asked.
‘I lost her, after I met with this great swords-maker from Guijan.’ Ardeth answered. ‘I wonder where she is.’
‘Ah, don’t worry.’ Caldrin replied. ‘I saw her a while ago, before I met you - Jama. She was with this old man that came from the east. They were walking through the village towards the circle of trees.’
Both Ardeth and Jama became worried. Old man? Was this the wizard? Ardeth and Jama looked at each other for a second, then both ran through the market, into the village, and westwards, as fast as their feet could carry them.
The sun was lower now, a bit had already gone beneath the horizon, when the two cleared the westward gate of the village and faced the circle of trees. The trees’ shadows were long and dark, and were eerie. But what made the two more afraid was the sight they saw.
Just in front of the trees, facing them, was Kari, with an expressionless look upon her face. Behind her was the old man, standing straight and tall, staff in his right hand. His black robes were moving gently in the soft breeze. His hood was cast back, and he had long white hair. His eyes were small, but menacing they seemed.
‘It is not wise to face a wizard.’ The wizard said, seeing the two. ‘Were these not the advice you were give by so many?’
Ardeth and Jama stepped cautiously closer, Ardeth always keeping his fingertips on the hilt of his sword. ‘Is she alright?’ Ardeth questioned.
‘Your friend is safe for now, Ardeth O’Atlantia.’
‘Who are you?’
‘I thought that you listened to the many advice you were given; by Annul, by the woman in the market and by Lakud the sword-maker. Yes, I heard all of them, I have many ears and is powerful beyond your imagining. I am Lord Vorlund the Wandering Wizard of the North.’ And he seemed to pride himself in his name.
‘Let her go!’ Jama joined in.
‘Why?’ Lord Vorlund asked, raising his staff. ‘What can a puny boy like you do?’ Jama’s face got red with anger. He ran forward, picked up a stick that was on the ground, and charged into the wizard.
‘No…!’ Ardeth screamed, remembering the advice of many.
But it was too late. Lord Vorlund, with his staff still in his right hand, raised it and muttered something. The sky seemed to get darker, and there was a foul sound in the air. Jama, just before he reached the wizard, collapsed, as if he had been shot with a thousand unseen arrows.
‘Why?’ Ardeth asked, tears in his eyes, anger in his heart. ‘Why do you do it? What do you want?’ He had almost given up; he knows that he could not face this wizard alone.
‘The thing you are keeping.’ Answered the wizard. ‘The thing you inherited.’
‘What? I don’t know what that is. I lost my memory at sea, I know nothing of who I am, except that I am Ardeth.’
‘A treasure, did you bring with you a treasure?’
Ardeth thought for a while, and then remembered that the only two things that he came with were the medallion and his sword. ‘I have a medallion.’ Ardeth said.
Ardeth took out the medallion from under his shirt and Lord Vorlund came up to touch it. ‘This is not it. Is there anything else?’
‘No. You’re of no use to me. Are you sure you’re Ardeth O’Atlantia?’
‘I have no memory!’ Ardeth screamed back. ‘I don’t know! Just give me back my friends!’ Lord Vorlund thought for a while, and while he did, the sun went down farther. The evening sky became red and orange, and no sound, of either bird or men, was heard. It was as if the world held its breath.
‘I have no use for you.’ Lord Vorlund stated, raising his staff. ‘I might as well destroy you, along with your friends.’
The air suddenly got colder, the sky darker. Lord Vorlund began to speak, and as he did, the crystal on his staff began to glow softly. Ardeth gripped the hilt of his sword firmly, he knew this was to be his end, but he would not let go of his life so easily. He drew his sword and it connected with the wizard’s staff. For a moment nothing happened, then the sword just went right through the staff, cutting it in two. The light from the crystal faded, the sky got brighter, as it was before. The wizard opened his eyes and stopped his muttering, a look of surprise on his face. He was still clenching the bottom of the staff; the top had fallen to the round.
At the time the staff broke, Kari was drawn out from her expressionless gaze and fell to the ground, while Jama, still on the ground, stirred for the first time.
‘How?’ The wizard questioned.
‘I guess I’ve broken your curses, wizard.’ Exclaimed Ardeth. ‘Now get away from here, leave us in peace.’
‘How is it that a young boy can break on of the most powerful wizards of the world?’ The wizard asked. ‘You will not pay lightly for this.’
The wizard drew his sword, and cast away the remainder of his staff. The entire staff turned into dust and was gone. The wizard came upon Ardeth, with anger and wrath. Even without his staff (and hopefully without his magic) he was still stronger than Ardeth, and, surprisingly for his age, faster.
Ardeth glanced aside the first strike, and the wizard stroke again. Again Ardeth stopped it, and this time he lashed out at the wizard. In and attempt to dodge the blow, Lord Vorlund move his face backwards, but his face was still scratched, blood streamed down from the scar on his face.
The wizard stepped back again and held up his sword, he muttered something and a black flame ran up the blade. He brought the sword down upon Ardeth head, and Ardeth raised his sword to block, the two swords connected, and Ardeth was sent to his knees.
‘You’re a valiant swordsman, Ardeth.’ The wizard said. ‘Unfortunately there are prices to pay for certain deeds.’
Again the wizard raised his sword to strike, but Ardeth had no more energy to defend himself. His sword fell from his grasp. Then, as from nowhere, an arrow came whizzing passed Ardeth, ripped through the lose robe of the wizard and landed some distance in the circle of trees. The wizard looked up, his sword still in the air. Ardeth turned around and saw a man running towards them. It was Annul, the warrior leader from Luijan. His bow was in his hand and he was reaching with his left hand for another arrow from his quiver. He fitted it and fired again, while still running towards Ardeth and the wizard.
The wizard stepped back from Ardeth and blocked with his sword this third arrow with ease. Annul then drew his sword and came upon the wizard. They fought until Annul’s sword was out of his hand and just before the wizard was about to strike him too, Ardeth got up, reached for his sword and slashed at the wizard. A long deep cut was made across the chest of the wizard and he fell back, blood soaking his clothes.
‘Fine swordsmen you two are.’ Lord Vorlund declared. ‘But I promise you this: you are not the best. I will find another, and with him I will send an army so large that no longer would your villages be known as the Free Villages, for I will enslave them. And after these three villages are gone, Annul, no longer would Guijan have any outer defenses, and it too will fall. Beware! You two have brought war upon yourselves. And after I kill you, Ardeth, then I will seek this treasure that you were suppose to be keeping.’
‘You will never succeed!’ Ardeth declared.
‘You have no idea of the strength of a wizard.’ The wizard answered.
‘Never can anyone amass such great an army to destroy the Free Villages and Guijan.’ Annul said. ‘And you, warrior of Guijan, have no idea of ancient evils that once roamed this earth. Creatures will be seen that were not before by mere men such as yourself, Annul. I will return, and when I do, none of you will survive.’
With that the wizard gave a hard whistle, loud and piercing it was, and it echoed throughout the plains and the village. Through the gates of the village came a gray horse, the same one Ardeth, Jama and Kari had seen him riding on. Like thunder the horse came and stopped in front of its master. Lord Vorlund mounted his horse, his sword still in his right hand, and he clenched the reigns with his left.
‘Ride Eäreviel.’ He commanded and was gone. Like the wind, the horse bore his master northwards towards the trees across the plains.
‘He’ll take the great road westwards. He might find comfort and aid in the wilderness.’ Annul announced. ‘Some wizard, never once did I see him use magic. If anything, he was a mad man.’ ‘He was a wizard.’ Ardeth said. ‘He placed spells on both my friends, but I broke his staff, and they were set free, but they are still unconscious. Can you help me take them inside?’ ‘No need.’ Annul announced, pointing to the two.
Jama and Kari were both getting up. With the absence of Lord Vorlund, the air seemed more pleasant and cool. Kari was looking around her, not knowing where she was, while Jama looked from Ardeth to Annul, and had guessed most of what had happened.
The sun had already totally gone down, and few stars were already visible in the partially clouded twilight sky. The cool breeze blew over the village and refreshed the four, who sat on the ground, saying nothing. All were still tired from their ordeal. It was Kari who first spoke. ‘What happened? Why are we all here?’ She asked.
‘We had a battle with the wizard.’ Ardeth said. ‘How did you get here?’
‘I don’t know.’ Kari replied. ‘When you took off with the old man to see swords, I was desperately trying to keep up. I guess the two of you didn’t realize how fast you were walking. Someone touched me on the back, and I turned around to see the wizard standing there. After then, I remembered nothing.’
‘What happened to him?’ Jama asked. ‘Where is he now?’
‘Rhogan here…’ Annul began. ‘Had more than a few slices at the wizard. He saved my life.’
‘And you mine.’ Ardeth said. ‘Thus I had to repay a debt. I have just one question though, how did you know he was a wizard?’
‘About a week ago.’ Annul began. ‘An old man came to the gates of our fortress at Luijan. He asked to be let in, for he was a traveler and was tired. He seemed harmless, thus we let him in. I was the captain of the fortress, so naturally, he was sent to me, for he said he had information that we might be interested in.
‘ Help me assail the Free Villages. He said. Or at least Arák. If you do, I can give you power and an army beyond your control or imagining.’
‘ And how can an old traveler do that? I asked. Provide an entire army?’
‘ I am a Wizard, my name is Lord Vorlund. He declared. And I am one of the most powerful wizards of the world!’
‘Of course I did not believe him at first. None did, wizards are in stories told to children, that was why I still thought he was false until you told me of what he did. He then told me of how he plans to kill Ardeth, you Rhogan. That was why I came here, for here I knew you would be from talks of my soldiers who were here last year. I came to warn you and protect you, and that I did.’
‘And for that I am grateful.’ Ardeth said. Jama and Kari were astounded by the tale. Annul continued. ‘But now my task is done, and the wizard is gone. He will return of course. But by then I would hope that you would have learned enough to protect yourself and the Three Villages, for now they too are in danger. But it takes time to amass an army great enough to do the task, and thus the wizard will not strike for years.’
‘But what was he seeking?’ Ardeth questioned.
‘That is for you to find, and it may serve you well to learn of it before he returns again.’ Annul said, and Ardeth’s mind immediately went to the tower, which could be clearly seen from here, outside the western gates of the village.
Late into the night the four continue to sit outside the village, away from the noise and bustling. Many things they talked about, and many things they learnt, especially Jama, Kari, and not least, Ardeth.
Ardeth was however always thinking about what will happen. He is responsible for the safety of the Three Villages. He was to make sure he finds the treasure that the wizard so desperately wants before he takes it without himself knowing. There were so many things to him to do, and he was still a child of not more than fourteen years.
With all this on his mind, he remembered that he still does not know who his parents are, or where he came from, or indeed why he came from where he did.
Once again, Ardeth looked up at the tower, and for a second he thought he saw a light flicker inside the top rooms and then went out, or it could just be a star. Again the tower seemed to be calling for him, and there was a sweet sound about the air, like birds singing, though none were around.
‘Jama?’ He asked. ‘Are we ready to leave for the tower?’